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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Trial and Difficulties in Life

Tragedies

We all know that tragedy eventually awaits us in one form or another, but we do not and cannot live our lives based on the fear of impending tragedies or inevitable troubles. Built into the human personality and character is the ability to withstand tragedy, and even, to a certain extent, overcome it.
Rabbi Berel WeinIyar 22 5781
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It seems that, in spite of the best efforts of human beings and societies, tragedies are unavoidable in the regular course of human existence. The tragedy that we in Israel suffered on Lag B'Omer is still too fresh and the wound is too open to be able to assess it properly. There will be the commissions of inquiry, recommendations as to future security and crowd control, as well as a frenzied attempt to allocate blame for what occurred. But tragedies occur on a regular basis in all human societies, and they have done so since the beginning of recorded human history.

Natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods form an integral part of the new meta-narrative of life. People still build homes near volcanic mountains and on the shores of rising dangerous waters. Florida and Texas in the United States are the two fastest growing states in the country. Both are prone to severe hurricanes and the tragedies that accompany those storms. Yet people still willingly move there, knowing the danger, and convinced that, somehow, it will not affect them. That is the nature of human beings, and, perhaps, human life could not continue and be of any purpose, if our nature on these matters was any different.

We all know that tragedy eventually awaits us in one form or another, but we do not and cannot live our lives based on the fear of impending tragedies or inevitable troubles. That is not how human beings operate, for human beings are basically optimistic, hopeful, and somehow convinced that they will escape the tragedies that have gone before them.

Built into the human personality and character is the ability to withstand tragedy, and even, to a certain extent, overcome it. It is this enormous gift of resilience, which is so characteristic of the human race, generally, and certainly of the Jewish people, particularly, that provides the impetus for life itself, and for civilization to expand and improve. It has been said that human beings are the only creatures who are constantly aware of their mortality. As such, they should be the least adventurous risktakers on the face of this planet. Yet, we know that this is not true, and that human beings follow the words of the great prayer that we recite on the high holidays, i.e., we risk our lives for our bread.

As human beings, we, somehow, can cope with tragedy of personal and national significance, and to move on with life and its demands. In fact, it is almost no exaggeration to state that the nature of human beings is to ignore tragedies, and not plan for them in advance as we move forward in life. I think that this is part of the makeup of the human personality, simply because we sense that within us there is immortality. No matter how great the tragedy and how severe the anguish, the ability to go forward is almost instinctive within human beings.

There will undoubtedly be many important lessons that will be learned from examining and dissecting the events that led to the great tragedy of this past Lag B’Omer. But after time passes, there will still be a demand by multitudes to visit the mountain of Meron on Lag B'omer, irrespective of the tragedy that occurred there. In fact, there probably will be a greater incentive to visit in the future, simply to illustrate and emphasize the resilience of the human spirit that lies innately within all of us.

I know that all of this sounds counterintuitive, perhaps unrealistic and irrational, but I think it is clear to all of us that human beings do not behave rationally and do not always see things realistically and accurately. In fact, it is the drive of unreality within us that pushes us forward and is the engine for human progress in all fields of human endeavor. Judaism has always viewed the commemoration of tragedy, not so much as a demonstration of the helplessness of human beings and a propensity for error, but, rather, as a beginning point for further self-improvement and human development. It encourages the dominance of this natural resilience that lies within us, and always points us in pursuit of a better society in the world with justice, compassion, and modest behavior. May it be the will of heaven to spare us from tragedies and help us develop our progress on our own initiative.
Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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