Dear Rabbi Fried,
I cried all day thinking about the 8-year-old boy from Borough Park in New York who was kidnapped, murdered and dismembered. After I learned the murderer was a Jew, I became even sadder. What kind of a world do we live in? What is God telling us? It is loud, but it does not feel clear.
Thank you for your words of comfort and wisdom.
I fully share your feelings and your tears. I join you and I’m sure, many thousands of others, spending these dark days in weeping; and I share your feelings of loss, devastation and confusion. Crying for the suffering and loss of such a pure, innocent soul; for the pain of his family, teachers and friends. Mourning the loss and pain of Klal Yisrael for such a senseless, barbaric tragedy to have transpired to one of our extended family; multiplied many times over by having it perpetrated by (albeit by one severely deranged) “one of us”.
Sadly one of our greatest spiritual gifts, that of prophecy, is something we lack throughout our long, bitter exile. We can therefore never know with absolute clarity why this or any other tragedy has befallen us. All I can share with you are my personal thoughts and feelings and what my heart of hearts tells me we should be hearing and learning from this indescribable event.
What immediately came to mind was the tragedy of Pilegesh B’givah (The concubine of Givah, final chapters of the Book of Judges), in which a woman was dismembered and her body parts sent to the tribes of Israel to notify them of a horrific act perpetrated by members of the tribe of Benjamin. This sadly created a civil war with many tens of thousands of losses and the almost complete annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin.
This story, one of the saddest in all Jewish history, hit home for me with the terrible news of Leiby Kletzky ob’m. Scores of Jews around the globe prayed for the safe return of Leiby, only to have his brutally dismembered body “sent to all of us.” This informed us, the tribes of Israel, of a horrific act being perpetrated by … us all!
My friends, the message that struck deeply in my heart was that we often are inadvertently, through our words and actions, guilty of “murdering and dismembering” our fellow Jews. I am often dumbstruck when I sit across my desk from a man or woman who suffers verbal abuse from their spouses. At times it is a child from a parent or vice-versa, one co-worker to another, or one Jew in the community to another. Many of these individuals’ lives have been paralyzed or ruined, and we need to work on putting the pieces back together, often due to a mere word. How powerful are the words of our Sages that “life and death are in the hands of the tongue!”
How ominous is this message just days before the fast of the 17th of Tamuz, historically a day of calamity that set the stage for the impending destruction of Jerusalem?
The powerful message of the holy Chofetz Chaim, that the destruction and impending exile was brought about through acts of Lashon Hara and injury of fellow Jews, rings loud and clear today. Our Sages tell us that any generation in which the Temple was not rebuilt in must be guilty of the same sins that caused it to be destroyed.
It’s not for naught that the recent, senseless brutality was perpetrated by one who appeared to be an observant Jew. It’s a message to all Jews, letting us know exactly what we look like when we senselessly carry out similar acts with our tongues.
I humbly propose we hear this message, the message of little Leiby Kletzky. In his memory we all, together as a group, around the world, must study the works of the Chofetz Chaim daily; either at a family meal, at bedtime, or some other established time. These works are available in many languages and formats, for adults and children alike. One can visit the home page of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation to see the many choices of wonderful books, tapes and videos are available for study either by oneself or with the family. It would also be wonderful for friends to get together weekly or bi-weekly to study one of these works and/or talk about who might need help or friendship in the community. We should all brighten the world by seeking out individuals in need of a shoulder to lean on, a smile, a kind word or a bit of inspiration in their lives.
By resolving to hear and act upon this message, you readers have the power within you to create a revolution, one of loving kindness, middos and true caring about our fellow Jews.
In this way may we avenge the death of precious little Leiby, by replacing darkness with light. In his zechus and the merit of easing the pain and increasing the love of our fellow Jews, may we all merit to see the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.
(For more on this subject and/or to send a message to Leiby’s family, visit www.aish.com).
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Rabbi Fried,