Saturday night August 7 2004 my mother’s first cousin lost her two youngest children Shterna Esther and Chayah Mushka Shmueli ages 12 and 14 beloved residents of the Crown Heights Brooklyn community. While one of these young girls lost her balance in a swimming pool her sister jumped in to rescue her. They both drowned.

Some tragedies leave you with a lump in your throat and a stab in your heart. They are simply unbelievable and do not allow themselves to be captured in words. How in a single instance could two beautiful angelic sisters just not be anymore? How can two such delicious souls who — in King David’s famous expression — were beloved and sweet in their lives and in their deaths have not parted be robbed from us so brutally? How?

A few hours earlier on that Sabbath afternoon the community suffered another devastating and horrible lose. Baruch Shalom Adler a 14-year-old angelic boy returned his soul to his maker. Baruch Sholom was an autistic child one of those unique souls that G-d sends to this world to teach us about what really matters in life. His profound humaneness depth of spirituality and extraordinary love was an inspiration to his family and all those who knew this young giant. While in the hospital he choked on his food and passed away.

The following day families and friends bid farewell to these three young diamonds whose pure and sacred souls traveled on to the next dimension of life. They will eternally be remembered.

During the shiva call the Shmueli older brother shared with me how his sisters’ death changed his own paradigm. I feel now a profound yearning for the coming of Moshiach he said not only because I want to see my sisters again but because their sudden death demonstrated to me how nothing else in this world is really worth fighting for.?

He added: Life is simply too short precious and vulnerable to be spent on petty things; on anything less than bringing Moshiach to the world. 

How very true. Life is certainly too voluble and sacred to be spent on power struggles ego games envy hate and divisiveness.

None of us understands the mysteries of life death and destiny. Yet with the above thoughts in mind allow me to bring up one particular issue that I believe deserves special attention nowadays.

One of the greatest crises facing the Jewish community today is the divisiveness and animosity existing among Jews who disagree with each other on various issues — religious political communal and social. It is not only a split between distinct denominations and communities. Often within a single community one encounters the flames of hatred and fragmentation that set apart family from family group from group or one person from his fellow human being.

This is unbearably sad because according to our tradition the most critical prerequisite for a community to receive Divine blessings lies in its unity. The Midrash relates the powerful contract between two generations of Jews one pagan and the other monotheistic.

The generation living during the reign of the evil biblical King Achav says the Midrash was filled with pagan idol worshipers. Yet these sinful Jews were victorious in their wars against their enemies. Why? Because mutual accord and respect dominated their midst; they learned to like and get along with each other.

On the other hand the generation of Jews living during the reign of King David was very religious and observant clinging ferociously to the Jewish faith in a single universal G-d. Yet they died in war. Why? The sages say it’s because they despised and informed upon each other (Yalkut Melachim Remez 213).

The ultimate test for the integrity and spirituality of a human being in Judaism is not in his or her scholarship faith or religious observance but in his or her capacity to love the stranger to transcend the ego and escape the traps of divisiveness and hate.

The story is told of the saintly Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen Kagan known as the Chafetz Chaim who bore witness to an extraordinary conflict that broke out between two wealthy Jews in his community.

In the midst of their personal war of gossip animosity and nasty letters a child of the quarrel’s chief instigator fell very ill. The Chafetz Chaim paid a visit the child’s father and said to him: Don’t you see what your fighting caused? Don’t you think that for the sake of your child it is about time to extinguish the blaze of hatred? 

To which the father responded: I will bury my child; but I will come out a winner! 

The great sage could do nothing but break into bitter sobbing.

Such is the disease of interpersonal wars. Once you get involved in it you lose much of your sanity and healthy judgment. You are driven only by one agenda: to emerge a victor. Nothing else even the life and well-being of loved ones matters. The need to come out victorious turns you blind to everything that really matters in life.

Fragmentation and hate in communities is like a cancer that drains people of their energy and consumes the hearts and brains of the community. Like cancer they spread in frightening swiftness and often do not cease until they kills their victims mentally and heaven forbid sometimes physically.

A story is told about two outstanding sages and scholars of the 18th century Rabbis Jacob Emden (1697-1776) and Jonathan Eybeschuetz (1690-1764) who were engaged in a stormy conflict. The former incorrectly accused the latter of being a secret follower of the false messianic sect of Shabbtai Zvi and attempted to excommunicate him from the Jewish community. The conflict which divided German Jewry subsided after a decade of bitter dispute.

One day after the bickering ended Rabbi Emden who initiated the discord was asked whether his war against Rabbi Eybeschuetz was idealistically motivated for the sake of heaven or perhaps fueled by ulterior motives? 

Rabbi Emden an extremely candid and genuine human being replied: The onset of the fighting may have been done for the sake of heaven. I’m not sure. 

What the rabbi was saying is that once he was in the midst of the war he was certain that ulterior motives had taken over the show and played a role in the squabbling. But even before he began he could not be sure that his ego or some other destructive force was not the fuel that ignited the flame.

Rabbi Jacob Emden’s ego should not be compared to ours. He was a truly great spiritual man. Yet his confession captures a truth that many of us ignore: Once we are involved in a serious argument we lack the objectivity to determine whether our perspective serves the truth. We must always – always – possess the courage to say to ourselves Maybe I’m wrong! 

How many more tragedies must we witness heaven forbid in order to get it ? 


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