Sadly, the blame game for what happened late Thursday evening at Har Meron began almost as early as the first reports hit the news and long before what we pray was the final death toll. Today, days later, it continues. Perhaps mentioning some facts will help. Maybe, an important concept should be considered.
Repeatedly people write and say that the police are to blame. Really, are they? Remember, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri demanded that the number of people coming to Meron this year be unlimited. And, he said the organizers would take responsibility to handle the numbers. So, why doesn’t Aryeh Deri now accept blame for his insisting on the impossible? And should Public Support Minister Amir Ohana bear responsibility for agreeing with Deri’s madness?
Of course, we know that Prime Minister Netanyahu signed off on the idea that the police should not restrict the numbers but he wasn’t at the critical meeting held hours before the event began.
Of all the public officials, it is Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi who has stepped forward to accept responsibility. Responsibility perhaps, even accountability but not blame. From the start, it wasn’t his choice or his demand that the number of participants be unlimited.
Year after year, the members of the Toldot Aaron sect use this same passage. Without doubt, the steps are not new; the narrowness is not new. More than once in the past, they suffered losses and injuries. If anyone should know the pitfalls, it would be the organizers and the attendees from within this group who have been there in the past. Are they to blame?
And year after year, in 2008, 2011, 2016 and 2018, warnings have been issued of the dangers of amassing so many people in such a small area. Who is to blame for each and every one of those prior warnings being ignored? Aryeh Deri? Netanyahu? Toldot Aaron? Amir Ohana? Shimon Lavi?
Reports have come out that a child slipped. A policeman tried to stop the flow of traffic to save the child’s life. This was, apparently a mistake in that it caused others to fall and may well have greatly increased the tragedy that unfolded before his well-meaning eyes. Should the policeman have done nothing? Is that the error you would judge hundreds of policemen by?
Realizing what was happening – watch the videos – the police desperately tried to pull down metal barriers to release the pressure. In the video, you can see one police officer scale the metal desperately trying to save lives. And they did. In that moment, the police were not trying to save a small sect of ultra-orthodox Jews who are, from the core of their souls, anti-Israel. They were trying to save their brothers, their fathers, their sons.
Who is to blame? Aryeh Deri? The Prime Minister? The head of Israel’s police? The police commissioner of the area? The boy who slipped (and I believe died)? The father of the boy? The policeman who tried to save the boy? Toldot Aaron and all the men who have walked that path for years? Is blame necessary? Will it help? Perhaps it will spur the government to find a more logical way to handle crowds on this day each year? Perhaps it will encourage to the government never to trust “the organizers” again?
In one report, I heard that the Rav of Toldot Aaron called for “cheshbon nefesh” in his community. Cheshbon nefesh is an amazing concept in Judaism. Some call it “introspection”. Others translate it as “soul-searching”. The Hebrew phrase combines two words – “Accounting” and “soul”. Cheshbon nefesh requires introspection and soul-searching but also action.
Certainly, you should search your soul but more, when you finish, action should be taken. I believe we have sacrificed enough in this horrible tragedy. Good men and women serve this country with honor should not take the fall for the decisions of others. Young women serving in the army came to help, and were spat upon. Where in the Torah is this taught? This disrespect, this rush to judge based on what a woman (or man) is wearing? Where?
No one gave the police the choice of how to act this year. Aryeh Deri and others set them up for failure by deciding to make political points and demanding insanity reign. So, would you destroy the careers of our police officers, including the head of the police who immediately took responsibility for something he did not cause?
And Toldot Aaron, who knew that area, as they walk it every year. Certainly, they chose the time of their arrival, and demanded that no one restrict their numbers. And why didn’t they police their own numbers, if they refused to allow others to do so.
How could they not know the conditions on the ground when those same conditions have existed for years? And let’s remember that ultimately, it was the police who rushed in to try to help Toldot Aaron members and risked their lives to try to save others. Police of the state they malign. And whose helicopters were flown in to evacuated the most seriously wounded? Helicopters of a nation they despise.
But hours later, Toldot Aaron buried their dead, as we do, in holy cemeteries where finally, they join the rest of our people in eternal rest? At such a time, could you possible lay blame on a community that has suffered such a catastrophe?
Rarely, do I find myself agreeing with what Toldot Aaron or their Rav say, but in this I agree. First, their community must thoroughly search their souls to try to understand the message Hashem has for them. But searching isn’t enough. Secondly, they must act, do a thorough cheshbon nefesh to understand what greater message they must now hear. As should Aryeh Deri and Benjamin Netanyahu. For these and other politicians, there must be cheshbon nefesh for allowing politics to overrule common sense and the inevitable reality of physics.
More, the police also need cheshbon nefesh. After the tragedy, they exhibited love and kindness, but what about before? Separately from this horror, how often have they immediately judged people and assumed them to be something? For the police, there must be cheshbon nefesh as they consider whether pushing teenagers who simply came to pray was justified, if the force they used was needed or was an expression of other frustrations they have, judgments they made?
All those who attended the ceremonies at Har Meron must do cheshbon nefesh, even if they weren’t in that specific area. How many of them left behind wives and children? And what if they had been in that area? If their wives were suddenly made widows and their children suddenly made orphans? Was it worth it? Was it necessary? In such numbers?
And the nation of Israel needs to do cheshbon nefesh. We come together in times of tragedy. We pray, we mourn, we donate blood by the gallons. But, what about the day before. Is any tragedy inevitable? Is that what we believe as a people? If so, why pray at all? Why believe?
We are what we have always been, an eternal, blessed nation. Israel is one people and our unity must be as eternal. We must be as united the day before such tragedies as we are the day after.
Urgently, we must each examine our souls, but more, resolve to take action. This is true of Jews in Israel as well as in the diaspora. On this great day of sadness in Israel and all over the Jewish world, as candles burn and flags fly at half-mast, we must learn to accept. Let us consider how we react to those who are different. On all sides – don’t they judge us as lacking, as less? And don’t we do the same? To them, we are not enough; to us, they are too much. Both think the other side has lost touch with what Hashem wants. In reality, perhaps we all have.
And so, in memory of those the 45 precious souls of Har Meron, and in prayer for the full recovery of the injured – more than 150, and with thoughts to all the traumatized men, women and children, perhaps from our cheshbon nefesh something good can emerge. As the blame flies back and forth, I am left with a single question. No, not who caused this tragedy but something perhaps more relevant and, thankfully, more fixable. Where in the Torah is it taught to disrespect someone based on the colors of their clothes, the style, the cut, or whatever? The answer is that we all do it, and we all have to stop. It doesn’t matter if the clothes are black and white, unrelenting black, blue and white, or any combination in one.
Perhaps THAT is the lesson. And perhaps that is what we have to search for in our souls. The terrible need to focus so much on the clothes, the lack of a kippah or what it is made of. The lack of a skirt or how long it is, or what it is made of. Cheshbon nefesh means cleaning out our souls, taking an accounting and vowing to change so that what shines through is the beauty of the soul, even if the clothes are blue and white, or the green of our army, the blue of the police, or all the colors in the rainbow.
With tears in my eyes, I lit a candle in my house late Friday afternoon as the final funerals of the day were taking place. Moments after I decided to light one, I found myself reaching past the 24 hour candles and even past the 48 hour ones. Finally, it was the 72 hour candle that emerged from my closet. And somehow it felt right.
Through the Sabbath, the candle burned. And still today, it burns as we bury more of the victims of this sad tragedy. Already, I know that it will burn tomorrow as well.
And all that time, I will do my own cheshbon nefesh to see where I could have been kinder, where I could have done more, judged less.
May Hashem comfort the mourners amongst our people. May He send a refuah shlayma to the injured of Har Meron, a complete and speedy healing to the injured and the sick among us. And may He grant us peace, in our country and in our souls.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Blessed is the True Judge.