Sixty-four years ago, Rachel and her friend Miri (not their real names), went on a three-day trip down south to Massada, Ein Gedi and Wadi David with their Bnei Akiva youth group. Being Bais Yaakov girls, they separated themselves a bit from the group (with permission) during certain activities.
When they were in Wadi David, and had hiked a bit to take some pictures, they witnessed an IDF Piper plane crash in the Wadi, killing two soldiers. This is traumatic for any 17-year-old girls to witness but when they heard that the soldiers had been looking for two people who had gone missing, since Miri and Leah had not been with the other girls, Miri was sure that it was them that they had been looking for and her fault the soldiers were dead. This was further compounded by the fact that one of the pilots who died turned out to be newly married to one of Miri’s friends. She felt she had not only been responsible for the death of the soldiers but for ruining her friend’s life. Even though it was explained to them that that wasn’t the case, Miri sank into depression and although she eventually recovered, everyone knows to never speak to her of the incident.
While my friend was telling the story, her son said that he had looked up articles on the incident and confirmed that the pilots hadn’t been looking for them at all, they had been looking for a man and a woman who had disappeared while hiking in the area. It later turned out they had been killed by Bedouins. The plane was simply in the same area, and the crash had been an accident. The only people who might have been indirectly responsible for the soldiers’ deaths were the Bedouins who killed the couple.
Miri has been carrying around guilt for the accident for over 60 years; for something she had zero responsibility for. She had misinterpreted the situation and blamed herself needlessly enduring enormous pain.
This is an important lesson as we approach Yom Kippur. While I’m not suggesting that we relinquish responsibility for things that we should take responsibility for, it happens many times that we feel guilty about something that really wasn’t our fault because we mistakenly remember, understand or interpret the situation. Usually, for any situation, good or bad, witnessed or experienced by many people, there were as many versions of the story as there are people telling it, all either a different part of the reality and sometimes divorced from it altogether.
Life is too complex and complicated to attribute a simple cause and effect to any occurrence. So many elements come into play that it’s difficult to come to any simple conclusion about how any event transpires. That’s why G-d tells us that we are not responsible for how things turn out (that’s His purview). We are responsible for our intentions and for our actions but not for their unforeseeable results. There is a reason He is called the Master of the Universe Whose job it is to run it. We are woefully ill equipped to do so most of the time because each of our actions, premeditated or not, sets off a chain reaction echoing indefinitely into the future and affecting things we have no control over.
So while we need to be mindful, responsible and careful and try to visualize the results of our actions, and where appropriate atone for them, apologize for them and take upon ourselves never to repeat them, we should not bear more guilt than we can or should carry.
May all our actions be for the ultimate good.