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Once again, we have been hit.

Once again, as we look back at May 2021, disasters have struck the Jewish homeland. From external enemies [via missiles shot at Israel’s south and coast], to internal enemies within [via tragic lynches, fire-bombs, literal pogroms and more], together with the terrible disasters that befell us in Meron on this past Lag B’Omer, and in Givat Zeev on the eve of Shavuout.

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And once again, beyond the primary requirement to physically be safe, protect and defend, we are required [Rambam, Hilchot Ta’aniot 1/2-3] “when trouble befalls… it was because of their evil deeds” and therefore, “it is our duty…to examine carefully whether we can indeed improve…for the benefit of our situation“. On the other hand, “if we refrain from doing this… it is cruel way and causes them to cling to their evil deeds, and the trouble will add other troubles“.

But once again, despite countless articles/conversations/sermons/declarations about what needs to be improved, from being more careful in this or that mitzvah, to the obligation to join/not join government A or B, this halacha has, once again, not been fulfilled!

Once again, the reason is rather simple. While our sages asserted [Tractate 5a] that when “suffering has befallen, he should examine his actions“, we have seen that anyone addressing the matter has spoken not of him but of…them!

While our Talmud [ibid] states, by example, that “If he examined his ways and found no transgression for which that suffering is appropriate, he may attribute his suffering to HE being lax in Torah study“, since the above tragedies hit, talk has solely been devoted to the quality and quantity of Torah study… by others!

Yet again, instead of looking in the mirror, too many have gazed out their window at their neighbors, telling them [and not themselves] what they need to change, NOT why he or she needs to rectify!

In the words of my revered rebbe and mentor, R’ Yehuda Amital zt”l [HaMa’a’lot Me’ma’a’ma’kim, p. 14]: “for a long time now, it’s evident that within the religious community, what’s taken root is…that Teshuva [Introspection & Repentance] is a positive commandment that only others are obligated to do!”

When this happens, nothing changes; anything bad and negative remains intact, because I do not think that anything should change in me but in him, just like she thinks nothing has to change in her but in her neighbor. A Yeshiva student, learning Torah full time, will root the disaster on OTHERS not learning enough Torah, while others will assume that it’s because too many devote all their time to learning and not enough to working and developing the world. A rightest will blame it on the leftist and visa-versa. A Rabbi will accuse the non-modest dressed women for bringing on the situation, while they will in turn blame those very Rabbis who stifle women.

In such a situation, where what is seen in the mirror looks perfect, and only what’s seen from the window needs to be improved, nothing changes: each person fortifies his positions and behavior that they already think and do, and sees the need for change only in the other. Thus, as the Rambam states above, nothing changes, and the potential, G-d forbid, for tragedy to remain and perhaps be enhanced remains as well.

When a person, by example, stumbles and falls, it’s natural to look at the window and blame everyone seen [i.e.- the person washing the floor didn’t dry it well enough, the person who installed the floor didn’t do it to level, the manufacturer of his shoes is to blame and more]. However, the truth is usually right in front of you in the mirror [i.e.- “Be more careful when walking”]!

When tragedy strikes, our moral and halakhic duty is to transcend the natural, and scrutinize our own actions by looking at ourselves in our own mirror, and not the actions of the others seen through the window, so that a desired change may hopefully come.

At the closing hours of THE day of introspection each year, as the sun shining on Yom Kippur begins its descent, the story of Yonah and the wale fill the air. When stormy weather could easily have sunk his ship, the prophet Yonah, on board with passengers far less observant and pious then him, nevertheless stated [Yona 1/12] ” for I know that this terrible storm came upon you on my account.” As R’ Yizchak Zev Solovetchik [i.e.- the Gri”z] explained [Chidushei HaGriz Hachadashim 25]; “Yonah was a passenger on a ship with no less than idolaters … yet even so, he stated that the punishment [i.e.- the storm] is not because of them but rather because of him!”

If only this legacy will prevail.

 

 

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Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein, formerly the Rabbi of the Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax, Canada, and formerly Director of Training and Placement at the Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel Institute of Ohr Torah Stone, R' Grunstein serves as an administrator of the Rabbinical Court of Gush Etzion, and is part of the founding faculty of the morning English speaking Kollel of Efrat. An experienced rabbi, writer and popular lecturer in Israel and around the world, he is the author of Daven Your Age (2013), Beyond Routine (2018), Murmurings of a Minyaner (2021), co-editor of Machzor Vechai Bahem (OTS 2020 and 2021), and has over 1,000 recorded classes online in both Hebrew and English.