By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Last week we started to discuss the overwhelming tragedy of the loss of seven wonderful children overnight in a horrific fire. While we concluded that we cannot fathom the complex ways of Hashem, we must learn lessons from such a devastating event. The obvious lesson realized by all is the vital importance of having functioning smoke detectors. This is a fulfillment of the Torah directive, “Vnishmartem meod lnafshoseichem-to take great care in protecting our lives.” In an eerie twist of fate the Daf in Daf Yomi on the day of the fire daf 46 in Kesuvos mentioned the verse ,”Vnishmarta mikol davar rah-to guard yourself from all bad things.”
But it would be a grave mistake to just focus on smoke detectors. Such a terrible catastrophe should awaken us to all kinds of safety issues. It is well known that the burn units in Cornell and Staten Island have a disproportionate number of Orthodox Jewish people as patients. This is because we have so much involvement with fire. We leave fires on the whole Shabbos. It is almost a mantra in many homes, Make sure the cholent is bubbling”. So we raise the fires sometimes alarmingly high and sometimes there is grease under the blech. We have Shabbos candles with Mommy’s dozing off while Daddy is in Shul and the children are at foot. We have plastic tablecloths with hot soup next to the edge by the children. It’s not just hot plates. The married children pile in in every nook and cranny for a Shabbos or Holiday and we break out the heaters perilously close to the childrens blankies and toys. We have a plethora of cell phone, ipad, and shaver chargers loading up the electric sockets sometimes perilously close to wet areas. The jumble of wires just waiting G-d forbid for a short to wreak devastating havoc. We leave lamps on the entire Shabbos with bulbs with more wattage than these lamps can handle for twenty four hours straight or 72 hours on a three day Yom Tov and then we leave them perilously close to magazines and newspapers. When we go away to bungalows in the summer the situation gets worse . We bring our tall leichters and all our electronics into low ceilinged and poorly circuited confines. On Chanuka we have sometimes ten menoras all with eight candles sometimes left unguarded. My brother Rav Yisroel Weiss pointed out to me that the paraffin that many people use to fill their shabbos lamps with, is extremely toxic it is colorless and odorless yet it is fatal in very small amounts and is often within reach of little children. So it would be foolhardy to just focus on smoke detectors and not look at the whole picture.
We should have a family meeting to discuss the right behavior in the case of a fire. We should explain to the family without alarming them that we don’t linger to save a doll or a stamp collection or an envelope full of money. We should discuss different escape routes in case of a fire. We should also teach them that they shouldn’t hesitate to put out a fire on Shabbos or on Yom Tov if there is a fire out of control.
And it’s not just our homes that need scrutiny. We need to take a closer look at our Shuls. Do the doors have push-bars so that there is easy exiting in case of a fire? Those of us who are older still remember the horrific shirt factory fire where many people burned to death because they couldn’t get out of the building. There are Shuls that have conventional locks in serious breach of this important safety feature.
If this is true in your Shul insist that it be changed. Make sure that there are fire extinquishers that are regularly maintained. See that by the kitchen there are special fire extinquishers equipped for grease fires. Make sure that fire escapes are functional and escape routes are clearly marked.
As Torah Jews there are other steps we should take to ensure our continued safety. A Kosher Mezuza is just as important as a functioning smoke detector. So just as we check that the batteries are up to date (and we didin’t remove them because of the annoying beeping) so too we should make sure to check our mezuzos. The Shada-i on the outside of the Mezuza, besides being one of Hashem’s names is an acronym for shomer dalsos yisroel-that it helps to protect the doors of yisroel.
And of course such a tragedy where many of these precious children died in their sleep should galvanise us to pray the prayer of, ” Hashkiveinu Hashem Elokeinu l’shalom v’hamieinu malkeinu lchaim-allow us to sleep Hashem our G-d in peace and awaken us to life”, with much greater devotion
May it be the will of Hashem that we know from no further tragedies but rather be blessed with long life good health and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.
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