By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
As we approach the shloshim for the Sassoon family’s precious children, of blessed memory, our minds are still overwhelmed by the tragic loss suffered in that horrible fire. It reminds me of the profound comment made by the late Klausenberger Rebbe, Zt”l, Zy”a, when speaking about the loss of his wife and eleven children at the hands of the evil Nazis, yemach shemom v’zichrom. In his first talk in Williamsburg, the Rebbe cited the verse which we say in the Hagaddah, “Va’evor alai’ich ve’ereich misboseses b’domayich va’omar loch bidamaiyich chayi, va’omer loch, bidamaiyich chayi – I passed over you and saw you wallowing in blood and I declared, Through your blood you will live, through your blood you will live.” The Rebbe said it can be read with a slight variation. Bidohmaiyich chayi, bidohmaiyich chayi (with a cholem) – Through your silence you will live, through your silence you will live.” Paraphrasing this statement to convey the message that Hashem saw the Rebbe wallowing in the blood of his family and through his silent acceptance without complaint, he will continue to live. Thus the Rebbe walked in the footsteps of Aharon who, when his saintly son’s Nadav and Avihu were executed by Hashem, the Torah testifies, Vayidom Aharon – And Aharon was silent.”
One could not help but notice that the Shabbos of the tragedy was Shabbos Vayikra, the Shabbos of korbonos, Jewish sacrifices. It was also Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the anniversary of when Moshe Rabeinu instructed Klal Yisroel about bringing the very first national sacrifice, the korbon Pesach. When pure children, mostly underage, are taken away from us, our first reaction is that they are korbonos atoning for all of Klal Yisroel. It begs the question, what are we doing that we are in need of such korbonos? While this is all in the realm of pure speculation, its lessons are worthy of our attention regardless if it is connected or not.
When a sacrifice goes up entirely to Hashem, it is a korbon Olah, a fire offering. What does the korbon Olah come to atone for? We are taught that it atones for sinful thoughts. This crime is something that we can all sink our teeth into. Surrounded entirely by our hedonistic culture, we all can work on being more careful with what we look at, with what we view. But, sinful thoughts are not only of the negative kind. The Keren L’Dovid of Satmar writes that we are taught, Ohr l’arba’a asor bodkin es hachometz l’ohr haneir – On the eve of the 14th of Nisan, we search for the leaven by the light of a candle.”
Homilietically, chometz refers to the Yeitzer Hara, the Evil Inclination, for just as the leaven agitates the dough, the Yeitzer Hara agitates us to sin. Continues the Keren l’Dovid, that neir refers to the mitzvos, “Ki neir mitzvah v’Torah ohr – The lamp is the mitzvah; Torah is the Light.” Thus, the message is that we should also check for the Yeitzer Hara lurking within our mitzvos. What thoughts accompany our mitzvos? Are they done as a burden or with happiness? Are our mitzvos robotic or are the done meaningfully? Do we say our prayers with meaning or are they mere lip service. Is our Shabbos a gastronomic delight or is it a celebration of our belief in Hashem? Is our expensive shmurah matzah an annual treat or an honest exercise in reliving the thrill of our emacipation? These are all areas of thought that need our attention.
The Gedolim have already pointed out that when witnessing such tragic loss, we need to look at what we have with greater appreciation and thanks. The Imrei Chaim of Viznitz asks an interesting question. The custom is that we burn the candle that we used for searching for the chometz along with the rest of the chometz we found in the search. He wonders why we do this. I would suggest instead that we should save it to use later as the shamash to light our Chanukah menorah – similar to the way that we burn our chometz with the lulav as fuel or the way we use the hadasim for besomim, or use a worn-out tzitzis as a bookmarker in our Gemora, or use the erev tavshilin for lechem mishna at seudas shlishis. But no! We burn this candle up. Why!
The Imrei Chaim gives a thrilling reason. As we explained, the search for chometz is a deeper mission – to ferret out where the Yeitzer Hara lurks in our homes. In the kitchen, we seek to see whether we are tempted to eat foods that might not be one-hundred percent kosher. In the master bedroom, we reflect on whether we give enough attention to our spouse – and so on through the home. Says the late Viznitzer Rebbe, Zt”l, Zy”a, the candle that is used to look for the bad, the chometz/Yeitzer Hara, deserves to be burnt, for that which sees the bad is not worthy to keep.
There are people who train themselves to see the good in a situation – the cup half-full; others who always see the cup half-empty. When we notice the bad, we are more likely to speak lashon hara, evil gossip, and to fall into the quicksand of machlokes, of fighting and feuding. Also, the person who zooms-in on the bad is more likely to be an unhappy person.
Some people approach Pesach with the sadness that they are unable to go away to a hotel. Other people embrace the opportunity to be with their children. I recently saw in an Ami Magazine a psak from the Rabbonim of Vilna after World War I allowing the impoverished populace to use four cups of sweet tea – since wine was scarce and too expensive. How fortunate are we with all of our privileges, both spiritual and physical.
When faced with such a shattering loss, we need to embrace our families and our freedoms with a great showering of gratitude to Hashem for His kindness.
May Hashem give koach and gezunt to the Sassoon family, may we be spared any further tragedy and in the merit of working on the arena of the mind, may Hahem bless us with serenity, good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.
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