Responding to Tragedy
Extraordinary rainfall in Israel is usually a cause for celebration. When the torrential downpours began this week, there was much laughter. On the Facebook page of the Biblical Museum of Natural History, we posted a photo of a creature that unexpectedly turned up in a flooded street.
Well, nobody's laughing now. And I'm not sure that people will ever react to torrential rains in the same way again.
The tragedy yesterday is horrific on numerous levels. Ten young adults - one boy and nine girls - cut down in the prime of life. Ten families wrecked. Fifteen other young adults forever traumatized. A nation that is deeply shaken - everyone sends their kids on tiyulim, and you trust that the organizers know what they are doing.
How do we respond? There are a few things that are required of us. Empathy and solidarity is one. As Rambam states, people who do not express pain at such things, and merely say, "Eh, these things happen," are displaying cruelty.
But Rambam also says that such behavior also causes further such tragedies. And, certainly in this case, it's easy to see what he means.
Why did this terrible disaster happen? Unfortunately it's all too clear. I don't even think that "Rabbi" Yosef Mizrachi will be blaming it on zee eeemodest weemin. It was appallingly irresponsible for the school to take the students on a desert hike in such weather. Everyone knows that when there is rainfall, there is a risk of flash floods in the desert. The police had issued a warning against excursions. Most heartbreaking of all, there are WhatsApp messages from one of the victims from the day before, asking her friend why they are going on an excursion that will surely lead to their deaths - and the friend replying that the school surely knows what it's doing and will not take them anywhere dangerous.
What happened? It's similar to the Versailles wedding hall disaster. I remember back then that there were actually some people talking about the aveiros that caused it. But as one rabbinic friend of mine pointed out, the explanation was obvious. It was the inevitable result of a certain mindset that cuts corners and says, "Eh, the rules don't apply to me."
But they do. Because the "rules" are not just man-made, legal rules. They are God's rules, the rules of nature, the laws of physics. And they apply to everyone, with no exception.
Now, the average person is thinking, "How terrible! I would never do such a crazy, dangerous thing." Well, we might not take a group of students hiking in a desert canyon during dangerous weather conditions. But can we really say that we would never do something dangerous, thinking that the laws of nature don't apply to us?
Do we smoke? Today, mostly not. But do we use our phones when driving? That's something which science clearly reveals to be dangerous. But do we care, or do we say, "Eh, the rules don't apply to me?" Until they do. Having experience sudden family tragedy first-hand (not due to cellphone use), I can tell you that one of the shocking aspects is that we have a deep-rooted belief that these things only happen to other people. But the laws of nature and science and statistics apply to everyone.
Let us at least make the tragic deaths of these ten young people have some meaning. Let us resolve to more careful, more responsible, and to realize that nobody is above the law.
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