The familiar paths toward repentance feel distant, out of my reach; I am like a devastated body transfigured by unrelenting pain and shame from which there is no easy peace or solace. I feel partly to blame Leiby’s heinous death. I feel that even though so many of us joined together to look for him, if only I had been better, if only we were a better klal– group – this could never would never have happened. I feel that somehow, collectively, we’ve reached an all-time low that facilitated someone from our own midst perpetrating such a horrendously inhuman deed. I cannot help but feel that somehow we all are answerable for the actions of this one individual, and that we are obligated to repair the sickness within us that enabled such monstrous measures in our midst.
Childhood memories filled with stories of death, survival, Hashem‘s seeming absence, His miracles, Divine Providence, good and bad, return with a sickening familiar spewing. Any child of Holocaust survivors, will tell you how powerless, unfixably frustrated and burdened they feel with the historical back-pack they are obliged to carry forward as a living testament to our Diaspora’s deepest abyss. And if that were not enough for a midsummer’s night nighmare, then Irene stormed in with two more stories. The story of a brave Monsey rabbi who lost his life saving a young boy from electrocution and got electrocuted himself; or the one of the 90 year old vacationing survivor swept away and drowned in her cabin during the storm. Why? Why?!?!?
Sixteen people – most of them firefighters carrying 100 pound packs on their backs – were trying to make it down stairway B of the north tower from the 22nd floor and doing so at a hopeful pace. The building’s shaking, debris flying everywhere, the south tower had just collapsed, the stairway itself buckling… On the 15nth floor they meet up with a 59 year old bookkeeper, Josephine Harris. who had miraculously made it down 50 flights with an injured braced leg from a car accident sustained several months earlier. She had stopped unable to go further without some help. The firefighters were faced with a dilemma; they were progressing well, and if they kept pace they might escape alive, should they stop and take her or not? Survival adrenaline, waiting loved ones, a building collapsing over and around them… Jonas, a 43 year old firefighter didn’t hesitate. “Grab her, let’s go!” “If somebody needs help, we got to give it a shot. It wasn’t a difficult decision.” “We got to bring her with us,” Butler, the fire company’s strongest man put her arm around his shoulder and helped carry her down; it was a slow process her legs were giving out; slowing the group’s progress significantly. When they reached the fifth floor, the injured woman could not go on, and she told the fire fighters to leave her. The clock was ticking away their deaths seemed imminent. Foreceful rushes of air hit the group, blowing some of them down to the first floor, the floors above them were collaspping like stacked dominos. Floor upon floor, upon floor, quickened to collapse on top of them and ten seconds later, the building gave fell. All were sure they were about to die. They hoped it would be fast. Instead, they were enclosed within a small pocket of debris, bubbled in a cavity of stairway B, all surviving to tell their stories.
Sometimes we are not saved, it’s true. We claw at shamayim’s gates with our cries, our protests, our prayers, knowing full well we are but lowly creatures unable to fathom His ways. Yet sometimes in the course of our hishtadlut, the wings of His nesharimsurround us and and carry us into the palms of His hands, rushing with us joyfully toward the accomplishments of our right and good actions.
As we travel through this final leg of our millennia old galut, as we approach this holy time of the year, the grieving Shechina again pours out her heart right beside us. This year her presence is almost palpable. We are a sister to her tears, her pain, her sense of loss for Yerushalayim, as never before, knowing that our tefilot, our actions, have the power to imprint the outcome of our fates. May all our tefilot be answered letova– for the good. G-d give us the strength to be the best that we can be, to make the right choices and hasten the bringing of Mashiach tzidkenu, bimhera beyamenu. Amen!