Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Unimaginable Tragedy

Gabriel Sasson at speaking at the funeral of his 7 children in Jerusalem (JP)
I have hesitated commenting on the tragedy that befell the Sassoon family last Shabbos.  That’s because it is so painful for me to think about. Losing a child to a fire is horrible enough.  I can’t even imagine it. My brain shuts off. It will not allow me to go there. I have 4 children. The horror of losing 7 children that way is impossible to contemplate. It almost becomes a statistic to an outsider not directly experiencing it. Much like the 6 million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust. 

But it should never be thought of that way. Losing seven children aged 5 to 16 is not just a statistic. They were seven beautiful human beings that died a horrible death through no fault of their own… or anyone else’s. The classic theodicy.

Although reluctant to talk about it, watching the Jerusalem Post video of the funeral at Har Menuchos in Jerusalem moved me to say something. I defy anyone to watch the video and not shed a tear. The father of those children, Gabriel Sasson, asks the question of God:
“Why seven? Seven beautiful roses,” asked Sasson, as his voice trembled amid hundreds of unrestrained sobs at Har Hamenuhot Cemetery. “They were so pure. So pure.” “God Almighty took seven roses,” he continued. “He took my children and my future grandchildren – maybe 70 or 80 of them. He took their smiles. To you, my God, I gave my all. My soul. My everything.”
I have no words.  I don’t know how to console a father that has gone – is going – through this. I have never lost a child. I can only relate what it’s like to lose a grandchild, my beloved Reuven. That was to cancer. It was an excruciating loss. One which will be with me the rest of my life. But I know that it is nothing compared to the pain of losing a healthy child suddenly to a fire. Multiply that pain by 7 children. From the Jerusalem Post article they were: Eliane, 16; Rivka, 13; Sara, 5; David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakov, 5. Just reading all of those names and ages in this context makes my eyes water.

And then there are the 2 survivors.  Mr. Sasson’s wife Gayle, 45, and daughter Siporah, 15. They are in critical condition having jumped out of a 2nd story window. And all this happened on Shabbos to a Shabbos observant family, no less. A day that is elevated by God above all the other days of the week.

It is enough to make an Apikores out of anyone. And yet Mr. Sasson’s Emunah, his faith in God and Judaism remains strong.  I suppose that those who suffered the tragedies of the Holocaust and remained with their faith had the same kind of challenges. Tzadik V’Ra Lo. Why indeed do bad things happen to good people?! It seems so unjust… so unfair… to seemingly punish innocent people in this horrible way… and in the case of an observant Jew - on a Shabbos no less. I have no answers. Just questions.

In the face of such a tragedy, there are some who want to use it to talk about how this could have been prevented. Now is not the time for such discussions. They just add to the pain (…if that’s even possible when the pain is so great!)

There are some who have implied that Shabbos observance itself  is the cause of this tragedy.  Have these vultures no feeling? Have they no empathy for the suffering of a man who one day had everything - and in a moment lost everything?! What is the matter with these people?!

Now is not the time for speculating about what could have been done. And it is certainly not the time to blame religion for the tragedy. Instead of blaming religion - let them look at the incredible faith this man has in the face of such a horrible tragedy. That tells you what he is made of.

Now is the time to let Mr. Sassoon mourn his loss and to try and comfort him as best we can. (Which to me seems like a mindbogglingly impossible task. But that does not free us from trying.) I will end with the traditional consolation prayer made to the bereaved. HaMakom Menachem Eschem B’Soch Shaar Avelei Tzion V’Yerushalayim. May God comfort Mr. Sasson among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.