There is an oft-repeated concept that tzaros transpire so that we should learn a lesson. This is rooted in the Gemara (Yevamos 63a) which states, “Rabi Elazar ben Avina says: Ein puraniyos bah le’olam elah bishvil Yisroel - Calamities only come to the world because of the Jewish people.”
Rashi (ibid.) explains that catastrophes occur so that the Jews will become fearful of what sin causes, and will repent and do teshuvah.
It is worth noting that it was during the month of Elul ten years ago that one of the greatest tragedies to ever befall this country transpired on 9/11. Four years later, one of the greatest natural disasters took place during the month of Elul, when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. It is not for nothing that Hurricane Irene blew in as we were bentching Rosh Chodesh Elul.
This Shabbos we are mevoreich the new chodesh and herald the onset of the month of Elul. As we repeat after the chazzan, “Rosh Chodesh Elul yihiyeh beyom…,” we know that in short shrift, the summer will draw to a close and serious days will once again be upon us. We look for inspiration. We seek to be inspired, to rise to the occasion of Elul.
Where can we find inspiration? Why do we so often fall short when seeking to be inspired?
Perhaps we are looking for inspiration in all the wrong places. We look at things, people and ideas far from us, and we expect that, as we approach them, we will be inspired. We look for esoteric seforim, ideas, thoughts and speakers, and we are upset when they fail to work their magic on us, leaving us in the same stale and insipid state we found ourselves prior to our search. And we wonder why.
It seems as if the words were written especially for us. Nachamu, nachamu, Ami. A healing balm for a suffering people. While the novi speaks about a people that had been hit twice, we weren’t only lakah bekiflayim. We have been hit a lot more. As a people, we have been slammed so badly and so often that any other nation sustaining what we have would have long withered away by now.
Since the churbanos the novi spoke of, we have been beaten, stoned, burnt, locked in awful ghettos, deprived of every human need, and driven from country after country. The Holocaust took a terrible toll. Since then, bechasdei Hashem, we have bounced back and built burgeoning Torah communities around the world.
There have been ups and downs, victories and defeats, heroes and anti-heroes, but, by and large, we have been wildly successful. Lately, however, we have suffered a steady series of blows that makes us reach for words ofnechomah as if reaching for oxygen.
The ominous messages have been coming fast and furious over the past few weeks. We have received Divine hints, shocking, stunning warnings, that all is not as should be.
The gezeiros have targeted those we hold most dear, tzaddikim and children. In frighteningly rapid succession, we lost senior roshei yeshiva. We then experienced the frantic search for a young Boro Park boy and the awful news of his fate at the hands of a fellow Yid. And now we have experienced something unseen since the time of Gedaliah ben Achikam, with the cold-blooded murder of an internationally renowned tzaddik, to whom thousands turned for advice, support and brachos, at the hands of a Jew.
Once again, we are numb and at a loss for words.