The Sassoon family tragedy haunts me, as it does everyone, against the backdrop of preparations for Pesach. I am plagued with thoughts of the horror. And I struggle to suppress contemplation of a catastrophe I cannot process.
Conversations inevitably lead to the unspeakable disaster. The joy of this holiday of freedom is marred by the recurring thought that the Sassoon family will never celebrate it together again. And in the face of all questions and qualms, the refrain remains “there’s nothing to say.”
While there is no solace in “misery loves company,” I am struck anew by the unified response to this tragic story. Jews around the world mourned together. The thousands who attended the levayah, in New York and Israel, were as varied in their backgrounds as they were in their head coverings.
This is the response of a unified Klal Yisrael, which is both reassuring and vexing at the same time. Recent tragedies among our people have brought us together in ways that no ordinary or even joyous occasion has the power to do. From the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli boys and the Gaza war that followed to the Har Nof massacre to the bloodbath in Paris, we Jews come together in sorrow. But we seem to always bicker in seemingly better times.
The infighting that accompanied the recent Israeli elections is but one example. And its effects are grave. Aside from the bitter fallout between Israel and America over those elections, the internal strains of disunity among Israelis pose the biggest threat to remaining strong under external pressure.
One look at the breakdown of competing parties in the Israeli elections lends credibility to the old joke of two Jews and three shuls. Aside from the strong showing of United List, the Arab party, there were no less than ten parties vying for victory in one small Jewish country.
While there is nothing wrong with diversity among Jewish factions, there is something wrong with multiplicity that does not advance the better of the whole over its parts. And when any of those parts does not direct its efforts le’shem shamayim, the disunity that ensues weakens us all the more.
The lessons of Pesach are unique in demonstrating the importance of these concepts. The Korban Pesach had to be roasted over a fire, thus solidifying the food in a way cooking could not. It had to be eaten by a group that joined together beforehand, and it was prohibited to break the bones of the korban. All these particulars promoted a sense of unity, symbolizing the solidarity that must be achieved by Klal Yisrael in order to achieve true freedom.
True freedom based on harmony does not mean everyone is or should be the same. The Four Sons of the Haggadah, based on the verses in the Torah that designate them, are an eternal reminder that each individual in a group is exactly that – an individual.
Each of these sons had a very real representation in the past Israeli elections, from the wicked to the wise to the simple to those who do not know how to ask. It is no stretch to accuse those who worked tirelessly to undermine the defense and safety of their fellow Jews, from their physical to their spiritual well being, as being wicked. They aimed their efforts at stripping the Jewish character from their existence and from their homeland. And they were happily aided by Jews in America and elsewhere eager to promote a “promised land” bereft of religious or sacred underpinnings.
Unfortunately, the simple are easy prey for the machinations of the wicked. The uneducated and uninformed are not just simple; they are simple targets for wily operatives eager to win them over with enticing pledges. Worse, those who do not know how to ask and are incapable of inquiry are also incapable of recognizing the worth of examining their own surroundings. This apathy is a dangerous precursor to capitulating on what is most important to their fellow Jews.
And who are the wise? Those who function solely le’shem shamayimand promote the welfare and interests of their brethren over their own political aspirations. Few are able to claim that title.
While Prime Minister Netanyahu defeated the leftists in Israel by steering away from appeasement and taking a hard line on defense, he needs to continue to make wise choices and to remain firm in his commitments. And the leaders of those parties promoting the ideals of Torah and of safeguarding the land need to compromise on their ambition rather than compete for top ministerial positions in the upcoming government.
That we are a fragmented nation is an old story, as old as the Exodus itself and the birth of our nation. This disunity has been the catalyst for many of our national tragedies. One can only hope that the burst of unity that shows itself in times of misfortune can one day be sustained long enough to become a bulwark against suffering, if and when it strikes anew.