A Devastating Loss: Remembering Liel Namdar a”h

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

She was described by the newspapers as a fifteen-year old girl from Long Island who was killed by a drunk driver in Woodmere.  But Liel Namdar aleha HaShalom was much more. We have lost a wonderful young tzaddeikes.  Her entire essence was that of growth – to grow in dveikus Bashem –  in avodas Hashem.  She was always the first to enter class.  Always asking questions – delving and wanting to know more.  And she constantly expressed hakaras Hatov to her Rebbeim, moros, and teachers.

Liel Namdar personified the ideal Bais Yaakov girl –  She put her ideals into action.  She was always the first to volunteer – to hold the door for others.  Liel had incredible yiras Hashem, remarkable midos, and was a role model to everyone who knew her.  This last sentence was instructive because she was so outstanding in all three areas – that one has no idea which of the three clauses to have put first.

The Midrash Tanchuma in Parshas HaAzinu explains that a person should look to give a name that would help the child become a Tzaddik – because at times the name can be influential in this.  The Gemorah in Brachos 7b cites Rabbi Elazar that there is a verse to this effect that Shma Garim – names do matter.  They have significance. Her name Liel – means To Me – G-d.  Her parents, when they named her 15 years ago, obviously had Divine Inspiration – because she was very close to Hashem.  She personified Dveikus Bashem.

Her friends from Camp Sternberg recall that Krias Shma al HaMittah – reciting the Shma at night was very important to her.  She knew that for some reason this important Mitzvah has fallen by the wayside.  She wanted to remind girls to recite it, but she did not want them to feel bad.  So she went around to every bunkhouse to ask the counselors to remind their campers to say it.  She did it in an assuming manner.

Indeed, right before the tragic accident, she texted a friend to remind her to say Krias Shma.  She performed her avodas Hashem with a smile and always in an unassuming manner.

NO ONE IS PRIVY

It is difficult to hold back tears, and we cannot.  How can we not cry at this fire in our midst?  Especially those of us who knew her, who shared a classroom, who taught her and learned alongside her.  The entire Great Neck community as well is devastated.  No one is privy to the reasons and calculations of how the Creator runs the world. When tragedy strikes, however, it has always been our way to find solace in the words of the sages of Israel.

DEATHS OF THE RIGHTEOUS ATONE

Chazal tell us (Moed Kotton 28a) that the tragic deaths of Aharon HaKohain’s sons are placed right next to the section of Para Adumah.  The Para Adumah when combined with teshuvah – true penance achieves atonement.  This teaches us an important lesson – that the deaths of tzaddikim are mechaper – they atone for us.

There are a number of ways in which this works. One way is through the notion of general kapara discussed in the Gemorah. And there is no doubt, no question – that Liel was just such a young woman.

FEELING THE PAIN OF OTHERS

Another way in which it atones for others is for the changes that it causes in those affected by the loss. When we are noseh b’ol chaveiro, when we feel the pain of others, this removes decrees against us. When we are concerned for families that lost children, decrees are reversed. Chazal (Vayikrah Rabbah 34:14) tell us of a time when there was no rain. A man had compassion toward his downtrodden ex-wife and gave her significant funds. This caused the decree to change and rain came down right away.

THEIR TEFILOS

There is also a third way. The Zohar further tells us that if not for the tefillos of those that have passed on, we would be unable to stand.

We are maaminim bnei maaminim. Indeed, the Mechilta tells us that on shvii shel Pesach, Klal Yisroel recited the Hallel – even before Kriyas Yam Suf. Wait, one second: a Hallel before the actual rescue?  How could this be? The answer is that they had the highest degree of emunah.

We are distraught by the enormity of this tragedy. It is so difficult to hold back tears – yet we retain our emunah and know that Hashem runs the world – and that everything will be clear in the future. The poor parents, a wonderful family, and family members.

Dovid HaMelech describes us as the Shivtei Kah (Tehillim 115:16), not the tribes of Israel, but the tribes of Hashem. Why this description? It is because Klal Yisroel has an exceptional level emunah and bitachon a unique ability to connect to HaKadosh Boruch Hu, one that we believe always was and remains unparalleled among other nations.

JEWISH DESTINY

The Rosh HaShana davening delineates for us the true destiny of Klal Yisroel. The Jewish nation were the ones that introduced Hashem to the world, and in the future, it is the destiny of Klal Yisroel to introduce more knowledge of Him throughout the world so that all peoples of the world will form one group in order to fulfill the Creator’s Will – veya’asu kulam agudah achas laasos retzon konam.

The fulfillment of this ultimate destiny is a gradual process that began long ago – at the very birth of Klal Yisroel as a nation.

THREE WAYS TO FURTHER CONNECTING TO HASHEM

Connection to Hashem is what it is all about.  It is something that this young fifteen year old, exemplary, Bais Yaakov student taught all who knew her how to go about doing it.

Generally speaking, we can further these connections to Hashem with greater and deeper Torah study – G-d’s law, with Avodah or Tefillah – Divine service, and with Gmilas Chasadim – acts of loving kindness to others. The Mishna in Avos delineates these three paths and explains that they hold up the world – they also further our individual connection to the world’s Creator. These three all work in different ways.

Delving deeper in Torah study demonstrates our desire to be closer to Him, and to His word.

And finally, there is the third method of imitating Hashem -trying to be like HaKadosh Boruch Hu. The Gemorah in Shabbos tells us, Mah hu rachum af atta rachum. mah hu chanun af atta chanun. Just as He is merciful and kind so to must you be merciful and kind. Hashem is the ultimate source of goodness and Chessed, and we should strive to be like Him and do Chessed too.

The good feeling that we get when we do Chessed is because that Divine section within all of us described as that “Chailek Elokah mimaal” is charged and highlighted whenever we do acts of Chessed.

A LESSON THAT SPOKE TO HER

There was one lesson that, this author recalls, that really spoke to her and affected her.  In the shmneh esreh, we say the words “mechalkel chaim b’chessed.”  There are a number of possible interpretations of this clause.

It could mean that Hashem sustains the world, or life, through His midah of Chessed.

It could mean that Hashem sustains this world in a manner that reflects Chessed – he could feed us through stale, tasteless food, but rather He does so with remarkable delicacies.

Or, it could be that it is understood like the explanation of my Rebbe’s Mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein zt”l, while he was in Shanghai, China with the Mirrer Yeshiva.  What is the food, the petrol or gasoline that sustains us?  It is the ability to do Chessed. It is valuing Chessed and its performance that is our food.

This explanation spoke to her deeply.

THREE GROUPS

This entire tragedy has created many challenges.  The hallways and classrooms of her Bais Yaakov are filled with tears, outbursts of crying.  Young ladies hugging each other.  The Maharal tells us that people who are given stress or challenges can generally be divided into three groups:

The first type consists of those who Hashem finds incredibly special. Hashem brings about the tzaar precisely because He wants and desires the added closeness. This group is why the Imahos, Sarah, Rivkah, and Rachel and others such as Chana, did not, at first, have children. Hashem wanted their closeness to Him through their tefillah – prayers. The Gemorah in Yevamos (64a), “HaKadosh Boruch Hu Misaveh leTfilasan shel Tzaddikim, Hashem yearns for the prayers of the righteous.”

A second group are those that Hashem wants to give more schar, more merit, by bringing them closer to Him. This group is also included in those described in Mishlei (3:12) in the posuk, “For those to whom He loves, He afflicts.” In Yishayahu (57:15) the posuk says, “Ani eshkon es dakah, I shall dwell in those who are broken-hearted.”

These people may be average or beinoni, but for some reason Hashem singled these people out to get ever closer to Him. It is hard to say – but this is what Chazal tell us.

A third group are those people who Hashem wishes to give an atonement on some action that they may have done. One such case is Avimelech. Another case l’havdil, is Miriam who spoke, on a very subtle level, negatively about Moshe Rabbeinu.

HASHEM COMFORTS US

Whichever group one is in, the Maharal (Nesivos Olam – Nesiv HaYesurin chapter 1) explains that when Hashem brings these afflictions, just as a father comforts a child, so too does Hashem comfort us.

The Maharal explains that the Yesurim somehow prepares the person for greater Dveikus Bashem – connection and cleaving to Him. It removes the “chomrius” physical nature of the person, in the words of the Maharal, and fully spiritualizes the person. As proof he cites that an eved, a slave, is called chomrius and when he loses a tooth, the master must set him free. Certainly, writes the Maharal, when someone’s entirety is afflicted with Yesurim, that person’s entire essence becomes spiritual. The Maharal further explains (chapter 3) that the person becomes kadosh, holy.

ATTITUDES

The Gemorah in Brachos (54a) writes that we are obligated to make a bracha on “bad news” just like we make a bracha on “good news.” Chazal tell us (Brachos 5b) that we should accept all Yesurim, affliction or pain, b’ahava – with love. Yissurin B’Ahavah is an important level to achieve. The Maharal (chapter 3) brings a proof from Iyov that if one reaches this level, the schar that a person gets is multiplied manifold.

This may be a high spiritual level to reach, and we should not be down on ourselves, if, occasionally, we don’t reach it. Whenever we do reach it, we get that higher level of merit.

CUP IS ALWAYS FULL

Rav Tzvi Myer, grandson of Rav Gedaliah Schorr says that there is an expression which states, “Don’t look at the cup as if it is half empty – look at it as if it is half full.” Both perspectives have it wrong. The truth is that the cup is always completely full. Hashem is so filled with love and compassion toward us that He is always showering us with good and what is in our best interest.

The problem is that, at times, we may view things negatively as if the cup is only partially filled with good and that the rest is air. This perspective is incorrect. The cup is always full. We just fail at seeing it.

Another student of mine recently gave a different understanding of the idea of a half empty cup.  She said, a cup holds water.  It may be half empty or even empty, but a cup can always be refilled and this is how we can look at things.

THINGS DON’T HAPPEN TO US – THEY HAPPEN FOR US

Regardless of whether we apply Rav Tzvi Myer’s approach or that of another wonderful Bais Yaakov student, we must teach ourselves that seemingly negative things do not happen to us – they happen for us. This idea must be entrenched within us and is the reason that the sages ordained that immediately before we recite the Shma we declare the realization of G-d’s intense love for us: ahavah rabbah ahavtanu or ahavas olam.

This is the meaning of the expression of the sages, (Brachos 54a) – k’shaim she’mevarchin al hatov kach mevarchin all haRah – just as one recites a blessing on good news – so too does one recite a blessing on ‘bad news.’ It has to be k’shaim – equally – because the cup is always full. This is also the reason we recite in Hallel, “ki gavar aleinu chasdo – we are showered and perhaps even overwhelmed with His goodness.”

The Gemorah in Brachos (60b) says that a person should always say, “Kol Ma D’avid Rachmana l’tav avid – whatever Hashem (the Merciful One) does, He does for the good.”

Elsewhere, (Nesiv Ahavas Hashem p.43) the Maharal explains that this attitude even has the effect of changing what might be perceived as negative things around to fully perceivable positive things. Understandably, this is a very worthwhile attitude to adopt.

The Maharal wrote these words centuries ago, and it is this author’s hope that they will offer some consolation and understanding to those of us who are suffering pain. :Leal Namdar was an extraordinary young lady, a role model who exemplified the highest ideals of our nation.  May she be a meilitzah yasharah for her family, friends, teachers, and Klal Yisroel.

The author can be reached at [email protected]


1 COMMENT

  1. Emphasize the positive by remembering the Rambam’s words to his son. אשרי מי שכלו שנותיו במהרה It is wonderful for one whose years finish early as this world is temporary and one’s assignment has been satisfied.