After The Tragedy: Talking to a Child About the Massacre

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3Va’yaitzae mi’bas Tzion kol hadara.

Jerusalem, and those who live there have lost their pride and splendor.

As the world distracts and distorts its focus  to anything else other than what impacts the Jewish community, our own world is reeling and aching with the tragedy – the catastrophic horror – of our holy family being massacred as they stood in prayer in the sacred city of Jerusalem, Ir HaKodesh.

Adults, teachers, rabbis, youth, leaders and educators from across the globe struggle to find words…….but there are no words. We grope for a framework, a perspective with which to categorize this, to integrate it, to make some sense of it, but there are no words. There are the tears and wailing of the bereaved, and all of us are bereft now of kedoshim who were among our finest in their piety, their devotion, their scholarship and their decency and compassionate lives with others.

A rabbinic colleague contacted me last night, asking how to explain this to yeshiva students who are troubled, at one level, by a sense of injustice. In at least an intellectual level, as well as a spiritual one, a question which they struggle with is how our Chazal have demonstrated with evidence from the Torah that a shliach mitzvah – one embarking in the pursuit of a holy mission – will be protected from all danger. These kedoshim were not only on a mission of holiness to aid others; they themselves were engaged in the performance of a holy task. They were praying to HaShem. They were immersed in the highest avoda which one can perform in our times – turning to HaShem in devotion and tefilla. How could this happen to them? Where was that guarantee of protection?

I comforted my colleague, observing that we can address this Talmudically, and can recall other teachings of Chazal about how observing mitzvos and studying Torah provide different properties as to one being protected. We can differentiate between one who embarks on a shlichus versus one who engages in his own self-directed mitzvah process. But what may be more central here is the profound realization that Kiddush HaShem, Kiddush Shem Shomayim, is also a mitzvah. There is a bracha to be recited as one faces the prospect of being martyred because of his Jewish identity. The great Bais Yosef – Rav Yosef Karo zt’l – whose family succeeded in fleeing from Spain during times of shmad, spent many years in his later life pleading and praying that he too might merit the opportunity to be moser nafsho al Kiddush HaShem, as had many of his friends and community who did not succeed in leaving Spain alive. We may have a difficult time grasping that concept, but it is clear to us that the very act of being taken from this life under those exact and horrible circumstances was in itself a most lofty fulfillment of

 

v’nikdashti b’toch Benei Yisroel. Our great brothers were doing the mitzvah that transcends and surpasses our regular concept of being protected from danger.

 

On the other hand, a professional colleague contacted me from Jerusalem. He was at that same shul that moment in Har Nof. He said to me that he is shaken and does not think he is able to see patients. A clinical perspective, a theological perspective… both can be useful long after the fact but in the immediate aftermath of bitter trauma, words alone cannot comfort. Ideas and cognitive frameworks do not suffice to address the fear, the pain, the horror, the sickness that floods every caring Jewish child, teen, adult, parent…..even rabbis, even mental health professionals.

 

Your children will turn to you. They already are. They hear the reports. Unfortunately, many of them see the pictures. They see adults crying, in shock. They approach you for reassurance, for information, for comfort.

 

Some people have approached me asking if it is better to shield children from the gore and terror of photos which now abound. My response has been that a parent must exercise discretion. For older children and adults, those scenes may be an essential part of our sobering education that shmad, that anti-Semitism and hate have always been part of our history and times do not change. The world continues to disregard the value of Jewish blood and Jewish life, and this realization, when framed with tact and sincerity rather than with drama and schadenfreude , can help bring into focus who we are, beneath Whom we stand, and to Whom we have always turned ki eis tzara l’Yaakov. However, with young children, please consider that graphic grotesque images will sear their way into the minds of innocent young ones and can generate horror, sleep disturbance and nausea. As with all alarming imagery, such pictures can remain embedded in the mind of a child and should be avoided.

 

For older teens, share the framework promoted by Chazal. MiPenei ha’raa ne’asaf haTzadik. Missas Tzadikim is at one level a kappara for the generation. We do not see anything good in the murder of righteous people, yet it is a stone along the twisted cobbled path which will wend its way towards redemption and ge’ula.

 

Is it good for your children to see you crying at this time? Crying is a human response to sadness and to fright, and models for your children that we do react to tragic loss through our tears. To suppress your tears is unnatural and unfortunately models for children that this event did not register, or did not warrant an emotional reaction, which is certainly untrue. It is nonetheless important to shield your children, whether they are your own or your students, from excessive hysteria and break down. In a manner not unlike Yosef HaTzadik who fled from the room to cry and then composed himself before returning, a parent still must model for his or her children that they are still in control and that the children can continue to depend on you for strength and reassurance as they grapple with their own fear and pain.

 

 

Talk to your students and children. Families cannot allow this moment to pass without addressing the loss, the feelings, the realities. Process with each one at a level that they can manage, but do not fail to have a discussion whether in class or at home about what has occurred, about what to anticipate and on how we all must grieve in a manner commensurate with one’s maturity and understanding.

 

I still remember as a smicha student over 40 years ago how we had just broken the fast following an intense Yom Kippur with our beloved Rosh Yeshiva, HaGaon Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l when the word went out that we all must return to the bais medrash. I can still see the rosh yeshiva running in, literally, white in his face and taking the amud as he announced that a war had begun in Israel. We said fervent tehillim long into the night. The Rosh Yeshiva addressed us. It was an event far away but immediate and present for us in our minds, hearts and souls. This tragedy is no different. We must bring it into our hearts and minds and souls and into the reality of our students and children.

 

Many are frightened about the days to come, each at his or her level of understanding. Discuss this. Comfort the scared child and validate the fearful parent whose son or daughter is in seminary or yeshiva. The schools will discuss taking precautions, as always. Parents must connect with their kids by phone and listen to them. Acknowledge their fears, and your own. It is always appropriate to discuss faith and trust with the caveat that you capable of doing so as a feature of your child’s chinuch. If you do not have the concepts worked out in those essential areas of our beliefs and spiritual ideology, turn for help from those who guide you, and direct your children to those who mentor Torah for them.

 

Remember that each person responds to crisis differently. Some with tears. Some with fears. Some with rage. Some with silence. Some with self-destracting diversions as if nothing bothers them. Do not scold. Do not insist that there is right or a wrong way to react. Tolerate others’ reactions but still talk with them. This is not a time for criticism, punishment or condemnation. It is a time for being real, honest and genuine.

 

Provide your younger children with support and reassurance that they are safe, and that you will look out for them and protect them from harm.

 

And morai v’rabosai – show them your love. This is a time for all of us to draw closer, to reach out for one another, to set aside our grudges and resentments, to help and promote compassion and rebuilding of every person’s trust that there is a system which we live by, and that we do it with ahavas achim and ahavas HaShem, along with Yiras Shomayim. Do not add to the crisis by making impulsive changes, rash decisions or harsh judgments about anyone at this time. We do not know why this happened, and we cannot dare to offer vapid theories about whom HaShem enacts His judgment with or why.

 

 

V’ ais tzara hi l’Yaakov u’mimenu yivashay’a (Yirmiahu 30:7)

Ata Takum Tirachem Tzion ki ais l’chenena ki ba moed (Tehillim 102:14)

For this is a distressing time for Yakov – and from it he will be saved.

HaShem – arise and show mercy to us, the time to favor us has come………………

 

For more detailed, step by step tools please use the following link: http://www.chailifeline.org/press_detail.php?id=69

The Project Chai Team is led by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, Director of Interventions and Community Education

And the Associate Directors, Zahava Farbman, LCSW & Rabbi Yaakov D. Klar LMSW

All can be reached at 855.3.CRISIS or [email protected]


5 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry this is totally antithetical to halacha, the answer is hanistorat lahashem elokeinu, we dont teach our children that being killed is holy, wrong religion, not everything requires a peirush rashi, the act was committed by animals , period. The shock is because people are living in a cacoun and when something happens in the gush thats one thing but in har nof impossible. we are one people with one country with multiple enemies. there is no shock, there is mourning

  2. Very nice and well written article and I think that if were able to give an explanation for something that happened then it should be said bec not everyone is on such a high level to just understand things without understanding actually even though that is the right way

  3. If you dont agree then you can teach your kids your own way…when you have the credentials to argue then we will listen. In the meantime please let qualified people show us the way.

  4. As 1 of the speakers stated in his Hesped [recorded on YWN] at the funeral:- the Torah says “Pereh Odom” and it means exactly just that. Show that Possuk to any child & even adult, and keep reinforcing the Emess emanating from this Possuk.