We’re all deeply shaken from the horrific massacre at Newtown, Connecticut. We have no words to express the grief, no thoughts to put this into perspective, no way to process such tragedy.
How is this possible in G-d’s world? Allow me to share with you a story from my youth:
Growing up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the entire community was shaken up by the tragic death of a young man named Lazer Mangel who was killed in a tragic car accident in the prime of his life, leaving behind a young wife and an unborn child.
Everyone attended the shiva to show support and try to give a measure of comfort to Lazer’s family and his respected father, Rabbi Nissan Mangel, a Holocaust survivor, prolific author and philosopher.
On the final day of Shiva, Rabbi Mangel asked to say a few words to the visitors.
He recalled that many years before, when Lazer was 4 or 5-years-old, the family had a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
At one point in the meeting, the Rebbe turned to young Lazer and asked him to recite the Shema Yisroel prayer.
Lazer proudly proceeded to do just that. Suddenly, the Rebbe’s smiling face turned intensely serious and he turned to the boy’s father, saying: “You should teach your son that when one recites the Shema, he should close his eyes and cover them with his hand.”
Said Rabbi Mangel: “I never understood what the Rebbe was trying to tell me. Why the sudden serious tone? What was the point of the message he was trying to convey?
“I think I now know. The Rebbe was telling me, prophetically, how to deal with the tragedy of Lazer’s death, so many years later. The Shema is the basic statement of Jewish faith, proclaiming our complete trust in G-d as the Creator and sole director of the world.
“When tragedy strikes, we cannot “say the Shema” with our eyes open… When we look around, what we see challenges the notion that Hashem is running the world all the time, minute by minute. Our limited human minds cannot fathom or reconcile this. So we need to close our eyes, even cover them with our hand, in order to proclaim our complete trust that G-d is running the show,” concluded the mourning father.
When the news reported that the surviving children at Sandy Hook Elementary School were instructed to close their eyes as they were being led out of the building, I thought of these words of the Rebbe.
Dear friends, to honor the souls of those lost in this tragedy, I suggest each of us take upon ourselves to say the Shema twice daily, morning upon arising and evening before retiring for bed, and recommit ourselves to its meaning.
Close your eyes, cover them with your right hand, recite the sacred 6 words: Shema Yisroel… Here ‘o Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is the only One.
Then offer up your own silent prayer, in your own words.
Dear friends, we have no answers.
We cry out to our Father in Heaven for comfort.
And we pray for the day when goodness will prevail forever and “G-d will permanently wipe away the tears from every face”.
With love and friendship,
Rabbi Shalom M. Paltiel
Chabad of Port Washington, NY
Monday, December 17, 2012