THE HELICOPTER TRAGEDY: WHOSE FAILURE?

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THE HELICOPTER TRAGEDY: WHOSE FAILURE?

Excerpts from a talk given by Rav Mendel Weinbach, Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Somayach, at the main campus in Jerusalem, on February 6, 1997, Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar I 5757, following the helicopter collision in the North of Israel

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Today, the entire Jewish people mourn. Today, 73 families throughout the land of Israel lay to rest their beloved, who died when two helicopters collided high above Shar Yashuv in the North of Israel. As one society, one family, we all share in the pain and sadness of the bereaved families; we mourn with them, and we cry.

In times like these, all Jews feel as one. All differences - Sefaradi, Ashkenazi, religious, secular - disappear as the pain of tragedy unites us as one group, one society.

And as one group, let us bear in mind the words of our sages, "When one member of a group dies, let every member of the group feel dread." Let each and every member of the group take this tragedy as a personal message, as a chance to look inward and ask, "Where have I failed?"

Yes, speeches were made by many people: The Prime Minister, the President, the Chief of Staff, etc. In every speech, one idea repeated itself: The need to investigate, to find out what went wrong. Was it mechanical failure? Was it human failure? A highly respected committee was appointed to investigate and help ensure that no such thing repeats itself.

But we don't need to wait for the findings of that committee. We know it's no mechanical failure; no wind or fog alone can account for that collision. The failure is a human one, but not the failure of pilots steering an improper course.

It is the human failure of each and every one of us.

It is ever so tempting to point our finger at Israeli society and say, "Look at the mass Shabbos desecration, look at the Israeli public schools' near total disregard of our great Torah heritage, look at the appalling lack of modesty that rules the streets." But is that the approach of a Torah Jew?

Someone once said to the great Rav of Brisk, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soleveichik, "I'm sure that all the bad things happening to the Jews in Israel are a result of the mass abandonment of Torah observance by the secular society."

The Rav answered, "Do you remember what we read on Yom Kippur? We read about the prophet Yona and his flight from the land of Israel. The ship he boarded threatened to sink in a terrible storm. The sailors cast lots to find out who was the cause of the storm, and the lots fell on Yona."

"What should we do?" the sailors asked Yona.

Now, these sailors were not the world's most righteous people. In fact, they were idol worshippers. What would have been easier than to point at them and say "It's all your fault! G-d is punishing you for your wickedness."

But was that Yona's approach? Did he shift the blame to the others? Let's listen to Yona's own words: "Pick me up," says Yona, "and throw me in the sea … For I know it is on my account that this storm has come upon you."

The Torah Jew doesn't look around trying to find the fault in others. He asks himself, "What am I missing? Where do I fall short?" Like Yona on the stormy ship, a Jew looks courageously inside himself, takes a personal accounting, and says "how might my own failings be responsible for the situation?" While we are taking stock of our individual failings we must also focus on another crisis facing our people.

Surely, many are aware that we've been saying prayers for the recovery of the great leader of our generation, Rav Shach, shlita. And surely none of us can ignore the connection between this military accident and the pain and suffering of such a great Torah leader as Rav Shach. For as the Talmud says, when the great sage Rabbi Eliezar fell ill, it was a sign of Divine anger in the world, as though the Torah scroll itself were writhing in pain. So too, is the pain and agony of our great sage, Rav Shach, who has taught Torah to thousands, built Torah in Israel, who's advice and guidance illuminate the way for us in Ohr Somayach and countless other yeshivas. Such a person is in pain as if the Torah scroll itself is writhing in pain.

Our Torah leaders have declared today that every Jew should take upon himself one resolution, one small area where he tries to improve. It doesn't have to be of cosmic proportion: Study Torah for an additional five minutes a day. Pray a little slower. Or do at least one special kind act each day. This, in addition to adding a special prayer for the full recovery of "Elazar Menachem Mon ben Bas-Sheva" (Rav Shach's full name).

Perhaps there is another message in this tragedy of the helicopters. Of course, the heads of state must make every effort to negotiate peace with our Arab neighbors. But let us not entertain the illusion that treaties alone will bring an end to the suffering caused by so many fatalities each year due to accidents and traffic deaths, which claim more lives than all the wars and tragic accidents in military exercises. Only the improvement of our own human failures can bring us true security.

Throughout the streets of Jerusalem, people are asking each other "Did you look in the Haftorah we read this week? It says "And Hashem said to Yeshaya: Go out to greet Achaz, you and your son Shar Yashuv … and say, 'Take heed and be silent, fear not, nor be faint-hearted because of the two tails of smoking firebrands…'"

Of course, we know that 'Shar Yashuv' refers to Yeshaya's son, not the place of the helicopter collision. 'Two tails of smoking firebrands' refers to two enemies of ancient Israel, not two flaming helicopters falling in a tail-spin earthward.

However, can we ignore the connection, the implicit message? "Fear not! Nor be faint of heart!" Don't despair. Don't fall into hopelessness. If we have the courage to look honestly at ourselves, then we have the courage to improve. Each little improvement brings another, success breeds success. If we improve, we can work towards a world free of smoking firebrands, like those tragic ones of Shar Yashuv.

Today, the day before Rosh Chodesh, is called by the kabbalists 'Yom Kippur Katan.' Today, many fast, many add special prayers to the afternoon service, and many take a personal monthly accounting. On this day, on this 'miniature Yom Kippur,' let each of us take stock of his direction and goals, his actions and attitudes. And let each of us, right now, think of one resolution we can make, one area in which we can improve.


Produced by Ohr Somayach Institutions, Jerusalem
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Lev Seltzer

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