These words are written while funerals are still taking place and so many families are joined by the entire Jewish People, who mourn the tragic and unfathomable loss of life at Mount Meron on Lag B’Omer this year. And there are many injured individuals — both physically and emotionally — whom we pray will be healed by the Healer and the healers quickly and completely. But here I would like to share a recent conversation I had with a colleague, in the hope that it will inspire if only one person in a small way to strive for a future that will be as bright for our nation as it was at the time of the Beit Hamikdash.
A few weeks ago, in Talmud Tips for Yoma 16-22, in an article titled “Personal Space,” we addressed the nature of one of the miracles that took place then and there: Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, “When they stood, they were extremely crowded, but when they bowed down they had a lot of room.” There we cited Rashi’s explanation that although it was extremely crowded in the Beit Hamikdash, there was nevertheless a miraculous expansion of one’s personal space for prostration in order to say Vidui — a verbal confession to Hashem of one’s sins. The person would miraculously have full use of a surrounding daled amot (four cubits) in which to prostrate and verbally confess, without a concern that the person nearest him would be within earshot and be able to hear this private admission — a factor which could potentially inhibit a person’s confession due to embarrassment of others hearing his verbalizing his personal transgressions.
It has been reported that many survivors who were present at Mount Meron who felt certain of imminent passing from this world said Shma Yisrael, the traditional act of a Jew taking his final breath. Presumably, they also said or thought whatever type of Vidui was possible under the constraints of time and place of the sudden and swift tragic event.
A few days ago, a reader of this column reminded me of what I wrote only a few short weeks earlier, that Rashi explains the Rav Elazar’s words “They would stand in a crowded manner” (in the Beit Hamikdash) as follows: “ The word for “crowded” in the text is tzafufim, which Rashi says is based on the Hebrew root-word tzaf, which means “to float.” He explains that the multitude of people in the Beit Hamikdash were so crowded that the physical human pressure on all sides caused them to be lifted from the ground and to be “floating” in the air without their feet being on the ground. I related there my own experiences, as well as those of my wife and friends who have attended funerals of great rabbis in Jerusalem over the years, which at times included turnouts of people that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. And sometimes, the scene being terrifying, with being lifted from our feet and moved like a wave to a place some distance away. For anyone who has not experienced this feeling of helplessness, it reminded me of driving a car on ice in my youth, when it was futile and meaningless to try and steer or use the brakes, due to a lack of traction and the “feet” of the car not making proper contact with the street. At least once I ended up in a shallow (fortunately!) ditch on the roadside. I am not advocating for either being or not being in such a crowd — especially when it involves a mitzvah — but one should at least be aware of what might happen and take necessary precautions as possible.
I replied to the reader that I appreciate his appreciation for having learned something from the “Torah Tips” article, and that after the horrific Meron incident I wanted to share an additional insight I had while crying in shock. In the Beit Hamikdash, despite the squeezing pressure experienced by the entire nation standing there (to be more exact, they were floating above ground) — there is no mention that anyone was ever injured in the slightest. I suggested that this great safety was also a display of another miraculous act by Hashem. He protected His nation from harm in “His house.” But that was then and there. May we merit the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the renewal of Hashem once again showing us great miracles emanating from His gracious Countenance toward us — maintaining peace throughout the world and safety for all of us in all places and at all times. Amen.