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For the week ending 6 December 2008 / 9 Kislev 5769

Where are the Answers?

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Reflections on the Mumbai Massacre
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
"Ima. Ima," cried little Moishe Holzberg in the middle of a solemn memorial ceremony held in a Mumbai synagogue for the Jews slain in the Chabad House of that city.

There was no answer to his call because both parents of Moishe, who turned two during that fateful weekend, were among the victims of that massacre.

There are no real answers to the questions that inevitably arise when tragedy strikes an individual or a community.

Every tragedy, whether it is as minor as the loss of savings and employment because of the current financial crisis or as major as the Mumbai 9/11, is a challenge to our faith in G-d. An awareness that everything that happens is Heavenly decreed eliminates the need to find answers to questions such as "Why couldn't it have been avoided?" A firm belief that "Whatever the Merciful G-d does is for the best" makes it foolish to seek answers to the question, "Why did it happen to such righteous Jews?"

One question, however, will certainly be asked and it deserves an answer. "How long must we suffer?"

A scene described in this week's Torah portion addresses this question.

The Patriarch Yaakov, on his way out of Eretz Yisroel, has a prophetic dream in which he sees a ladder with its feet on the ground and its top reaching heaven, with angels of G-d going up and down the ladder. The Midrash explains that these angels were the guardian angels of the Four Kingdoms that would ascend to dominate Israel. Each angel climbed a number of rungs corresponding to the years that the Jewish People would be under their dominion and then descending as that exile ended. Babylon's angel climbed 70 rungs before coming down. The angel of Persia – Media climbed 52, and that of Greece 130. But the angel of Edom, the final exile, kept on climbing so that Yaakov was frightened that there would be no end to their exile, G-d, who stood above Yaakov in the dream, assured him that no matter to what heights of power the enemies of Israel would reach they would inevitably be brought down to destruction.

The difference between the first three exiles and the final one, of which Yishmael Islamic extremism is a subsidiary, is that no definitive time has been set for its termination. This is symbolized by Yaakov failing to see the guardian angel of that exile descending, causing him to ask, "How long will this last?"

Our tradition is that although Heaven has indeed set a time beyond which this exile cannot last there is also the possibility of Jews hastening its end through their merits.

Perhaps our answer to the question of how long must we suffer from terrorism, nuclear-armed enemies and all the other threats to our people and the entire world depends on our perpetuating the holy work of those martyrs who lost their lives in Mumbai. The outreach efforts of the Chabad shlichim Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holzberg, may G-d avenge their blood, must be intensified by all the outreach organizations throughout the world. The heroic efforts of Rabbis Teitelbaum and Kroman for providing supervision of the manufacture of kosher food in far away places should inspire all Jews to be more careful in regard to what they may or may not eat.

The answer to how long our suffering will last depends on us. In this light we must view the Mumbai tragedy as an alarm to wake up to our responsibilities, an arousal that will hopefully prevent something like the recent tragedy ever happening again.

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