As They Walked in the Shadow of Death | D. Wolf

Just over a week ago, forty five yidden were niftar and dozens were injured at one of the holiest sites in the world, on a day that is usually full of joy and celebration. On that day, the words of the נביא were sadly fulfilled in reverse; משמחה ליגון ומיום טוב לאבל. The question lurking in everyone’s minds is the same. On such a holy day, in a place where hundreds of thousands of yidden gather to rejoice in a שמחה של מצוה, how could such a horrible tragedy have occured? How could a site have turned from a source of salvation and hope to one of so much pain and sorrow?

אין כלי מחזיק ברכה אלא שלום

Am Yisrael is blessed with so much Torah, Mitzvos and גמילות חסדים. But surprisingly, there’s one thing that has the power to override the good we do. The Medrash in בראשית רבה tells us אין כלי מחזיק ברכה אלא שלום. Shalom is the vessel that allows us to hold onto all other brachos. When there’s שלום, all other brachos are channeled down to us. In its absence we lose access to the bracha awaiting us.


What’s frightening about the tragedy is not just the sheer number of casualties, but the way it occurred. While originally it was thought that the deaths were caused by collapsed bleachers, the shocking truth emerged that one yid trampled on another. One yid killed another yid rachmana litzlan, albeit unintentionally. In the Tochacha in last week’s parsha, the pasuk says “וכשלו איש באחיו כמפני חרב” – people will trample on one another as they attempt to flee from a nonexistent murderer. The Keli Yekar shares a frightening thought: the punishment of וכשלו איש באחיו stems from the sin of פירוד לבבות and lack of harmony that is prevalent amongst Am Yisrael. It is from this pasuk that חז”ל derive כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה.

During the ימי הספירה Rabbi Akiva lost 24,000 of his talmidim. The Gemara says, שנים עשר אלף זוגים תלמידים היו לו לרבי עקיבא.. וכולן מתו בפרק אחד מפני שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה. The Gemara (Yevumos 62b) tells us that Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim died from a disease called askerah, an inflammation of the throat (Rashi, Shabbos 33a) that prevents oxygen from entering the body causing a slow and painful death. The Maharsha cites the Gemara in Shabbos (33a) that says that askerah is a punishment for speaking לשון הרע. Askerah affects the lungs which is the vehicle used for speech. There’s a broad consensus among medical experts that in a crowd crush, death is caused by asphyxia, a condition in which the body is deprived of oxygen through constriction of the airways.

Last year, as covid-19 ravaged our community, I pleaded with you to think about the events that transpired just a short time before. Less than a year before covid-19 struck, our community found itself embroiled in bitter controversy when thousands of unvaccinated tinokos shel beis rabban were humiliated and forcefully removed from our Yeshivos and Mosdos Hachinuch. In my article, I pointed out the מדה כנגד מדה and begged that we stop the sinas chinam that is ripping us apart and destroying us. While some took the message to heart, most others rejected it outright. Unfortunately, there was no wholesale change in our behavior towards those who choose medical decisions other than our own.

?כדאי הוא רבי שמעון לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק

The Gemara tells us כדאי הוא רבי שמעון לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק. While the ספרים הקדושים interpret this to mean that Rabbi Shimon can be relied upon even in dire circumstances, taken in the literal sense it means that we can rely on him בשעת הדחק – during a time of physical crushing. Why then didn’t Rabbi Shimon stand up and rescue us בשעת הדחק?

On Lag B’omer we celebrate the end of the מגפה that obliterated so many of Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was one of the few remaining talmidim of Rabbi Akiva, and he continued to illuminate the world with his Torah. It is he who authored the well known quote ”נוח לו לאדם שיפיל עצמו לתוך כבשן האש ואל ילבין פני חברו ברבים”.

Rashbi, who witnessed the destruction and devastation caused by sinas chinam, is pleading with us. He’s crying and begging us to stop the sinas chinam that is so prevalent amongst us. How can we dance at the kever of Rashbi as we continue to disgrace the Torah he stands for? How can we stand on this holy soil as we trample over the feelings of little children – שלא טעמו טעם חטא? How can we celebrate all that Lag B’omer stands for when the same sinas chinam that annihilated Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim is still rampant?

As we approach the יום טוב of שבועות where it says ויחן שם ישראל כאיש אחד בלב אחד, now would be the appropriate time to create the vessel of שלום so that we can be worthy to receive the שפע that awaits us.


D. Wolf

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  1. The righteous among us will agree with everything you wrote. The cynics will beat you to a pulp… Doesn’t mean it’s right, it’s another horrible fallout of the galus. May the RBSO have pity on His downtrodden yet good people and bring moshiach today.

  2. Nice beginning, shalom is essential to the Bracha from Above. However the comparison to vaccination is absurd. There is no sinas chinom there. It is a matter of public health and following the undisputed advice of well over 99% of medical experts. That is our chiyuv, and the fact that some innocent children suffer is heartbreaking.

    • in the name of public health or as the Nazis referred to it Volksgezundheit many atrocities were committed against our people. Study history and understand how this concept of public health or doing things for the “greater good” is really quite evil. Not saying anything about vaccines per se but your argument about public health is the argument that has been perpetuated by some of history’s biggest rishoim.

  3. The author is so right.

    How can we expect Mashiach to come when the Sinas chinam-baseless hatred- today is worse then in the days of the second Bais hamikdosh that was destroyed because of it?

    How can we expect Mashiach to come when we see horrific tragedies striking klal yisroel-besides already thousands in the midst of the coronavirus mageifa directly from Hashem-but we don’t wake ourselves up to FACE REALITY and immediately make a time for klal yisroel to come back together as one nation on all levels-from frum to Frei etc…-for serious teshuva and achdus ASAP together so Hashem can see serious teshuva for the past Sins that we have done R”L?

    may we all wake up and come back together as one nation for serious teshuva and achdus ASAP like we did in the story of Purim and the people of Ninveh did and they were goyim and their lives were saved

  4. What about having some 8th graders not accepted to any high schools?? These girls are left to die a slow emotional death – depriving oxygen to their souls!

  5. Vaccines are matter of public health. We have a responsibility to take of one another by getting vaccinated. This is respecting other people who are more vulnerable then us.

  6. The point is correct that we need shalom to procure Bracha, but why select the vaccine issue specifically, how about wonderful children who are not accepted to schools, high school students who are humiliated by shunning them from schools for months, and then there’s the segregation between factions within our community and the list goes on
    We need achdus, we need sincere tshuva

  7. The decrying of removing kids from yeshivas who are not vaccinated is ridiculous. They should be removed as a matter of public health.

    To imply that HaShem afflicted us with COVID because we removed kids from yeshivas is also ridiculous. COVID was unleashed upon the whole world – not just the yeshiva community.

    The author alerts us that the death of the 45 at Meron was caused by asphyxiation. The author also tells us that people at Meron involuntarily killed their own brothers by crushing them. This brings me to a thought that has crossed my mind. Here you have people killing their own brothers involuntarily. And they die because they can’t breathe. What happened during COVID when so many people refused to mask and refused to follow safety guidelines in our communities? You had the same thing happen! You had Jews killing other Jews unbeknownst to them with a disease that causes difficulty in breathing.

    The similarity between what WE did to our fellow Jews by not following recommended guidelines and the deaths at Meron is frightening. Could that be the message?

  8. Your comparison is not correct.
    The people that believe in vaccination, they are 100% convinced that their child can catch a deadly disease or a deadly variant of some kind of a virus from another child that is not vaccinated. This is a Pikuach Nefesh issue (life and death). Nothing to do with loving and hating. They love your children, but they want life, they want to continue to survive.

  9. I’m sure that most ppl. are unaware of the pharmaceutical industries ill intentions for the public. Do some basic research (even on google) on who funded the nazi concentration camps and why, and you will be shocked. That is was Sabin (the leading pharmaceutical industry then) because they needed guinea pigs for experimentation. So I think you should think twice or maybe even three times before you do something because the “great pharmaceutical industry advises us to”

    • Can you people please stop with the conspiracy theories?

      It is not big pharma that wants you vaccinated.

      Go ask the medical community? Go ask your rabbonim? They are the ones pushing it.

      How about your own seichel?

      Measles kills. COVID kills. Polio cripples severely. Baruch HaShem we have been living for years where they diseases are mostly eradicated. So we are lulled into a sense of complacency.

      But they are not extinct. It just takes a combined non-vigilance of enough people and these diseases will once again revisit us r”l. Just look at the measles outbreak of a few years ago.

      I don’t know about you, but I was embarrassed that it was largely the frum community where the outbreaks were occurring. What a Chillul Shem Shamayim. And then the nerve of some people who claimed to the various governmental authorities that our religion forbids vaccines. What a bizayon to the Am HaShem and His Torah!

      Let’s cut the nonsense.

  10. We are not living in Nazi Germany. Besides more than 99 % of Frum doctors and Frum medical experts all recommend vaccines including the Covid vaccine. I hope you are not accusing them also of trying to destroy us.

    • where do you get your statistic of 99% from … i love how you make up statistics and then cry that those who don’t want to vaccinate their kids because of first hand experiences that they personally withnessed are making stuff up… did you get that 99% number from a peer reviewed study?

  11. I agree with Avraham. You can’t talk about shalom when people sincerely believe that unvaccinated kids are dangerous. Never mind that up until the past decade, vaccinated and unvaccinated kids played side by side, went to school and camp together and no one said boo and no one died. It is sad that frum yidden have gotten caught up in the avoda Zara of science; their worship of esteemed doctors and their awe of the medical world has cost them their seichal.

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