Opinion: Addressing Recent Tragedies l Avi Gutfreund

We have suffered multiple tragedies in recent weeks that captured the attention and tefillos of thousands of frum Jews across America and worldwide. The stories are eerily similar in many respects, and in all the people drowned.

First a young child drowned at a water park. Then there was the story of Rabbi Reuven Bauman who was caught in a rip current in Virginia. Now we are reeling from the loss of Rabbi Dovid Traube, who drowned in Greenwood Lake near Monsey, the loss of a young father who drowned at a beach in Tel Aviv, and a young man who drowned in Mexico.

I am in no position to say what the message Hashem is trying to send us is, but there are others than can and will give suggestions. Rabbanim will speak to their kehillos and madrichim will give speeches to the community. In those speeches, they will inevitably bring up matters that make people uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, we seem to be living in the age of “I will do as I want.” We only listen to mussar and make changes when it is convenient for us. Over and over, rabbanim have been warning against the internet and urging us to make tznius a priority. But take a look around Lakewood – things are getting progressively worse. What was once a town that breathed Yiddishkeit, impeccable values and a strong moral compass, seems to be degrading before our very eyes. Everywhere one looks we see the fabric of Lakewood being torn apart at the seams. The life that our parents – and for some of us, grandparents – lived in this town, no longer exists, except for perhaps in some small pockets of the community. It isn’t necessary for me to point certain obvious ways that this downward spiral manifests itself and I don’t feel it’s necessary to stir the pot. The point is that you, I and everyone else knows what I’m talking about.

And so we have our leaders getting up and saying that we need to change. In many ways we need to revert to old habits, to the ways we were taught in our younger years. But we don’t want to listen. When a rav speaks about the internet and the spiritual dangers it poses, it goes in one ear and right out the other. When a madrich says to dress and act in a more tznius fashion, people hiss their displeasure, telling the speaker to “get with the times.”

It’s easy to make changes when it fits our agenda and can coexist with how we already act. But those changes usually don’t do much. Imagine someone going to the doctor and telling him they will only make changes that they’re comfortable with and doesn’t interfere with their lives. That is essentially what we’ve been doing. The point of bettering ourselves is that even when it makes us uncomfortable or requires us to change the way we live, we do it and excel at it.

It isn’t enough for us to shake our heads and hand some money to these poor families. Hashem wants us to change. Rabbanim can look at the community at tell us what those changes must be. If we stopped living in our own little bubbles and actually took the advice and recommendations of those that lead us, perhaps these horrific tragedies would end.

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  1. Here are some thoughts that the Piacezner Rebbe (Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro, HY’D) wrote in his private journal as he was approaching his 40th birthday: “So what am I missing? Simply to be a Jew, I miss. I look to myself as a drawing of a person, all included, the shades, the figure, etc. Just one thing is missing: The SOUL is missing.”

    Perhaps we have somewhat lost our Jewish souls – our Divine part that Hashem gave to us. Perhaps we are just Jewish “bodies” going about our day.

  2. That was an interesting article. You begin by saying “you’re in no position to say…” and then promptly start judging and criticizing the new Lakewood as opposed to ur parents and grandparents Lakewood.
    Why dont you look at the good ?
    Theres 10x more children learning Torah, doing chessed & doing mitzvos than there were in ur grandfathers day.

    Plz, stay positive.

  3. So the Judge of the entire world punishes one person for the transgressions of another? How can you possibly suggest such a thing? (and don’t try bringing evidence from ‘androlamusia ba’ah la-olam’ that’s when a whole generation is affected, not a few individuals who are “selected”.)

  4. I don’t want to judge anyone, but, I am living here over 40 years and the fabric of Lakewood has changed tremendously. Everyone is into so much gashmius. Even I who try to keep my life simple has issues with it. I wonder why my grandchildren have to go to such expensive day camps when my kids stayed home in Mommy camp. Why are so many restauraunts and boutiques necessary here? It’s not only Lakewood, it is all over. I don’t know if Hashem is faulting us for that, but we live like this is the life we need and we’re staying here forever. Every time a tragedy happens,we think Moshiach has to come already, but, then we forget and keep on being big consumers, with our 4000 square ft. homes, dressed to the nines, fancy cars, expensive sheitels etc. Are we really yearning for Moshiach? If we lived more simply wouldn’t we think about him more? We’re too comfortable here.

  5. It is amazing the minute someone says a drop of emes everyone jumps on him. There is a time to focus on the positive and sometimes we need to look at the hard truth!!!!. Besuros Tovos.

  6. Torah is compared to water
    Derech eretz comes befire Torah
    Instead of working on internet etc and everyone’s else’s problems why don’t we work on our derech eretz our Ahavas yisroel
    Isn’t that why the bais hamikidish was destroyed to begin with?
    Simple math let derech eretz stop the waters from damaging and let’s jeep the Torah as we are supposed as one!

  7. Here we go again!
    As soon as someone posts “suggestions” for improvement that hit a nerve people pounce!
    What did you want to hear as a way to get rachmei shamayim?
    Eat one less candy today?
    Don’t use a pen for an hour?
    Seriously people we gotta shake the heavens!
    We gotta do something that is HARD for us.
    Be it whatever you like.
    People who feel guilty for lacking in the areas suggested are usally the ones who respond vehemently!
    Wake up!
    Tzniyus is not a “suggestion”. It’s a must!
    Ahavas yisroel is not a “good idea”.
    It’s a deoraysa!
    Keeping your home pure is not just a thing “for someone else”
    It’s a chiyuv!
    Boy is Mr. Yetzer Hora slippery.
    He gets everyone all riled up.
    He plays the “I’m not holding there” card.
    He makes sure people feel insulted.
    Wow is he good.
    If anyone responds to this post in the negative…know this: I hit a nerve!

  8. Times for serious achdus and bein Adam lachaveiro and then with our return to unity together we can unite as a loving nation to a time for serious teshuva and Kinnus begging Hashem for the coming of mashiach.

    May we all wake ourselves up very soon so we can be removed from this time of non stop horrific tragedies hitting klal Yisroel daily, as we remain living in denial thinking we can fool Hashem that we don’t get his tragic wake-up calls for teshuva.

  9. True that derech eretz kodma l’torah but that does not give us an excuse to neglect the torah ‘cuz were “nice people”.
    They go hand in hand.
    You can’t just lead a life picking & choosing the “easier” mitzvos to do.
    We don’t cut the mantel to fit the torah.
    No one said being a yid is “easy”…but it sure is worthwhile.
    Remember…gehonim is big enough for everyone c”v

  10. What happens every time there is another ‘hisorerus’ abt tznius etc.., is that the people that are actually careful / aren’t having the ‘chalanges’, are thinking, “maybe I have to be more careful” and eventually go down the path of ‘snapping’…

    This is of course instead of the people that ‘need to hear it more’ taking it to action..

    (same goes for other topics that are brought up)

    Don’t forget – this isn’t an excuse, rather it is a fact – this happens at the last moments during the transition from galus to Geula.
    Let’s keep on track and not deviate.
    May we merit to see Moshiach ASAP!

  11. Everyone should look at other people and decide what they should fix. They should walk the streets and ecstatically yell “Gotcha!” when someone doesn’t follow the znius regulations they decided to follow. They should decide how much gashmiyus is ‘too much’ (just a little more than they can afford) and look down their noses at those who made the line somewhere else.

    Or each person can look inside themselves and find what they have to repair. There is a large Torah and everyone can get better somehow.

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