Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox: The Aftermath of a Tragic Loss

aaron sofer zlBy Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox Director of Interventions and Community Education, Project Chai. ‎The Jewish nation mourns the death of one of our fine young men, a Torah student and friend, a son, brother and loved member of the Lakewood community.

So many of us immersed ourselves in impassioned tefillos and Tehillim. Family and friends traveled, helping in the search, hopeful and inspired that this would all resolve in exactly the way that we wanted.

The finale was destined min Shomayim to be a different ending. We now share in the sadness and grief of his family, and in some ways, we do feel like family.

Let me explain. This Shabbos we will read about the Egla Arufa. The Torah tells us that when a body is found and uncertainty abounds, there is a complex process which culminates in the Egla Arufa. What happens? The leaders come forth, assessing the circumstances and the locale. A call is put forth to surrounding communities, describing the death and seeking those who might come join in and help identify who this was and how it might have ever happened. A desolate field, a cliff and gully, are located and the Egla is dispatched according to halacha and the elders and others proclaim that they did all that could to prevent, to intervene from such a tragedy ever occurring.

There are two perspectives given to us in understanding a lesson from this parsha. The Rambam writes that the lesson to be derived from the process is from the standpoint of the tragic niftar. Everyone gets called in to the process – the people of the nearby towns, the rabbonim, the zekeinim, the land and field owners, the cattle ranchers. This collective involvement of a virtual community of Torah-observing persons, most of whom are strangers to the niftar – helps assure that all that can be done will be taken care of by concerned others. Word gets around and even those living remote from the scene can join and have a helping role.

The Rosh writes that this massive involvement offers a lesson from the standpoint of others, not the niftar. This process can be seen as being for the sake of the people themselves. A tragedy has occurred. People are in shock. Some are grieving personally and others are overwhelmed because of the nature of the event. By each and every one taking some role, being engaged, getting involved and active, their grief and sadness can be channeled constructively. By uniting and knowing that they have taken a participatory collaborative role, some of the trauma, some of the pain, can be dealt with. The process can help bind and soothe some of the trauma.

With the crisis surrounding the disappearance of Aaron Sofer, we definitely experienced the Rambam’s lesson. We helped, each in his or her way. We did all that we were able to, and we can look back at ourselves with that security. We took a role.

We have also actualized the lesson of the Rosh. We felt the pain and we did good important and spiritual things to help cushion our distress, and in constructive ways. We are fortunate as a nation that we have taken on our obligations to others with such drive and pure sincerity. This is how we address fear, worry and sadness. We self-activate and motivate others to do so as well.

In the days following sad tidings, it is important that we impart these messages to our children. Support and comfort them with the reassurance that we faced our fear and uncertainty exactly as Yidden must. Reassure them that HaShem attends to our prayers and that they are cherished.

Console their anxious worry with the comfort that this was not an act of treacherous assault although it was a tragic death, ostensibly an accidental one. This does bespeak the importance of staying safe when hiking, when venturing out into the wilderness, but children can hear such a message positively when timed in a sensitive manner. In the immediate interval as the distressing word sinks in, avoid lecturing, admonishing and further adding to hurt and worried feelings. Listen to your children, and let them articulate their own thoughts and feelings. Relax the parental tendency to correct them right now by telling them what they “should” be feeling. Some children will talk about their reactions and some may in fact have minimal reactivity to this loss. Your task as parents is to foster dialogue, to validate difficult struggles as being part of the aftermath of hard news, and to encourage hope and reassurance.

Answer their spiritual and their religious questions honestly, at an age appropriate level. Talk supportively of the powers of tefila, and the value of trust, bitachon, both in the anxious times before we learned of this young man’s status, and bitachon now, at this time.

Parents also are anxious. One worries about their own children far from home. One thinks twice about their children being alone, off on their own, and away from their familiar turf and from the watchful caring eyes of mother and father. The solace that we look to in these events is the perspective that this was, in fact, not an act of foul play or deliberate violence. That is not enough to console the bochur’s family but it is a balm for others, in perspective.

As for the grieving family: they will need time and the process of mourning as prescribed by halacha, yet in its time, when consolation will be accepted, they will appreciate sensitive words from those who care. Time your contacts sensibly and your words lovingly. There is no grief like that of losing a child at any age, and be respectful of this.

If further guidance, conversation or support would be beneficial to you, our crisis line is open and our department at Project Chai will be certain to consult with you. Please call us at 855-3-CRISIS.

In addition, a presentation of guidance and chizuk by Rabbi Yaakov Klar, Associate Director of Project Chai and world renowned expert on Grief and Trauma, will be available this evening after 8pm by calling (518) 777-0033.

May the family find comfort in its time and may the Jewish people continue to model compassion, love and collaboration for and with each other.


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