United In Grief

united in grief picPleas for assistance have turned into cries of anguish, as Jews around the world struggle to come to grips with the horrifying death of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky a”h after he was abducted in Boro Park on the way home from day camp. Though the tremors of this event will never completely recede from memory, this special boy, his loving family, and the dedicated community that is Am Yisrael have imparted to the world a deeply felt dose of inspiration and resolve

By Shimmy Blum 

It was his first day walking home alone.

On his way home from day camp last week, Leiby Kletzky missed a turn and ended up lost at a street corner at the same time that a  predator was in the vicinity. According to the evidence known at press time, he was murdered in a manner shockingly gruesome even by criminal standards, not to mention by an individual of Jewish lineage.

Leiby was the beloved child of responsible parents who invested all their energies in their children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare.

There is no doubt that it had been destined by the One Above that little Leiby Kletzky a”h would meet his unthinkable fate on a bright summer day last week. Nor is there any doubt that the sins that brought about this calamity were not those of a sweet youngster adored by all who knew him for his yiras Shamayim and middos tovos, whose purity shone through on the grainy images of his face displayed around the globe.

As thousands of Yidden of all stripes gathered near Boro Park’s Beis Medrash Heichal HaTefillah last Wednesday evening to bid farewell to the neshamah that gripped the world’s attention, this reality was not lost on anyone. Mingling with the overflow crowd, I heard attendees sighing, “Mehn darf teshuvah tuhn — we must do teshuvah,” and expressing similar sentiments. Others stood silently, but clearly had such thoughts on their minds.

Throughout the day preceding the levayah, the throngs of law enforcement personnel and journalists roaming Boro Park’s streets wore long faces; Jews of every description wept openly and recited Tehillim. The thick clouds hovering above, the howling winds, and the harsh bouts of rain reinforced the thick sense of foreboding in the air. 

Incomprehensible The apprehension was palpable among the crowd as they awaited the arrival of Leiby’s aron. Shock was universal, as was the recognition that, whatever new information may yet emerge, this incident will never be comprehensible by the human mind.

We simultaneously came face to face with the darkest and brightest sides of Am Yisrael, the nation that banded together to fruitlessly search for — and then suddenly mourn — their young brother. Clearly, we will never again be the same.

Flatbush resident Tzvi Wolf, like countless others at the levayah, had never met the victim or his family. Nor does he even live in their neighborhood. Yet he felt very much a part of the week’s events. “This situation brought people together,” he explained. “Every Yid is touched by this incident; even the irreligious woman I saw in the bakery this morning was talking about it.”

Looking ahead, Reb Tzvi saw a clear lesson: “We have to start taking part in more gemilas chasadim. We should be thinking less about ourselves and more about others.” 

Wrenching Sight, Pointed Words Levayah attendees needed no more than to see little Leiby’s aron being lifted out of a dark sports-utility vehicle to experience perhaps the greatest awakening of their lives. The heartrending hespedim that followed would offer mourners a Torah perspective from those most intimately touched by the tragedy.

Rav Gavriel Zinner shlita, author of Sefer Nitei Gavriel, wailed that the death of “this dear soul, this tzaddik … who never did any aveiros” was an “olah temimah,” an unblemished sacrifice on behalf of Klal Yisrael. The nesachim (libations that accompany the bringing of a korban), he added, are the rivers of Klal Yisrael’s tears.

“Young children suffer because of the aveiros of the generation,” Rav Zinner cried out. “We have no idea how much Heavenly fury this child has squelched.” In memory of the holy sacrifice, the renowned posek urged a greater devotion to halachah and particularly called for increased vigilance in observing the halachos of yichud (seclusion of males and females together).

The next maspid, the Kossover Rebbe shlita, also called the young niftar “a lichtige korban.” He stressed that, even during the darkest of moments, we must recognize that Hashem’s love toward Yidden is immense, as well as acknowledge the reality that our own forces of love have, Rachmana litzlan, all too often been trained toward inappropriate subjects, and not toward Hashem and our fellow Jews.

The crowd wailed like infants when the Rebbe drove home this point with a searing metaphor. “There is a child lost on our streets, and he needs direction … yet no one is looking at him. Why? Because we’re busy! We’re too busy!” he thundered.

In his hesped, Rav Binyamin Eisenberger shlita, rav of Beis Medrash Heichal HaTefillah, drew a stinging parallel to the parshah of the eglah arufah, requiring that when a Yid is found dead near a city, its leaders must gather and proclaim, “Yadeinu lo shofchu es hadam hazeh, v’eineinu lo ra’u — our hands didn’t spill this blood, and our eyes didn’t see [the death].”

“We must introspect within ourselves,” Rav Eisenberger exclaimed. “Can we say that there is no blemish on our hands and eyes, that we haven’t committed any aveiros with these limbs [that could have caused this tragedy]?” 

Deriving Inspiration While those assembled wallowed in pain, the grief was laced with a tinge of inspiration and a yearning to retain it for the future. The Kossover Rebbe noted that throughout the days since Leiby was first reported missing, Klal Yisrael felt as one family. “Everyone feels like it is his child lying here,” he said, and the diverse throng, a sea of black hats and dark beards dotted throughout by clean-shaven Yidden and heads sporting kippot srugot and baseball caps, bore vivid testimony to his point. He implored his listeners to hold fast to these feelings of achdus and ahavas Yisrael, the disregard for a Yid’s appearance or “party.”

Rav Eisenberger, who shared an extremely close rapport with Leiby and his family, related a string of poignant anecdotes and thoughts related to this “rare child” and the “home filled with love, the home filled with chinuch” in which he was reared. He spoke of Leiby’s parents’ dedication to and mesirus nefesh for his chinuch.

The rav read aloud tidbits from Leiby’s report card, where the eight year old was termed a “tzaddik” and “an oved Hashem.” He related that the boy was seen as a role model in shul for his davening and sterling middos, an image now seared into the minds of tens of thousands of Yidden who never merited seeing him, but will be infinitely inspired by him.

(Incidentally, that report card was signed by Rav Eisenberger himself, just a small indication of the exceptional nature of the kehillah that has so distinguished itself this week.)

Rav Eisenberger noted that the unusual circumstances that led to Leiby’s death connote that, just as at Yetziyas Mitzrayim, Hashem involved Himself in bringing this event upon Klal Yisrael and didn’t rely on any natural forces. “We can clearly see what Hashem wants from us,” he implored. “He wants our tefillos; we should daven diligently even when there are no loudspeakers and [search] command centers on our streets. He wants shalom among us, that we should only see our fellow Yid’s virtues.” Rav Eisenberger spoke of Leiby’s immeasurable zchus in being the catalyst for these great deeds.

(Full article will appear in this week’s Mishpacha Magazine).

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  1. we were warned by Hashem to start doing TESHUVA when 3 Tzaddikim were niftar in a matter of only 2 weeks. But that was not enough to wake us up to return to Hashem from our Heart. We left Hashem with no choice but to send us another wake up call of a DIFFERENT KIND OF TZADDIK-a child/being a person that had not sinned yet.

    is it time for us to wake up & return to hashem yet? or was this world tragic event not enough?

    the time is NOW not tomorrow to return to Hashem & do TESHUVA. before we need any other wake up calls from Hashem C”V

  2. klal yisroel needs a yom tefillah a gathering. hashem wants something from us. this is an awakening. can we somehow have a yom tefillah and gathering with hookups all of yidden round the world

  3. Beautifully said. Perhaps we can be mekabel to post only polite positive comments, instead of the usual critical/sarcastic/disparaging ones, on this site as a zechus for Leiby’s neshama.

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