Last week, after Shabbat ended the dishwasher was running, the table was clear and the kids were in p’jamas. Most of us started to move forward into the new week, refreshed and ready. But then we heard the news.
“It’s the saddest thing, I ever heard,” I overheard my husband telling my 11 year old son Mendel. “Mommy,” Mendel said on Sunday night before bedtime, “a kid told me there was a fire in Brooklyn.” “There was,” I responded with a sad, grim tone. “….And seven children…” he began to continue. “Yes,” I volunteered before the rest of the sentence had time to unleash itself in the company of his 6 and 4 year old younger brothers.
There has been way too much talk about those fire detectors. I think much of it is wholly insensitive. It could happen to anyone. It once happened to us. I had been cooking for Passover and the steam from my frying pans kept setting off the smoke detectors. The blaring siren was cramping my style so I asked my husband to take the batteries out.
We forgot to put them back in. My then 2 and half year old son started a small kitchen fire at 6am. By the grace of G-d my husband woke up and shot out of bed in time to find a house filled with smoke and a tiny fire. Our son and the entire house were covered in black soot. The fire itself was extinguished immediately and we got a priceless life lesson for a bargain basement clearance rack price.
But back to Mendel and our conversation on Sunday night. I asked him if the story was scary, he responded in the affirmative. I wanted to ease the fears of my son, so I explained that we have fire detectors which would warn us in case of an emergency. I made a lighthearted unrelated comment which brought a smile to his face and lightened the mood.
It came time for me to kiss my son goodnight, pretending that he’s still a baby while he pretends that he’s too old for a kiss from his mommy. I wanted to give the conversation closure. “G-d,” I said, “doesn’t make mistakes and everything happens for a reason but when Moshiach come He [G-d] is going to have a lot of explaining to do.” Mendel liked that.
I repeated this conversation to a friend that seemed to think my closing comment was irreverent. It’s not. Irreverent is to purposely cause pain and harm to another person. Irreverent is to disregard the handiwork of G-d and treat this complex world as a random set of unrelated circumstances.
We know that everything is from G-d. We know that everything is for the good. But it doesn’t always feel that way. The Torah prescribes a complex set of mourning rituals because loss is hard and pain is real. Yes G-d is good, but nonetheless there is legitimate pain in the world. I can’t imagine that critiquing a family suffering from the worst fire that NYC has seen since 2007 is the way we are meant to deal with this tragedy. On a similar note, it’s simply not possible to say that anyone is being punished or anyone deserved such a tragedy in anyway whatsoever.
So if we have no one to blame in a practical or a spiritual way – how can we understand and move forward? We can begin to recognize that there is so much more to this world then we will ever be able to understand. That G-d is much beyond and way bigger than ourselves. Once we can leave behind any traces of such sophomoric thinking about the Creator of The Universe – we can begin to move forward.