We are still reeling from the terrible tragedy in Meron on L’ag B’Omer. Trying to understand. To make some sense of what occurred. One trope that emerged several times on news and commentary programs was, “This could have happened in any past year, but each time a miracle kept it from materializing. This year, there was no miracle.” No miracle. Despite the fact that all the elements for a potential tragedy have always existed – huge crowds, insufficient controls, problematic terrain, etc.- in previous years, the crowds returned to their homes with minimal mishaps. But, not this year.
Predictably, voices emerge announcing, “I’ve been telling them for years that something like this could happen.” I was told that there is a video clip, filmed prior to the tragic event, where a voice over a loudspeaker is trying to direct the flow of the crowds and saying, “This is going to end very badly if we don’t achieve some order.”
Were they correct? Obviously, this year’s ensuing tragedy bore out their cautionary predictions. Yet, my guess is that such voices are heard every year. However, they were not noted previously because, the miracle did arrive. By predicting terrible outcomes, you are either forgotten or, unfortunately, vindicated.
So, what did in fact happen? Perhaps, we are forced to admit that what transpired is that which always exists. Potential dangers abound. Uncertainty is hard-wired into our daily lives. Threats to the well-being of ourselves and our communities are with us constantly. But mostly we are saved, miraculously or otherwise, from their materializing.
Life is full of threats and potential mishaps or tragedies. We drive at above-legal speeds on the roads. Yet, most of us arrive home safely. But, sometimes we don’t, even if we had been obeying the law. There could be a multitude of reasons why the last time we see someone might, indeed, be the last time we will see them. However, most of us rarely consider that possibility.
There are countless potential terrorists who would willingly cause harm to innocent civilians. However, the actual accomplishment of their nefarious desires is relatively rare. Still, they do on occasion pierce our visible and invisible protective shields and wreak havoc on individuals, families and communities. Miraculously, it doesn’t happen more often. But it does happen.
The corona epidemic should also be a reminder of the constant threats that exist. In my book Letters from Planet Corona, in the first entry on March 17, 2020, I wrote:
“Our planet, Earth, is always jam-packed with bacteria, viruses and pathogens that could conceivably kill us. We are miraculously protected from them the vast majority of the time. Were we not to be, THIS is what could and would happen.”
In our prayers, Jews recite the following three times each day:
“We will thank You and declare Your praise for our lives…for Your miracles which are with us every day…at all times, evening, morning, and midday.”
When we contemplate these daily and ongoing “miracles” we are wont to think of constants in most of our fortunate lives such as the ability to walk, talk, see, and hear. We think of our lungs and heart which are constantly performing their jobs in a manner of which we are generally unconscious, unless reminded.
However, we should also make ourselves aware of the miracle of the things that don’t occur and which we don’t have, such as the myriads of varied serious illnesses, accidents, unfortunate events, and tragedies that could plague us, but usually don’t. Imagine the Egyptians at the time of Exodus. Did they ever think that they could be subject to huge outbreaks of boils, cattle disease, invasions of lice and locusts, and a deathly pandemic that struck first-born males? Those plagues always existed in potential but they were never inflicted. Until they were.
There is a midrash quoted by Rashi in Parshat Beshalach (Exodus 17:8). After the People of Israel experienced all the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt, the Splitting of the Red Sea, and God’s providing them with water and with manna, they have the ingratitude and audacity to ask, “Is God in our midst or not?” Immediately following that challenge come the words “…and Amalek came.”
Rashi asks what the connection is between these two verses. He writes:
The Torah juxtaposed this passage with the preceding verse to say, “I am always among you and ready for all of your needs, yet you say, ‘Is God in our midst or not?’ By your lives, the dog (Amalek) will bite you. And you will shout to Me and know where I am.” This is compared to a man who placed his son on his shoulder and set out on a journey. That son saw an object and said, ‘Father, take that object and give it to me.’ He gave it to him. And so, too, a second time and so, too, a third. They encountered a man. The son said to the man, ‘Have you seen Father?’ His father said to him, ‘Do you not know where I am?’ He cast him down from upon his shoulder and the dog came and bit him.
The People of Israel neglected to be grateful for God’s protection. They forgot that they were being constantly kept from potential harm. They discovered their error when the miraculous protection ceased.
In light of the recent crises, that of the pandemic and the Meron tragedy, of course we must understand that we and our leaders need to take human measures to prevent tragedy and illness. Before next L’ag B’Omer, measures must be put in place so that we do our part in averting such terrible events.
However, we should also be constantly grateful for all the things that don’t happen to us. The illnesses we don’t get due to modern medicine. The advances in military intelligence and vigilance that keep people safer from terrorism and from attack. The laws that protect us from harm and from harming one another. And to remember and appreciate the Divine Providence that makes all of that possible.
Undoubtedly, none of us wants our protections to be removed just so we can more greatly appreciate their existence. Perhaps, if we practice gratitude when we are protected from that which threatens, those threats will not materialize and bring harm to us and those we love.