The nation continues to express shock and grief over last Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. I visited three of the shiva homes, where I offered my condolences on behalf of myself and the Young Israel of Hollywood community. I was glad to see and hear that other shul members similarly made shiva visits.
In Israel, when a family loses a loved one to terror it is common for the shiva house to be visited by strangers who may not have known the victim, nor even the family. They come because they want to show that the Jewish People are one big family. A loss experienced by one is felt by all. This is especially true when the death occurred due to a terrorist act. Those not personally impacted by the tragedy know that “it could have just as easily been me”. It reminds them of the frailty of the human condition. Though they can’t feel that pain nor take it away from the grieving family, they want to visit the shiva house- to at least envelop the family with love and to show solidarity. I think that strangers in Israel also show up at these shivas as an act of defiance. Terrorist acts in Israel are meant to scare Jews out of living our lives, and dissuade Jews from living in Israel. By visiting the shiva house, Israelis are showing their defiance in the face of terror and their will to continue living and developing the Land of Israel in the face of challenges and heartbreak.
Visiting the shiva of a stranger is less common in the United States. But I am glad that these families were willing to open their homes (at least for a day or two) to us strangers, who wanted to offer condolences, show our solidarity, appreciate how precious life is, and demonstrate our resolve to live meaningful lives in memory of those whose lives were cut short.
When we went to the shiva for teacher Scott Beigel, I had the opportunity to speak with Scott’s mother, father and sister. Scott, aged 35, was shot and killed while shutting a classroom door, which he opened to let more students take shelter. Scott was a geography teacher as well as a cross country coach.
At the shiva, Scott’s father told me that this was his first year teaching at MSD. Scott would complain to his father that he didn’t think the students liked him, he wasn’t sure that he was making an impact. After his death many students shared how much Scott meant to them; and not just on the day of the shooting. Upon hearing this from Scott’s dad (this sentiment was also reported in the media) I couldn’t help but feel that the enormous tragedy was somehow exacerbated by the fact that Scott didn’t know the positive impact he had made- while he was alive. Too often we wait until someone is gone before we process the impact someone has had on us, or express the appreciation that is really due.
This week we read Parshat Tetzaveh. Once Moshe is born in Shemot, this Parsha is the only one that does not mention Moshe Rabbeinu’s name. Many note that this Parsha usually falls out around Moshe’s yahrtzeit- 7th of Adar. Wherever we find Moshe’s name we often find complaining and grievances by the Jewish People directed at him. Only when Moshe is absent do we ask about him. In his absence we are meant to appreciate all that he does and means to us.
Let us not wait for Tetzaveh to appreciate Moshe. And let us not wait for a tragedy, a eulogy or an obituary to tell people how much they mean to us and how much we appreciate them.