Rabbi Benjamin Blech on the Tragic Death of Leiby Kletzky
Tisha B’Av came early this year to Boro Park.
An eight-year-old boy, Leiby Kletzky, was on his way home from day camp in Brooklyn when he mysteriously disappeared. A frantic search by the entire community failed to find him for two full days. And then his mother and father had to endure every parent’s worst nightmare. Leiby was found dismembered.
Words fail to convey the immensity of this tragedy.
Apart from its ghoulish aspects, it is simply too much to imagine what it means to send off a smiling child for a summer’s day of fun only to learn that all that is left of him is a memory.
It’s been said that the cruelest word in the English language is “never”.
Never will Leiby’s parents ever again be able to hold him, to hug him, to prepare him for life with words of advice and of Torah. Never will his family be able to share in the milestones of his growth to maturity. Never will there be a bar mitzvah to celebrate, graduations to attend, a wedding canopy to stand under with him and his bride as he prepares to embark on his own journey to family and future.
Never will all those who knew Leiby as a child be able to find out what his unique talents might have enabled him to accomplish.
Never will the Jewish community discover the contributions Leiby might have made to it and to the larger world.
Ever since the beginning of mankind the Torah reminded us that a single death leaves none of us untouched. In the aftermath of the first murder, God turned to Cain in anger and admonished him with the words “The sounds of the bloods of your brother cry out to Me from the ground.” Not blood, but bloods, in the plural. The commentators explain that when Cain killed his brother he effectively destroyed all of Abel’s future progeny as well.
In the words of the Talmud, he who murders one person is as if he destroys an entire world.
The loss of one person diminishes every one of us. It affects our collective future. It alters what might have been. It prevents us from ever receiving all the precious benefits every single life has to offer.
And when murder snuffs out the life of a child, the enormity of the word never – that we will never truly know what that child might have become – staggers us beyond comfort.
This is not the time for us to attempt any glib rationalizations or theological efforts to explain away the horror. Jewish law, in its profound wisdom, teaches us that we are not permitted to offer consolation “while the body is still before us.” The time for comfort can come only after the necessary tears.
I remember very well a somewhat similar moment in the community I served as spiritual leader. There was a tragedy that involved a young child. No one could think of any words that might alleviate the suffering of the parents. We tried but found ourselves wanting.
The scene is indelibly etched in my mind. A small group of us went to the parents, hugged them, tried to say something, choked up and simply cried.
Days later, the parents told me the only thing that helped them get through their tragedy was what we did for them. Not our words, but our tears.
“You showed us that the pain wasn’t ours alone. Your sharing our grief made it somewhat bearable.”
And that is what we must do now for Leiby and his family.
We must let them know that we cry with them.
Our tears are the words our hearts don’t know how to express.
The fact that we shed them proves that evil has not fully triumphed.
And most important of all, the Midrash assures us that the tears of the righteous summon the Almighty to hasten the day when wickedness and its practitioners will be eradicated from Earth.
This article originally appeared on aish.com. Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and the Rabbi Emeritus of Young Israel of Oceanside. He is the author of 12 highly acclaimed books, including Understanding Judaism: The basics of Deed and Creed. He is He is also the author of “If God is Good, Why is the World So Bad?” and of the international best-seller, The Sistine Secrets.