In the struggle to come to terms with and make some meaning out of the Flatbush fire tragedy, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Shlita, articulated a beautiful and poignant message for all of us. In categorizing such an unfathomable event as a community tragedy and not an individual tragedy, Rabbi Reisman called upon all of us to hear the message and take action.
What is the message? What is the point? We have no Navi (prophet) to explain Hashem’s inscrutable ways. We cannot hope to understand. Explanations for such an occurrence are simply beyond our ability to comprehend. However, there is a message for each of us. And, in the absence of a Navi to articulate the message, our Rabbis tell us the following: When an unusual event occurs, especially of this horrifying magnitude, it should spur us on to work harder on those areas of personal and communal growth we are already working on. We make no pointed or direct connections and calculations – but we do redouble our efforts in those areas of self-improvement that we know need work.
This requires personal self-reflection and self-examination. I have no doubt that many of us have already embarked on that path. It is an effort that proceeds in the innermost chambers of one’s heart, and is not appropriate for public discussion. There are, however, dimensions of improvement that can and should be discussed. As a school community of parents, educators – and children, I would like to focus on perhaps an obvious point, given the nature of the tragedy, and our responsibilities as parents and teachers – child safety.
Keeping our children safe is an effort that is requires constant vigilance, is ever changing and absolutely essential. Children need to be safe -from emotional, physical and sexual abuse, abduction, safe from hazards in their environment, and safe from unhealthy foods. Responsible parents and educators will ensure children are protected appropriately from communicable diseases, have children practice bike safety by wearing a helmet, train children how to cross streets safely, ensure proper supervision at all times, improve & upgrade playground safety and will educate their children to refrain from risky behavior.
As providers and caregivers to our children, our responsibilities extend to our own behaviors. Do we drive safely and responsibly? Is the cell phone distracting us? Are our children properly seat-belted whenever our car is moving? Do we follow posted signs and cooperate with carpool procedures? Does our need to rush somewhere come at the expense of focusing on our or others’ children’s safety?
We, along with every other member of Klal Yisrael, have been given a potch, a jolt that cannot leave us the same as before. Let us show ourselves that we are alive to Hashem’s message that our efforts at self-improvement must intensify. There is no better place to start that process than in the realm of our children’s safety. May Hashem grant success to our renewed efforts and spare us and our people from any more excruciatingly painful lessons.
Best wishes for a safe, growth-filled Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann