Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Adar I 5763 - February 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Thoughts about the Tragedy

Dear Ilan,

With great trepidation I write to you of two world shaking events that took place yesterday, Shabbos Mishpotim. Both involved men by the name of Ilan (lehavdil bein chaim lechaim), both men with great interests in aerospace and both events had to do with Shabbos.

In Johannesburg, Ilan the son of committed traditional Jewish parents who are slowly building their involvement in Yiddishkeit, kept his first Shabbos as a bar mitzvah. He read his maftir and haftorah, pronouncing each word clearly. He then said over his drosho on the parsha most eloquently, demonstrating his intellect and excellent language abilities. The drosho had been prepared over a number of weeks, in sessions he held with his father and his community rabbi. Ilan, for the first time, saw during those sessions, the beauty and unbelievable depth in the Torah and saw how the meforshim analyze and explain the text with magnificent insights. The venue of the day's seudahs were decorated with model airplanes, alluding to Ilan's great passion for flying and related matters.

Unfortunately on this very day another Ilan lost his life in the skies over Texas, leaving behind a widow and orphans -- indeed a sad event for any fellow Jew to hear about. This man had worked hard to make his mission worthwhile for the Jewish nation.

Within the limits of his background, he identified a number of deeds that he believed would contribute to unity of his nation. He organized kosher food for his trip, he had special containers with wine provided so that he could make Kiddush on Shabbos, and he took a memento of the Holocaust, with which the secular Jewish world would identify in their quest to "never forget."

This mission generated much discussion about halocho in space, whether Shabbos applies, what time does it start and end and what would be the times of davening. Ilan was interviewed about his wine and the kiddush and so the world was connected to ideas of Judaism on a massive scale. Some commented that the "life and death nature" of the work would exempt a Jew from the laws of Shabbos, but others questioned whether one was allowed to deliberately put oneself into such a situation.

To compare any of us with a person in that holy generation that accompanied Moshe Rabbenu in the desert would be ludicrous and forbidden. However one cannot fail to see a connection with an incident that is recorded in the Torah at the end of Parshas Shelach. A certain person (known as the mekoshesh eitzim) transgressed Shabbos in a well publicized fashion.

His motivation is widely discussed, but however it is explained, he is credited with bringing a great sanctification to Hashem's name in the world. He was executed for his actions and so the nation for all generations learnt that the laws of Shabbos are far more than a nice national custom. They saw them now as the foundation of the existence of a Jew and something that no man can take lightly.

It will need the great rabbis of our generation to give a view as to reasons why things happen and I am sure even they would hesitate to give judgmental opinions on a Jew after he has gone to the eternal life, where the true judgment takes place. However, one feels such a strong impression of the Hand of G-d in this event that I comment and I hope that it is for the benefit of Ilan Ramon z'l.

The world paid attention to a Jew who was acting Jewish. The world was going to celebrate the beauty of small Jewish "traditions" and the upholding of Jewish pride. The world was going to say that Shabbos can be celebrated with a sip of wine. As the Columbia came back into the atmosphere, where there are no longer doubts of when it is or isn't Shabbos, it disintegrated and this famous Ilan became a symbol for us all, that Hashem demands commitment from us, even to the point of mesirus nefesh, giving up our lives.

And back in Johannesburg, our Ilan (lbcl'c) must learn that every Ilan (translated as "tree") must keep its roots in the ground. His flying should be to go to places of better Torah opportunities and to do mitzvas. He should always be fortunate to be close to a source of water (to which the Torah is compared), so that this Ilan will grow to be a giant tree with its branches reaching to the Heavens.

Love and mazaltov,

Your Uncle Shraga


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