Mattot: World War III

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Avenging Leiby Kletzky

Silence and Words

At an open grave one does not console. The sheer pain is too intense, the open wound too fragile. Thus, I could not bring myself to pontificate and write about last week’s horrific murder of Leiby Kletzky a”h.

But now as we conclude the seven-day shiva period, perhaps some words are in order – despite the fact that the tragedy and its aftershocks have not abated.

Indeed, just like there is a time to be silent there is also a time to speak. Because we Jews have learned that we don’t ask “why;” we ask “what.” When it comes to “why” – why terrible things happen – we are silent; but when it comes to “what” – what can we do – then we have much to say.

We may never know why a little innocent boy had to make the wrong turn and meet the wrong man – if one can call him that – only to be torn away from his family in such a brutal manner, forever. But as much as we do not know why, we do know with absolute certainty that we can and must do something about it.

So just as silence is necessary in acknowledging the total mystery and shock of the tragedy, words are equally necessary to address, explore and discuss what we ought to do.

As Maimonides writes, “when a calamity strikes the public we must see it as a result of our evil actions. We must cry out, examine our lives and correct our ways. To say that the calamity is merely a natural phenomenon and a chance occurrence is insensitive and cruel” (Laws of Fasting 1:2-3).

Maimonides’ words do not mean that we should be pointing fingers and looking to blame someone (besides the perpetrator) for the calamity, but that we should be looking into our own hearts and souls and seeing how we can correct our ways. In Leiby’s case — a child from a very loving family — it means that our society as a whole has to undergo a deep soul searching to understand what we are doing wrong that would allow such horror, and what we can do to remedy the roots of the problem.

Grief alone is not enough. As the prophet states about these sad days that punctuate the Three Weeks: These days will be transformed into joy and gladness and holidays (Zechariah 8:19. Maimonides end of Laws of Fasting). Eliminating these tragic days will not do. They must be transformed to good.

You see, grief is a very powerful force, releasing enormous amounts of energy, perhaps even greater than that which is released through joy. As such, if we allow our grief to take control then evil will have prevailed. We therefore are compelled to channel the vast power of grief into positive action – that is as intense as the very anguish itself. As such the pain becomes a catalyst, propelling us to something enormously powerful. Think of the pain and tears as water that nourishes and nurtures the seeds for growth.

Should the heartache ultimately outshine and overshadow the growth, evil would have won. And we cannot allow that.

Therefore, this calamity must drive us to change the world for the good. And in an even more dramatic fashion than Levi Aron’s monstrous act changed the world for the bad. Nothing less will do.

Turning Grief Into Action

How can we possibly transform Leiby’s gruesome death into a positive force?

By taking all our rage, our bloodcurdling cries, and mobilizing them towards driving a revolution.

What type of revolution?

A revolution that is a direct outgrowth of this particular tragedy. A parallel positive to counter the horrible negative. Jews redeem the negative – not by running away from it or dwelling on it, but by returning to the same spot where the damage took place- yet this time repairing the damage. Maimonides writes (Laws of Teshuvah 2:1) that true teshuvah (return) occurs when “a person who confronts the same situation in which he sinned when he has the potential to commit [the sin again], and, nevertheless, abstains and does not commit it because of his teshuvah alone and not because of fear or a lack of strength.”

When you are faced with the same conditions in which you transgressed, and this time you do what is right – that is true healing.

Where did the unspeakable damage take place in Leiby’s case? In the unforgivable snuffing out of a pure and innocent child’s life. The healing and redemption must therefore come through its diametric opposite: saving our children.

The State of our Children

I once asked a sociologist friend what criteria he uses to determine the value of a particular society. His answer: standard of living, per capita income, health care, respect of human rights. By these standards our society today is ranked highest in all of history.

By contrast, the Torah has one criterion that determines the level of a society: the welfare of our children. The Torah’s central focus in virtually every mitzvah, Shabbat and holidays, orbits around our children: Teach your children; When your child will ask, Answer. Children – our future, our legacy – are our single most valuable commodity. By that standard – the welfare of our children – our society may be one of the lowest in the ratings. Certainly not in the top tiers.

Our children today are under attack. They are neglected, ignored, left to fend for themselves, without healthy role models and mentors. Television and media – with its fantasies and superstars – have become the babysitters and paragons for our children.

Just look around: many children grow up in broken and dysfunctional families. The level of social anxiety and misery is at unprecedented heights. Witness the amounts of money and time spent on therapy and other interventions to heal our fractured psyches. How much of that can be traced back to our fractured childhoods?

Some of you may feel that I am exaggerating and the situation is not as ominous as I am describing. You are entitled, but ask yourselves: Are children happy today? All newborns are born happy, but is that true about, say, ten year olds? 15 year olds? And besides, when it comes to our most precious commodity, our future, isn’t it better to err on the side of caution, to cherish and protect our children more than necessary, instead of the other way around?

There is no doubt that our highly materialistic and me-centered society is taking its toll on our most vulnerable: Our children. When people are consumed with their own needs, with power, money, acquisition, self-indulgence, the first to suffer are their children. Self-focus deprives our children from receiving their single most vital source of sustenance: Attention and love.

And what happens to a child deprived of nurturing? The same thing that happens to a flower deprived of water. It withers. It gets desperate – it gasps for breath, desperate to find some nourishment, some love, healthy or not, to feed its parched soul…

We don’t have to wait for outright abuse and molestation to see the damaging effects of neglected children. Remember the rule: All unhealthy behavior is rooted in much subtler forms of abandonment before it blows up into overt abuse. When children are not cared for, a vacuum is created. And we know nature’s attitude to vacuums. Nature abhors a vacuum. All predators thrive in vacuums.

A vacuum, on its own, seems quite innocuous. And in its early stages it waits quietly, dormant, seeming not to bother anyone. But it creates fertile ground for the most dangerous of forces. First a child is neglected. Then a defenseless child is abandoned. And then we wonder how that child got hurt.

Save Our Children

The opposite end of the spectrum of a child being hurt is a child being helped; a child being saved.

Leiby’s death was the epitome of betrayal – a defenseless child left to the wolves. And the horrific manner of his death, only amplifies the betrayal.

Just to be clear: Leiby was not betrayed by his parents. They are the most wonderful, loving parents any child could dream of. Just listen to the words of Leiby’s brokenhearted father at the funeral…

He was betrayed by society. By an environment in which children can be hurt. By a world that allows predators to thrive.

This tragic story is not about blaming any one individual; it’s about shedding light on the larger picture; on the general status of our children today. We ought to be looking for the bigger lessons, the deeper messages. As cited earlier from Maimonides: a tragedy behooves us to look into ourselves and our own lives.

The only thing that can counter the horror of children being hurt, is an even greater effort to save our children.

So here is what we can do:

We must once and for all declare war against any form of child abuse, child neglect, child molestation.

But this is not just a war “against”. This is a war “for”.

For loving our children. For cherishing our children. For hugging and kissing them a million times a day. For making sure that wherever they go – to school, to camp, for a walk on the street – they are absolutely safe and cared for, protected against any predator, abuser or molester.

Loving our children with such vigilance helps prevent vacuums from emerging. With every vacuum eliminated, there is less fertile ground for predators to feed off.

World War III

We have fought many battles and waged many wars throughout history. The 20th century was home to the two bloodiest wars in all of time.

Now, at the dawn of the 21st century let us wage one final war. Call it World War III. But unlike all its predecessors, this war is an offensive one – a war for our children’s pure souls.

Our battle today is with complacency borne out of comfort and prosperity. Our freedoms and luxuries (which are a true blessing) allow us to become apathetic and take our blessings, beginning with our greatest blessing – our children – for granted. Our war today is to generate a sense of urgency from within, a laser-focused effort to put our children on center stage where they belong.

Leiby’s death should wake us up that enough is enough. Enough of adults indulging in their own needs, leaving children vulnerable, victims in their wake, undefended and unprotected.

Enough minimizing and pushing our children’s hurt under the rug.

Enough sitting by as schools and camps become environments where children can be harmed.

Enough of broken and dysfunctional homes, battlefields where children are left to be slaughtered.

Enough is enough.

Let us reclaim their innocent souls. Let us make sure that our children always know how much they are cared for and cherished.

Before putting your children to bed, and upon their awakening, make an extra effort to hug and embrace your child. During your busy day, find some way to reach out to your child, spontaneously. These are but two simple suggestions. When we apply ourselves, we will surely find many more ways to nurture our children, our flowers, our gardens.

Friends, please share you ideas and suggestions by commenting on this article. We will be happy to post your suggestions for the benefit of others.

This is a war that each of us can and should wage and be a part of. No need for training and special techniques.

And wage the war for our children with passion – with at least as much, if not even more intensity than the grief of Leiby’s abduction and brutal murder.

Keep your eyes open. Should you even suspect that a child is being compromised or hurt, say something, do something.

Every school and camp, every day care center and playgroup, every place where children congregate, should appoint a discreet marshal who is trained and experienced to detect any form of abuse and predatory behavior, and nip it in the bud before it conflagrates.

Let us declare war against any predator or potential predator, by declaring loudly and unequivocally, for all to know, that we accept nothing less than a new zero tolerance policy. Predators beware: Your life – not your victim’s – will be destroyed should you ever touch a child. Potential predators of the world be on guard: Know that we are watching – all eyes are trained and focused on you.

Predators thrive in darkness. As soon as you shine the light, many will think twice before acting.

Like a burglar alarm, awareness and shining the light is not a guarantee, but a powerful deterrent. Should you ever touch a child inappropriately, your life will be seriously affected. You will be ostracized. You will be exposed. Your family, your wife, your friends and community will be made aware of who you are. The shidduchim of your children will be at risk.

Obviously, this needs to be done responsibly. But we’ve had enough cover-ups and denial. It’s time to move the fear and shame to the perpetrators and away from the victims. Instead of the victims cowering, let the predators cower.

We must declare full-fledged war and publicly announce that if one has a problem around children, if one cannot control his inclinations – then he must seek professional help. Wives of predators must cease being silent enablers and accomplices.

Sexual abuse of children is not a “game” or child’s play; it destroys lives. It affects a person’s entire futures, haunting him or her forever. It complicates and distorts – and often ruins – future relationships.

Touching a child inappropriately changes the child’s life forever…

Our Parting Words to Leiby

Let us be able to look into the eyes of Leiby’s soul and tell him: Your death will be avenged. Your death was not in vain. Your death was the final nail in the coffin of child neglect and child abuse.

Your death has mobilized us all in a war – the final war – against anyone and anything that will ever hurt a child again.

Your death was the beginning of a new era that will, at long last, finally abolish from this earth even one hurting child!

Yes it has come to this: A declaration of war.

Total and absolute war.

Nothing less will do.  Nothing else will suffice.

G-d, our Father in Heaven, we are ready to do our part. We beseech you, please do Yours. Comfort us all among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. And above all, help us eradicate all form of hurt and abuse from the face of this earth.

———

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joseph
11 years ago

chazak u baruch !

Draizel Newhouse
11 years ago

Many Jews, even Frum ones, pride themselves in being indistinguishable from the Gentiles. THey shun Jewish names, call themselves by secular names, dress like Non-Jews, speak like them, socialize with them etc. THis opens the door, Lo ALeinu, (may G-d protect us) to to the Satan and other Mekatreigim (bad angels) to say to the Al-mighty: Look, the Jews want to be just like the Gentiles. Well, well send them the child molesters, the child murderers etc. It will be (Chas Vesholom) just like in the general society. THis trying to blend in with the Non Jews has to stop.
We have to be proud that we are the chosen nation and are different. Just like in Egypt we were redeemed because we kept our Jewish names, our Jewish way of dressing and our Jewish language, so in this generation we have to do the same, get rid of our Goyish names and we will merit to see the ultimate redemption.

Ita B.
11 years ago

Rabbi your words came from your heart and entered all your readers heart. But this enormous sadness of this child will not be repaired by only your words. Years ago I knew a family that had abuse in their home but was afraid what would people say or what would happen with the children getting married. There is so many storys like then and still now. Meantime, the children turn away from the Abishter and people feel it is the childs issue. My daughter saw on Crown & Kingston a sign that if any one sees or hears of abuse you are halachic responsiblity to report it. The question I have a sign is a beginning but we need to make it safe for those to come forward and tell either of their personal situation or what they know that is walking around in the streets of Crown Heights, go to the Mikvah, sitting in Shul and talking to children that will be come friends with that human and NO one says a thing. I lived in Chicago and it seems there is a gentlemen who spends a lot of time with young boys 15 16 years old. The gentlemen is divorced and never got married again. I was at a Purim Sedah and he was sitting near a young boy in the back of the hall talking with him very close. No one said anything no one whats to get involved. Abishter I pray your words help so many children are wounded from these situations.

World war 3
11 years ago

May the power of your words be converted into action and may it come to pass that such heinous acts disappear from this world we live in….

11 years ago

Yshar Koach! Thank G-d that you have expressed this; I have heard so much about teaching our children to be vigilant.. but if someone were standing on the main street firing a rifle, G-d forbid, would it be enough to practice running and hiding? What about taking down the gunman? How many molesting predators were once victims themselves?
One yields 100; 100 yields 1000 chv? A little boy who is G-d forbid touched by someone whose reputation the school, shul or community protects will one day be someones daughter chosson- whose unsuspecting daughter will that be?

Keli Leeba
11 years ago

After reading your tender but strong article I am crying too much to comment except to say thank you.
It is time to light. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi.

Batsheva Dor
11 years ago

God bless you, you have cptured the light and clearl shining through….May this light of love spread in our world and transform the future of humanity
Blessings of light and love
Batsheva

Mendel weinberger
11 years ago

Rabbi Jacobson,
You have written powerful words, words to inspire hope, words as a call to action. I think it is also important to consider how the perpetrator of this crime came to be. Was he also a victim of abusive parents/teachers etc.? How is it that the Jewish community could produce a man capable of such a deed? I agree that something must be done to prevent this from happening again, but perhaps the place to start is with parents and teachers and the whole structure of Jewish education.

Adam Neira
11 years ago

Did Leiby Kletzky know Levi Aron ?

If the answer to this question is yes then there are immense ramifications.

Prayers for little Leiby. I hope he is playing with the angels in heaven right now. The importance of this case should not be underestimated.

rochelle
11 years ago

Not only must we love our children but in this world we must give them the gift of fear

Seeking answers
11 years ago

A question to ask is how could a person so disturbed as Laibys killer not have been recognized as someone who needed help to develop into a healthy human being? What happened points to the communitys neglect of people who are mentally sick.

Naphtali
11 years ago

Thank you for this sobering article – the problem – it is too limiting both in its scope and its audience. The observant world does not want to admit when there are problems in the community – children off the derech, drugs, domestic violence, etc. This has to end! The leaders of the institutions or shul leaders must take the lead or be held accountable. Secondly, and maybe even more importantly, as a person who has a weekly parsha shiur in my community, I spoke out that the unity all Jews feel when such a tragedy occurs, this poor boy, or Mumbai, or countless others – why are we united only in tragedy? Why do Jews engage in sinas chinum toward each other because of the way they daven, the color of their yarmulkas, whether they are of one persuasion or another? The Temple will not be rebuilt until we have achdus in good times, not only times of collective mourning!

richard
11 years ago

I agree with the statement that we need a revolution. It must be from the bottom up as you say, but it also needs to be from the top down. Our government institutions have become so self serving and inefficient and so consuming of our countries resources, that it is not sustainable, economically and morally.So many people derive benefit from the government and as a result will not change for fear of losing that benefit. Our society has deteriorated to the point that we need help from a higher authority to create effective change. Until then, as you say, we must do what we can.

Withheld
11 years ago

I considered myself a loving and caring mother to my 7 children. I put them in religious schools and drove them every day to and from. I prepared healthy lunches and snack. I tried to do whatever was best for them. I helped them with homework; was strict as to where they would go and who they would go with. And yet, I failed to be able to keep one of my children safe. In the school where he went, he had a rebbe who molested him for a year. And through his courage and his strength, he blew the whistle. And I told him it was over…that he saved many boys lives and that he was the most brave person I had ever met. Our family rallied together. I became proactive. There were many boys involved. A few familes came forward; Many were worried about getting sheduchim for their children in the future and so remained silent and never dealt with it. Their children never got help or the support and love that they needed to heal. It has been many years. The perpetrator is a wanted fugitive. They got him out of America…they tried to cover it all up. He is just one of many unfortunately. What a shame…they had a golden opportunity to be a shining example unto the world. They could have been heroes! It would have had a ripple effect if they had stood up! If they had decided to have a zero tolerance policy…if they had decided to be a marshall for protecting children. This did not happen on the street. This happened in SCHOOL! Today, my child is a beautiful, strong and loving young man. From last weeks tradgedy he has had a burning desire to do something! The aftermath never goes away…but to actually be able to do something…and know that you have the support of the community is huge. For many years back, I had no support. And I received many calls from young men all over the country telling me their horrific stories and encouraging me to fight for the safety of children. It has been quite a rocky road…a lonely road. I found out who my frieds really were. And I realized that the fear that others had was nothing more than False Evidence Appearing Real with regard to how others might perceive them should they stand up and fight for their children as well. The principles of the Torah are the truth, they are constant; they never change. BUT, the egos and arrogance of man, when it gets in the way of those principles is what creates chaos and hides the real truth for us all. Perhaps what can be done now is to put those egos aside; take away arrogance and let the principles of truth…the Torah, shine brightly for us all.

June
11 years ago

As a former educator with a Masters Degree in Emotionally Handicapping Conditions, I saw firsthand what abuse does to a child. Through the years I have had children scarred from sexual abuse, emotional and physical abuse, etc. The fact is that special education children are the most abused of all children, because their families cannot deal with the everyday issues.
I am blessed, Rabbi, because I have Legal Guardianship of my beloved grand-daughter, who is my life. My social security and pension are my entire income, yet I manage to send her to a safe private school, take ballet and piano lessons, and have a loving home at the end of the day.
Rabbi, people tell me she is blessed, however the fact is that I am the one who is blessed to have this precious child who I consider my daughter – I have her since she was born.
Blessings June

Celina
11 years ago

Bravo for the lest comment. How is it possible that no one, his family, friends the place where he worked noticed that the man was sick, very sick and needs help and not a job. That is the biggest problem. Many sick people wander on the streets unnoticed until a tragedy happens. People are too self involved to pay attention or to get involved. Let us first educate our grownups and the children will be more protected.

Malka Stern
11 years ago

In the past 2 weeks alone I have seen young boys (aged 4 or 5) wandering alone. One had left shul to go home. I crossed the street with him, brought him to his bldg. and then–he didnt know the combination to the front door. Where was his father? Why was the boy at Shul, if his father wasnt watching him? True, theres generally a childrens program, and that week,none, but–how can one counsellor be watching 20 kids, anyway?

And it goes on. I have seen it at least 3 times this year, probably more.
Enough is enough. Neighbors need to speak out when they see this kind of behavior. Even better, they need to volunteer to help overwhelmed parents.
And btw, helping your wife with the kids sometimes takes priority over going to Shul…

I saw a young mother at noontime, carrying an infant with the sun scorching on his head and he shrieking with pain. Why didnt she know that she has to cover his head? Why the ignorance? She thanked me when I reminded her. Dont be afraid to point out inconsistencies, because you may save a life. Instead of judging, volunteer to help.

Tamara
11 years ago

As a survivor of abuse from both a parent and a religious leader, I transform the pain, secrecy, shame and fear, every time I share my story. I share it not in disrespect of my father, but acknowledging that he was terribly ill. Sadly, he was the better of my two parents.
Through shedding light on the subject, I am given the opportunity to allow another person to know that they are not alone or at fault.

I protect my children with education and vigilance. To my daughters, I am the parent I did not have.

For me, these actions transform the evil into good. My vengeance is survival through and with G-d.

Dianne
11 years ago

It is with deepest sadness that I read your response and feel it necessary to respond. Hatred, arrogance and pointing fingers at the evil people that caused this through their sin is an extremist view. The Jews knows this better than anyone since they have been accused by Muslim extremists of the very same thing. I choose to interpret Judaism as Leibys parents have. You can find their response to this tragedy at http://www.leibykletzkymemorialfund.com/

Devorah Hesha Sara
11 years ago

One I know and recommend is Keren Hayeled.

Sara Vonderfeld
11 years ago

This article should be shared in all Jewish circles, and with as many people as are willing to read, listen, and participate, as it applies to all society today.

Chaya Gross
11 years ago

BH
The anguish over the brutal murder of an innocent child is beyond words. And having said that I keep thinking about how this insane murderer was a part of a minyan and a member of a community in which nobody noticed him? That is the unimaginable. The call of Leibies parents for unity and acts of kindness is really the call of the day. How is it that nobody had an eye constantly on this neighbor. How is it that nobody noticed him with this child? A friend told me that her Rav said that every Jew living in this generation has to be heartbroken that he was part of such a generation in which something like this could happen. Leibies innocence is understandable but how do we explain our ambivalence to what is going on around us. How many shabbos invitations did Levi Aron have in the last year? Even one? True he is strange but is he therefore no longer a part of the Jewish people? I ask myself to be more sensitive to these misfits because their isolation could lead to even more serious consequences. The follow up to who the murderer was gave a very clear profile of a very sick Jew, and nobody took the trouble to get him help or get him off the street. We can never protect our children enough unless we are vigilant about everyone around us. Most abuse is by those around us or people we know. Why would an innocent child suspect a kippa wearing man who wants to help him?
To make the world a safer place we need to really understand that all Jews even the creepy ones are part of us and we must acknowledge them too. Only with true unity, can we overcome the dangers that really can be anywhere and anytime. This story is not unlike the pelegish on the hill. It is a wake up call a desperate wake up call for Am Yisrael to pull together and NOT GO BACK to NORMAL. We must change dramatically and it is not by becoming obsessive about our children as much as teaching our children that every Jew is a part of our people and we must care for all of them even, or maybe especially the mentally ill, as they are the ones who can do the most damage. And I cant help but ask….what makes a man do such a horrendous act of murder? What did his parents do or not do? What happened to the child he once was? Psychotic? Perhaps but how?

chana
11 years ago

Rabbi. you are the first to bring true guidance as to how to react to this impossible-to-grasp- story.
This monster perpetrated in gashmiyus what ALL molesters do spiritually and psychologically, ripping the childs soul and psche into shreds. Your response is part of that wider response, to bring Moshiach. It is a practical do-able and totally appropriate way of reacting. And in the merit of the change that Leiby has perpetrated we WILL see the ultimate Redmption very very soon.

chana
11 years ago

Please create a video clip of this article to ensure that English SPEAKERS and those who relate better to video hear these words. G-d bless you

hinda schryber
11 years ago

This tragedy is truly horrific and incomprehensible. The article is outstanding and should be circulated. Chaya Gross remarks are also true and need to be taken seriously.
As a manager of a psychiatric rehab organisation I can verify that not all mentally ill people are child abusers or insane. My clients are just as shocked at this as you are.
Levi Aron – no doubt had some sort of impulsive psychotic episode – which in NO way excuses what he did but does tell us that he was a very sick person who needed to be under the intense care of his doctor or even in a closed unit. It is hard to believe that this was his first episode or that he was was being seen regularly. I think the problem here lies with the services who should have cared for him – or even those he was living with. A very small percentage of mentally ill people need to be cared for in institutions – when they are at risk to themselves and others – as he was. The vast majority live independantly in the community and are absolutely no risk at all.
Perhaps this is part of the lesson we all need to learn.

Rachel Rosen
11 years ago

His fathers words..betrayed by society, environment where children can be hurt, a world that allows predators to survive…How can we allow a Justice system that aquits a mother who murdered her own child and lets her go free and protects her and supports her. How can we defend such a justice system? We must scream out or more perpetrators will be running around free in the streets.The Justice system is one of th 7 noahide laws for the stabilty of society.

Rafi Bratman
11 years ago

Thanks for you article on caring for the children of the world. There are millions of children in dire need of food and water in Somalia and East Africa, on the brink of starvation & famine. Its important that the Jewish community do something to help the children there before its too late.
https://www.wfp.org/donate/hornofafrica?gclid=CJi0g72RlaoCFQVrKgodFFRNzw

Good Shabbos,
Rafi Bratman
Chicago IL

Rabbi Y Hecht
11 years ago

Dear Simon, You are on to something big and really meaningful. Go with it!

“World War III” for our children is something that is needed now more than ever.

Thanks for writing this article it resonates deeply and moves one to action.

— Yehoshua

Menachem Mendel Nuchum
11 years ago

There are children in Israel who sadly face hunger every day. Please help-

https://www.yadezra.net/donation_e.php

May your Shabbat be blessed.

The Meaningful Life Center