I don't know why it happened. I don't understand. I am only a student, barely out of my teens. I am not a rabbi, a philosopher, or a psychiatrist. I can't explain it at all.
Some have tried. They talk about injustice, senseless violence, a world we cannot understand. They discuss the need for better mental health services, better ways to screen for criminal insanity, and the necessity of taking away the stigma of mental illness so that those who are ill may get help and those who are not may be protected.
I think: It's not a puzzle to be broken apart, a riddle to be solved. How can one give reasons, not tears? It seems so uncaring, so clinical and so cold.
I did not read the papers. I did not click on the links. I do not want to read anything about the autopsy. I want for it to be untrue, but if it must still be true, I wish everyone would stop giving their opinions about why it happened.
But then, I think: I am young and I have no idea how this world works, how God works. There are some people – great rabbis, probably, and not philosophers or psychiatrists – who do have some notion as to why seemingly senseless tragedies occur. They can explain. I cannot. For me, a young student just beginning my study of Torah Judaism, there are no reasons. There can only be lessons.
So I decide: I must not forget. I must learn. Something. Something for this boy, for his loved ones, for this nation.
For Leiby, whom I have never met, I will remember three things that I have learned from the only part of his story that I know.
(1) The Jewish people are one big family.
Thousands of Jews immediately stopped everything and helped search for one Jewish boy. We put up fliers, navigated through dangerous neighborhoods, and watched endless video recordings of nearby streets. We forgot everything we thought we knew about our differences and came together to search for one innocent child. Our varied backgrounds, clothing, languages, observance, and belief in and understanding of God did not matter. Finding this child, our child, was all that mattered. As a family we searched together and we cried together and we now mourn our shared loss.
Can we please be family in glad times, too? Can we care for one another every day? Can we put aside all silly judgments about who we think someone else really is and who we think someone else thinks we really are? Can we come together each and every day – as members of a family – as we did for one little boy?
Because of Leiby, we know it is possible for us to harmoniously live as part of the Jewish family. Because of Leiby, we've already done it. Can we please try to always continue? I can't think of one good reason to allow anything to separate us again. Can you?
(2) Every moment is precious.
A 9-year-old boy went to summer camp and at the end of the day he had only a few blocks to walk in order to get to his beloved mother. He never made it to her, and he never returned home.
How many times do we think we'll have so many years, even infinite years, to love someone, to be kind to someone, to once again speak to someone, to listen to someone, to make amends, to see the beauty in those we know? Why do we think this way? We know it isn't so.
Please – be kind now, be sweet now, see the goodness in those around you now. Tomorrow might be too late. Why wait?
(3) Learn from everything that comes your way.
Maybe others know why little Leiby's life on earth ended the way it did, but I don't know, and I am not in any position to theorize or to wonder why. However, I can choose to learn from this and from every event and encounter in my life. To decide otherwise, to look away, or to pretend it never happened, would be to ignore opportunities for growth and strength and for repairing my small part of the world.
Let us not wait for illness, suffering, tragedy, pain or death to motivate us to think about our words, our thoughts, our actions, our lives. Instead, let us think and learn and find meaning and grow with every encounter, each and every day.
Why does the talkative woman always seem to run up to me just when I have a full day of errands to do? Why does the elderly gentleman need my assistance to lift a heavy load just when I want to relax? Why does the child seem to enjoy sending nonstop questions in my direction when I already had a long day and I have so much on my mind?
Why do I think my life would run more smoothly without these people? Who, exactly, do I think I am? What precisely, do I think I am here to do?
Do I want to leave this world knowing I was able to rush from one thing to the next and get an inordinate amount of errands done in less time than it would take anyone else? Would I be content to know I spent my life relaxing more than helping others, taking it easy instead of seeing every person as a human being, just like me? Would I be glad to know that I figured out how to zone out as young people spoke to me, questioned me, and looked up to me, and that I did this because I thought my life, my job – and my thoughts were more important than really listening to these children?
What truly matters to me? Am I living in a manner that is consistent with what I really believe?
The lessons I have learned, the lessons that I will take with me every day, are not so profound, and they are not even new. But the key is in the implementation, the doing, the personal transformation.
Be thoughtful. Be kind. Be good.
Live your years – many healthy years – as you truly believe you should.
Little Leiby did not have the chance for a long life, but he did live a meaningful life. We might have a chance for both. Please, let's try.