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Shocked into Silence

Shocked into Silence

Responding to the horrific murder of Leiby Kletzky.


I was in the unenviable position of having to inform my wife that they found the body of Leiby Kletzky. Her face turned white.

"What happened to him?"

I was silent. I could not bring myself to describe the horrific manner in which this innocent child was brutally murdered. By a Jew. The words, even if whispered in a hushed tone, could not leave my mouth.

"Worse than anything you can imagine… I can't talk about it."

I wasn't the only one who was shocked into silence. The most prevailing response in the 2000 plus comments expressing readers' condolences from around the world was "there are no words." It felt as if the Jewish nation was rendered speechless, reeling from a punch in the gut, unable to grasp such incomprehensible horror.

Our silence in the face of tragedy is reminiscent of Aaron's response to the sudden death of his two sons, budding leaders of the Jewish people, who were cut down in the prime of life. "And Aaron was silent" (Leviticus, 10:3).

Aaron's silence was borne from a total acceptance of Divine will, despite his enormous loss. Our silence, at least in part, stems from denial, the first instinctual response that provides a modicum of safety that our world can remain the same, kids can go to camp unharmed, our Jewish neighborhood is a haven of basically good people. If we don't talk about it, we can push away the weight of grief and horror.

But perhaps the universal reaction of silence hints to something else, something that goes to the core of what it means to be human.

Related Article: A Message for All Jews

When God creates man, fusing the dust of the earth with the breath of life – a soul, the Torah says "and man became a living soul." The translator Onkelos interprets "living soul" to mean a "speaking spirit." It is our unique ability to speak that makes us truly human. Speech is the bridge that joins the world of thought to the world of action, where heaven meets earth, where the spiritual and the physical – the body and the soul – come together to create the inherent tension point of free will.

Being exposed to unimaginable brutality, graphically described in the reports of Leiby Kletzky's murder, affects us. Evil that had previously not been a part of our world crashes through our psyche's door and penetrates our soul. It chips away at our humanity, leaving us numb to the core. How can any human being commit such crimes?

The result is that we are struck dumb. Speech, the defining characteristic of being human, "goes into exile" as the Kabbalists describe it, because our humanity is shaken. We are less human.

Witnessing such horror and debasement, we have been shocked into silence. But we dare not remain silent.

The last few days I've been walking around in a fog of sadness and grief, as if I have suffered a personal trauma. And I know so many others feel the same.

The Sages of the Talmud tell us the "silence is tantamount to admission." If you don't agree with a proposition or accusation leveled at you, say something. Otherwise your silence speaks volumes.

Witnessing such horror and debasement, we have been shocked into silence, feeling that there are no words, only tears. However, we dare not remain silent. When our speech is in exile, when our humanity has been weakened, we need to do something to restore our humanity, to restore our speech. We need to strengthen and elevate our humanity by activating our souls.

The Talmud (Sotah 2a) instructs one who has witnessed a person accused of immorality to take an extra stringency upon himself in that area, to actively distance himself further from evil, even though he himself has not engaged in any sinful act. Since his reality has been expanded to include something so negative and destructive, he must work on increasing the positive forces in his life to restore the balance.

The word 'mitzvah' (commandment) shares the Hebrew root 'to connect' – mitzvot are the avenue to transcend the physical, remove ourselves from the churning storm of evil, and re-attach ourselves to God and to what is good and true in the world.

I can leave the fog that is encasing me when I reach out to give my children an extra hug, when I choose to be patient and caring, when I choose to get out of my own petty concerns and think about others. Instead of only reeling from this horrific tragedy, let's work to channel our pain and shock towards doing good, strengthening our souls individually and collectively. Taking on a specific mitzvah that speaks to you not only helps to elevate the soul of Leiby Kletzky, it elevates your soul as well.

Click here to donate to The Leiby Kletzky Memorial Fund

July 17, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 69

(65) Sharon JW, July 24, 2011 12:07 AM

To the Family of Leiby Kletzky

In a world dominated by so much spiritual awareness and protestations of good will, we are forced to question how evil continues to stand on its own volition? And then we pause to consider the victims of crimes against humanity. ” Leiby Kletzky” joins the long list of those who perished at the hands of irrational behavior. There are never any words to express the true grief evoked because we can’t know the depth of one’s suffering after loss. All we seem to end up saying time and time again is how sorry we are. I am no exception. The heaviness of my soul walks with the Kletzky family. As a mother I have wept for “Leiby” and I have tried to find solace in who he was during his short time on earth; specifically how he may have touched people and how he would have wanted to be remembered. In my search for consolation I came upon a reading entitled “Meditation before Kaddish” found in the Reform Siddur “Mishkan T’filah”. The words enabled me to transcend the despair as I felt that it might be how “Leiby” may have discussed his transition. I would like to share the passage and hope that it may bring some comfort to the members of the Kletzky household. When I die give what’s left of me away To children and old men that wait to die. And if you need to cry, Cry for your brother walking the street beside you. And when you need me, put your arms around anyone And give them what you need to give me. I want to leave you something, something better than words or sounds. Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved, and if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind. You can love me best by letting hands touch hands, And by letting go of children that need to be free. Love doesn’t die, people do. So, when all that’s left of me is love, Give me away. Mr. and Mrs. Kletzky as you say goodbye to “Leiby” “Lose not courage, lose not faith, go forward” (Marcus Garvey 1887-1940). May Adonai be with you all in your hour of need.

(64) Mike, July 23, 2011 9:28 PM

My condolences

I want to offer my condolences to Leiby's family. Mike

(63) Carolyn Beecher-Flad, July 22, 2011 3:14 AM

To the Parents, Family, and Community of Leiby Kletsky

My dear, dear friends, Forgive me if I call you 'friends,' but I feel so close to you. I am living in California, and I am a mother of two girls. I was once, not so long ago, a Jew. I studied to convert with an Chasidic rabbi. I will always consider the Jews, in so many ways, my people 'too.' Please know that I have searched and searched the internet for your names. I know you want and need privacy, but my heart has cried out to me, day after day and night after night as I consider the picture in my mind of your precious son, Leiby. I cannot tell you how sorry I am that a monster has taken a good boy and the world he was and would have been from this earth. I know that you were very proud of him and you gave him your trust and your love and he carried that with him. He knew until his last moment that you loved him and trusted him and what greater gift can we give to a child? When a child is robbed of our world as was your son, good parents in all corners feel for you. We may not stand in your shoes, but we will bear the pain with you. My dear Kletskys, one and all, and your community as well, I send you my love and my certitude that justice will prevail and may God give the peace that only He can give. Blessings upon all of you, Carolyn Beecher-Flad Rocklin, Ca.

(62) Annika Hasenkamp, July 21, 2011 6:21 PM

My condolence

I m really shocket about the death, My condolence goes to the family and friends and many more people who knew him.

(61) Anonymous, July 20, 2011 6:01 PM

Why does the news media keep referring to Leiby's murderer as an orthodox Jew ? No orthodox Jew kidnapps and murders. If he does, he is no longer orhtodox.He should be executed and erased from the nation of Israel!!!

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