Parshat Pinchas

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Harry was so close to the mirror now that his nose was nearly
touching that of his reflection. “Mom,” he whispered. “Dad,” …
Harry was looking at his family, for the first time in his life …
— The Philosopher’s Stone


Walking or driving the streets these last few weeks you probably found it hard to ignore the huge billboards showing a young teenager and an evil-looking adult ferociously duelling with outstretched wands. These ubiquitous posters and signs are of course advertising the screening of the final saga of the wizarding world as conjured up by author JK Rowling in the Harry Potter series.

Whether or not you read, enjoy, or approve of the series, there is something marvellous about Rowling’s rags to riches story, and in the millions of children who have been drawn away from their Playstations and computer screens and have discovered the joy of reading for themselves.

I came across a moving comment by JK Rowling where she describes the loss of her mother at a young age and the depth of feeling this enabled her to imbue into one particular scene. The scene (which she describes as her favourite) is where the young orphan Harry, protagonist of the novels, looks into a mirror and sees his deceased parents and grandparents. This mirror, which she dubs the Mirror of  Erised (desire spelled backwards), does not reflect what is in front of it – it reflects the deepest desire of the person looking in. Thus Harry, a lonely orphan, who has always longed for his parents, sees in this mirror his deepest desires – his parents smiling and waving at him as if alive.

Although only a children’s novel I found this to be very poignant. Death is so final and the loss of someone we love can be so abrupt, that often our deepest wish is simply to see them again, as they were before they passed away, and to share a loving moment together.

Our Sages tell us that this world is only temporary, like an entrance hallway leading to the main hall. After we have fulfilled our mission on this world after 120 years, we move on into the real world, Olam Haba – where, like the Mirror of Erised, those we love are there to greet us. For most of us that mission does not last all the way to 120 years, but for some tragically it does not last even a decade.

This week we saw a terrible heinous act, the murder of an innocent young boy at the hands of an evil psychopath in Brooklyn, NY. Leiby Kletzky was just nine years old when he was kidnapped this week walking home from summer camp in Borough Park (a neighbourhood where this type of crime stands at zero percent), before being brutally murdered and dismembered. This was Leiby’s first time walking home by himself and he had begged his parents to allow him to do so. They had finally agreed, had sent a permission note in to the staff and had carefully rehearsed with him the directions home.

He never made it.

Surveillance cameras in the neighbourhood show Leiby taking the wrong directions, and eventually catching a ride with someone who must have offered him a ride home, and who looked like someone he could trust. Leiby’s cold-blooded murderer did not look like the type of person a Jewish child is warned to avoid. He wore the religious accoutrements of an insider; he wore the kippah, beard and tzitzit of a religious Jew, the religious symbols of a G-d fearing people, a nation who have a love for children buried deep in their DNA. No doubt he had prayed that morning with tallit and tefillin – to a G-d who abhors violence, to a G-d who is finely attuned to the cries of an innocent child.

The Jewish community in New York is reeling with shock and grief. This type of evil is virtually unknown in our midst. In Jewish communities around the world we feel the pain of Leiby’s parents, siblings and loved ones who are now sitting shiva for an angelic young boy who never did anyone any harm. Leiby’s father, Rabbi Nachman Kletzky addressed his only son at the levaye, saying that they were lucky to have had him, if only for nine years. “Daven for your sisters and the rest of your family, including the entire People of Yisroel,” he beseeched. “Hashem natan, ve’Hashem lakach,” (Hashem gives, and Hashem takes away) he continued with a broken heart, “Thank you Hashem for giving you to us for nine years. Thank You for what You gave us.

On Tuesday this week, the 17th of Tammuz, we will refrain from food and drink in remembrance of the great tragedies that befell our people with the twofold destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. For three weeks we observe days of mourning for that loss, from the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz to the destruction of both Temples on the 9th of Av. Our tradition teaches that the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash came about because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred, dislike of others for no real reason.

When we are able to eradicate Sinat Chinam, and to replace it with Ahavat Chinam, love of other people for no reason other than because they are created by the hand of G-d, and inhabit the same planet as us – then we will repair the damage which led to the destruction of the Temple. During these Three Weeks, as we ponder what we can do to make the world a better place, a place where young children can walk safely home from school without being butchered to death, we can start with removing even a trace of Sinat Chinam from our minds and hearts.

We cannot bring back a murdered child, but we can all make a change for the good in the world around us, and that merit, may we see the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, the ushering in of an era when evil and suffering are eradicated from the face of the earth, and when little Leiby is reunited with his doting parents and siblings, speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent

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