Along with the rest of the Jewish nation, we are heartbroken and mourn the loss of those who passed in the horrific Meron tragedy on Lag Ba’Omer. May their souls be bound in the binding of eternal life and may Hashem send consolation to their families and may they never again experience any suffering. May Hashem send a speedy recovery to all those who were wounded and give their families the strength to endure this difficult test.
There is no one in our generation who can precisely pinpoint the reason behind Hashem’s Heavenly judgment as to why this catastrophe occurred. No one can understand why such great souls were taken from us on the day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s celebration at his tomb. This is one of the concealed matters which we will only gain clarity about when our righteous Mashiach arrives.
In general though, regarding why such a tragedy occurred to the Torah-observant community, we can try to speculate after hearing the words of a tremendous Torah luminary and leader of our generation, Hagaon Chacham Shalom Cohen Shlit”a. He exclaimed that this tragedy happened as a result of the sin of baseless hatred. We must know that whenever calamities occur, we are guilty and bear responsibility. Indeed, Maran zt”l would say that the brunt of the weight of the Jewish nation’s actions today rests on the shoulders of Torah-observant Jews in our generation, for the actions of the non-religious to not bear as much weight for they are considered “inadverdent” since they do not understand the ramifications of their actions. We must therefore awaken and rectify our deeds and not, G-d-forbid, seek to place the blame on others and to claim that they bear responsibility for this tragedy.
There is no reason to speak explicit words of rebuke on this matter, although recently, the honor of the Torah and flames of discord have reached an almost all-time low. Nevertheless, we must all do what is expected of us and search within our own souls and our own homes to weed out all forms of strife and hatred. If one has a conflict with a neighbor or even a brother (which is a terrible thing and leads to transgression of the verse, “Do not hate your brother in your heart”), this is the time to bury the hatchet and work things out, bringing about baseless love. May Hashem see our suffering and redeem us completely, speedily and in our days, Amen!
Our Sages instituted that after each member of the congregation recites his own Shemoneh Esreh (Amida) prayer silently, the Chazzan must repeat the Amida aloud so that if there is anyone among the congregation who is not proficient enough to pray on his own, he will hear the Amida prayer from the Chazzan and thereby fulfill his obligation. There is reason for this enactment even nowadays. Additionally, as a result of the Chazzan’s repetition, we merit reciting “Kedusha” (“Nakdishach Ve’Na’aritzach), answering Amen, and the like.
Only one who does not know how to pray on his own can fulfill his obligation by listening to the Chazzan’s repetition. However, if one knows how to pray, one is obligated to pray on his own. If one does not know how to pray on his own but understands the words of the prayer, one must pay close attention to the Chazzan while he is reciting the repetition aloud in order to fulfill one’s obligation. Nowadays, thankfully, almost everyone knows how to read and Siddurim are readily available in a multitude of languages so that even if one becomes newly religious and has never yet prayed in his life, one will be able to do so immediately and with ease. Everyone is therefore obligated to pray on his own and in this way, one does not fulfill one’s obligation with the Chazzan’s repetition.
During the Chazzan’s repetition, the congregation must listen to the blessings he is reciting, concentrate on their meaning, and answer “Baruch Hu U’Varuch Shemo” and Amen to them. It is a grave sin to speak idly during the Chazzan’s repetition; one who does so is called a sinner, his sin is considered too great to bear, and is admonished (see Shulchan Aruch Chapter 124). The holy Zohar (Parashat Terumah) writes that whoever speaks in the synagogue when the congregation is involved in praising Hashem shows that he has no share in the G-d of Israel. The Poskim indeed quote this Zohar. The Poskim write that the sin of idle chat during the Chazzan’s repetition causes synagogues to be destroyed, G-d-forbid. (These are indeed the words of the Kol Bo quoted by several Acharonim. It is quoted in the name of Hagaon Rabbeinu Yisrael Abuchatzera zt”l, the saintly Baba Sali, that a reason why several Jewish communities were spared during the Holocaust was in the great merit of their not speaking in the synagogue during the Chazzan’s repetition.) It is proper to appoint several individuals to be responsible for keeping quiet and decorum in the synagogue and they should remind, punish, and publicly shame anyone who transgresses this terrible sin continuously. About those who waste their time chatting idly in the synagogue did Hashem tell Yeshaya the prophet (Yeshaya, Chapter 1), “When you come to see My face, who asked this of you, to trample on My courtyard?” Certainly, if one is careful to honor the synagogue by not speaking during the Chazzan’s repetition will be honored and handsomely rewarded by Hashem in return, as the verse (Shmuel I, 2) states, “For I shall honor those who honor me and those who scorn me shall be shamed.”