The recent tragedy of the Sassoon family in a terrible fire over Shabbos has brought tears to many corners of the Jewish world. There are no words to describe the sorrow that the surviving father must be feeling along with the angst over the ongoing life and death struggles his wife and sole surviving daughter are fighting.
Despite that it seems that lots of folks do have words and not all of them make sense. Having listened to a few lectures on the subject of how to respond to this tragedy it seems a common theme is present. Despite it being seemingly obvious that the lessons we should learn from this are to own reliable hot plates, not keep them near flammable objects and have copious smoke detectors in one's home we seem to be getting repeated reassurances that, in fact, this is exactly not the lesson we need to be learning.
Instead we are told that we should link this disaster to women dressing immodestly or our not keeping Shabbos well enough .
Perhaps it's the ongoing trend within the Chareidi community towards irrationalism (as in the opposite of the rational approach) but it seems to me that as deep and erudite as these lectures are they completely miss the point, despite each of them assuring me that by not thinking their way it's me that's missing the point.
The Torah, in one of its less glitzy mitzvos, tells us that if we have a roof on our homes that people can use we should built a parapet or railing to ensure no one accidentally falls off. This rule is easily extended into the principle that one should ensure one's dwelling contains no safety hazards. It's common sense and a decent thing, exactly what the Torah would be expected to demand of us.
Oddly this mitzvah, which to my simple mind seems incredibly relevant in this matter, never seems to matter. Rather we are subjected to endless discussions about increasing our emunah, how the righteous suffer to atone for the sins of the generation and whatever the pet aveirah of the speaker is being the real cause for the Sassoon family's destruction. But this shouldn't be the case.
Now I know that a lot of this irrational trend can be traced back to the Michtav MiEliyahu who took the Ramban's mystical approach and created a worldview in which nothing in this physical world actually matters. According to Rav Dessler, zt"l, all we see is an illusion and God is the only true reality. Therefore all our activities and hishtadlus are meaningless. All we have is tefilah and emunah on our side in our interaction with the Creator. Despite this we are expected to go through the charade of trying to interact with this "fictional" world because that's what God wants, a variation on Rachamana liba ba'ei, I guess.
This seems to end up in sermons on emunah when the topic should be about where the best price on smoke detectors and home fire extinguishers can be bought. After all, if God is pulling all the strings and we are not doing anything then it's not about the practical menas for preventing another occurence like the one the Sassoons went through. Only people on a low level who don't see God's presence in this world would do that. People on a high level like these lecturers know that it's really all about prayer and faith.
And perhaps I'm just someone on that low level but it seems to me that if the Torah really didn't put any value in practical self-protective behaviour it wouldn't have made the building of safety devices on one's roof into one of the "big 613". Indeed, would it not have rather told us that if we have a roof on our home we should pray that no ill should befall those standing on it? Why bother with the exhortation to look after ourselves exceedinly well when all we should be doing is praying that everything works out?
But then, these are the folks that tell us that God put dinosaur bones into the Earth to trick us into thinking the planet is older than 5775 years. Such a tricky deity!
In this end the lesson from the Sassoon family is: Go buy smoke detectors and don't skimp on kitchen appliances. Make sure your home is safe. You have a Torah obligation to do that and by buying those items and installing them you are performing a mitzvah! Isn't that what we're supposed to do?