Published On: Thu, Nov 1st, 2018

When Tragedy Strikes

Entire family of 8 (parents and six children) were killed in a horrific head-on collision on Route 90. Photo Rubi Handel
by Rabbi Dr. Baruch Kastner

It is human nature to ask questions. When a news report with sketchy details is first reported, we want to know more.  What were the names of those involved?  How old were they?  How and why did it happen?  It is almost as if the information would give us some measure of comfort in knowing that we are safe and fortunate to not have been there at that time and at that moment.  Likewise, how many times have we encountered a myriad of questions that mourners are bombarded with by seemingly well-meaning people who want to know details on how the deceased passed on.
Worse, what if there are no known answers?  Tragedy strikes and the circumstances remain unclear or unknown.  Often the answer lies with the just-departed victim.  Family and friends who remain behind are left to pick up the pieces and try to make some sense out of it.  More often than not they are left bereaved, broken and bewildered.
Given the above, what do you think would happen if God revealed to us the reasons behind an entire family perishing in a Friday night fire at home or young children killed in a car accident?  After all, we think to ourselves “what a waste – they had their whole lives in front of them, and now this?”  So do you think we would be better off knowing what God was thinking before allowing seemingly tragic events unfold before our very eyes?
Let us examine this.  A few days ago an entire family of 8 (parents and six children) were killed in a horrific head-on collision on Route 90.  Imagine God revealing that the reason is that he loved each member of that particular family so much, that He couldn’t bear the thought of separating them, so He took them back to His confines in one fell swoop.  Or perhaps the reason a young child of three years of age who contracts a fatal disease and dies is because he only needed to come back down to earth to complete one small task and that made his soul complete.
I imagine that whatever explanation God would put before us, many would readily accept as logical and just.  And if that is the case, then we would find some measure of comfort and be able to more freely move on with our lives.  No more wondering, no more heart-wrenching pain, no more yelling and screaming “why”.
Is that what we truly want?  Better yet, is that what we truly need?
I believe that the answer is similar to the reason we have certain halachic guidelines in place for mourning.  We are instructed to be sad, to cry, to bereave a loss. For if we did not, we would come off as cruel, cold-blooded beings.  Likewise, having all the answers would immediately assuage our thirst for the specifics, and simultaneously shut off any emotion in which those questions were embedded.  Ultimately, that would turn us into unfeeling, stoic, and indifferent people.  We would no longer have to endure the excruciating pain and concomitant suffering.  Perhaps there is something to be said for that, however, we would also cease to exist as empathetic and sympathetic human beings.
God designed us to be able to go through the lows and highs of life.  If there were only highs, then we would in effect, stop appreciating how good we have it.  That is like saying that we should abolish the evil inclination (yetzer harah) within us.  Well, then, life on earth as we understand it would cease to be a challenge.We would just be floating along in La La Land with no sense of purpose or drive.
Judaism never shied away from asking tough questions. For example, how do we reconcile observing Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day in Israel), and immediately at the conclusion of the day’s ceremonies, we turn a switch and sing and dance while celebrating Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day)?  How do we do it?  The extremes seem so insurmountable.
But therein lies the secret.  The historical continuity of the Jewish People as a strong and resilient nation stems from our ability to control the turning on and off of that switch as deems appropriate and necessary.  It is that trait embedded within our divine souls that exempts us from having to ask those why questions.  We have learned as a nation and one by one as individuals to internalize the fact that we are always in the right place at the right time no matter what the circumstances may otherwise dictate.
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