In Loving Memory of our Beloved Brothers
Eyal, Gilad and Naftali HY"D
Several years ago, I was in a shiva home as Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler was sharing a profoundly beautiful Torah thought from his revered father-in-law Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt'l with the mourners.
Reb Moshe posed the following question: "Why is it that we make the bracha (blessing) of 'Dayan HaEmes' (Blessed is G-d Whose judgment is just) when we mourn the death of a loved one, which basically means that we accept the bitter judgment Hashem gave us? Aren't we obligated to believe that everything Hashem does is for our ultimate good? If that is the case, why don't we make the blessing of 'Hatov V'hametiv' (Blessed is G-d Who bestows good upon us)?
Reb Moshe gently explained that our chachamim (sages), in their wisdom, crafted the "Dayan HaEmes" blessing to inform the mourners that it is perfectly understandable and theologically appropriate for there to be a deep chasm between what they know intellectually to be our Torah's perspective on tragedy and the raw pain they currently feel due to their searing loss.
My dear friends, I share this with you in the hope that Reb Moshe's timeless words will help us come to grips with the unspeakable tragedy of the heinous murder of our beloved brothers Eyal, Gilad and Naftali Hashem Yikom Damam (May G-d Avenge Their Blood).
We know what we are supposed to think, we know that our Torah expects us to process tragedy through its lens and accept Hashem's Din as just and ultimately for the good - but we also know the searing pain that our human, broken hearts are feeling now.
Reb Moshe informs us that this is OK, and is part and parcel of our spiritual experience in this world as we do our best to see and feel Hashem's presence in a world where it is often hidden from us.
Four times in the past fifteen years, I had the impossible task of explaining the inexplicable to our talmidim (students) as we lost a beloved teacher to a horrible automobile accident and three parents in our school passed away after long illnesses over that period of time. Here are some of the messages shared with our students.
Explaining the Inexplicable
There is a timeless Yiddish saying - "Vos es feilt in hasbarah, feilt in havanah" - that is probably most appropriate in analyzing your dilemma in responding to your child's questions regarding this horrible tragedy. Loosely translated, it expresses the stark truth that when we find it difficult to explain concepts to others (hasbarah means to explain, while havanah denotes understanding) it is often because we ourselves don't understand them fully.
This adage often rings true in the arena of parenting, as so many of the challenges we face when raising our children are really issues that we as parents are in midst of grappling with. So I guess we ought to discuss both of these issues simultaneously: How do we process tragedies through a Torah lens, and how do we respond to the questions that our children pose in trying to understand them.
As this is such a difficult subject, let's start with the do not's before the do's, as it is far easier place to begin.
1) Do not suppress the questions of your children - about this topic or any other. Always keep in mind that you never solve anything by taking that easy route. An unasked question is an unresolved one. Creating an environment where your children can freely ask you anything that is on their minds means that you are positioned to properly guide them.
2) Do not be intimidated or frightened to admit that you don't have 'all the answers,' especially to questions as difficult as these ones. It will be very refreshing for your child to see that you are finding this difficult. In fact, you will have the opportunity to model appropriate behavior when you are stumped or find yourself looking for answers that are over your pay grade - by posing the question to someone more knowledgeable in these areas.
3) Do not verbalize or even imply that respectfully asking for answers to questions like these is disrespectful or represent a lack of emunah in Hashem. Quite to the contrary; you ought to explain that looking to gain insight into the workings of Hashem's is really a sign of closeness to Him.
It might not be a bad idea to mention that the question of, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is one that has been asked by our greatest leaders and nevi'im over the centuries.
According to the Gemorah (Brachos 7a), when Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem, (Shmos 33:13) "Hodiani noh es drochecha - Please make Your ways known to me," Moshe wanted to understand the age-old question of why so many righteous people suffer while it often seems that the wicked are prospering. This was the 'derech' of Hashem that Moshe wanted to understand. In fact, according to Rashi, it seems that this was something that Moshe had wanted to ask previously, and waited until this opportunity presented itself - once Hashem's rachamim (mercy) was granted to the Jews. What is noteworthy and perhaps worthwhile mentioning to your child is that a simple reading of those pesukim would indicate that even our greatest leader and Navi, Moshe Rabbeinu, was told by Hashem that a full and complete understanding of Hashem's 'derachim' cannot be granted to humans during their lifetime.
You may worry that your child (and you) may be distressed to find out that there are no easy answers to these questions. But in all likelihood, the fact that our greatest tzaddikim were preoccupied with these thoughts will be comforting to him or her and not leave them feeling like they are on the outside looking in just because they are bothered by these questions.
Perhaps the most simple way of explaining 'tzadik v'ra lo,' loosely translated as, "Why (seemingly) Bad Things Happen to Good People," is to frame things as many sifrei machshava do in terms of a linear timeline. The underlying theme is that one cannot properly comprehend events unless they can view the entire time frame associated with that occurrence. There are many variations of a common mashul, analogy, used by our chachamim to drive home this concept. A well-known one tells the story of a city dweller who needed to spend time in the fresh-air environment of a farm while convalescing from an illness. As he had no understanding of the farming cycle, he was shocked and distraught to see a beautiful field plowed. "Why are you making this grass into mud," he asked? The farmer told him to be patient if he wants to understand things. Things really turned south when he saw the farmer throwing wheat seeds into the ground. More waste and insanity, he thought. Again, the farmer told him to be patient. The city dweller felt better when he saw beautiful sheaves growing, but that quickly dissipated when he saw the threshing and grinding. On and on the story goes until the city dweller finally saw freshly baked bread. At that point, it all made sense to him.
The nimshal is simple but profound. In order to understand things, we need to see a 'full story.' In the case of the farmer, it was a six month event. In the case of making a scrambled egg, it is a 5-minute timeline (Why did you break those perfectly good eggs?). However, Hashem's world is timeless and mere humans cannot understand events in this world as the timeline of our lives in so short compared to Hashem's eternity.
This would explain the dialogue between Moshe and Hashem after the sin of the egel (Golden Calf). Moshe asked Hashem, "Hodiani noh es drochecha - Please make your ways known to me," (Shmos 33:13). The Gemorah (Brachos 7a) explains that Moshe wanted to understand the age-old question of why so many righteous people suffer while it often seems that the wicked are prospering. This understanding was the 'derech' of Hashem that Moshe wanted to understand.
Hashem informed him, "Lo suchal liros es ponai, (Shmos 33:20) - You shall not be able to see My face." Several pesukim later, Hashem informed Moshe that He would permit him to see the 'back' of Hashem. To see one's face is to examine every detail of their being. Moshe wanted a clear understanding of what transpires in this world. Hashem denied his request, not because He did not wish to grant it to Moshe, but rather it is simply impossible for a human to understand all the details of Hashem's world.
Hashem was explaining to Moshe that humans have a limited life span, and cannot always understand Hashem's world. We cannot see the 'face' of Hashem - as we are unable to see the larger picture. Just as flying in an airplane affords people a different view of the earth, so too, Hashem, in His infinite wisdom and His global view, sees things in a way that we humans cannot. Hashem, however, did grant Moshe the ability to see things in retrospect - to see the 'back' of Hashem.
Now, it is still very, very difficult to make sense of terrible tragedies even with this insight and there are various hashkafic approaches to reconcile things. Mine is a straightforward one and one that I find to be honest and teachable when circumstances dictate that I need to explain the inexplicable to children.
I tell the children that the Gemara occasionally leaves a question unanswered and the Gemara ends with the word "Teiku" which basically says that we need to wait for Eliyahu HaNavi to resolve this. Some tragedies are simply a "Teiku" - something I just do not understand. I share with them that my father's death 50 years ago is still a Teiku to me and it will probably remain so for the rest of my days.
I often use a dating analogy to finish that point and explained that when I married my wife, there was no way that I could be 100% sure that we were right for each other. We dated, we were compatible and very much liked each other until we were 90% sure that it was right. Ultimately, though, it took a leap of faith on the part of us both to close the last 10%. And we both did it based on the good feelings we had from the 90% we shared.
I strongly feel that whatever twists and turns this discussion takes, one theme that parents should stress to their children is that after all is said and done, we must have emunah, faith or trust in Hashem. I do not think that we ought to tell our children that, "We can explain everything," because ... we cannot.
There will always be "Teiku" questions, and that's when bitachon needs to kick in. The eternal truths of the Torah give us enough confidence in His hashgacha pratis that gives us the faith to take the plunge and accept things we do not understand. And since in the limited time we have in this world and with our limited understanding of His ways, it is impossible for us to understand 100% of events that happen; we must leave the last 10% to bitachon and accept b'ahava things that are beyond our ability to understand.
I once gave my son directions that were in conflict with both GPS and MapQuest. Gasp!! I told my son to, "Trust me." And since I have given him good directions over a period of ten years, he did. Ultimately, it all boils down to bitachon. And it may be helpful to explain to our children that just like we trust our parents because we have a reservoir of good faith, so too, we need to place our faith in Hashem who provides for our every need.
Unfortunately, dealing with challenging times is part and parcel of our people's history. From the initial sale of Yosef that was so hard to understand at the time it occurred - but eventually resulted in the salvation of the children of Yaakov, and throughout the many generations, we have gone through very difficult times filled with seemingly inexplicable tragedies and what sustained us though all those difficult times was our faith in Hashem.
It is interesting to note that when Hashem informed Moshe that he cannot see His 'face,' chazal tell us that Hashem showed Moshe the knot of the tefillin. I would like to suggest that the image of a kesher is one of two individual straps joining together to form a knot. What happens is that the two straps become hidden from view at times, and actually reverse direction at times. But both straps emerge as a stronger and firmer unit. Perhaps this was the deep understanding that Hashem shared with Moshe - that although humans cannot understand "Why (seemingly) Bad Things Happen to Good People," eventually we become stronger as a result of these events.
The Grieving Process
Some thoughts on the grieving process:
A. Grieving does not get better is any predictable pattern, but rather follows a random series of ups and downs depending on a host of factors
B. Not only does grieving go through ups and downs, but there are also distinct phases of grief codified by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Once you know what to look for, you can almost watch people transition between these phases. They are:
C. People grieve differently. I often use a sports analogy ask kids to reflect on how differently their teammates respond to hitting a home run, or winning/losing a game. Some take it in stride and show little emotion while others go way over the top. Just like there are different ways to celebrate, so too, are there different ways to mourn -- and they should feel free to just be themselves and allow their friends the space to do the same.
D. Carrying the sports analogy further, explain that joining a team means that you practice together and support each other over the entire season. You also celebrate victories and get upset over losses as a group. So too, families and communities celebrate and mourn together and support each other.
E. Finally, perhaps the most important point to understand is that one who is communicating with a grieving child (or adult for that matter) never really knows which of the countless facets of this tragedy is troubling him/her. And the only way to find out is by talking less and listening more.
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