How can we even begin to process this? A beautiful 8 year-old boy, Leiby Kletzky, was simply on his way home from his local yeshiva day camp in Borough Park. He was to meet his mother at their appointed location, but failed to show up. A search was begun by law enforcement and members of the community, and all remained hopeful that Leiby would be found, safe and sound.
And, yet, on Wednesday morning, we all learned that Leiby had been murdered, and parts of his body were found in multiple locations. A precious child, living in a presumably secure and trusted neighborhood, was brutally murdered, and no one seems able to discern any possible connection between the suspects and the victim. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this tragedy. All we can possibly ask is, why?
In the midst of heartbreak and tears, we find ourselves with many questions: Why do these things happen? Why do bad thing happen to good people? Why do tragedies, challenges, crimes, and illness strike us?
As a rabbi, I am asked similar questions at least once a week. Part of the mystery of human existence lays in the answer to “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And, boy, do I wish I had that answer. I wish I had the answer for a young father in my congregation who doesn’t understand why he has been stricken with worsening lung cancer. I wish I had the answer for a mother whose son inexplicably committed suicide a few months ago. I wish I had the answer for the religious school student who refuses to believe in God because the Holocaust took place. I wish…
Upon learning of a death, a Jew traditionally offers the words, “Baruch Dayan HaEmet.” Blessed is the Righteous Judge. These three words are meant to address some of this mystery. God, we hope and assume, has a different viewpoint of everything that happens down here on earth. God sees the big picture. Hopefully, God knows something that we don’t, and the struggles of our lives are important pieces of a much larger puzzle. We pray that our struggles have meaning and reason, even if we remain unaware. We may comfort ourselves with reminders that, “It’s all part of God’s plan.”
Other traditions in Judaism seek answers in a “Cause and Effect” kind of way – what did I do to cause this? Is this (illness, loss, divorce, pain) somehow my fault? If it is, and if we decide to look at life this way, it helps us regain a sense of control. Ah, so, if I did something to bring this suffering upon myself, then I MUST be able to do something to avoid it in the future. The belief about the destruction of the Second Temple being brought upon us by “sinat chinam,” baseless hatred, within the Jewish community, is an example of this way of thinking. There are even those who try to find reasons within the Jewish community for somehow being to blame for the Holocaust (a truly despicable way of thinking).
And then, there are those who, despite all other possibilities, recognize that sometimes terrible things happen, and there is no reason. How could I ever try to understand that, somehow, God decided that beautiful Lieby needed to die, and in such a brutal manner? And, worse, how could I possibly even consider, for a split second, that Lieby or his family are somehow to blame for bringing this tragedy upon them?
As uncomfortable as it is for us, sometimes we may just have to acknowledge that bad things happen, and we are sometimes powerless to stop them. Whether we like it or not, God gave us free will: “See, I set before you today life and good, and death and evil” (Deut. 30:15). God, by giving us choice, must have understood that there would be those who would choose incorrectly. Death and evil exist, and we all must work hard to choose goodness and life-giving acts in our lives. I like to think that, when a human being chooses evil, God is just as saddened as we are, and cries with us in our grief. God holds our hand, mourns with us, and continues to hope for a day when humanity will choose “good” and “life.”
Let us begin to choose “good” now, by surrounding the Kletzky family with prayers of comfort, strength, and love. To paraphrase Psalm 130, God, we are crying out to you from the depths, and we pray that you hear our voices. God, take care of all those who experience loss, pain, injury, heartbreak, and struggle, and please provide them with the strength and courage necessary to see the beauty, goodness, and blessings of Your world. HaMakom y’nachem etchem b’toch sh’ar avalei Tziyon v’Yerushalayim. May the Kletzky family find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. And may Lieby’s memory be for a blessing.