15 Elul 5759
Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:
How can I explain “ra” in this world, while claiming that Hashem is “kulo tov”? Today someone told me that it is obvious that G-d does not have anything to do with this world, because his 3 year old neighbor was just killed. How can you justify or explain tragedies like that? Also, why is it that there are Torah Jews who seemingly suffer many tragedies, while there are secular Jews who lead pleasant, happy lives?
Great to hear from you, though I would rather it be under happier circumstances.
Let’s analyze the question a few different ways. First of all, there is “ra” in the world because Adom and Chava ate from the Etz HaDaas Tov V’Ra, which effectively mixed Tov and Ra together. But that doesn’t seem to help anybody. So let me sum up a shiur I gave on the subject, which is available wherever Rabbi Orlofsky tapes are sold under the catchy title “Suffering”. [Ed. note: Try Long Island NCSY – (516)371-0500.]
The first point I make is about death. Every death is a tragedy. To attempt to explain away a death, whether of a three year old boy or an eighty year old man, is impossible. Death is bad, that’s why the world was created without it. After the sin of Adom and Chava, death came into the world, but we believe it is a temporary setback that will be repaired by techias Hamaisim. So if you ask me about death, my answer is – it’s terrible and we are waiting to see it removed. As far as the death of a child, the only answer I feel comfortable with is the concept of gilgullim. Not everyone believes in gilgullim, I know in my last life I didn’t either, but that’s mainstream Jewish thought. Sometimes a neshoma has to come down into this world for a very short time to reach it’s perfection. Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote that women who have miscarriages had a soul that was so kadosh it didn’t even have to leave the womb to attain it’s shleymaus and that only very special women are selected to carry a neshoma that kadosh.
As far as suffering in general, we have to clarify three points:
1. IS IT REALLY BAD?
Without belaboring the point, we can all think of instances that we thought were the worst thing that ever happened to us and ended up being something wonderful. There are those who explain what Hashem answered Moshe in Shmos 34 (you can see my back) by explaining this idea. Hashem said you won’t understand events when they’re unfolding, only when they are over.
2. WE NEED PAIN TO GROW
If being a quality person is important, someone who has experienced pain is more likely to be sensitive, empathetic, caring, etc. Hashem will always give us the tools to grow, we might choose not to take advantage of them.
3. SUFFERING CAN BE A WAKE-UP CALL
If a person’s life is off-course, and Hashem wants to send us a message, it is unfortunate but true that we respond better to suffering than to good things. You will seldom see people organizing a Yom Tefilla or calling people to participate in a program for Shmiras HaLashon because they made a lot of money in the stock market. Or because someone is healthy, Baruch Hashem. We find that most people grow and change when they suffer. That’s the second paragraph of the Shema – do the mitzvos and I’ll give you all good things. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try bad things. But I will not let you waste your life doing nothing.
That’s a brief explanation “typing with one finger” as the famous expression goes and like I say I have an hour shiur on this for anyone who wants to take it further. May we all enjoy simchas in our life and grow from them. Let’s try to have the same respect for simchas that we do for tragedy.