Tragedies and Complaints against Hashem

*From a newspaper interview, Nissan 5772


[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Shemini 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Two horrifying incidents occurred a week apart, both of them involving small children: Four Jews were murdered, amongst them three children at the entrance to their school in France, and a father and his five children died in the Israeli town of Rechovot when their house was struck by fire.


Why do tragedies like these happen?

We certainly do not know G-d’s reasons for doing what He does in this world.

Sometimes the righteous suffer and sometimes the wicked thrive. The Prophets long ago asked why they received no answer to this question. Moshe asked, and the Rabbis of the Talmud differed over whether or not he received an answer (Berachot 4). But even if he did receive an answer, who says that we understand it? The Books of Kohelet and Iyov deal with this question as well.

Yet the underlying principle is what Rabbi Yochanan said whenever he finished reviewing the book of Iyov: “A man is destined to die. Fortunate is he who grows great in Torah, and who toils in Torah, and who brings contentment to his Maker.” Some comment that it isn’t really referring to his “reviewing the Book of Iyov”, but to the times that things happened to him along the lines of what befell Iyov. Rabbi Yochanan had ten sons, and all of them died.

A man doesn’t know how long he will live. Some people live more and some live less.

The main thing is to fill one’s life with Torah, Mitzvot and good deeds.

One mustn’t come to G-d with complaints because of calamities. That is wrong. That is ingratitude. Two incidents such as these are rare in the State of Israel, and in other countries as well.


When was the last time eight children were killed within one week?

We must remember that before the emergence of modern medicine, two thirds of children died of illnesses. Nowadays that is extremely rare. A child’s death is absolutely terrible, and the general picture of the statistical spread does not remove a family’s suffering. If, based on the statistics, a particular illness strikes one child out of a million, for that child’s mother, it’s a hundred percent. For her, it makes no difference what happens to anyone else. But we, with a broader perspective, must recognize that our lives are Paradise.


But don’t people suffer tragic deaths all the time?

True, but every year more than 350 people, including children, die in traffic accidents, and more than 10,000 die of smoking, with a sixth of them dying from “passive smoking”.

Why doesn’t anyone get excited about that? And I haven’t even mentioned the people who die from heart problems as a result of improper eating, and those numbers are gigantic.

As noted, it is not right to come to G-d with complaints and to ask Him why He does this to us, when almost everything is full of goodness, at least in Israel. There are countries in which people don’t have anything to eat. About a million people are starving for a crust of bread. Every day, 30,000 children die of hunger. Have you seen anyone get worked up over this? No. The media doesn’t make a big deal out of this.


So it’s not a tragedy?!

Certainly it’s a terrible tragedy. The mother who lost a husband and five children is miserable, but you don’t have to paint the lives of everyone else black because of that. Every death is a tragedy. Yet the private tragedy of one person cannot distort the thinking of everyone else.

For that family, it is truly a tragedy, but, unfortunately, there are other families with tragedies too. If a family is killed in a traffic accident, is that any less sad than deaths from a terror attack or a house fire?! Yet there as well, complaining is wrong, because we are talking about very rare incidents.


And why, within one week, did two such rare incidents as these happen together?

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. People die all the time in Israel. In France, for every 100,000 people, there are fifteen murders per year. In the U.S., the figure is twenty-five, and in Israel it is eight. Unfortunately, as well, there are people who die young.


Yet the public are shocked by the last two incidents. Why?

People’s being shocked by something is no measure of the truth. Shock is not a question of faith but of psychology. If someone is told that one person has been murdered, he will be shocked, but if he is told that 100,000 were murdered, he will be less shocked. When someone tells us that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, we move on to our daily affairs, but if he describes to us the murder of one Jew in the Holocaust, we are shocked. Shock is not always an accurate gauge.

These incidents are rare, and the media gives them a lot of coverage, so perhaps that causes shock, but there are a lot of tragedies that occur that don’t receive coverage, so people think they didn’t happen.


What is G-d signaling to us via these incidents? Perhaps He is informing us that we

have to repent?

Certainly we must repent. Rambam at the beginning of Hilchot Ta’anit states that if suffering befalls a person, he must examine his deeds and repent. One time a person told his rabbi that he did not know in what area he should repent. His rabbi answered that he must first repent over that question.

We must repent all of the time, and we have a lot to repent for. All the same, we have to remember that despite these tragedies, our situation is good, thank G-d, and with all the great sorrow of the families, it is forbidden to say that G-d treats us badly, G-d forbid. There is much good, and little bad.