(Courtesy: Rabbi Laibl Wolf)
Bad things happen to good people. Why? Why must the good suffer? Where is cosmic justice? Where is Divine mercy? The Kabbalistic text, the Book of Tanya by the Alter Rebbe, opens discussion of this most perplexing enigma in its opening chapter.
Leiby Kletzky, a nine year old innocent child was brutally murdered in Brooklyn, NY – his body hideously dismembered. The seeming wantonness of the killer’s deranged mind can only add to the frustrating outrage and sensibility – especially of a believer.
For me personally it reawakens my early fury and profound indignation when as a tender youngster, perhaps also at nine years of age, I discovered the brutality of the Nazis while perusing the shelves of my parent’s books. I still feel the deep stab of unbearable spiritual pain when I ruminate on the sheer bestiality of Hitler’s Nazis. Today I can rationalize Nazism as anti-Semitism taken to its logical end in the mind of a morbid exterminator leading a sick zombied nation to squeeze the life out of ‘Jewish vermin’.
But Leiby’s brutal killer is a fellow Jew! Yes, it’s true that amongst the ‘Kapos’ were also Jews who were forced to be traitors upon the pain of death. Last week, however, little Leiby was not singled out as a Jew. He was an innocent youngster who fell prey to a monster.
To seek meaning out of this madness is a foolhardy exercise. All random killings are of the same insensible category. Does this allow the believer to question G-d? Would not questioning G-d place the believer outside the pale of belief?
When confronted with the same question by a holocaust survivor who had lost his whole family, parents, wife, and children, the great Lubavitcher Rebbe responded: “Not only are you allowed to question G-d, but you must question G-d. Because in questioning G-d you also affirm that there a G-d,” – albeit an unknowable G-d.
There are strong precedents in the Kabbalistic tradition for such challenges to the Divine. The great saint and mystic, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev even took G-d to court (Beit Din) over the suffering he witnessed. The court ruled in Rabbi Levi Yitzhak’s favour. Elie Wiesel, the post-holocaust novelist and essayist has G-d being similarly tried by Auschwitz prisoners, with the ‘jury’ returning the same verdict – guilty.
In both instances, the historical summons issued by Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, and the contemporary one created by Elie Wiesel, the ‘finding’ of Divine ‘guilt’ is followed by the solemn intonation of Kaddish – the prayer solidly affirming G-d’s existence and justice.
An adage: ‘To the atheist there is no answer; to the believer there is no question’. Yet, is it really conceivable that the believer will not ask the question? Can we stand by and with cold theological dissertation, observing the pain and suffering of innocents, and hold our tongue? Admittedly, it is the height of conceit to for the limited human brain to comprehend the infinite. But the imperative to challenge and confront the Creator on issues of justice and mercy, His own self-description, is vital – but only in the spirit of humility and the lens of awe.
We must constantly question the existence of pain, suffering and evil. And G-d must respond why Leiby was murdered, why tens of millions of human beings of all denominations were murdered under Hitler and Stalin – why the ideal of the Seventh day has not yet manifested, as Kabbalah envisions, in the Seventh millennium.