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When the Unthinkable Happens

When the Unthinkable Happens


Editor's Note: I wrote this piece upon learning of the horrific murder of nine-year-old Leiby Kletzky, of blessed memory, in Brooklyn, New York. May his family be comforted, and may Leiby's soul find peace and blessing.

When I was in college, my friend’s younger brother was shot to death one night over a beeper. Fifteen years old, and shot in the back, at a party filled with kids, because of a $100 gadget.

I was devastated. The pain, emptiness and horror that his loss created was something that will forever stay with me. I was there for the funeral and for the mourning, and close to the family during most of the trial. Unfortunately, due to technicalities in the legal system (the murderer confessed before he was read his rights, therefore his statement was inadmissible in a court of law, and he then pleaded not guilty, etc.) he ended up receiving a slap on the wrist for taking a beautiful, innocent, young life.

The pain, emptiness and horror that his loss created was something that will forever stay with me

We recently had my twenty-year high school reunion. While I was unable to attend, some of my friends were there. They updated me on what everyone was doing. And that included Marc’s family. No one had forgotten what had happened. His older brother, our classmate, was now a successful professor, happily married, with two children and a third on the way. And they mentioned that his young son is named Marc.

In Judaism, when we hear about a death, the response we are to give is: Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Blessed is the True Judge. Over the years I have struggled with this response. I really have. There are times it seems appropriate, other times when it is hard to swallow.

When my elderly grandfather passed on, I had no problem reciting these words. He had lived a full life. He had been there for his children and his grandchildren, and even had the merit to meet some of his great-grandchildren. This is how life is supposed to go. We, the great-grandchildren, mourning the loss of our elder. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

But what about when it is the great-grandparents mourning their great-grandchildren? When it is a three-month-old baby in Israel with her throat slashed by a terrorist, or a two-year-old orphaned on his birthday in Mumbai, or the siblings of a nine-year-old brother in Brooklyn. And the list goes on.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Blessed is the True Judge.

It is hard to say. But really, is there anything else to say?

When things make sense, when things go in the natural order, it is easy to leave G‑d out of it. But when they don’t—when they tragically and incomprehensibly go in a different direction—as hard as it may be, there is only one thing we can rely on. That this is not natural. This is not something that makes sense. This is only something that our Creator can understand. And we have no option but to trust that somehow, some way, there is a reason and meaning to this.

It is hard to say. But really, is there anything else to say?One of the most powerful moments in my journey in Judaism came about in a conversation regarding the murder of fifteen-year-old Marc. I was in Israel, studying for the year, and had become much more connected to my Judaism. I was loving the learning, the meaning, the lifestyle. But I just couldn’t get past my difficulty in connecting to a G‑d who would allow tragedy to happen. A G‑d who allowed Marc to be shot in the back, devastating family and friends forever.

I sat there one night debating this with a friend. I emphatically said that there was no way I wanted to live in a world, or believe in a G‑d, that would allow an innocent child to be callously murdered. My friend looked me right in the eye and responded that she didn’t want to live in a world where that excuse for a human being, that murderer, was more powerful than her G‑d.

It hit me. It was so true. I also don’t want to live in a world where my G‑d is not greater than these monsters. Does it help me understand why these things happen? No. But who said we can ever understand? We can’t. But we can believe that despicable tragedies will not go unpunished. That they will not be forgotten. And that one day—G‑d willing, immediately—we will no longer suffer like this, for our exile will be over.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

Blessed is the True Judge.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Judy Minneapolis, MN August 17, 2011

Seekin the answers We are human; there's a limit to our understanding. G-d endowed us with intelligence and curiosity and, as a species, we continue to discover new things about the complex and wonderful universe in which we find ourselves.

Discovering the nature and reason for evil, however, is not something that can be done in a laboratory. It's truly something that can only be explored through religion, and if we cut ourselves off from that source, we can truly flounder in a sea of despair when faced with pure evil with no sanctuary in sight.

There's an Irish prayer that I love: "G-d grant me the power to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference." We can combat evil by being as good and righteous as we can and by standing up to evil when we have the opportunity to do so, but we also need to have the serenity and the humility to accept the fact that not everything is within our power to change or, for that matter, to understand. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 16, 2011

Cruel and Unconscionable Some years ago I attended a trial in which my husband was expert witness for the prosecution, explaining DNA evidence, because then this was a new technology.
It was the trial of a man named, curiously, Bible, whose actions were unconscionable in terms of luring and killing a child, and it happened to be her birthday. It was such an atrocious crime that those who found the perpetrator, who did confess, were so disturbed and deeply moved, they could no longer act in law enforcement.

How do we make sense of such things? The parents, deeply religious, I believe, never lost their faith. If anything would shake faith, such atrocity would lead to this.

I believe there is another side. Because I must. And that this Soul is now in a good loving, secure, and safe place. I don't believe it's over when it's over. I am sustained by this belief which I do feel is true. I see that others have experience of what's beyond, and I look to these experiences and examine them. I have found truths here. Reply

ruth housma marshfield, ma August 14, 2011

the whole picture it could be, IF we knew the whole picture we would understand, but we don't. At this moment, right here, we have to contend with deep tragedies that have no clear explanation except for what is brutal and upsetting. Of course we question the existence or Nature of G_d at such times. It seems an inevitable consequence of deep probing for meaning when there is something so meaningless as the death of an innocent child in such a brutal way.

So if we question, maybe it's part of what we're supposed to be doing. As to G_d not responding, I think we're meant to have this dialogue and to try to ascertain, who speaks for G_d in all this. I would say, we can only reach for, the light and try hard to dispel darkness which does come to us all. Reply

Shoshana Jerualem August 14, 2011

Leiby Leiby for sure now knows why he was sent to this world for eight years and why he had to leave in such a tragic way. Because the soul has no age snd also it's understanding is limitless. Perhaps he was the soul of an old man who had to come back for eight years? And for sure Leiby has no complaints against the Holy One, blessed is He, because he sees the great wisdom and goodness in all that happened.

But I am equally certain that he has a lot of grief because of the reaction of so many people.

First, it was a big MERIT for him that there were so many prayers prayed on his behalf and such unity amongst the searchers.

And did you read his parent's statement? A beautiful statement of love and faith.

But now, for sure Leiby has so much grief, seeing the words of rebellion against G-d, the anger of people agaist their Creator, all because of him. If he could call down to us he would surely say, "Please, see all the goodness in this beautiful world! And love your G-d! Reply

Shoshana August 13, 2011

To Anonymous, Rome I want to wish you a complete recovery, a refuah shleimah. If you would want to give me your full Hebrew name and your mother's full Hebrew name, (last name not necessary), we will pray for you.
with best wishes, Reply

Judy Minneapolis, MN August 12, 2011

Keep the Faith It always troubles me when tragedies and evil deeds cause people to doubt the existence of G-d. To requote something I mentioned previously - religion is not the problem; it's the answer.

My daughter had a friend in junior high whose father was a holocaust survivor. He went from being completely frum to being an atheist, but by the time I knew him, he had come back far enough to be sending his child to the same Jewish school that I was sending mine to.

This is the reason that I made a point of stating that we don't always get what we pray for. We cannot hope to understand all of G-d's plans or why He tolerates evil. I am fully as heartsick as anyone regarding the innundation of evil that this world has suffered for the past several decades. I cannot, e.g., watch the annual replaying of the collapse of the Twin Towers, and if Achmadinajad appears on the news, I flee. But if we cut ourselves off from G-d because of this, we are cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Reply

Meira Shana Vista, California August 12, 2011

Why not now? 5,000 years ago G-d spoke and people who *chose* to listen have been waiting for His return.

How many millions of Jews have to be murdered before G-d speaks again?

Prior to AD, weren't there enough children of Jews murdered? Anne Frank wasn't enough. Lieby wasn't enough.

Where is G-d now? I believe in Him and He believes in me.

Jews believe in Now ... not only after Death. Now is when I need G-d to come forward again -- it's time! Or has His/Her time come and gone? Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma August 11, 2011

an end to what is terrible is up to G-d not the Moshiach. Whoever G-d appoints to lead us forward is led by G-d. The Moshiach has no special power. All is mediated by what is totally Divine.

I must believe that there are many planes to existence and what is so u plain there is no mitigating what happened to this child and we must deeply mourn and work to make this world a better place. But for love and mercy to exist and my fervent belief in a G-d of love then Lieby is now in the loving arms of G- d. Reply

Michal Sarah New York, NY August 11, 2011

No consolation... I was thinking last night about Leiby, and I thought how many people will still remember him. I was so upset...I don't want him to be forgotten. I want to remember him...even if it hurts.
When I look at my 22 months old and think about how a mom goes through with a child to give birth, the times she is by his side when he is sick, the first time he walks...I can just cry and think in Leiby's mom and how she is doing today.
I have been obsessed following up the last updates on his murderer's situation and I find no consolation even if he stays in jail for the rest of his life. Yes, there is a Leiby's fund to remember his beautiful soul but all I can ask for is to Moshiach to come in this very moment and to put an end to all evil so we can see Leiby again running or riding his bicycle or praying in his siddur again. Reply

Judy Minneapolis, MN August 11, 2011

G-d in our lives Shoshana, I agree with what you said completely. I certainly have had "brain storms" and insights of various kinds. I teach Torah and, of course, hear it read in shul, and it never fails but that I get new insights on texts that I've heard or taught for many years. And, of course, serendipitous things like what you describe have happened to me, as well. That's not what I was talking about.

Those things come from G-d without question, but they are rarely in answer to our prayers. Like the gifts bestowed upon us at birth - an ear for music, a talent for drawing, intelligence - they come directly from G-d for His reasons, not ours. They are miraculous in the sense of the Modim - with us every day, but not miraculous in the sense of spectacularly supernatural, like the splitting of the sea. Those things tend to happen on a grander scale.

The point I was making is that we cannot manipulate G-d. We don't always get what we ask for. Sometimes our prayers are answered, but not always. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 11, 2011

this story circles back to Jerusalem G_d is constantly visibly intervening and I can prove this. I cannot speak for how others perceive their lives. Everywhere I go, everything I do, has the most astounding of visible connects. Maybe this is too scary to contemplate, or too beautiful. Life is both the agony AND the ecstasy.

If Hashem moved you, Hashem moved her, and there are invisible total ways of being moved through story. It doesn't happen, in my view, only some of the time. The sum astonishment of what is going on tells me not only IS there another story running but that it's not over when it's over. And that story, the supernal story, that involves a most cosmic visible dance in my view, will take us all Home. Yes, I expect that by some alchemy of love, I will see all who I have loved on "the other side".

AY! those who died during 911 and those who did not. I say, God is not playing dice with the universe and as difficult as it is, to embrace the paradox, it exists, on all levels. To the Wailing Wall. Jerusalem. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem, , Israel August 10, 2011

Judy, July 26 Though we have free will, G-d does intervene very much in our lives and if we take notice, we will see it clearly. Did you ever get a "brain storm" just when you needed a solution? Did you ever plan to do somethng and all of a sudden change your mind and that turned out to be the best thing? This is G-d talking to you and putting the ideas into your head. Because He loves you. One time I had to meet a relative who was visiting from the States. Even though I knew the route quite well, all of a sudden I found that I had taken the bus on the wrong side of the street, going in the wrong direction. So I got off the bus, and who do I see but a woman to whom I owed money from when we had once shared a cab. And by mistake I had paid her too little and only realised it afterwards, and I didn't even know her name. And now H-shem,in His great love had me take the bus in the wrong direction and get off at the exact minute that lady would be there so I could pay this dept. His is always wth us. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma July 27, 2011

a belief in the power of prayer IF one believes that prayers work, one must also believe the corollary that is, for prayers to work often then others whose actions are instrumental in making this work are being moved from within, often unknowingly, to make this happen.

How does this fit into the much vaunted idea of the gift of, free will?

Beliefs beget questions and I think most people in addressing prayer do not generally think about this issue.

Since we are all storytellers, and since our stories, seem to involve Divine intent and even Promise, such as The Moshiach then the assumption that underlies such belief must somehow embrace a notion of determinism, in that Divinity is guiding all stories. This is consonant with what I am reading on Chabad. Namely we are each unique and on a mission here. All Creation is meaningful. We must act in order to fulfill that script. How much is choice. How much determined. And does it really matter since here we are and certainly the ladder of choice points toward tikkun olam Reply

Anonymous Rome, Italy July 27, 2011

The problem v.s. the solution I suffer from a serious illness and two complicated surgeries were necessary, it was a thunderclap.
My life changed completely.
I prayed Hashem to heal me; the manner Hashem answered to my prayers was to help me to bear my illness, He supported my family, and slowly I am getting back to normal, even if the relapse may occur anytime, I live serene with the support of Hashem. Reply

Judy Minneapolis, MN July 26, 2011

The problem v.s. the solution This discussion has gotten into some interesting and important side-tracks, one of them being how such tragedies do or should affect our realtionship with G-d. To this I have two comments:

1) Yes, G-d sometimes answers our prayers, but not always in the manner we might expect. E.G., a person suffering from a debilitating illness might pray for healing and end up dying. Does this mean G-d did not answer his/her prayers? Not necessarily. This person's time might have come (after all no one lives forever) and the respite G-d provided was the end of this person's suffering. But for the most part, I don't believe that He intervenes all that much in the life of individuals. He does, however, intervene globally. The very existence of the Jewish people stands witness to that.
2) One of the wisest things I ever heard was just a few years ago. When it comes to evil and hatred, some people think religion is the problem. In fact, it should be the answer. Reply

Yossi Mondelli Rome, Italy July 26, 2011

When the Unthinkable Happens May Hashem help Leiby obm's parents, to continue their life and to bear this hard pain.

In spite of my efforts I regret to admit that sometimes I have difficulty to accept such so painful events.
However, I know that the right path is to trust more in G-d.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Reply

Grandma Kim Port Huron, MI/USA July 25, 2011

Blessed be G-d Forever Praise our Creator forever. It stymies the accuser, the one who foments terror, fear, confusion. We will prove him wrong because we still trust Hashem. By our trust, we unite heaven and earth.

For Leiby and his family, for Baby P and his father, for Dominick Calhoun and his surviving brother Tyler, for Phraze Galvan and her surviving siblings and step-siblings and her mother, for 3 year old Skylar Seils who died fighting to protect his mother from her murderer, and for his surviving sister Heavyn, for Braylon Bishop Gonzalez and his surviving siblings who are my cousin's grandchildren, for each one of the millions of little ones whom we mourn one by one.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Blessed is the True Judge. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma July 24, 2011

the burning question I keep returning to this subject: so IMMENSE, bigger than the oceans, wider than the skies, so far beyond comprehension we are unable to grasp its immensity. This: before the terrible Norwegian massacre of innocents. From local to global.

Aren't we are made to ask questions?

For atheists this is the answer: there is NO G_d. For the "maybe's" the balance moves into the NO zone. For those who KNOW, there are major problems that test our sanity, because there's a Supreme paradox here. It exists. We cannot will it away.

Do we lose our religion or do we somehow transcend this? For what is G_d culpable and for what is man culpable? And what about man as container for the divine, as bearing the sparks of that Divinity? And what about All is G_d, enunciated in a most poetic way in these very pages?

We are on a path that is unclear, and yet for some there is absolute clarity of belief.

I totally believe in G_d. I have no doubt.

Such questions beseech answers. Does G_d say nothing back? Reply

David July 24, 2011

euthanasia cont. I hope there were no misunderstandings, we are required to do everything within our power to keep a sick person painfree and comfortable as possible (short of killing him).

One more thing, if we have any type of suffering- we bang our finger with a hammer, stand up and get a bang from the table, have a sore throat or broken arm, etc or worried ourselves sick if our child came home late, etc., or worse things, G-d forbid, we should train ourselves to say "it should e for an atonement - (a kaporah )" and this will take off some of our suffering in the next world, may H-shem have mercy on us. Reply

Anonymous ny July 22, 2011

Baruch Dayan Emet I am happy for the people who can accept the answers which the rabbi and ms. Crispe offered, and be consoled by them.

But in every death of an innocent child like Leiby, or the children in Israel who were butchered by terrorists, I see the million innocent children who were murdered in horribe ways in the Shoa. Perhaps to me this seems so immediate because among the million children were my little cousins whom I was never to know. But I think it is because I am an emphat, and as I looked at Leiby's pure little face, I dreaded to think what he was feeling in his last moments. Later I learned that he was given some drugs. Better? How can anything be better at such a horrible time? And what were his poor parents going through? I couldn't sleep at night. So the believers among you, have really some kind of an answer. As it says: Ashrey hamaamin. Happy is the believer. But we, the children of Holocaust survivors, do not ask the question: Why? We know there is no answer.

What's the latest news? For that information, check your local or national news outlet. In this blog we will discuss the "why?"

Not "why did this event occur?" but "why did I find out about it?" There must be a reason. It must contain a lesson I can use to better myself and my surroundings. Together we will find the lessons...
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.