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.