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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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Discussion (52)
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.
Minneapolis, MN
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.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, 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.
ruth housma
marshfield, ma
August 14, 2011
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!
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,
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.
Minneapolis, MN
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?
Meira Shana
Vista, California
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.
ruth housman
marshfield, ma
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.
Michal Sarah
New York, NY
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.
Minneapolis, MN
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.