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.
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.
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.
marshfield hills, ma
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.
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!
with best wishes,
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.
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?
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.
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.
New York, NY
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.
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.
marshfield hills, ma
Jerusalem, , Israel
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
marshfield hills, ma
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.
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.
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.
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.
Port Huron, MI/USA
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?
marshfield hills, ma
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.
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.
These are things that we cannot understand in this world because He does not share His secrets with us. It says that when we get into the next world,(and let's hope it will be after 120 years and not before) we will understand the beauty and justice and love and goodness in all that happened here.
David, your wish for Leiby's mother not to feel guilty was beautiful. I hope you continue to return to Judaism, we can do with more caring people like you.
When I read about this recent unspeakable tragedy, about this young child, I was horrified, and yes, these things do shake me, and do shake me to the point of dialogue with what is Divine, to divine how it is, such unspeakable tragedies can occur.
I wonder, would I lose my religion if it were my child? G_d forbid and G_d forbid such thoughts of deepest loss.
I know what you are saying, and we all do question. Is G_d standing by, and if so, then how does G_d perform the many miracles we all witness in human terms and do write about it so many articles, here on Chabad, too.
There is a conundrum here, and I think it's not that clear, always, in the affairs of men, that G_d is a bystander, and that what we speak of as free will, is all we say it is.
Here is Jerusalem. Here is the WAILING WALL. Join me!
marshfield hills, MA
All I want for months after was for that day to have never happened. That was all I could think of when the Rabbi's would ask me what do I want.
As a result I lost my marriage - and with that my family (not my children but my family was gone)
Horrific eventslike this take one out of oneself - giving truth to the phrase "beside oneself with grief". You are not yourself, you are next to yourself in a place that no one (I"YH) can even imagine.
I wish for the Kletzky family the ability to be, themselves, through this unimaginable grief.
I trust Hashem, there is always a reason, but it can be too hard to bear.
I did not know about the words that are recited when someone dies .. Barach Dayan HaEmet. Having now read them several times, I (like so many others) am having a difficult time understanding how these words make any sense within the context of such a tragic loss.
When my grandmother died (at age 90) we considered her funeral a celebration of her life and all the lives she touched. We were able to comprehend this loss.
However, the loss of young Leiby is still too fresh in our minds and hearts. As a mother, I cannot even begin to imagine the horrific loss his parents are coping with. I don't know how I would "cope" if this happened to one of my children.
May his family find peace, eventually. And may the individual responsible for this be brought to justice.
Perhaps dear Leiby will play with the firstborn of my son - he died shortly after birth.
Leiby, you are remembered by your loved ones and by those who did not know you.
New York, New York
Baruh Dayan Haemet
May the soul of Leiby be elevated, may his death not be in vain, may we take upon ourselves another mizvah and may Mashiah come RIGHT NOW!!!
there are no words to comfort the family, friends, and the world. no hugs. no thoughts. we must keep our focus on our G-D. we share in the deep, deep sadness over not only the loss of an 8 year old innocent child, but also the loss of another brother jew who committed this crime. he is lost. may everyone's soul find the light & comfort at this time.
moshiach, we need you now !!
madeira beach, fl
I, too, had a bit of a problem with "Baruch Dayan Emet" at one time as it suggested that the deceased was judged and found wanting. I quickly got over that misconception, but remained troubled by the phrase in relation to outright evil as in the deliberate murder of innocents.
Sara, I think you and I have come to a similar understanding. The phrase has more than one meaning. When referring to a granparent who lived long and died quietly it means "This is how G-d ordered the world." Dayan Emet - a creater of justice. When it comes to evil people it means - to be crude - "He's going to get his." Dayan Emet - a true judge.
Baruch Dayan Emet.
hod hasharon, Israel
Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
morristown, new jersey
Coral Springs, FL
I read that it was his first day to walk alone and all I could think was "Oh, please, please, please may Mrs. Kletzky know in her heart IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT!
Of course it was not; everyone knows this logically, but sometimes I wonder if Jewish guilt is a boomerang. Mothers, so frequently talked about using it, often feel it more than anyone?
I do not know. I mean no disrespect by my wondering. I am an outsider. Some Ashkenazi heritage, exploring Reform Judaism. I hope what I said was not wrong in some way of which I am unaware.
I just wanted to say I am so sorry for your loss. The article above said one is supposed to say Baruch Dayan HaEmet.
Please know I may not fully understand this as I am at the beginning of my exploration--but I mean it with all my heart!
May their family be comforted by the many out there who care.
May the killer be brought to justice.
Well written article, Sara
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles, CA
I almost felt guilty for "moving on"-for accepting that this was the Hand, indeed the Loving Hand, of our Father. It seemed more appropriate to thrash around cursing the world. But, your friend's words were a powerful and comforting reminder that G-d is running the show..so it only makes sense that most things don't make sense.
May Leiby's family -his immediate one, and all of Klal Yisroel sharing their pain - be comforted amongst the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.
Coral Springs, FL
Los Angeles, ca
Baruch Dayan HaEmet.
Venice , ca