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Coping With Tragedy in Borough Park

Coping With Tragedy in Borough Park

Can we make peace with this?


Dear Rabbi:

Today I read the horrifying news of the young boy brutally murdered in Borough Park. I know there are plenty of horrors in this world, but this one won’t let me rest or think of anything else.

Do you rabbis have answers?

—Y. T.


I have no answer to calm your soul and let you rest. But I can share the thoughts I have written to myself this day.

We believe that G‑d is good. And yet He has created beings that commit horrific evil, acts He Himself despises in the most ultimate sense of the word. Things about which we can only recoil in horror while turning to the heavens in indignant outrage, screaming, “Why did You allow this? How could You?!”

And all we receive from heaven is a silent tear.

Of all the questions we ask, why does this one never receive a satisfactory answer? We believe our Torah is a Torah of truth, of divine wisdom, yet of all the questions it answers, why on this one does it fail us?

We are told that good cannot come without evil, just as darkness cannot come without light.

But, G‑d, dear beneficent and all-powerful G‑d, could You not do whatever You please? Could you not create light without darkness, good without evil? At the very least, did You have to create an evil so hideous?

We are told that commensurate to the darkness will be the light, commensurate to the pain will be the reward. Looking at this world and the pain we have suffered, the reward must be beyond any measure.

But, my G‑d, you are good! Does everything have to be measured so precisely? Can a G‑d who is good allow such horror, even if ultimately it will become good?

We are told that human beings must be given free choice. That this is the ultimate kindness of G‑d to humankind, that He grants us the space to fail, and the opportunity to achieve greatness on our own.

But if this is kindness, then what is cruelty? Are there no limits? Even the most liberal parents, if they care, they will have limits on the freedoms they grant their children. And here, in our world, we see ugliness without bound.

My G‑d, each day I am surrounded by Your wonders. Each day, I see Your miracles, one after the other, Your unending goodness to me and to each of us. I will not lose faith, I will not stop praying to You. But if I will not stand up and demand, “Does the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” if I will not declare, “Why have you done evil to your people?”—then what kind of a creature am I? And in what sort of a G‑d do I believe?

One day, we will understand. Until then, we must be outraged. We must recoil with horror, we must reach deep inside ourselves, we must protest to G‑d Himself. For only the righteously indignant can heal this world.

That is our answer for now: That we cannot be allowed to understand. For if we would understand, we would not be outraged. And if we were not outraged, then why would we ever stand up and do all that is in our power that such horrors could never happen again? And then there would be no one to heal G‑d’s world.

And so the answer is only a silent tear, falling from heaven, into our hearts.

More on the above topic in our Knowledge Base at Pain, Suffering & Tragedy

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Richard Florida December 15, 2015

It is understandable that humans have free will. And I can understand that if a person chooses wrong action, he/she will suffer consequences. However, why should innocent individuals have to suffer as a result? More to the point, why should a child suffer and die from a disease or another person's action? The child's free will did not come into play. These days when people are freer to question religion, we also see a lot of trying to rationalize responses for which the most highly regarded religious authority has no more sensible a response than " We as humans cannot understand G-d's ways. " That is too much of an insult to people dealing with tragedies. The coming of a "messiah"? The messiah has already come. It is us. There is no need to wait eons more. And just maybe this physical existence is a hell. So what has religion done since the creation to alter this? Reply

Dianne Albuquerque, NM September 10, 2011

Great comments and unity in this discussion I am thoroughly enjoying this discussion so thanks to everyone for sharing the wide variety of opinions and thought, all of which have been worth pondering. There is a common theme here that everyone seems to agree with and also ties into the tragedy that started this discussion. We should be good to each other and love one another, regardless of who we are or what we believe. That includes caring for each other and addressing problems in our society and in individuals in a productive way. We all probably have examples of that in our lives. If not, I want to live in your world. If we had addressed the problems that the perpetrator of this tragedy had, could we have prevented this from happening? Surely someone in his world knew something wasn't right with him. We would have, at a minimum, made this a better world. If we each do our part, this world will change for the better. It starts with each of us and the choices we make. Reply

Anonymous Leo September 9, 2011

Leo - Sept 8 , 2011 Why be frustrated by my collar of " Anonymous ". Science allows me to be faceless, just like you. This forum is a virtual world. Focus on that. Are you and others of your ' opinion ' just playing devil's advocate ? We have no face to face nor private correspondence. Are you merely following the mob ? How do i know that you won't hack my identity ? Computers enable sick minds to act out their perverse thoughts. If there is any medium that has caused so much evil, it is this very instrument. We are rudderless. Do you care to answer how the bad parts can be eliminated ? Answering a too high percentage of men will always be lunatics until we follow an appropriate philosophy isn't good enough. Your faith in science is not good enough. But i can tolerate it. You seem to expect an entitlement to a one way street against religious tolerance.

i'll sign off my location as Leo so as to administer first aid to your ' need to know '. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma September 9, 2011

Science and Our World On every level, there is the potential for good, and for bad. You are right about the uses, the terrible uses, of many scientific advances. We got the nuclear bomb, and we know its terrible effects from Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and then we got nuclear medicine. We got cell phones to facilitate communication, and we are distancing ourselves from face to face contact, the human touch. It seems for just about everything there is this potential and this exists too with words and how we use them. We can embrace each other and find what's good, and we can denigrate and harm people with the acid of hate.

I see that G_d is responsible for all of this and I honestly do perceive, however you want to parse this out, a bipolar universe, in which both, are operative. Now morality is the use of what we get, that both illuminates and can darken our days.

I think there is no G_d and there is G_d are part of the same bipolarity. And we have no & know, aurally same.

What's important: tikkun olam. Reply

Matthew Rand Staten Island, New York September 8, 2011

Mendy and Rabbi Freeman The continuing graciousness of Rabbi Freeman in response to the continuing arrogance and insults of Mendy makes me believe in the G-d of Noah, Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, and Rabbi Freeman.

One can't prove the existence of G-d, but one can't prove the non-existence of G-d either. It is reasonable to assume that the created has a creator, thus it is more reasonable to have the existence of G-d as an axiom.

Starving people, wars, plague, and other maladies don't form a logical argument against the existence of G-d. It is reasonable to ask why these things exist, however. Rabbi Freeman wrote an article addressing this.

If we all had access to labs and scientific equipment, we could all conduct experiments in the quest for truth. However, we get our information about science from the media, which is far from unbiased.

Science is never pure. There are politics in research grants, what will or what will not get published, and prejudices that affect the scientific method Reply

Leo Sarini Mexico, mexico September 8, 2011

to anonymous You are taking the science in the way you want. It is the same to blame medicine because bad doctors. Please, be more focused in what we are discussing and please, dont sign anonymous. Let us know who we are talking to. A lot of people are "anonymous"
Science is there and probably you are alive because science discovered thousand of things to make life easier or longer. A lot of things were discovered that at the time of our ancient writings, people didnt even imagine. Reply

John Plotz Hayward, CA September 8, 2011

What my mother used to say My mother used to say: Maybe's there's a G-d -- but why would you think He's interested in religion? Makes some sense to me. Also the notion of a G-d who may exist, but who is inaccessible or lost or not fully competent.

Me, after 63 years of fairly wide experience and a lot of thought, I am approximately convinced there is no G-d.

I am also convinced -- much more more than approximately -- that religion is a fraud. BUT: I have nothing personal against believers -- many of whom are good people. I have even known a few professional, money-making religious folk (like rabbis and imams and such) who did some good social work among their flock.

May I suggest that all us regulars discuss these matters in a new string, or forum, or whatever this is? (I am still terribly unhappy about the Borough Park tragedy and would prefer not to be flippant here.) Reply

Anonymous August 30, 2011

Mendy- science and religion again - Aug 30, 2011 > Science advances due to the desire to overcome the deadly world ( created by your G-d ? ) <

And so Dow Chemical scientists formulated Napalm for the expressed ' ethical ' decision to burn out the Viet Cong in Viet Nam. WWI and Sadam Hussein used the science of mustard gas to annihilate populations. Ballistic and heat seeking missiles and drones are already here. Seems taht science advances are rather deadly. One wonders ... ( what will your science create next ? ) Reply

mitzi ocean springs, ms August 30, 2011

To Leo, and All.... Thank you for your comments. I agree that we are supposed to do "good" for good's sake and not for fear of punishment, or hope of reward... I choose to do it out of love for G-d and neighbor. I didn't always feel that way, as I have explained already.

I do disagree with one point you and several others have made on this forum. I am stunned that you would think it more difficult to believe G-d doesn't exsist. I find it very hard at times to trust in him when I see the evening news, or hear of another tradgedy, especially as it concerns children. It is an act of the will that I continue to believe in who G-d is and how things work in our world. I have had my trust tested and it is currently. Won't go into details because you can imagine they are the same as yours and everyone elses.

I am equally stunned that you feel our behavior has nothing to do with G-d in the sense that we are not required to act according to his precepts in order to be blessed. Peace to you. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 30, 2011

Altruism E.O. Wilson studied altruism in ants and his studies were truly interesting. As ants, those tiny creatures, he found, do exhibit aspects of what we define as, altruism. Certainly animals, such as elephants, bury their dead, do mourn them and come back repeatedly to sites where they have been shot and died, and also elephants adopt the offspring of their fallen comrades.

Science gives us more options. We have stem cell debates now, as to whether to harvest stem cells from aborted embryos, and we have deepening dialogues surely due to scientific advancements in understanding.

Science increases our options. So yes, I would agree with Mendy on this, and science enlarges our vision of what was hidden before. An unspoken assumption of science is that we will find answers to the deepest of mysteries and we do.

So tell me, where does that assumption come from and why is the universe so structured that we do find answers to this panoply of mysteries, as it seems there's a timetable to this. Reply

Mendy New York, NY August 30, 2011

To Shoshana, on Mendy and God >First of all, I never said that the world was without what people refer to as "evil".
But I did say…that there is so much good and beauty. G-d has prepared a world with every need a person could have or want… If there were only one type of fruit, one color flower, one type of kosher fish, it would be enough, but He has given us SO much…Even if He does things you don't like and don't understand, say thank you for the good<

Because just as there is a wonderful variety to tasty things, so also is there an awful, endless, variety of horrible things: cancer, starvation, genetic disease, plague, famine, drought, wild animals, volcanoes, earthquakes.

The answer is that your idea of a “good” Creator is absurd. The world is neither good nor evil. Every day, babies are born to joyous parents, and babies die, leaving grieving parents. Millions have food to eat, while millions starve.

There is no rhyme or reason to any of it. No “meaning.” Just a planet governed by uncaring natural laws. Reply

Mendy New York, NY August 30, 2011

To Ruth Ruth, you wisely recognize the often brutal nature of the world, and the questions it raises about a good God.

>But I am seeing a story, and this is never addressed by anyone: I am being followed by a line of coincidence that simply, cannot be random. I know it. I record it. And then, I move on. And that line of story has a story associated with it. It seems that a science fiction scenario in my small life, morphed into a reality<

Everyone thinks they see patterns in their lives. It’s man’s nature to see patterns and try to draw conclusions. Otherwise, man would not have survived the process of evolution.

You need to get a book—there are many—on how this pattern-formation—and incorrect conclusions—works, and how it leads to just about any conclusion one wants to reach.

Whatever conclusion you reach has to make sense. The Torah has been demonstrated to have many errors, and thus is not divine. So, ITS words cannot be the correct conclusion to the patterns you see in your life. Reply

Mendy New York, NY August 30, 2011

To Rabbi Freeman, on Science and Religion. Again. >The search for truth in science is…"If I do this, what will happen?" Whether or not we SHOULD do "this" is not…within the realm of science, [which] has no way to tell you whether you should use nuclear energy to heat houses or bomb innocent civilians. To know those things, we need ethics<

Yes. Science determines what IS. Ethics tells you how to use it.

>progress in ethics…has not been due to science, rather…has made possible the advance of science<

Incorrect. Science advances due to the desire to overcome the deadly world (created by your God?).

>progress in ethics can directly attributed to the spread of knowledge of Torah<

Absurd. Ethics has been growing for millions of years—since our apelike ancestors were social animals. Study evolutionary psychology. Apes today—who don’t have Torah or bechira—still have primitive ethics. Man speeded up the growth of ethics, and wrote it into the Torah, which merely speeded up its dissemination. It was evolved by animals, and refined by man Reply

Anonymous August 29, 2011

r h Aug 29, 2011 You are a rare bird. Write to your heart's and mind's content. Let's face it, you are an artist. A serious artist in my definition is one who is trapped by their special talent ... Van Gogh, Kafka, Einstein, Horowitz, Neil Young, Evelyn Hart, Che. They must produce/share, no choice, because it is who they are. In this forum, linguistics is your talent. Writing is your art form to illustrate your messages. You do your work so beautifully that it is a pleasure to read/hear your ideals. An artist's work is never finished.

Keep drawing us in with your dance,and song. It is appreciated. If i am wrong, just say.

Borough Park was a terrible tragedy and left me bristling with Hashem's misdeed. You help bring me back to tolerance of Our Maker who only does right. That is His trap IMHO. Reply

Leo Sarini Mexico City, mexico August 29, 2011

@SHOSHANA Shoshana, you see what you want to see, no discussion.
Tell me where to direct my thanks for the 6 million people murdered, that could not escape as jews from egypt. Or perhaps, children dieing for famine in Africa. You want to see half the truth, not the whole concept. You want to believe that there is a super power that is perfect and it is not. Obviously, if you take out all the bad things, you will find only "good things". Unfortunately, somebody said: keep a lie for a time, it will become truth. There is no basis to believe and my comments here and other people are in this way. Why we should thank or obbey for something that doesnt appear, doesnt care and is underachiever? I do believe in the jewish people, we are real and struggling to prevail. But because our own arms, no "magical" help. Remember you get more with two hands working than thousand hands praying and claping in the chest. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 29, 2011

Do right and will bless you Forgive me for writing, perhaps too much, on line. This is a forum, and everyone should speak out. I do not think doing good deeds, sharing, loving one another, working for non profits, cleaning up the environment, being a good parent, is about what we "get", in the sense of some higher reward. The rewards of being "good", seem to me, to be inherent in the doing. It feels good. That's why we are altruistic. Now some, are not. They do not care. And we do rub against these people all the time. It could be, a learning curve. And it could be, as in, "the rub" itself, that's how we create and recreate the fire. They help us shine, and in so doing, perhaps "they" who make life hard for us, are somehow responsible for sensitizing others, and making them more cognizant of the need to care. So everyone is part of, the Dance.

When Jacob wrestled witht he angel it is said he was blessed, but he was also injured, if you regard this story. Blesser, containing bless in French, means, to wound. Reply

Anonymous August 29, 2011

r h Aug 28, 2011 Keep diarizing. You lead a very interesting life and you see like a very wise person.

Lucky for that you share your wealth of knowledge. It's just not the same as when the rabbis speak. That said, R. Tzvi serves up his usual sanity in his post Aug. 26, 2011. When necessary, the philosophy of ethics must always trump the factoids of the scientific method.

Vive la difference. Yasher koach to you. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem, Israel August 28, 2011

Mendy and G-d First of all, I never said that the world was without what people refer to as "evil".
But I did say, and you can also see it, that there is so much good and beauty. G-d has prepared a world with every need a person could have or want- nothing is missing. And with such variety. If there were only one type of fruit, one color flower, one type of kosher fish, it would be enough, but He has given us SO much. Why don't you say thank you? It's just plain good manners. Even if He does things you don't like and don't understand, say thank you for the good.

(P.S. I'm 69, not 20.) Reply

Anonymous Forest Hills, NY/USA August 28, 2011

our ages I am not Jewish so at this site by the kindness of the group just listen and learn lots of things. Hope that we do not get into age and gender! But Shoshana is in her late 60's if you read the comments and while lives in Jerusalem, Israel that would be the last place people do not know reality there! How are we New Yorkers coping with the hurricane evacuation and flood and all right now? G-d bless you. Reply

Leo Sarini Mexico City, mexico August 28, 2011

TO MITZI Thanks for sharing your toughts. But again we fail in the "do right and will bless you, do wrong and will punish you" Regarding caring of neighborhood, has nothing to do with God. We have to learn how to behave without the concern of being punished by God. THe punishment we suffer in life is because we live in a world that has its own order. Remember that everything that happens is because it had a preivous chance of happening. No miracles, no punishments. I read a beautiful sentence: there are no punishment or rewards, just consequences.
Interacting with God only serves those people that are afraid to be alone and believing in him makes their lifes easier, because for some people, accepting that life is life the way it is, in real, is very hard without the illusion that praying will solve and ease our lives.
Respectfully Reply

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