It was integral that my wife and I became familiar with these concepts early in our lives. We have not had to believe in them suddenly as a result of our tragic circumstances. Had we only now begun to hold on to these ideas, it could perhaps have been explained as wishful thinking, as the wish creating the thought.

With us this is certainly not the case. The question of whether there is life after death was often put to us, well before the loss of our Boruch, at a time when we could never have imagined that something like this would happen to us. After all, you read about such accidents in the paper. You know that these things occur. But you just don’t pay attention. You never really consider that this, Heaven forbid, may actually happen to you.

In the days when the future still smiled upon us, we had already read and learned about these matters. We had come to understand that there is a prelude and an epilogue to earthly life — a “before” and a “hereafter.” We knew that Boruch had existed before he was born into our family. Perhaps he had already been “on earth” more than once. And now we knew that he lived on in that other, immaterial state.

It is a great comfort to know this: He is still alive.

Yes, he is still alive — it is true — but not here, with us. How we miss him. We want to feel him, kiss him, embrace him — physically. Why was he not allowed to live here any longer?

I remember a story I read in Chassidic literature concerning a child who lived only two years. When the little boy died, his broken-hearted mother went to see the Ba’al Shem Tov and poured out her heart before him. The Ba’al Shem Tov listened patiently; he then explained to the boy’s mother that the soul of her child had already descended to this world once before. After that earlier incarnation, this soul, a very special soul, still was in need of a tikkun - a repairing purification. Therefore, the soul had to be born again in a child. And when, at the end of two years, the task was completed, the soulreturned “above.”

I believe that this must be true of Boruch as well. His task on earth was completed and there was no need for him to continue living here — on earth, just as Boruch Nehemia had completed his task on earth in the camp of the Nazis. In His infinitely great wisdom, G‑d arranges that.

All right, agreed; G‑d arranges that. Nonetheless, nonetheless, I wonder: Could the all-powerful G‑d not have arranged this in some other way, without the need to take our child away?

Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai

One evening, during the days of the shiva, someone tells about Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, a Sage of the Talmud, whose son died. “Comfort me,” he asked his disciples.

Rabbi Eliezer spoke up. “Adam lost a son too. Nevertheless, he found consolation.”

But Rabban Yohanan only retorted, “Why do you add to my sorrow the sorrow of someone else?”

Rabbi Yehoshua spoke in turn: “Job had sons and daughters, and he lost them all. Nevertheless he found consolation.”

Again Rabban Yohanan only answered, “Why do you add to my sorrow the sorrow of someone else?”

Then Rabbi Yosse said, “Aharon had two exceptional sons who both died on the same day. Yet Aharon was comforted.”

This too Rabban Yohanan rejected with the same words.

Rabbi Shimon then rose and spoke: “King David lost a son, and was nevertheless comforted.”

Rabban Yohanan reacted as before.

Then Rabbi Elazar ben Arach spoke: “Allow me to tell you this story: A king entrusted one of his subjects with a precious object to keep safe for him, and the man worried incessantly, for he had to return this object to the king undamaged. Only when he returned the precious thing to the king intact was he relieved of his anxiety. You, my teacher, are in the same situation. You had a son who has left this world without sin. Let it be a consolation that you have returned to G‑d in a perfect state what He entrusted to you.”

Elazar, you have comforted me!” Rabban Yohanan said.

I wondered why the words of Rabbi Elazar ben Arach were able to give Rabban Yohanan comfort, while those of the other Sages were not. If you know that something is part of life, that it happens, that it has occurred frequently, do you not experience your pain differently than if it had affected you alone? Why, then, did the words of the other Sages have no effect?

True, such knowledge can change the quality and nature of your suffering, but this knowledge does not comfort. Rabbi Elazar, however, gave Rabban Yohanan a different way of looking at the tragic event in his life: He had not been deprived of his son; rather, he had returned him. Rabban Yohanan had received his son as a loan. He had not owned him. Everything a man thinks he owns is, in fact, merely a loan. He may use it, cherish it, but he must know that he may have to return it at any moment.

Rabbi Meir and his wife Bruria

The same idea is expressed in the story of Bruria, the wife of Rabbi Meir. Their two sons suddenly died on a Shabbat, and the mother laid the bodies in the bedroom. When her husband came home, she said, “A long time ago someone entrusted a precious stone to me for safekeeping. I have kept and cherished that stone carefully. Now the owner has come back. Should I return that precious stone to him?” When Rabbi Meir answered in the affirmative, she led him to the bedroom.

The same thought is discussed by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidism, in the fourth part of his renowned work, the Tanya. There was a time when I began to learn this exposition by heart...

My wife and I too will have to absorb the idea that we have not been deprived of Boruch; we “only” gave him back.