I believe in G‑d. And that is precisely why I ask how a loving G‑d could allow such a dreadful thing to happen — to wrench from me a child who was part of my heart. If I did not believe in G‑d, heaven forbid, I would not be surprised that there is so much suffering in the world. For if He did not exist, heaven forbid, the world would be a jungle in which the might of the strongest prevails, where only Darwin’s theories apply: struggle for life, survival of the fittest.

But I do believe in G‑d. And for this reason I fumble for an answer. I understand that a creature can never see “through the eyes” of the Creator. The powers of every creature are limited, subject to the restrictions of time and space. How then, can a creature hope to see things as G‑d “sees” them!

I understand — with my reason — that everything He does is good, that it cannot be different. Sometimes we think that we recognize His goodness. And when we do not recognize it, we must accept that, nevertheless, we are encountering goodness — hidden goodness.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi discusses this concept of hidden goodness in the first section of his Tanya, a major classic of Chassidic thought. He develops it from an earlier teaching in the Mishna. And elsewhere in Chassidic literature the phenomenon of hidden goodness is clarified with a parable:

Let us imagine a wise and just person, without any character defects, who is doing his best to raise his family. He is a good and loving father — and one day, he decides to berate and chastise his son. Of one thing we may be sure: The perceived harshness that the son encounters is actually an expression of love: yissurim me-ahavah. The father has his reasons for acting in such a way; it is out of concern and love for his son — a love that has its roots in his deepest inner self. His love for his son is so deep that it cannot be expressed openly, in a revealed form.

A sensible son will try his best to understand and will not rebel against his father. And perhaps, after having given it some thought, he will even perceive the chastisement as being good.

In spite of everything, I believe

Yet how difficult this is for the common person! And nevertheless there have been people who were able to do it — and there still are. My mind turns to Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, a man who lived under the most appalling conditions, and still never perceived the cold of winter, his hunger, and other sources of discomfort; he declared that he had never experienced distress.

I think of the Chassidim who sang Ani ma’amin on their way to the gas chambers. Ani ma’amin — I believe in perfect faith; im kol zeh — in spite of everything: In spite of the never-ending persecutions, expulsions, pogroms, and gas chambers, I believe that all this has been for the good, has been a preparation for the coming of Mashiach, for the final Messianic Redemption of the world. Thus, Hassidim knew how to sing even while experiencing sorrow.

I think of those exceptional Russian Jews who, notwithstanding all the hardship of their long imprisonment in the work camps, saw it as essential never to work on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, never to eat non-kosher food.

And I think of their wives, who did everything to observe the commandments of family purity and the ritual bath. Amid bewildering misery and pain, they regarded everything as an expression of G‑d’s goodness. So others before me found a way to take this path.

These thoughts were reflected in one issue of Baderech:

We must learn to see our personal life as part of a greater whole. Our joy and our suffering become meaningful only when we perceive them in the context of the history of our people and of mankind at large. When we see our own lives as links in the long chain of generations, the importance of our own experiences becomes muted and relative. In this way, our personal experiences are elevated to the level of a universal experience; they are raised from private, personal, suffering to part of the greater experience of humanity. If, at a time of utmost need, a man can say the Shema, Hear O’ Israel, or a mourner can praise G‑d’s holiness in the kaddish prayer, his personal suffering assumes a wider perspective and thereby becomes somewhat easier to bear.

How can we judge what is good or bad for an individual? How can we perceive the assemblage of forces through which G‑d guides the ongoing course of individuals and nations?

These are the underlying themes in G‑d’s response to Job, after the long string of powerful questions that Job poses in the concluding chapters of the biblical book that bears his name.

In his book Jom Jom, Dr. D. Hausdorff of Rotterdam gives a summary of these chapters:

Do you really think, Job, that you can understand everything? Man is so small, he has such a limited intellect, that he simply cannot understand everything G‑d does.

Did you create the world, Job?

Do you determine the orbit of the sun, the moon, and the stars?

Do you see to it that animals in this world receive their food on time?

Do you make the thunder roll and the lightning flash through the sky?

Should a man not be humble, then, and realize that he often cannot understand the Almighty and Omniscient G‑d?

He confronts Job by portraying his tiny existence, viewing him against the backdrop of the vastness of nature. He makes Job realize man’s inability to understand the deeper source of his suffering. But, at the same time, G‑d also condemns the simple “explanation” of Job’s friends that suffering is always a punishment for one’s sins.

It is, of course, true that G‑d rewards and punishes. He reacts, so to speak, to man’s behavior. When misery befalls a person, Heaven forbid, the person should therefore examine himself to see if and how it is his own fault. Sometimes he will find an answer, but more often he will not. Why not? Because G‑d wants us to act of our own free will. The continual choice we have to make between good and evil must be made freely, not out of coercion. If one receives a reward immediately after having performed a good deed, one will continue to perform this deed. But this is no longer truly free will.

Similarly, if punished immediately after doing something wrong, one is not likely to do it again. But then this choice will be out of fear, a choice that is not completely “free.”

G‑d “must” therefore give His reward and punishment in hidden ways. We are not permitted to see such direct moral cause and effect. For this reason He may reward or punish us only after many years. Or it may even be in “heaven,” in life after death, or in a future incarnation — or immediately — but in hidden ways.

Meadow birds and seagulls

Actually, His goodness can be seen in nature. We can perceive His concern for all creatures, from the smallest to the biggest. There is the maternal instinct He has planted in animals. There are the provisions He made for every creature to obtain its food — and thus the species live on.

Yet this Divine love is often hidden too. A friend of mine, a biologist, made that clear to us in a letter of condolence that he sent us:

I heard what happened, and I grieved for you. I have since gone walking here in the greatness of G‑d’s nature. It is so infinitely great, so perfect — and yet sometimes so cruel, as we see it. The birds of the meadow are numerous here, in a variety of species. They have their young now. One sees them flying along the range of dunes, the dazzlingly white gulls against the blue sky. The meadow birds, the parents, fly up with loud cries of alarm, in a desperate attempt to protect their young. But this morning, as so often before, I saw how things went wrong. A young bird, still so small and immature, was carried away by a predator while the parent birds remained behind, helpless. All their care, all those days of patient attention and work, had been in vain. All at once, it became clear that it had been wasted.

What moves me most of all is the parents’ tragic flight back to their now empty parcel in the meadow, chosen and protected with so much care — all in vain...

And yet, spring comes again every year and the meadow birds obey, as a matter of course, an inner urge. Jubilant in their courting flight, they hatch their eggs once more in cleverly hidden nests, tending and bringing up their young, as if no stark tragedy had ever occurred. And the strong, dazzlingly white messengers of G‑d, hovering above them in graceful flight, select their innocent prey according to incomprehensible laws. We watch, and we wonder...

I am with you in your brave acceptance and endurance. How can we judge? There is no blind fate, no hand of destiny which strikes blindly, though we are not granted the ability to see things in their broad connection. In spirit I am with you in your brave faith that all is for the good. And being only human, I walk here in G‑d’s great nature and am bewildered by what I see...

May the Almighty grant my wife and me the ability to accept our loss as a manifestation of His goodness. May we at least be able to accept it intellectually. In time, may our intellect help our feelings to accept it too, and thereby carry on with life.