Once when two Jews in the Nazi death camps tried to light a Chanukah Menorah, the Germans stopped them. One then told the other: “They may have prevented us from lighting a candle that shines visibly, but in our hearts there is a candle that is burning brightly and that, they will never be able to extinguish.”

It is impossible to ignore the emotional dimension of the story. Nevertheless, beyond its pull on our heart strands, there is a very practical dimension. Many years ago, suggestions were being made on how to commemorate the Holocaust. One of the ideas was to have an empty chair at the Seder, recalling those Jews who were not given the opportunity to hold Pesach Sederim themselves.

When the Lubavitcher Rebbe heard of the idea, he suggested a different approach. Of course, bring an extra chair — or two — to the Seder, but don’t leave it empty. Fill it with a living Jew who would otherwise not have attended a Seder.

We can’t understand why G‑d allowed the Holocaust. After all, we are mortals and our minds are limited and we cannot understand an unbounded G‑d. But we can reach an obvious conclusion. If there were Jews who could have added to the spiritual light in the world by reaffirming their Torah heritage and for some reason they were prevented from doing so, we should add some extra light for them.

Parshas Shmos

This Torah reading chronicles the beginning of the enslavement and oppression of our people in Egypt. A question immediately comes to mind: G‑d saw the Jewish children being thrown into the Nile. He heard the cry of the people being crushed by slavery. Why didn’t He do anything about it?

The obvious answer is: Be patient. Wait to the end of the Torah reading; take a look at the readings for the next two weeks. You’ll see. He does act. He will afflict the Egyptians with awesome plagues and free our people with great miracles.

But the answer avoids the crux of the issue. What about those babies who were drowned and the slaves who were beaten? Why did they have to suffer? Just like G‑d brought the redemption later, He could have brought it earlier and then saved so much distress and heartache.

There are those who take G‑d out of the picture. He is withdrawn; He allows man free choice and lets the natural order function according to its pattern. So if men or nations choose to act cruelly, it’s not His fault.

That answer takes G‑d off the hook, as it were. But in doing so, it severely limits His influence or our lives and our connection with Him. For, according to this view, He is not actively involved in what happens to us. He created the world and observes it, but does not deal with its day-to-day functioning. For a believer, this is a much crueler perspective than the first, for his relationship with G‑d is far less inclusive.

A believer wants to see G‑d involved, not only in the major details of his life, but in every aspect, even the seemingly non-significant details. As the Baal Shem Tov would say: When a leaf twirls in the wind, there is a specific G‑dly desire that determines not only where it is going, but how many times it turns.

So how can He bear the pain of the babies and the slaves? If we as humans are sensitive to suffering shouldn’t He be? After all, our feelings stem from Him. The potential to empathize and to feel the pain and suffering of others that we possess exists, in a far superior manner, within Him. Indeed, the only reason we possess such a potential is because He has granted it to us. If we cannot bear the pain and suffering, how can He?

The answer is that just as His identification with us and love for us is endless, so too is His patience and forbearance. A parent loves his or her child and feels his pain, but there are times when despite the pain he or she feels, he will continue subjecting the child to the painful stimulus, because he knows that it is for the child’s own good.

How can the pain and suffering that the Jewish people underwent lead to good? We don’t know. It would be blasphemous for us to offer explanations, for the only way we could be able to understand G‑d would be to be G‑d. But even when we do not understand Him, we can trust Him. We can realize that ultimately, everything that happens is in His hands and He will do what is best, for us as individuals and for the world at large.

Looking to the Horizon

The ultimate purpose of all existence is the era of Mashiach. In a larger sense, everything that has occurred from creation onward is intended to bring the world and humanity to that goal. As G‑d leads us to this destination, there will be moments when we do not understand the course on which He is leading us. Even then, however, we should trust Him and have faith that He is leading us down the correct path.

But we have to do more than have faith. G‑d has designated us as His “partner in creation” and our deeds have the potential to help bring the world to its perfect state. We are not passive passengers traveling on a train that will lead to the redemption. We have a role to play and can hasten the arrival of that destination.

Every positive act we perform brings ourselves and the world closer to this goal. At every moment of our lives, we should ask ourselves: What are we doing to bring the world to this purpose? Are our deeds contributing to this goal or are they holding back its achievement?