Have you ever been so overcome by emotion that you were at a loss for words? Have you ever felt that you not only lacked the appropriate words but were even confused about how to think and feel in response to a particular event?

Many of us experience this type of disorientation when we are faced with tragic events—whether they occur in our lives, in the lives of those around us, or even on a global scale. In addition to the feelings of grief and loss that we are experiencing, we may also feel confused about how to cope with these feelings. How should we respond to what has happened? How do we deal with the sense of loss and the feelings of loneliness that come with it? This confusion can make our internal experience overwhelming and sometimes debilitating.

While the belief in the loving guidance of a Higher Power and in the meaningfulness of our existence offers great comfort in times of tragedy and loss, such belief brings its own set of challenges and questions at such times: Is it permitted to question G‑d or complain about His ways? What place is there for personal grief if we believe that G‑d is just and that the soul of our loved one lives on?

If, as the Sages of Israel teach, the ultimate truth is that “no evil descends from Above,”1 where can we turn to find meaning in disaster? And, supposing we do come to find meaning in our suffering, or in some way come to terms with catastrophe, aren’t we then condoning the existence of suffering in the world?

These issues have been discussed by Jewish scholars throughout history, and their conclusions reflect a variety of perspectives. Some espouse the need to maintain a solid faith in the face of suffering in spite of human frailty, while others make space for people to express a range of human emotions at the expense of unquestioning faith.

Our generation was blessed with a unique Jewish leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who embodied both tremendous faith in G‑d and a deep love for humanity. Over the course of his four decades of leadership, the Rebbe responded to many tragic events that took place in the Jewish community. What follows is a collection of his reactions to those events and the guidance he offered, highlighting the manner in which he incorporated both staunch devotion to G‑d and deep compassion for mankind in his responses.

In the Rebbe’s correspondence with the bereaved, there is both an insistence that all events are part of a divine plan and that everything happens for the best as well as a very real acceptance of human suffering and its expression. In the Rebbe’s worldview, expressions of faith and expressions of human vulnerabilities are not contradictory. Gratitude for the life that was can find expression alongside grief, and unwavering faith can coexist even with a challenge to G‑d’s ways.

It is my sincere hope that those who have suffered loss, as well as those looking for a way to approach others’ losses, are able to find guidance and solace somewhere in the warm words that follow.

Mendel Kalmenson