An important theme in the Rebbe’s teachings is that intensified activity after a loss helps foster a heightened sense of purpose and can be an important means of achieving comfort.

In 1956, after a vicious terrorist attack at a school in the Israeli town of Kfar Chabad had claimed six lives (see chapter 14 for more on this story), the local inhabitants were completely devastated and found themselves despondent.

In the words of a newspaper article that appeared at the time, “Despair and dejection pervaded the village and began to eat away at its foundations. Some officials in town wanted to close the school down. Others saw what happened as a sign that their dream of a peaceful life in the Holy Land was premature. Perhaps we should disband, seek refuge in safer havens? The village was slowly dying.”

The Rebbe’s reaction? While Judaism does not provide explanations for tragedy, it does have a response. Thus the Rebbe’s message to the stricken village was: Do not diminish or detract from your noble activities, but increase and expand them!1

The doubts the residents of Kfar Chabad had begun to harbor regarding their communal project of establishing a town were exacerbated by their preoccupation with grave thoughts and pessimistic conversations. Only by immersing themselves in activities of further growth would they begin to see their mission in a better light, and their faith in its future would blossom again.

In his response to the people of Kfar Chabad, the Rebbe wasn’t making light of the very real security issue that existed. In fact, very soon after the tragedy occurred, he contacted Mr. Zalman Shazar, the future president of Israel, to discuss issues of security. But, at the outset, the Rebbe focused on providing moral support and encouragement. His message was clear: Consolation is achieved through intensified activity, a heightened sense of purpose, and by redirecting our thoughts from what has been lost to that which thankfully remains.2

A moving teaching of Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar, known as the Or HaChaim,3 about the mourning of Jacob for his son Joseph, elucidates this point:

In the book of Genesis, we read of the heart-wrenching story of Joseph and his brothers. Jacob, convinced that his beloved son Joseph had been devoured by wild beasts, is overcome by sorrow. The Torah relates that Jacob rent his garments, placed sackcloth on his loins, and said, “I will go down to my grave mourning for my son.” He refused to be comforted, but his family didn’t stop trying. Indeed, “All his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him….”4

The Or HaChaim observes that Jacob’s children didn’t utter a word of consolation. The situation was beyond words, since Jacob had declared himself inconsolable. But they gathered, all eleven sons, daughters, and throngs of grandchildren, and “arose” in order “to comfort him.” They knew that nothing they could say or do would make good the past. But what they could do was simply present themselves to him, shining the spotlight on Jacob’s large and beautiful family, highlighting the blessed present and its promising growth into the future.

Immediately following this account, the Torah delivers another lesson on the effect of intensified activity after a trauma.

Judah had tragically lost two of his sons. Not long afterward, he lost his wife as well. How does a man who loses everything find comfort? “He went up to oversee his sheepshearers.”5 He threw himself into developing his business affairs. By focusing on a project and putting his mind and heart into it, he was helping his wounds to heal.

The Rebbe made a similar point to a grieving widow who had tragically lost two daughters to illness. A short while after completing the shivah for her second daughter, she wrote a heartbreaking letter to the Rebbe asking how G‑d could take two of her children after taking her husband. She concluded her letter by asking how she could go on living with such pain.

To her last question, the Rebbe responded that the way to conquer her pain would be “through devoting herself to easing (literally sweetening) the lives of ‘the widower and orphans,’ meaning her son-in-law and grandchildren. This, the Rebbe wrote, would be a channel for her grief and help her attain some degree of solace and comfort.6

The Rebbe conveyed a similar message to Rabbi Raphael Grossman and his wife when they came to seek his guidance and comfort after the sudden, devastating passing of their seventeen-year-old daughter. After advising them on a life-changing course of action they were contemplating, the Rebbe said gently: “And as far as lasting consolation is concerned, you will achieve true comfort through the positive accomplishments you attain going forward, especially those related to honoring and immortalizing the memory of your precious daughter, of blessed memory.”7

In the same vein, when Rabbi Mordechai and Freida Sufrin were grieving after their newborn had passed away, the Rebbe gently suggested: “It would be advisable to make every effort to have another child.”