An essential theme that comes up in the Rebbe’s discussions about “retaliation against evil” is a sort of poetic justice—appropriate action on the part of the survivors that matches the nature, and even the geographical location, of the tragedy.

Following a horrific car accident in Israel that took five lives, the Rebbe reacted by saying: “The way to combat incomprehensible loss and destruction is to counter it with behavior that is similarly incomprehensible—with irrational goodness.”1

Extending this idea to include the place of loss and destruction, the Rebbe wrote to a Mrs. Leah Chein, whose husband had recently passed away:

I was pleased to learn that the class which started before your husband’s passing is in continuance and takes place in the very same place and is based on the very same topics as it was while he was alive…. This is a tremendous advantage for the soul of the departed and gives it great satisfaction when the good it was involved with continues in the very same location.2

On the last day of shivah, the seven-day mourning period, for his wife of sixty years, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory, the Rebbe made a similar point upon concluding the prayer service when he said: “It is customary to elevate the soul of the deceased through a Chasidic farbrengen or gathering. It should be done beautifully and should be held here, in the house where she lived.”3

Likewise, the Rebbe wrote to Mrs. Fradel Zilberstrom (quoted in chapter 3) regarding the construction of the new school in Kfar Chabad, stating that there is added value in the fact that the school was being built on the very spot where the atrocity was committed.

In a letter to Rabbi Raphael Nachman Kahan, a town elder, the Rebbe writes:

It goes without saying that you should utilize your strength and employ all of your energy toward encouraging and uplifting the spirits of the townspeople, bearing in mind that especially in a place where cruelty was committed, there should be an outpouring of compassion.4

The Rebbe made a similar point to the brothers of Simcha Zilberstrom, of blessed memory, the teacher who was killed in the attack, when they wrote to him asking what do with the money that Simcha had left behind. The Rebbe suggested that after distributing a symbolic amount to every family member in order to establish the spiritual connection to the deceased that comes with inheritance, “the bulk of his assets should go toward a local organization, particularly one that deals with education (as he did), such as a summer camp or venue for continued education. It would be fitting that prayerbooks be purchased for Simcha’s entire class or school from that money.”5

In a similar vein, the Rebbe guided the family of Avraham Goldman, a seventeen-year-old yeshiva student who had been brutally murdered by three hooligans in an anti-Semitic attack while he was making a phone call to strengthen the Jewish identity of a child. The Rebbe suggested to honor Goldman’s memory by creating a fund which would help subsidize the costs of summer camp for Jewish children whose families could not afford it, and in this way the Jewish identity of these children would be strengthened.

More than just a form of poetic justice, rebuilding in the place where there was destruction also has great spiritual significance and benefit.

The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, consoled communities whose homes had been destroyed by a fire. In his letter to them,6 he drew on the wisdom of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad Chasidism.

A fire had ravaged the home of one of the Alter Rebbe’s Chasidim, R. Yosef of Zuravitz, leaving him homeless and destitute. The Alter Rebbe wrote to him as follows7:

I have heard it said by saintly men, and it has become a common expression, that “after a fire, one becomes wealthy.” The logic behind this statement is that on High, the hierarchy of the Divine attributes is Chesed, Din, Rachamim [Kindness, Judgment, Mercy]. Therefore, subsequent to the harshness you have suffered, there awaits for you a great amount of Divine benevolence superseding even the original first level, that of Chesed.

After citing the Alter Rebbe’s words, the Tzemach Tzedek continued:

Therefore, the Alter Rebbe urged R. Yosef to rebuild his ravaged home in the very same place it had been [so that the increased Divine flow of Mercy could revitalize in greater measure the actual place where Judgment had wreaked havoc].

From his holy words, we can derive instruction to your circumstance. Let each person be strengthened to rebuild their destroyed homes in the very same places they had been, for communal merit surpasses that of the individual to awaken Mercies that they may be strengthened. Thus, each person should help his neighbor, and may G‑d who gives strength bless you with all good in all your endeavors.8

In the Divine scheme of things, then, disaster can be seen to pave the way for even greater regeneration and blessing than before. This is especially true when it comes to the ability to transform the place of the disaster, in accordance with the teaching of Chasidut that, in essence, darkness is not an entity or force unto itself, rather it is itself an agent of light.

An incredible demonstration of transforming a void left by the loss of life into a positive force for life was illustrated by the Rebbe himself when, on the 25th of Adar (March 14, 1988), only one month after his wife’s passing, the Rebbe inaugurated a global Jewish birthday campaign on the day that would have been her 87th birthday, saying:

Here is a suggestion, and it would be of great merit to her soul, that in connection with the ascent of her soul, the following custom should be established: Jews should begin to celebrate their birthdays, [even though] in previous generations this was observed only by certain individuals and in a discreet manner….9

To the Rebbe, the most appropriate and noble way to commemorate the loss of life was through the enhancement and celebration of life’s birth.