When tragedy strikes—especially a tragedy of such magnitude as the Holocaust—even those with a strong belief in G‑d are often confronted with painful theological questions such as: Is it permitted to question G‑d or complain to Him? And if not, where are we to turn to find meaning in disaster? And, if we do find meaning or come to terms with catastrophe, are we in some way justifying suffering?

The Rebbe’s stance combines unequivocal faith in G‑d on the one hand with uncompromised compassion and allowance for human vulnerability on the other.

This ability to balance both the divine and the human perspective can be seen in the following letter, written by the Rebbe to a family in mourning:

I address these lines to you in the hope that they will bring you some comfort.

To begin with, there are many matters and occurrences that are difficult for the human mind to understand. Among them, there are also such that even if they can be understood intellectually, they are hard to accept emotionally….

A second point to bear in mind is that a human being cannot possibly understand the ways of G‑d. By way of a simple illustration: An infant cannot possibly understand the thinking and behavior of a great scholar or scientist, even though both are human beings, and the difference between them is only relative in terms of age, education, and maturity. Moreover, it is quite possible that the infant may someday surpass the scientist, who also started life as an infant. But the difference between a created human being and his Creator is absolute. Therefore, our Sages declare that a human being must accept everything that happens, both those that are obviously good and those that are incomprehensible, with the same positive attitude that “All that G‑d does is for the good,” even though it is beyond human understanding.1

While acknowledging the emotional difficulty of seeing Divine Providence in seemingly senseless events, the Rebbe does still gently encourage that kind of perspective.

A distraught host in whose home a young woman had passed away at a celebration for the completion of a Torah scroll (mentioned in chapter 8) posed the following questions to the Rebbe:

A) How can it be that a mitzvah such as the writing of a Torah scroll should be the cause of such a tragedy?

B) What lesson must he, the host, derive from the fact that something like this occurred in his home?

The Rebbe’s response stresses the fact that G‑d’s ways are unknowable and at the same time suggests a way to look at the event as being guided by Divine Providence:

Regarding A):

(1) It is impossible for man, a finite creature, to comprehend all the reasons of the infinite Creator. Indeed, we’d have no way of knowing even some of G‑d’s reasons, were it not for the fact that G‑d Himself told us to seek them out in His holy Torah (Torah meaning “instruction”).

(2) According to the Torah, it cannot be that anything negative should result from any of G‑d’s mitzvot (including your Torah scroll); on the contrary, these protect against evil and prevent it.

(3) Each and every individual has been granted a set amount of years of life on earth. It is only in extreme cases that one’s deeds can lengthen it or shorten it (with some terrible sin, etc., G‑d forbid).

(4) Based on (1), (2), and (3) above, one can perhaps venture to say that had the departed one (peace unto her) not been invited to the Sefer Torah celebration, she would have found herself, at the onset of her [heart] attack, in completely different surroundings: on the street in the company of strangers; without the presence of a doctor who was both a friend and a religious Jew; without hearing, in her final moments, words of encouragement and seeing the faces of friends and fellow Jews. Can one imagine: (a) the difference between the two possibilities? (b) what a person experiences in each second of her final moments, especially a young, religious woman on the festival in which we celebrate and re-experience our receiving the Torah from the Almighty?!2

(5) According to the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov—that every event, and its every detail, is by Divine Providence—it is possible that one of the true reasons that Mr. Z. was inspired from Above to donate the Torah scroll, etc., was in order that, ultimately, the ascent of the young woman’s soul should be accompanied with an inner tranquility, occurring in a Jewish home—a home whose symbol and protection is the mezuzah, which opens with the words, “Hear O Israel, G‑d is our G‑d, G‑d is one.”

Regarding B):

(1) Obviously, you and your wife, may you live, have many merits. Without having sought it, you had been granted the opportunity from Above for a mitzvah of the highest order: (a) to ease the final moments of a fellow human being; (b) to take care of a met mitzvah3 until the ambulance arrived. The extreme merit of the latter can be derived from the fact that Torah law obligates a Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, on Yom Kippur to leave the “holy of holies” in order to take care of a met mitzvah!

(2) Such special merits come with special obligations. In your case, these would include explaining the above to those who might have questions identical or similar to those posed in your letter until they see the event in its true light: a tremendous instance of Divine Providence.4

The following story is another example where the Rebbe gently encouraged a mourner to see the Divine Providence in their unfortunate situation.

The mother of a woman who was preparing for her daughter’s wedding passed away within a week of the wedding. The woman was brokenhearted and could not bring herself to be joyful in anticipation of her daughter’s celebration.

The Rebbe wrote a letter5 to the woman’s friend and asked that she share with her the content of a particular Midrash,6 which states that immediately after the destruction of the Holy Temple, the soul of Moshiach, the future redeemer of Israel, was born.

The juxtaposition of the Temple’s destruction and the birth of Moshiach was not a random coincidence, the Rebbe wrote; rather, it reflected the Divine process. Even when inexplicable suffering is destined to occur, G‑d provides a counterbalance and a pathway for consolation. When the Jewish people learned that the soul of their future redeemer (who would usher in the Messianic era of world peace) was born, it gave them the strength to overcome the crushing blow of the Holy Temple’s destruction.

Likewise, while it would only be natural to think that the wedding would be ruined because of her recent loss and for her to feel especially sad that her mother would unfortunately not be physically present at the wedding, there is another way to look at her situation: G‑d had orchestrated the wedding to be in close proximity to her mother’s passing to make it easier for her to cope with the loss—by seeing the growth of her family and the perpetuation of her mother’s legacy.