Depressed Mental State

.. I am in receipt of your letter.

Judging by your writing, I trust it is unnecessary to emphasize to you at length that one of the foundations of our faith and way of life is the firm conviction that G‑d’s providence extends to everyone individually, and that He is the Essence of Goodness and does only good, as the Torah states, “And G‑d saw all that He had done and behold it was very good.”1

And while G‑d gave man freedom of choice to choose his way in life and his daily conduct, He has, in His goodness, given us His Torah, which teaches us what the right way of life is and how to accurately pursue it.

Therefore, your writing that you find life “a burden,” and the general mood in which your letter is written, are completely out of harmony with the Jewish way of life.

I can, of course, understand that such a mood is possible in light of the events and occurrences that you describe in your letter. However, this is possible only if you do not take into account the fact that everything is by Divine providence, and therefore you think that you are alone in the world and quite forsaken, having only yourself to rely upon, and so on.

On the other hand, if you bear in mind that everything that happens occurs through G‑d’s providence which affects every single individual, and that the only freedom a person has is freedom [in those matters with which] he personally is concerned but he has no control over events relating to others, then you will view matters in a different light.

Though you may still not understand why such seeming untoward events occur, it will no longer surprise you, knowing the limitations of the human mind and how impossible it is for a human mind to grasp and understand the infinite wisdom of G‑d, who is called Ein Sof (Infinite).

Consequently, seeing that G‑d provided you with the gift of life and other blessings, and at the same time provides you the opportunity to fulfill His will, not because He needs the satisfaction and pleasure of having His will fulfilled, but simply because this is how He makes it possible for a Jew to spread G‑d’s light in the world at large, and especially in his own family and immediate environment, surely it is out of place to refer to these blessings of G‑d as “a burden,” G‑d forbid.

Nor is it right to consider as burdensome the fact that it is difficult to see the good clearly for, as our Sages declare, “The reward matches the effort.”2 The better and more worthy the object, the harder it is to obtain, and while the difficulties may be imaginary or real, the effort to overcome these difficulties will be truly rewarding, and the reward will infinitely surpass the effort. It is surely unnecessary to elaborate further on this subject.

I suggest that you have the mezuzos of your home checked, as well as your tefillin, if they have not been checked within the past twelve months, and every weekday morning before putting on the tefillin you should put aside a small coin for tzedakah.

No doubt your wife observes the good custom of putting aside a small coin for tzedakah before lighting the candles.

(From a letter of the Rebbe)

Sadness and Disillusionment

I received your letter in which you briefly describe the hardships you have endured during your lifetime — the wanderings, the [traumatic] experiences, the grief. Finally, you describe your recent arrival in .... and your observations about matters that seem to be inexplicable.

.. You wonder — as you write — why there seems to be no explanation for the events that transpired with your family and in your home.

When you will consider this matter a bit, you will realize that there is really no cause for wonder, for a person can only understand to a limited extent those events that transpire in his life and around him. It is therefore not possible for him to truly comprehend the events that he perceives.

To make this matter perfectly clear, I will provide you with an example:

Imagine a person entering a hospital operating theater and seeing someone lying on the operating table. People brandishing knives surround him and are cutting him, and the person is groaning with pain. Nevertheless, these people continue with their cutting.

The chance observer, wholly unaware of the concept and purpose of a surgical procedure, will leave the room in an uproar — a human being was forcibly taken and is being cut up, he is groaning with pain and cannot free himself from his tormentors and murderers.

However, when the accidental observer is given to understand that the operation is critical in order for the patient to live many more decades, for which reason excessive consideration is not being given to the patient’s temporary pain and discomfort during the few hours of the operation, [then his position will change entirely].

The guest observer will not only fully agree that they — the “cutters” — are not tormentors and murderers, but he will now understand that the very opposite is true: they are doing the greatest possible favor to the individual who is under the knife.

And this is so, [i.e., they are truly performing an act of goodness and kindness by operating,] notwithstanding the fact that the cutter — in modern terminology, the surgeon — cannot offer a 100% guarantee that the outcome of the surgery will be successful, nor how many more years the patient will live following the surgery — even if the surgery is successful.

We understand from the above that a person may experience in his lifetime a matter that pains him for a period of time — true pain and not imaginary.

That person, however, is also aware of — and moreover, sees — the Divine Hand of individual providence; i.e., that the world’s conduct is not without rhyme or reason and it functions according to a definite system. Moreover, this system encompasses not only himself and also his family, but so manyothers as well.

Normal, healthy and sound intellect then dictates that surely these [seemingly untoward] events do not violatethe overall system that prevails in the world around him. It is merely that the individual has not heard from [G‑d, the benevolent] “Professor of Healing,” what great benefit will result from the temporary pain.

There are those who question and say that they doubt that the world has a system and purpose, but everyone knows from physics, chemistry, astronomy, and so on (recognized not only by Jews or by believing people but even by non-believers) that even the smallest atom has its exact rules.

Everything must operate in accordance with the rules: even the earth, rocks, plants and animals, and everything that surrounds us has definitive laws and established methods, even though it is far more complex and vast than one person and his family.

When we encounter difficult times in our lives, many are spurred to question the existence of a Divine system and master plan for our world. When one part of the world’s structure appears out of sync with the way we understand it should be, we are quick to draw conclusions about the entire cosmos.

However, the worlds of physics, chemistry, astronomy or the other natural sciences demonstrate otherwise.

There, even the smallest atom is seen to have its own structure and function; every particle of matter is subject to specific laws and is part of a defined framework — a cosmic order which is vast and complex.

.. Imagine that you are in a massive building that has thousands of rooms; the furniture in each room is perfectly arranged. However, in one tiny room with strange furnishings, the sense of organization so obvious in the rest of the structure is not immediately apparent.

Since the gigantic building and its thousands of chambers can be seen as part of an orderly system, undoubtedly the individual room and its unique furnishings are also part of the overall plan. Although the untrained observer may not at first understand the unusual pattern, with some thought he will come to realize that it must also be a part of the larger system.

I feel it would be superfluous to spell out the meaning of the parable. I just wish to add one detail: If each one of us, including you yourself, were to ponder all the events of our lives wherever they occurred, and we would look objectively, we would have to agree that there were tens and thousands of instances where we were led in a certain direction.

Nevertheless, the Holy One desires that a person should do things of his own free will. He therefore allows each person the ability to choose his own path. It is therefore no wonder that being only human, there can be a few occasions when a person falls off the path, and instead of the path being a straight one, there are some zig-zags.

But if we give it thought and we don’t fool ourselves, we see to it that the number of zig-zags should be as few and infrequent as possible. Then we arrive at the goal which the Holy One has set up for every person and particularly for each individual, that he and his family should be truly happy.

We can come to this by conducting ourselves according to Torah which is known as the Torah of Life. We need only be wary of the criticism often used by the evil inclination: he points to a person who people believe to be frum and who conducts himself according to Torah, and then goes about highlighting that individual’s seeming deficiencies.

The evil inclination thus wishes to demonstrate to the person with whom it is seeking to influence, that since [the frum person] is a person who conducts himself according to Torah and nonetheless has these negative points — the proof being that he did this or that misdeed — then the Torah itself must perforce not be commendable, G‑d forbid.

This, however, is of course patently false, for the evil inclination is only presenting one aspect of the person and not the individual as a whole.

This is illuminated by a story.

If a person is walking in the street and meets someone leaving a medical specialist’s office and the person is using crutches, the passerby could think that the specialist is not good. After all, this person visited him and paid him a lot of money, and is obeying all the doctor’s instructions, and he still needs crutches!

But if someone would explain to the passerby that before the patient was in the doctor’s care he couldn’t move his feet altogether and was completely paralyzed, then he would realize thatthe doctor had reduced the paralysis, strengthened the patient, and enabled him to use his feet and even to walk.

As time goes on, things improve [for the patient] and it’s getting easier, even though he still needs crutches. There may come a time, if he follows the doctor’s advice, that he will get rid of the crutches and be completely healed.

The same is true for people. From the time they are born, they [all] have different qualities. Some have more good and some more bad. Through education by good teachers, and above all through self-improvement, provided it is done correctly, these bad traits over time become weaker and less effective.

Since a person has to grow his entire life, it is no wonder that we can meet a person in the middle of his personal growth and development work — his self-training — and still find some of his negative qualities. This is not necessarily because he isn’t following the instructions of the “specialist” in his training, rather that by every measure he has weakened and reduced his negative [qualities] compared to how he was earlier on.

I want to end by expressing my intent in this letter. I don’t intend this to be mere philosophy; rather to implant in you the idea that if you will want to apply your objectivity and good intellect, it should bring you to strengthen your trust in Hashem and to look with a positive eye at the people around you in general and the inhabitants of ... especially.

See their positive points, which for the most part they worked hard to develop, and view their negative points, if there are any, in the way we discussed previously with regard to the temporary crutches.

Above all you must know that you must do your part to illuminate and brighten your surroundings, not only your own family, but a larger group of people. This can be achieved by being permeated with love of a fellow Jew. This will be beneficial to all and certainly is good and will achieve goodness for you and your family.

I hope you will read this letter with the appropriate attention. It is self-understood that if you have any questions or lack of understanding, I will be happy for you to write about them and I will answer to the extent I am able, even if because of many obligations the answer may be a little delayed.

I feel also that the occasional delays are also an instruction: that you are being given additional time that of your own free will you should change your view of the people around you, and come to realize that an individual’s conduct is subject to constant improvement, and the A-lmighty should grant you success.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIII, p. 170)

Suffering, Illness and Death

.. I duly received your letter in which you write about various things that you do not understand, such as the suffering of your father [during his illness]. Particularly, why should G‑d make any good person suffer?

Judging by your letter, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you at length the obvious idea, namely, that it is certainly not surprising that a human being does not understand the ways of G‑d, for a created and finite being surely cannot understand the infinite.

The opposite [idea, i.e., that man understands the ways of G‑d,] would be rather surprising, and it is only due to G‑d’s infinite kindness that He has revealed to man certain aspects of His Divine providence.

There is a simple illustration: It would surely not be surprising that a five-year-old child could not understand the conduct of a great scientist, even though the scientist was at one time a five-year-old boy, and the present five-year-old boy may grow up and become an even greater scientist.

In other words, the five-year-old boy is potentially in possession of all the qualities of the mature scientist, yet it would not be surprising that the five-year-old boy cannot understand the great scientist.

But a created human being has nothing in common with the Creator insofar as intelligence and capacities are concerned. It is only because of G‑d’s kindness that certain aspects of G‑d’s providence have been revealed to man, including as well the question of suffering, for with regard to suffering we can employ a similar analogy:

When a young child is told to sit down, learn the “ABC’s,” do homework, etc., this deprives him of going out into the fresh air, interferes sometimes with him having his meal on time, and might also curtail his sleeping hours, etc.

The child, while complying with these instructions, is not doing so because he realizes their wisdom, but because he has no choice in the matter, since he is compelled by his father or mother or teacher to do this. This is not a case where one takes away his freedom to keep him from breaking windows and the like, [in which case the child would more readily understand the reasons for these instructions].

As far as the child is concerned, for him it is truesuffering to be deprived of fresh air, or rest, etc., which most agree are considered good things. Nevertheless, of what consideration is the child’s temporary suffering, even though it may extend for days or even months, in comparison with the good that he will enjoy as a result for the rest of his life.

A further point to remember is this:

When a person who has been ill succumbs to his illness, it is clear to every normal person that the illness affected only the physical body. Obviously if there is something wrong, say, with the blood of the patient, it cannot affect the patient’s spiritual life and his everlasting soul.

In other words, when a patient succumbs to an illness, this only happens because the union between the soul and the body has come to an end, but the soul is an everlasting one. This is one of the basic foundations of our Jewish faith, as well as that of many other faiths.

It is frequently explained and emphasized in the Torah that life on this earth is only a preparation for the future and everlasting life in the World to Come.

This is also taught in the well-known Mishnah of Pirkei Avos, which we read and study during these Shabbasos: The Mishnah states, “This world is like a vestibule to the future world; prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you can enter the banquet hall” (Avos 4:16).

Now, even if one was subjected to a period of suffering when he was in the vestibule, the fact that he will surely derive infinite gain in the “banquet hall” makes it unquestionably worthwhile.

It is impossible to describe the joys of the life of the soul in the World to Come, for even in this world — i.e., while the soul is connected to the body — the life of the soul is on an infinitely higher plane than the life of the body in which it is vested, and the body cannot possibly comprehend this form of life; how much more so when the soul is no longer distracted by the body.

Compare the vast gulf between the joy and excitement of a child when he receives a piece of tasty candy and the joy of a very wise and learned scientist who succeeds in resolving an important scientific problem. Here again, as mentioned before, there is some connection between the child and the scientist, and all these forms of joy are comparable.

But as far as life on this earth and the life of the soul in the future world is concerned, the differences between them are not of degree but of kind, and there is no common denominator between the two.

At the same time it should be remembered that the suffering in the “vestibule,” which is no more than a corridor to the “banquet hall,” is after all a temporary one, and the gain is eternal. ...

(From a letter of the Rebbe)

Overcoming Despondency by Having Emotions
Act in Tandem With Belief and Intellect

Jewish men and women are generally “believers, sons of believers,” that is to say, they all believe and also comprehend that G‑d alone conducts the entire world. Jews also believe with perfect faith that G‑d is the Essence of Goodness.

You surely heard as well the saying of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory, who related in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, that G‑d loves every Jewish man and woman as a father loves an only child. (In fact, He loves them even more than that; this analogy is used because we cannot imagine a greater love than that of a parent to an only child.)

The upshot of all the above [is this]: that all that G‑d does is for the good; [and] since G‑d desires that things be good for Jews not only spiritually but materially as well, surely His goodness extends not only to the realm of the spiritual, but also to the realm of the material.

As mentioned before, Jews not only believe the above but understand this rationally as well. It sometimes happens, however, that while this is believed and understood by the person, unfortunately this belief and understanding does not seep into the person’s heart and emotions. The result of this is that certain [untoward] events cause him to feel heartbroken and despondent, G‑d forbid.

.. When, however, a person works on himself, endeavoring to have his belief and understanding filter down into his emotions, this results in the realization and feeling that “All that G‑d does, He does for the good”3 — indeed, it cannot possibly not be so. This enables the individual to eventually be able to perceive and feel that matters are overtly and obviously good.

For since G‑d rewards the individual in kind, “measure for measure,” this attitude engenders G‑d’s revealing to all, and particularly to that individual himself, the goodness that lies concealed in the [seemingly unpleasant event,] so that it may be perceived [for the good it truly is,] even with the naked eye.

.. I extend to you my prayerful wishes that very soon G‑d should demonstrate to you the complete goodness that transpired in the past events in your life and which you have failed to see until now, and that you be truly joyful in all aspects, both spiritual and material.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 220)

Dealing With Setbacks and Adversity

.. I surely need not emphasize to you that a true businessman is not one who can manage his affairs when conditions are favorable and matters are running smoothly and successfully, but also, and even more so, when he demonstrates that he knows how to deal with adversity and the occasional setback.

Indeed, facing up to the challenge of adversity makes one a stronger and more effective executive than before, with an added dimension of experience and a keener acumen, which can be put to good use even when things begin to turn upwards.

Sometimes, a temporary setback is just what is needed for the resumption of the advance with greater vigor, as in the case of an athlete having to negotiate a hurdle, where stepping back is necessary in order to facilitate a higher leap.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 25 Shevat, 5736)

Overcoming Feelings of Abandonment
And Having One’s Life Depend Entirely Upon Oneself

.. Surely you are correct in writing that you have already suffered enough; it is high time for everyone to be helped in all that they require, particularly with regard to good health, and I hope you will be able to convey to me glad tidings regarding your improved health.

I wish to note the following, although I am not entirely sure whether this is wholly germane to your situation:

Quite often, a person’s feelings of self-assurance and security are dependent on something outside of and higher than himself — in simpler terms, [they are dependent] on his feelings of faith and bitachon in the Creator of the world as a whole and man’s personal world in particular.

After the earthshaking events of our generation,4 which have shaken various spiritual foundations and torn away many individuals from deeply rooted family and national traditions, it affected many people and caused them to think that they were left hanging in the wind; [i.e., without something to which they could anchor their lives].

I am referring here even to those of them who are believers; their faith became something that was disconnected from their practical everyday life. They would think about their faith, recite Shema Yisrael or Modeh Ani, often thinking about the meaning of the words, and yet they would go around the entire day with the thought that they were entirely alone, each of them drawing conclusions from these thoughts according to their nature and personality.

The most realistic manner of helping such individuals regain their equilibrium is by revealing within them their familial and ancestral traditions that even now remain concealed within their souls.

They will then perceive that man is not alone. Moreover, they will realize that man is the master of his lot only to a certain extent; for the most part it depends on G‑d.

Consequently, the person need not place all the burden[s of his life] on his own shoulders, feeling a tremendously weighty responsibility for everything that happens to him. Surely he need not be filled with despair regarding specific matters or specific situations.

When such individuals are connected with their fount of faith and bitachon, which without the slightest doubt remains deeply rooted in them, this will lead to their peace of mind and will enable them to live their lives in a healthier manner and better be able to fulfill the unique tasks that each and every individual has in life. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 248)

Dwelling on Life’s Misfortunes

.. You write about the terrible decree [and misfortune] that transpired ...:

Understandably, you should uproot such thoughts and those like them, since a) they are without foundation; b) there is the celebrated adage uttered by the Rebbeim and Nesi’im generation after generation: “Think positively, and you will see positive results;” [and] c) it is known that the crucial determinant of a person’s feelings when he is unsure of their validity is to ascertain how these feelings will affect his deeds and actions.

We verily observe that the emotions you demonstrate (regarding the harshness of the decree) leads to a lessening of one’s good deeds as well as to despondency and loss of hope. These negative traits are not only prohibited and to be eliminated for spiritual reasons, but for simple common sense reasons as well.

In place of the above, it is my opinion that there lies a sacred obligation on all the friends of the family [of the deceased] to try over and over again to insure that the children of ... alav hashalom follow the path of Torah and mitzvos in their daily lives.

Understandably, it is specifically this that is of the greatest import — of crucial importance not only to the children of the deceased, but to the deceased himself. This is infinitely more important than eulogies or memorial services.

Surely I need not demonstrate to you the truth of such a simple matter, nor need I explain it at further length. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVI, p. 213)

Recognizing the Good in Life

From time to time I inquire about your wellbeing and receive news about your welfare from your children sheyichyu. I am surprised by the fact that on a number of occasions they have told me that your mood is not as it should be.

In general, each and every one of us, when we search and ponder our lives, even during the last few years [when matters do not seem to be going so well,] will observe G‑d’s kindness and goodness, up to and including matters that were not at all expected.

In fact, the individual sees these things to an even greater extent than does another — as each person knows in his or her own life.

This should lead the person to recognize and acknowledge the blessings and goodness that he has received from G‑d, and quite possibly, on more than one occasion, the person has received these blessings without any effort on his part.

This leads to the inevitable conclusion that if there do exist matters that are contrary to a person’s desires, then it may very well be one of two things:

Firstly, quite often a person does not truly know what is best for him and if that which he desires will indeed bring him true benefit or possibly the opposite.

Even when the individual concludes that he knows with one-hundred-percent certainty that the thing is good for him, he still cannot possibly know the reasons why he has not been granted these matters for the time being.

This is analogous to the business world: A good and experienced businessperson will not sell his merchandise at an inopportune time. And this is the case even when he can realize a profit, but that he reckons that by selling his merchandise at a later date he can realize afar greaterprofit.

The same is so with G‑d’s goodness. If it is delayed, it is in all probability because at a later time G‑d’s beneficence will be in a much greater manner in both quantity and quality.

This is particularly true in your case, where G‑d has blessed you with true nachas from children, something which is not so often found .... Since you and your wife tichye can anticipate even more nachas [from your children,] your going around unhappy (something which can be interpreted as dissatisfaction — G‑d forbid — with the manner in which G‑d conducts your affairs) defies understanding. Moreover, to a certain extent this is an expression of ingratitude to G‑d.

It is self-understood that I am not writing to you in order to admonish you but to convince you that even according to the way you look at your life, the good things in your life are incomparably greater and more significant than those matters that you think are — temporarily — not as they should be.

[Bear in mind] that when a businessman makes an accounting, he does not consider each item individually, but makes a total accounting of the inventory as a whole. [And so too regarding the “balance sheet” of events in your life.]

It is my hope that the above few lines will move you to reconsider the “calculation” that you are making. I am sure that when you will do so, you will reach a much happier conclusion [than you have reached until now]. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIII, p. 249)

Experiencing Goodness Throughout One’s Life

I was astounded to read in the letter that I received from you that your husband sheyichye’s spirits are very low.

How can this possibly be after the two of you have personally witnessed and experienced G‑d’s wonders and kindnesses. This [experience] should rouse you to great joy, for “In the shining countenance of a king” — the King of kings, blessed G‑d — “there is life.”5

And yet, notwithstanding the above, to find oneself in a depressed state?! Surely this is nothing but the machinations of the evil inclination. It is my strong hope that this [down mood] is but a temporary phenomenon, and that it has already passed.

Moreover, we have been promised and assured by our sacred Torah, the Torah of Life, that whenever one has been shown kindness and goodness from Above, it is for many long and good years.

Surely this promise will be fulfilled with regard to you and your husband as well. I await very speedily glad tidings with regard to the above.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 410)

Do Not Become Crestfallen by Life’s Challenges

.. Surely I need not explain at length to an individual like yourself that there is no room for feeling downhearted from your encountering some difficulties in the course of fulfilling your true task in life, that of “I was created to serve my Maker.”

Such feelings are from the machinations of the evil inclination that seeks to bring the person to a crestfallen state. In point of fact, the entire purpose of the evil inclination lies in man’s vanquishing him. {Indeed, this, [i.e., that the evil inclination be vanquished,] is also the desire of the evil inclination [itself], as is to be understood from the holy Zohar, quoted in Tanya at the conclusion of ch. 29.}

Ultimately, even those matters that presently conceal and obscure [goodness and holiness] are themselves transformed into good — and not only in a manner of “All that G‑d does, He does for the good,” i.e., that goodness will eventually result, but in a manner of “This too is for the good,” i.e., that the matter itself becomes good.

{This difference is to be understood from the story itself of Nachum Ish Gam Zu, wherein the transformation of the earth [into weapons] served as overtly revealed goodness, as opposed to the expression “All that G‑d does, He does for the good,” [wherein it was merely “for the good” but it was not transformed into actual goodness.]}

This is particularly so as we are now commencing the days of the month in which there is the [joyous] festival of Purim, about which our holy Torah states: “The month” — i.e., this is true of the entire month — “that was transformed for the Jews into [a month of] joy and Yom Tov.”

Now, the concept of “transformation” [during this month] means that the entire month is propitious for transforming those [untoward] events into a form of “joy and Yom Tov” that is palpably revealed to us.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 441)

Our Challenges Are Commensurate With Our Abilities

It saddened me to learn that your health is not as it should be. Surely a large part is merely nerves and imagination, as well as the fact of not serving G‑d with joy, which according to the ruling of the Rambam — quoted in the Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, ch. 231, and in many other places — includes all aspects of a Jew’s life, including eating, drinking, etc.

Frankly, I am surprised ... for proper faith in G‑d compels one to conclude, “a camel is only loaded according to its ability to bear [the load]”;6 i.e., G‑d does not demand of a person Divine service that is beyond his capacity. Since “maintaining a healthy and robust body is an integral part of Divine service,” surely this service does not in and of itself diminish the person’s health.

The fact is that at times there are obstacles and difficulties, and at times it seems — and possibly it is quite true — that the obstacles and difficulties are abundant.

Nevertheless of that which is explained in Tanya7 on the verse [“And make me] delicacies [such as I love],”8 it is known that the term “delicacies” is written in the plural, for there are two forms of “delicacies” and “delights” that one can give G‑d — spiritual service that does not require battling evil and service that does require a battle.

However, even in the latter instance, one goes to battle with a joyous march, as known from the sichah of my father-in-law, the Rebbe.

Thus regarding spiritual service that requires a battle — [it is to be done with joy] and it should not affect one’s health, although it should be a matter of concern.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIX, p. 413)

Even After True Tragedy Strikes
One Should Combat Downheartedness

It pained me to learn that you are still in a downhearted mood, and according to my understanding this is the mood in your household as well.

I don’t want to go on at length and enter into a debate as to whether your attitude is correct or not. Understandably, it does not take much contemplation to appreciate why you are all in such a frame of mind after the tragedy that occurred — may we all never know of such events again.

The above notwithstanding, Jews in general and chassidim in particular as “believers” are expected to unequivocallycleave to G‑d, keeping their relationship with Him open, as the verse states,9 “And you who cleave to the L‑rd your G‑d are all alive today.”

Life, true life, does not mean simply marking time, it means that one’s life lacks for nothing, with both the person and his family possessing their entire spiritual and material needs.

Since the possibility exists that — G‑d forbid — they have not earned this generous bounty from G‑d, therefore the holy Zohar (II, p. 184b) tenders the advice: “They — this physical world and man in general — exist by the ‘radiant countenance’ [i.e., the joy and positivity,] that is emitted from below. In like manner they then draw down upon themselves the same qualities from Above. Man’s joy draws down a corresponding measure of joy from Above.”

Concisely stated: When one strengthens himself in his bitachon in G‑d that He will surely provide those matters with which a person can be in good spirits, happy and joyous, doing so in such a powerful manner that his bitachon affects his daily life, then one draws down this Divine beneficence from Above. One then verily sees that his bitachon was justified.

May G‑d help that you, your wife, and your entire family experience this as quickly as possible and in as discernible a manner as possible.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VI, p. 266)

Overcoming Life’s Adversities

I am in receipt of your letter in which you write about various recent events in your life — which were not in the category of obvious good — and you ask what your reaction should be.

In general, as you surely know, Jews are guided by the Torah, the “Torah of Life,” which is to say that Torah is the Jew’s true guide in everyday life. The Torah is also called Torah Or, the “Torah of Illumination,” since it illuminates the Jew’s life and its instructions are as clear and lucid as light itself.

One of the best-known portions of the Torah, which Jews recite daily in both morning and evening, is the portion of the Shema, in which the Torah tells us to love G‑d “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The Hebrew word m’odecha, generally translated as “your might,” also conveys the meaning of middah — “measure” or “dimension,” as our Sages explain. This means that a Jew has to love G‑d regardless of the kind of “deal” he thinks is meted out to him by Divine providence.

This profound love is to express itself, as the text indicates, in the study of Torah and the observance of its mitzvos, particularly the mitzvos of tefillin and mezuzah which are mentioned specifically, and particularly so since tefillin is symbolic of all the mitzvos.

Moreover, inasmuch as [the hand] tefillin is placed on the left arm facing the heart, the seat of the emotions, and [the head tefillin] on the head facing the brain, the seat of the intellect, tefillin symbolizes that a Jew is to be totally involved — both emotionally and intellectually — in serving and fulfilling His commandments.

In other words, whatever happens in a Jew’s life must not in any way affect his love of and devotion to G‑d, nor his everyday life and conduct in accordance with the Torah and mitzvos. (Needless to say, the mitzvah of reciting the Shema daily is not reserved for exceptional Jews, but is for each and every Jew.)

The question now arises: Is the above something that can really be implemented, and if so, how is one to explain how this can actually be implemented?

To be sure, the human intellect is limited and cannot possibly fathom the Divine wisdom that is in the Torah. On the other hand, the Torah itself describes the Jewish people as a “wise and understanding people,” and it provides at least some explanation that helps us to understand, in however limited a degree, G‑d’s ways.

One of the basic teachings of the Torah is that G‑d does not expect anything of a human being that is beyond the human capacity to carry out.

This, in fact, is eminently understandable: Even a human being, who is a very long way away from absolute perfection, would not expect a tool that he has fashioned to perform in a capacity greater than its original design. Certainly G‑d, the Creator of man, knows man’s capacities.

From this it naturally follows that when a Jew faces any kind of a test of faith, it is certain that he has been given the capacity to overcome it. And the more difficult the test, the greater are the individual’s capacities.

The reason that an individual is tested is not that G‑d wants to know how well he will conduct himself, but in order that this person be afforded the opportunity to realize his potential, even that which is unknown to him. And when one’s potential capacities are released and activated, they become part and parcel of his or her arsenal, to be used for personal as well as communal benefit. ...

(From a letter of the Rebbe)

Setting Limits To Legitimate Sorrow and Grieving

I have just received your letter of the 3rd of Tammuz.

To begin with a blessing, may G‑d grant that henceforth you and all your family receive only goodness and benevolence — overtly revealed goodness.

At the same time, despite your [understandable] pain, you must make every effort to regain your former equilibrium.

You should remember the teaching and instruction of the Torah, which is called Toras Chayim, the “Guide to Life,” and Toras Emes, the “Torah of Truth,” meaning that what it teaches is not just to ease the mind, but is the actual truth.

Taking into account human nature and feelings in a condition and state of bereavement, and recognizing the need to provide an outlet for the natural feelings of sorrow and grief, the Torah prescribes a set of regulations and periods of mourning.

At the same time, the Torah sets limits in terms of the duration of the periods of mourning and their appropriate expression, such as shivah [the first seven days], shloshim [the first thirty days], etc.

If one extends the intensity of mourning which is appropriate for shivah into shloshim, it is not proper, for although shloshim is part of the overall mourning period, it is so to a lesser degree.

Since the Torah states that it is not proper to overdo it, excessive grieving does no good for the neshamah [the soul] of the dear departed. On the contrary, it is painful for the neshamah to see that it is the cause of conduct that is not in keeping with Torah’s instructions.

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 conduct 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. This is so notwithstanding the fact that quite possibly at some future date the infant may even surpass the scientist, who also began his life as an infant.

The difference, however, between a created human being and his Creator is absolute. Therefore, our Sages declare that human beings must accept everything that happens — both those matters that are obviously good as well as those matters wherein the goodness is humanly incomprehensible — since “All that G‑d does, He does for the good.”10

Nevertheless, G‑d enabled us to grasp some aspects and insights regarding life in this world and the afterlife. One of these insights is that the neshamah is a part of G‑dliness and as such is immortal. When the time comes for it to return to Heaven, it leaves the body and continues its eternal life in the spiritual World of Truth.

It is also a matter of common sense that whatever precisely caused the separation of the soul from the body (whether a fatal accident or a fatal illness, etc.), its effect was only on the vital organs of the physical body. In no way did it affect the spiritual soul.

A further point, which can also be understood: During the soul’s lifetime on earth, which it lived in partnership with the body, the soul was necessarily “handicapped” — in certain respects — by the physical requirements of the body (such as eating and drinking, etc.).

Even a tzaddik (a wholly righteous individual), whose entire life is consecrated to G‑d, cannot escape the constraints of living his life in a material and physical environment. Consequently, when the time comes for the soul to return “home,” it is essentially a release for it as it makes its ascent to a higher world, no longer [spiritually restricted and] restrained by a physical body and environment. From now on, the soul is free to enjoy the spiritual bliss of being close to G‑d to the fullest extent. That is surely a comforting thought.

It may be asked, if it is a “release” for the soul, why has the Torah prescribed periods of mourning, etc.? But there is really no contradiction.

The Torah recognizes the natural feeling of grief that is felt by the loss of a near and dear one, whose passing leaves a void in the family; the physical presence and contact of the beloved one will be sorely missed.

So the Torah has prescribed the proper periods of mourning to give vent to these feelings and make it easier to regain the proper equilibrium and balance.

However, allowing oneself to be carried away by these feelings beyond the limits set by the Torah — in addition to it being a disservice to oneself and those around him, as well as to the soul as mentioned above — means that the individual is more concerned with his own feelings than with the feelings of the precious neshamah that has risen to new spiritual heights of eternal bliss.

Thus, paradoxically, an overextended feeling of grief, which is a result of the great love for the departed one, actually causes pain to the loved one, since the neshamah continues to take an interest in the dear ones left behind, is aware of what is going on (to an even greater extent than before), rejoices with them in their joys, etc.

One thing the departed soul can no longer do is the actual fulfillment of the mitzvos, which can only be carried out when the soul and body are joined together in this material world. But this, too, can at least partly be overcome when those left behind do a little more in the area of mitzvos and good deeds — in honor and for the benefit of the dear departed neshamah.

More could be said on the subject, but I trust the above will suffice to help you discover within yourself the strength that G‑d has given you, not only to overcome this crisis, but also to go from strength to strength in your everyday life and activities in full accord with the Torah. ...

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 5 Tammuz, 5743)

Dealing With Life’s Tragic And Inexplicable Events

.. In answer to your question concerning the [tragic] events that recently occurred in your family; that you find them incomprehensible and inexplicable [and they are distressing and unsettling you]:

As already mentioned on a number of occasions, it is not at all surprising when man cannot comprehend the conduct of G‑d; to the contrary, it would be truly astonishing if we could understand G‑d’s conduct.

Concerning this matter there is the familiar analogy of a child who is in kindergarten and is unable to comprehend the rules and principles by which the country is governed, or the rulings of the Supreme Court. Even if the kindergartener were to be a true child genius, his limited comprehension would make him incapable of understanding the above rules and principles.

This is so notwithstanding the fact that the leaders of the land and the members of the court were also once of kindergarten age, and with time this child may attain a degree of knowledge that will surpass these leaders and jurists.

How then can we possibly compare a human’s comprehension with G‑d’s, that man’s intellect be capable of understanding the conduct of the Creator of the world, the Supreme Ruler over everyone and everything. I trust that I need not add anything more to the above.

There are only a small number of matters that G‑d wanted [to be known] and revealed, and those matters were presented by Him in a manner that human intellect would be fully capable of discerning and comprehending.

Another point needs to be stated: The more a person relies on his pure faith and bitachon in G‑d, the more he will see and logically comprehend the events that transpire in the world as a whole and in one’s private life in particular.

May G‑d bless you in all matters that you require, and among the most important of them: true serenity and peace of mind. May He bless you that your life be such that matters will be good for you in all aspects, including goodness that is overtly revealed and intellectually comprehensible.

Your daily conduct in accordance with our holy Torah, which is called “Toras Chayim,” a living Torah that shows how to live, is the manner and vessel to receive these blessings from G‑d.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XXIV, p. 111)

Dispose of the Negative Attitude

In reply to your letter of 12/13 in which you describe the various circumstances that you and your husband sheyichye have experienced: You reach the conclusion that things were always not well and now things are also not fine, etc. — from which we can easily discern what your view is about what the future holds in store for you:

I am astonished by your conclusions, when you yourself write that from the entire family you were among the few survivors; you also write about the various maladies and ailments that you survived; you also write about your husband that one could never imagine ... and he nevertheless occupied himself [and succeeded] in matters; that you both find yourselves in a house, etc.

Recognizing all the above, being cognizant of all that transpired not only externally but in the house as well, how is it possible to conclude in the manner that you write?!

Of course one should ask G‑d that things become better and better, for G‑d is the “Essence of Goodness” and “It is the nature of he who is good to do good.” However, one should not ignore the many kindnesses of G‑d that one has already experienced — particularly as you write that you perceived openly revealed kindnesses and miracles.

I wish to reiterate: My intent is not to minimize the importance of being aware of one’s needs, and I also don’t mean to imply that you are not lacking necessities. I merely wish to accentuate the goodness — indeed the very large amount of goodness — which you and your husband perceived with your physical eyes.

Another point (and this is of equal importance):

Our holy Torah explains that the measure of G‑d’s blessings depends to a considerable extent on the [appreciative] manner in which the person receives these blessings, and that his conduct is in consonance with and in recognition of these kindnesses. This form of behavior enlarges the receptacles and vessels that allow one to receive His kindnesses in the immediate future, as well as in the future in general.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVIII, p. 137)