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Helping Our Children Deal With Tragedy (Part I)


Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We are all aware of the terrible churban that recently took place in Yerushalayim’s Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, where eight precious neshamas were taken from us.

How can I explain and respond to my children when they ask why Hashem has punished these young innocent bachurim, who were the “cream of the crop?” What is going on in Eretz Yisrael (and in Sderot and Ashkelon in particular) is very frightening to kids, especially when young children are suffering so much.

How can we explain the right hashkafah to children who are questioning Hashem’s ways?

TZ

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

There is a timeless Yiddish saying, “Vos es feilt in hasbarah, feilt in havanah,” that is probably most appropriate in analyzing your dilemma in responding to your child’s questions. Loosely translated, it expresses the stark truth that when we find it difficult to explain concepts to others (hasbarah means to explain, while havanah denotes understanding) it is often because we ourselves don’t understand them fully.

This adage often rings true in the arena of parenting, as so many of the challenges we face when raising our children are really issues that we as parents are in the midst of grappling with. So I guess we ought to discuss both of the following issues simultaneously: How do we process tragedies through a Torah lens, and how do we respond to the questions that our children pose in trying to understand them?

Since this is such a difficult subject I will start with the don’ts before the do’s, as it is a far easier place to begin.

Do not suppress the questions of your children – about this topic or any other.

Always keep in mind that you never solve anything by taking that easy route. As I often note, an unasked question is an unresolved one. Creating an environment where your child can freely ask you anything that is on his or her mind means that you are positioned to properly be mechanech him or her.

Do not be intimidated or frightened to admit that you don’t have “all the answers” – especially to questions as difficult as these. It will, in all likelihood, be very refreshing for your child to see that you are also finding this challenging. In fact, you will have the opportunity to model appropriate behavior when you are stumped or find yourself looking for answers that are over your pay grade – by posing the question to a rav, rebbitzen or gadol with whom you are comfortable. This can perhaps be done even in the presence of your child.

Do not verbalize or even imply that respectfully asking for answers to questions like these is disrespectful or represent a lack of emunah in Hashem. To the contrary, you ought to explain that looking to gain insight into the workings of Hashem is really a sign of closeness to Him.

It might not be a bad idea to mention that the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is one that has been asked by our greatest leaders and nevi’im over the centuries. According to the Gemara (Brachos 7a), when Moshe Rabbeinu implored Hashem, “Hodieini na es drachecha – Please make Your way known to me” (Shemos 33:13), Moshe wanted to understand the age-old question of why so many righteous people suffer while it often seems that the wicked are prospering. This was the “derech” of Hashem that Moshe wanted to understand.

In fact, according to Rashi, it seems that this was something Moshe had wanted to ask previously, and waited until the opportunity presented itself – namely when Hashem’s mercy was granted to the Jews when He forgave them for the sin of the eigel (golden calf). It would seem that Rashi was wondering why Moshe chose that specific time to ask Hashem for the understanding of His “derachim,” for this request – at least at first glance – does not seem to follow the logical thread of Moshe’s beseeching Hashem to forgive klal Yisrael.

What is noteworthy and perhaps worthwhile mentioning to your child is that a simple reading of those pesukim would indicate that even our greatest leader and navi, Moshe Rabbeinu, was told by Hashem that a full and complete understanding of His “derachim” cannot be granted to humans during their lifetime.

You may worry that your child (and you) may be distressed to find out that there are no easy answers to these questions. But in all likelihood, the fact that our greatest tzaddikim were preoccupied with these thoughts will be comforting to him or her and not leave them feeling like they are on the outside looking in just because they are bothered by these questions.

Next: Some practical things you can tell your children (the do’s) to help them get their hands around this most difficult matter.

About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S.


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