The Jewish world was shocked to its core when news of what happened in Meron on Lag BaOmer broke. Everyone is groping for an answer to the age-old question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
This question arises only from deep faith in the transcendence of G‑d’s truth and absolute goodness and justice. If events in this world were random, there would be no basis for complaint. We also know, though, that no human being can hold G‑d to task or hope to understand His ways. The human mind, however brilliant, is finite and limited, and cannot possibly understand G-d who is infinite and limitless.
As a wise man once said, “The ‘G-d’ that you can understand is not the G-d who created heaven and earth.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was affected in a very personal way by the Holocaust. His younger brother, Reb Dov Ber, was killed by the Germans. The Rebbe’s grandmother and other family members also perished in the Holocaust.
The Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, lost her younger sister, Rebbetzin Sheina, who perished in Treblinka together with her husband and their adopted son. I remember the Rebbe saying Kaddish for Rebbetzin Sheina on the second day of Rosh Hashanah every year. The Rebbe and the Rebbetzin themselves narrowly escaped Paris in 1940.
In discussing the Holocaust, the Rebbe categorically rejected any theological explanation for it. How can one have the audacity to provide a “reason” for the death and torture of millions of innocent men, women, and children?
We are forced to admit that some things are beyond man’s finite comprehension. The Rebbe would quote his father-in-law, saying, “It’s not my task to justify G-d. Only G-d Himself can answer for what He allowed to happen.”
The answer we are waiting for, said the Rebbe, is the immediate and complete redemption when all evil will be banished from the face of the earth. At that time, we will be able to clearly see the intrinsic goodness and perfection of G-d’s creation.
The Rebbe did point out, though, that the Holocaust completely undercuts any possible faith in a human-based morality. The very same people who epitomized culture, scientific advance, and philosophic morality perpetrated the most horrid atrocities! It is thus very clear that a moral and civilized society is only possible if it’s based on belief in and acceptance of Divine authority.
To the Rebbe, the most important thing after the Holocaust was not how to understand, or not understand, it, but rather what to do about it. If we allow the pain and anguish to discourage us from raising a new generation of Jews with a strong commitment to Judaism, then Hitler’s “Final Solution” will be realized, G-d forbid. But if we rebuild and raise a generation proud of and committed to Judaism, then we, the Jewish people, will have prevailed.
The following is a free translation of what the Rebbe wrote to a Holocaust survivor, a Vizhnitzer chassid, in 1965:
“To remember is indeed an imperative and a duty – particularly in light of the growing campaign to forget and to make forgotten. And yet, remembering is only one part of the task that rests upon us. The other, and far more crucial, part is to actively counteract Hitler’s so-called ‘Final Solution’….
“Your first duty is to live: to assume an ordered life, a married life, to establish a Jewish home and a Jewish family. This will most definitively underscore Hitler’s defeat: that not only did he not succeed in eliminating a certain Vizhnitzer chassid, but that this Vizhnitzer chassid will raise up children and grandchildren, generations upon generations of Vizhnitzer chassidim.”