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RECONCILING FAITH AND TRAGEDY?

Rabbi Rafi RankDear Cyber Rav,

My oldest child just began Hebrew school this year.  A Jewish education was not something I was brought up with.  So I, too, am in the learning process now.  I have always "believed" in God, prayed informally on occasion, and wanted to feel that there is a higher, loving power.  I have been truly enjoying going to Temple recently, and growing in my religious life.  But then, something happens that shakes me to my very core.

On the news recently was a terribly tragic story about an 8 month old baby mauled to death by the family dog.  On a normal basis, stories like this affect me deeply, and it becomes difficult for me to stop obsessing.  This one hit much closer to home as I know the family.  The baby was difficult to conceive.  He was their only child.

Rabbi - I cannot tell you how sad and depressed I am, and how my faith has been so shaken.  I cannot stop thinking about that little boy, or his parents or his family.  How will they go on?  I have a little child and a dog as well.  I can't stop holding my little boy and smelling him and kissing him, something that mother will never do again.  Why?  How does one "keep the faith" in the face of such horrible circumstances…even just an onlooker like me?  I am now so obsessed with the welfare of my children, that I am quivering just writing this letter.

I have to ask what I am sure is an age-old question...How can God allow something like this to happen?

Thanks for listening.

Questioning Again

 

Dear Questioning Again,

I heard about this terrible story and am so sorry to learn that you know the family.  Alav hashalom--May this little baby rest in peace.

I have a few thoughts to share with you--

The natural world can be a pretty unforgiving and cruel environment.  Babies tend to be helpless and certain dogs tend to attack.  The combination of the two is a recipe for tragedy.  Our faith in God rests not in the idea that our faith alone will prevent such tragedies, but rather that our faith will help us cope with the tragedies that inevitably occur.  In this case, I pray that the parents, and you too, will find the inner-strength so necessary to go on in life with the knowledge that these tragedies are the aberration and not the norm.

Your feelings of sorrow and sadness are natural.  How else could a normal person respond to news as tragic as this?  But you also mention that you find yourself obsessing over this, and this may not be a good thing.  It could point to certain irrational fears that we all bury within our hearts and that surface from time to time, especially in response to a traumatic event, only to hamper our daily functioning.  A sad response and an obsessive response are two different things.  So if you find yourself obsessing, this is a matter that you may want to discuss with your health care professional.

Finally, I have to tell you that e-mail is a limited form of communication, and in dealing with an issue as weighty as this, e-mail is pretty ineffective.  If you would like to come in and talk, I would be more than happy to meet with you and explore your feelings further.  

A little boy was killed.  It is clearly a tragedy.  We have to mourn, to be sure.  But everyone must find a way to bring a certain degree of closure to the mourning.  We all too often lose the present by allowing our feelings to trap us in the past by events which we can do nothing about nor alter in any way.  That is a tragedy in and of itself.

Be well and I will say a little prayer for you with hope that you will find the way to lift your own spirits.  You deserve to be happy.

CyberRav,

Rabbi Rafi Rank


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