Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Teves 5761 - January 17, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Consoling Words

by Chaim Walder

Last week we went to comfort a close friend whose three-and- a-half year old son was killed in a tragic traffic accident in Ramat Sholom. A minibus ran him over, as newspapers reported. But newspapers can't really catch the essence of an incident that defies verbal description. A three-and-a- half year old had been run over. But how do we feel upon learning that when his coat got caught in the door, he innocently cried out: "Wait a minute. Wait." A pure, innocent, three-and-a-half year old who had no idea that the world from which he parted is far more complicated than he had assumed.

We sit there silently. Only tears speak for us, because what words of consolation can we offer under such tragic circumstances. Can we, from our places, say anything?

As if to spare us bewilderment and sorrow, a rabbinical figure then came in. Although he did not know the child's parents, he is not unfamiliar with their pain. Three years previously, a minibus ran over his son in Bnei Brak. Since then, he and his wife come to console the bereaved, in order to speak to them when everyone else is silent.

When asked how it is possible to be comforted for such sorrow, he recited the verse which all of us say when consoling a mourner: "HaMokom yenachem eschem . . ." He explained that a person can derive consolation from the place -- (hamokom) in which he is situated. He related that when he sat shiva for his son, overcome by sorrow, many people came to him and talked a lot. But what comforted him was his view of his own situation, his place, in contrast to the situations of the people who had come to comfort him. As a rav, he knew of their sorrows -- some public and others not -- and he knew that from his place, he could really comfort those who had come to comfort him. From this knowledge he drew consolation.

When a person looks only at his own troubles, and not at life from a comprehensive vantage point, he cannot be consoled. However, when a person accords the calamity its proper place in his life (to the extent that he can at a time of sorrow), he can derive consolation from the half- filled cup.

In order to assist the rav, one of those present cited the mishna, "Hevei don es ho'odom lechaf zechus," and asked why it writes "ho'odom" and not "odom?" His answer was that when looking at a deed in isolation, it seems impossible to find anything meritorious in something bad. But if one looks at ho'odom from a comprehensive point of view -- seeing his other deeds, as well as the place where he was nurtured, the reasons behind his behavior, his burdens, and even more so, when one analyses the nature of ho'odom no matter who he is, it is possible to see the deed in a different light and to judge the man favorably.

So it is in respect to sorrow and pain. If we view an event like the petirah of a tender young child, beloved by everyone, it is difficult to find a positive aspect in the occurrence. However, when we expand the scope of our perspective to life itself, it is indeed possible to find consolation.

Some of the visitors tried to discuss the fault of the driver or the escort, but the father of the child refused to listen. "Everything is from Shomayim," he said. "Of course, we have to draw conclusions to take corrective actions so that such tragedies don't recur. But we know that this is a decree. We must not sidetrack our thoughts from the belief that what happened could not have been changed, otherwise we will torment ourselves for the rest of our lives with thoughts of how we could have prevented this accident."

These remarks were reinforced by the rabbinical figure who had begun the conversation. He related that after the shiva of his son, he and his wife visited the driver, who was sick over what had occurred. They actually comforted him, saying that they have nothing against him, and that it was a decree from Hashem. "Until today, we keep in touch with him," he said.

This is greatness that cannot be easily understood. But whoever examines the issue sees that beyond this ethical magnanimity lies a correct and wise outlook on life. Bereft parents who lack emunah sometimes lose their incentive for living, and suffer mental anguish from the thought of, "how could the tragedy have been prevented," and "who is to blame." Such people can plunge themselves into a senseless war against the cause of the death.

The only true way to cope with such death is by reconciling oneself to it: by realizing that it is something absolute, a decree from Shomayim. The stronger one's belief in Hashem Yisborach, the more one is able to reconcile himself to the facts and accept them as absolute.

A month ago, a fifty-year-old Bnei Brak Jew was niftar. I met a friend of his and asked if the man had died due to heart arrest or a stroke. The friend, Reb Chaim Lorber of ZAKA -- one who encounters death more often than the rest of us -- told me: "I know for certain that it wasn't the heart or the brain."

"Then what was it?"

"The Mal'och Hamoves," he said.

"The life span allotted to him had ended, and Hakodosh Boruch Hu sent the Mal'och Hamoves to take him. That's all there is to it."

He then related an anecdote told by one of the gedolim of the previous generation: When one of the angels was assigned the task of mal'och hamoves, he found it difficult to accept it, saying that he couldn't face the suffering and the accusations of the relatives of the people whose lives he would take -- the children, the parents who would hate him and remonstrate against him each time he took their beloved ones and caused them terrible anguish. Shomayim pacified the mal'och hamoves, saying: "Don't worry. No one will blame you. They'll say: it was the heart, the brain, a malignant illness, an accident, a terrorist attack. Everything will be blamed, except you. They won't even mention you."

That's the counsel of the yetzer! Its intention is to cause a lack of faith and at the same time to cause sorrow to the parents and the family. The only thing that can counteract the counsel of the yetzer is the firm confidence that everything has been decreed from Above and that nothing that we could have done or did not do could have altered it.

We should adopt such an outlook as an approach to life. We should see things in correct proportion and accepts them as decrees, not only in cases of calamity, but in our daily lives. We should apply it to the insignificant occurrences which we regard as genuine calamities, such as large financial losses, failures, or difficult periods in life. Sometimes one's sorrow over small issues can be so immense that the only explanation for our feelings is that we lack proper perspective on the incident vis a vis reality, and that our feelings stem from our lack of belief that everything is decreed from Above.

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