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Finding Meaning Amidst Tragedy: A Jewish Perspective

When terror struck Israel on October 7th, killing over 1500, difficult questions weighed heavily on the Jewish community worldwide. In the wake of such tragedies, many naturally search for meaning and understanding.

In response to a question asked about finding meaning after the recent terrorist attack in Israel, Rabbi Ari Shvat shared the following insights:

Not Everything is “Reward and Punishment”

Rabbi Shvat explained that not everything that happens in our individual and national lives results from “reward and punishment”, which is just one, albeit important, of the many factors involved. Life also includes the interaction of all people’s free-will (“Hishtadlut”) and God’s “running the show” in the best possible way (Bitachon) for each respective person and for Am Yisrael in general (pretty complicated!).

The Hamas also have free will, and they choose to do evil, which often hurts many innocent people (for God no longer does super-natural miracles). God also runs Jewish history, which in our generations centrally includes His desire to redeem Am Yisrael, whether we deserve it or not (but rather out of love, His covenant with the fore-fathers, to stop the Chilul Hashem of His nation being slaughtered, and our merits of self-sacrifice for these generations).

Accordingly, big historic “game-changers” like last week’s terrorism and Israel’s significant loss, inevitably and naturally opened many eyes to the folly of Israel giving away Gaza and Gush Katif, and the national understanding that a two-state solution with such religiously motivated barbaric neighbors, even with our Baruch Hashem, great technology, and army, is not an option.

Focus on Your Response

Rabbi Shvat added that we have to focus on our (!) side of this complex equation, and don’t worry, God will grant us that which is best for us (BTW, that often doesn’t mean the easiest! ), and in the end, He and His nation will certainly win (see my lecture here).

Our role is to destine our fate, and succeed through emulating the Godly ideals as expressed and commanded in the Torah and mitzvot, centrally including selfless giving and unity. There is also an important differentiation between my free-will, which is in my control, and that of my neighbor, which is much less so (e.g., I can and must lovingly try to bring them closer to the Godly ideals, but it’s his decision).

Accordingly, each of us must utilize the painful current circumstances to become more giving and less self-centered, and the volunteering and amazing achdut (national unity) felt today, especially in Israel and especially in the altruism of the Israeli soldiers, but really all over the Jewish world, is clearly an inevitable, beneficial, and Godly outcome of this war.

Undoubtably, if we continue this thoughtfulness and act afterwards, perhaps God will intervene and save us earlier, for we wouldn’t need such catalysts. Such “cheshbon hanefesh” (soul searching) is appropriate and permitted to be done by each one for himself and not for others, especially since already a century ago, the greatest rabbis, including Chazon Ish and Rav Kook, wrote that the non-observant today are not really responsible for their non-religious actions but are simply products of their society and education.

In short, the inevitable outcomes like national unity (even of Haredim and Jews abroad who often don’t participate outside of their communities), indignation and pride, political understanding, improvement of our (and the hostages) Tehilim and prayer kavana (concentration), and some of the hostages and survivors accepting religious observance are all obviously connected, but we can’t fathom all of the complex factors through which God runs the world, especially regarding the ge’ula process.

We also must pray that our Father and Beloved should give us victory asap (for only He can save the hostages) with the fewest casualties, and that the spiritual and national eye-openings and improvements should be permanent, idealistic, and not painful. “God will give His nation bravery; He will bless His nation with peace” (Tehilim 29, 11).

Rabbi Shvat concludes that each person should focus on their responsibility, using the tragedy to grow in selflessness, prayer, and closeness with God. Improving oneself is more constructive than judging others.

Though we cannot fully explain suffering, we can control our own growth. Ultimately, faith in God’s love offers the surest path to healing from life’s darkest moments.

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