Responding to Unfavorable News
| Published: June 02, 2021
Recently, in my correspondence with Rabbi Chaim Eisen, I mentioned to him that the health of a friend had “taken a turn for the worse.” It caused me to wonder, given that there were Jewish responses for so many situations, if there is a “traditional Jewish response to the hearing of unfavorable news.” Here is what he wrote in response.
As for a traditional Jewish response, obviously, it is complex, reflecting the complexities of life itself. On the one hand, there is acceptance of God’s judgment (like Aaron’s reaction to the deaths of his sons, David’s reaction to the death of Bathsheba’s baby, and Job’s reaction to the calamities that befell him). On the other hand, such acceptance does not and should not make us passive. God forbids _excessive_ mourning practices (cutting and balding oneself over the dead), but normal mourning is not only permissible but deemed a _mitzvah_. And, most critically, God enjoins us to emulate Him as dispensers of kindness and do our utmost to _ameliorate_ suffering.
In practice, apropos of accepting God’s judgment, upon hearing terrible news, we say the blessing (resonant with Jeremiah 10:10), “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, the Judge of truth.” Yet, in our tradition, we neither dwell upon issues of theodicy nor smugly claim to understand why bad things happen. Perhaps, the implicit message is not to dwell excessively upon justifying the existence of evil in the world (as Job’s friends did — and God castigates them at the end of Job for having done so!). Such justification trivializes others’ suffering, trivializes the complexity of God’s providence, and, worst of all, excuses our inactivity in improving the world!
Obviously, part of our response to bad news of any sort (including learning that someone we know is in pain) is praying to God to relieve that person’s suffering. We also dedicate our Torah study (especially, reciting appropriate passages from Psalms) and good deeds in general to the merit of the one who is ailing or otherwise suffering, in invoking God’s compassion upon that person. No less important is our actively seeking ways to help relieve the suffering of others. For example, the Torah enjoins us to attend to someone stricken with the practical means of medicinal healing (see Exodus 21:19), rather than _only_ praying to God to heal that person.
I hope this suffices for now.
The Rabbi went on to say that the question I asked is “literally the subject of books” and that it is not easy to summarize such a vast amount of material in just a few paragraphs, and then he concluded, “especially in these troubled times, may we henceforth have only good tidings of God’s salvation to share in abundance always! God bless you all, and all the best! With God’s blessings from His Holy City and from Zion Bible Studies,
I hope you find the Rabbi’s correspondence helpful.
Shalom to everyone,
P.S. Chaim Eisen can be contacted thru his website: https://zionbiblestudies.org/