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Jewish World Review
Making Sense out of Senselessness
By Rabbi Yonason Goldson
A silver lining emerges from a dark cloud of tragedy
Why do the righteous suffer?
The question is not new. In fact, it was asked of the Almighty by Moses as he witnessed the torment of his people under the hand of Pharaoh. Even earlier, it was posed by Abraham when he demanded, "Shall the Judge of all the earth not perform justice?"
We ask the question ourselves when we hear reports of natural disasters, of random violence, of inexplicable accidents. Among the more recent examples was the untimely death of actress Natasha Richardson. A few hours after a seemingly inconsequential tumble on a beginner's ski slope, the 45-year-old actress, wife, and mother began complaining of a headache. Days later, she was dead.
By all accounts, Ms. Richardson was a talented performer, a loyal wife, and a devoted mother. She seems to have eschewed the glitz and superficiality of Hollywood for a quieter, albeit critically acclaimed, career.
Although Natasha Richardson was not a household name, the public responded to her death with unusual passion. Her youth, her reputation, and her modest demeanor in a field known for crass sensationalism, all combined with the bizarre circumstances of her death to make her story uniquely tragic in the eyes of millions. Why should the world lose so fine a person through such a senseless accident?
That question, however, is not being asked by the family of Morgan McCraken of Mentor, Ohio. After failing to dodge a line drive in a backyard baseball game, the seven-year-old girl seemed to recover quickly from the lump on her left temple. She returned to school the next day and aced a spelling test.
But two days after the incident Morgan began complaining of a headache. With the headlines about Natasha Richardson still fresh in their memories, Morgan's parents rushed their daughter to the emergency room. Doctors immediately ordered a helicopter to take Morgan to Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, where a pediatric neurologist treated her for epidural hematoma the same injury suffered by Natasha Richardson. Had they delayed, said Morgan's doctor, the girl would never have woken up again.
Because Ms. Richardson died, Morgan McCraken survived.
It is not for us to compare the value of one life to another. But imagine if little Morgan grew up to discover a cure for cancer, or to develop a solution to world hunger, or to negotiate a lasting peace to any of mankind's ceaseless wars. Imagine if she became a teacher who shaped hundreds of lives who would in turn bring warmth and stability to their communities. Imagine if her children or grandchildren changed the world in some yet unimaginable way. Who knows what accomplishments lie waiting in the potential of a seven-year-old child?
Before the death of Moses on the far side of the Jordan River, the Almighty revealed to him that there would be times when He would "hide His face," times of spiritual darkness when the apparent dominion of evil would convince many in the world that G-d had forsaken mankind. In those days, the loss of hope would drive the Jewish people to the brink of despair, leaving them no recourse but to trust in a justice that defies logic and in an order contradicted by chaos. But where is genuine trust except where all reason has failed? And where is true hope except when we stare into the depths of hopelessness?
Hope is not a cliche or a campaign slogan it is a way of life that acquires meaning when we begin to understand that the panorama of history is too vast for us to fathom. Only then can we aspire to the genuine trust in the Master Architect who fashioned the world and guides its progress.
Until all is revealed to us in at the End of Days, we cannot expect to know why the righteous suffer, why good and innocent people perish in pogroms and crusades and inquisitions and holocausts. But we can understand that suffering leads to renewal as surely as night precedes the dawn. As we trust in the coming of each new day, so too can we learn to trust in divine wisdom and divine justice even as we endure the inevitable moments of spiritual darkness.
And nowhere can we discover that trust more poignantly than in the smile of every child in whose hands the future resides.
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JWR contributor Rabbi Yonason Goldson teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis, MO, where he also writes and lectures. Visit him at http://torahideals.wordpress.com .
© 2009, Rabbi Yonason Goldson