By the time you read this, it looks like it will be raining and much cooler than it was last weekend. That beautiful weather we had last weekend and a couple of days following it might already be long forgotten.
Still, it is important to take note when we are gifted a warm summer-like day in early November. I always thought that beautiful sunny days were a great gift from Above, only to learn later on that the truly greatest gifts are those stormy, rainy days — the wetter the weather, the better. I’m still trying to reconcile that.
Saturday night/Sunday morning began on a difficult note with the news of the passing of two high-profile Torah personalities, Rav Dovid Feinstein, zt’l, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, zt’l. Our society and our Jewish communities are poorer for the loss of these luminaries who were mainstays in the global Jewish community over all these decades. We have several articles in this issue about Rav Feinstein and Rabbi Sacks.
Rav Dovid was one of the leading halachic authorities of these modern times. He was 91 years old at the time of his petirah, the same age as his legendary father Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, when he passed away in 1986. Almost 35 years after his death, in many conversations dealing with a multiplicity of areas of Jewish law, whether about the intricacies of Jewish divorce or where and how one can construct an eiruv, or any other areas of halachah, you will hear the words, “What does Rav Moshe say?”
Rav Dovid followed directly in those giant footsteps and was the address for many dealing with personal or halachic dilemmas.
The news of the passing of Rabbi Sacks was a jolt. He was a learned Torah scholar and also a man of the world. Over all his years, he managed to weave together the otherwise seeming incompatibility of a Torah Jew interfacing with the world we live in.
He died after a battle with cancer. It was only this week that we learned that he battled bouts of cancer in both his thirties and fifties. At his death he was 72. My father was 72 when he passed away three decades ago, so I can understand, to some degree, how his children feel. It was too early, too soon; there was so much more life that could have been lived.
I heard Rabbi Sacks speak just once, and that was a few years ago at the Chabad shluchim dinner in Brooklyn. He talked about how as a young college student visiting New York from England, he experienced an encounter with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was seeking guidance from the Rebbe about what type of professional career he should be pursuing.
He revealed that night at the dinner that though he had many questions to pose to the Rebbe, it seemed that the Rebbe had many more questions for the young Jonathan Sacks. The Rebbe inquired of the not-yet-Rabbi Sacks about the level and nature of Yiddishkeit on his campus at the University of London and in the area where he resided in England. The Rebbe also asked him what his plan was and what he would do about enhancing the level of Jewish observance and so on in Britain. He eventually became the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and garnered influence beyond his continent in upgrading the level of Torah learning and observance in his home arena and beyond.
In a video clip circulating over the last few days, Rivkah Krinsky on a video hookup is reminding Rabbi Sacks that at a previous time her mother asked Rabbi Sacks if he had an answer to the query of why bad things happen to good people. Mrs. Krinsky asked Rabbi Sacks whether he had any updated ideas on that question.
The rabbi responded to her that he actually did. He said that he has concluded that we do not understand why bad things seemingly happen to good people because it is Hashem’s will that we not understand that enigmatic concept that we have vainly tried to grasp from the beginning of time. He now believes the reason Hashem prefers that we not understand is so that we can battle or strategize against any evil or bad things in our lives or in this world. If we understood why bad things happen to good people we would come to accept that idea, and that would be contrary to G-d’s will and design.
So even though it was beautiful and even summery outdoors last weekend, I was still contemplating that this magnificent sunny day is supposed to be our secondary preference to a soaking rain.
If you follow weather forecasting on radio or TV or online, the discussion on a rainy and stormy day is about how awful, bad, and horrible the day is. In the meantime, we stand before Hashem three times a day praying for that exact rain.
This theme of fundamental contradictions in our lives is not a new phenomenon. It goes back to the first few parshiyos that we are currently reading in Bereishis. Talk about contradiction and dilemmas in one’s existence on this extraordinary plane of ours.
Here we are learning about and following the life of our forefather Avraham and studying about how attached he was to his wives and children, but also previously reading about Avraham being instructed to break away from his family in Charan, from his parents and siblings, to start a new life.
We later learn about how he valued his young son Yitzchak while at the same time was told to expel his other son, Yishmael, and his mother, Hagar, from their home. Then on one hand he went to war with four kings bent on doing battle with him, while we also see the extent to which he went to save the city of Sodom that was filled with sinful people who apparently did not deserve to be saved.
All in all, life then — as it is in many instances today — was riddled with incongruity and inconsistency. First Avraham is asked to save people he does not care for and are undeserving, and moments later — in the Chumash, anyway — he is being asked to bring his son Yitzchak to Mount Moriah as a sacrifice.
No, we can’t understand this, and we do not have any insight into why the good in some instances die young. At least now our anxieties are slightly allayed by the knowledge that it is G-d’s will that we should not understand it. It is still difficult to deal with and grasp, but perhaps thanks to Rabbi Sacks, a little less impossible.
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