A Chassidic Teaching From the Alter Rebbe – Seeing the Good
How can there be ‘good’ in losing a child? Seeing the good in all that happens in life can be hard.
Before I lost my son, I would always pray that he would get married and have a family. I prayed that his life would be filled with Torah and mitzvos and that he would pass on the mesorah to his children. His sudden death left me horribly confused. Why didn’t G-d answer my prayers? Why do I have to suffer child loss? What’s wrong with what I asked for? But it’s not what I want. It what G-d wants.
Intellectually I know that G-d always does what’s best for me. But in this case, what’s best seems very painful. I found that reading a particular section of a Chassidic book entitled the Tanya, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi to be extremely helpful. In some sense, it was actually a comfort from my grief. For at least a month, I read this section over and over to calm my nerves.
The Tanya, Spiritual Advice for Everyone
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) was the first Rebbe of Chabad Chasidism. Born in Liozna, in Belarus, he studied under the disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Dov Ber known as the Magid of Mezritch. Sometime later he moved to Liadi.
His major Jewish work of philosophy, the Tanya, discusses concepts such as the purpose of creation, how to serve G-d, the definition and journey of the soul, and other subjects affecting a Jew’s relationship with his Creator. The word ‘Tanya’ means ‘it has been taught’ and refers to a beraita, teachings of the Sages which were not included in the text of the Mishna.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman never felt the concepts he presented in the Tanya were something new. He merely considered himself as a compiler of the teachings of the great Rabbis and Sages who came before him. What is unique about the Tanya is that Rabbi Shneur Zalman elucidates these teachings in a way that the average person can understand. He deals with spiritual maladies, and even grief, that affect everyone at some time or another in life.
When I read the Tanya, I feel that Rabbi Shneur Zalman is talking to me. He speaks to me about my feelings of grief and sadness over losing a child.
Elucidation of the Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh, Epistle 11
My Will vs G-d’s Will
In the section entitled Iggeret HaKodesh (Holy Writings), Epistle 11, the Alter Rebbe discusses a meditation by which a person can realize that everything that occurs in life is truly good even if it appears to be bad. This is teaching is hard to understand, especially when I think about my child loss.
The Alter Rebbe explains that a person has a natural inclination for the mundane pleasures of this physical world. We also have intense desires for things we feel are necessities such as a nice home, children, and wealth. Although these things are not inherently bad, this is not what G-d wants as a person’s goal in life. Quoting Pirkie Avot 2:4, “…sacrifice your will for the sake of His will…”, the Alter Rebbe says that not only must we put aside our own will, but we must align our will with His will. We must recognize that everything is under the hand of G-d. Again, the Alter Rebbe briefly quotes Pirkie Avot 4:22, “…against your will you live”, meaning that absolutely nothing is under our control.
So what should be our desire? The Alter Rebbe says one should want only what G-d wants. How do we cultivate this type of desire? By meditating on the concept that G-d is the source and maker of creation, and only good comes from Him.
G-d’s Infinite Wisdom
All existence is created though His Chochmah. Chochmah, translated as wisdom, is the point of the beginning of all creation. Chochmah is the ‘nothingness’ out of which creation came into existence.
For want of a better description, we say G-d created the world ‘Yesh Mi Ayin’, something from nothing. However, that’s not really true, for G-d did create the world from something. He created the world from Himself. The Chochmah, or ‘nothingness’ we are referring, to can be described as something that cannot be understood, something totally beyond our human comprehension. Because we can’t understand it, it’s like it’s not even there.
Creation from G-d’s Chochmah occurs continuously at every moment. Because the world is created ‘Yesh Mi Ayin’, from ‘nothing’, G-d has to constantly put divine energy in it to maintain its existence. And this Chochmah, the source of all creation, is the source of Divine goodness.
G-d’s infinite wisdom is not like ours. He knows what’s best for us.
G-d’s Chochmah is the Ultimate Source of Good
Meditating on the concept that we are created each and every moment from the source of G-d’s goodness, it’s therefore impossible to think that we are suffering from any misfortune. The Alter Rebbe even goes on to say that the spiritual source of G-d’s Chochmah is even higher than Olam Haba ( the world to come ):
“…It is the Eden which is higher than the world to come…and because it is not understood, one feels they have sufferings or afflictions…no evil comes from above and all is good, although it is not perceived because of its abundant goodness.”
He points out that the Kabbalists disliked the character trait of sadness. Given the above explanation, sadness intellectually makes no sense and interferes with serving G-d with joy. ( Sadness, as it is used in this context, refers to the trait in general and should not be confused with sadness due to a biological source such as mental illness. Dealing with such a topic is beyond the scope of this article. )
A person who has internalized this idea is therefore not upset when things are not as the person feels it should be. A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from G-d is equally the same to such a person. Whatever His will is, that’s how it should be. And not only that, whatever happens is good in and of itself because its source is rooted in G-d’s Chochmah, His supernal wisdom which is the ultimate good. In the words of the Alter Rebbe:
“…For the purpose of one’s existence in this world is to test him…whether he will turn his heart to mundane desires or whether his wish is to live a life of truth…”
“…through this faith the perceived evil is truly absorbed in the ultimate good.”
By internalizing and living with this doctrine, one will perceive that everything is good even in outward appearance.
Can I Stop Grieving for My Son?
Where am holding emotionally? Will my grief ever stop? I read this Epistle often and try to internalize it’s teachings. In Heaven, my son is where G-d wants him to be, where he needs to be, and that’s total goodness. Sometimes I’m ok with Jacob not being here, and sometimes I cry. I’ve not yet absorbed everything the Alter Rebbe is saying, but it’s a goal I’m working toward.
The journey of child loss is a long lonely road.