After Losing My Child, I Have to Ask This Painful Question About Death and Dying
I never thought about death so much until my son died. Death. The word invokes something bad and evil. It’s a word that’s not easily defined. It’s something no one wants to discuss. However, when we do think about death we always view it as something negative or even evil, especially when it happens to someone we love. But does G-d bring evil?
The Torah portion of Re’eh begins with the verse:
“See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” (Deuteronomy 11:26)
A basic understanding of this statement would seem to say, that yes, G-d bestows both good and bad. But the word ‘See’ presents a difficulty. See what? What am I supposed to look at? And how to we reconcile this passage of our parsha with the words from Bereishis Rabbah 51:3 which state:
“…no evil descends from Above…”
If G-d doesn’t create evil, then what is the blessing and curse stated in our parsha?
The Torah commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105) known as Rashi, says the plain meaning of the verse is that if we listen to what G-d tells us to do, we’ll receive blessings. If we don’t listen, we’ll receive curses. Rashi’s explanation seems pretty straightforward, except that he doesn’t mention why the verse opens with the word ‘See’. And it still doesn’t answer our question of whether or not G-d creates evil.
Divine Influence in the World is Neither Good Nor Bad
It’s the Human Perspective That Sees Either Positivity or Negativity
Rabbi Yaakov Klein, in his book Sparks From Berditchov, presents a unique insight from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov (1740-1815) which answers both these questions. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak expounds on what the word ‘See’ is referring to. He explains as follows.
Everything that occurs in the world, from the greatest of world events to the smallest details, come from G-d’s spiritual divine bounty flowing into this physical world. This Divine emanation is neutral, neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. This bounty can be compared to water. Water is colorless. However, when water fills colored glass bottles, it appears to take on the color of each bottle.
Spiritual bounty behaves similarly. Just like water, G-dly energy to this physical world is ‘colorless’. It’s when this Divine energy fills certain vessels, these vessels appear to give this energy certain characteristics which give them ‘color’. They may seem to be either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We are just like the colored glass bottles. We internalize and interpret everything G-d gives us for either good or bad.
Like Rashi’s commentary, when we are behaving the way G-d wants us to behave, this bounty becomes all goodness, and we will view it as such. If we behave contrary to His will, we experience this same bounty as evil and perceive only negativity. Our actions and disposition thus determine whether we will view what G-d gives us as a blessing or a curse. For example, I can use a broom to sweep the floor. If I choose, I can also use the broom to swat something or someone. I can view the broom as a useful tool or a weapon. Similarly, the person being swatted will most certainly view the broom as something negative. So the broom, which is neutral, will have different connotations depending on one’s behavior and perspective.
Our perspective determines whether we view life’s events as good or bad.
Why Should We Ever Be Sad About Anything?
Maybe So We Don’t Become Indifferent To Another’s Pain
Similarly with our perception of child loss and death. Death is not this terrible evil at the end of our child’s physical life. Rather it’s a return of the soul to the spiritual world from whence it came to continue its spiritual life, eventually to be placed once again in a physical body. What’s interesting is that even though death isn’t inherently negative, we are required to mourn and be sad over one who has passed away. In the Talmud tractate Berachot 60a, our Sages say :
‘Just as one recites a blessing for good fortune, one must recite a blessing for misfortune.’
The Talmud explains that this does not mean that one say the same blessing for both cases. The blessing for something that we view as good is, ‘Blessed are You, G-d, Who is good and does good’. The blessing for something we feel is bad is ‘Blessed are You, G-d, the true Judge’. If no evil descends from Above, why don’t we just recite one blessing ‘… Who is good and does good’?
Because we’re human with all our human emotions and frailties. And we certainly don’t see the ‘big picture’ of G-d’s plan for the world. If we didn’t express sadness over our child loss, there’s a danger of becoming emotionally numb to the sadness and suffering of others.
Like looking through colored glass bottles, our outlook on life determines how we perceive what G-d gives us.