Why- The (Almost) Unanswerable Question
[Editor’s Note: On Tisha B’av morning, many have the custom to read Kinos- Lamentations, which describes the tragedies that occurred to the Jewish People throughout their arduous history.
One of the Kinos tells us about the Ten martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the sake of Hashem. There is a slightly different version of this Kinah that we say during Musaf on Yom Kippur. One of the martyrs who was killed was Rabbi Yishmael. Rabbi Yishmael was extremely beautiful, and the daughter of the ruler asked that he keep Rabbi Yishmael alive. The ruler refused, however, he acquiesced to her second request of flaying his skin in order that she would at least be able to preserve his beauty.
The Heavenly Angels asked Hashem in bewilderment “This is the Torah and this is its reward?!! Is this what happens to someone who follows after You and learns Your Torah?! How could that be!?” Hashem responded to them by saying “If I hear one more word, I will turn the world back to how it was before creation!”
I heard a beautiful understanding in this Kinah from one of my father’s friends, Shimon Shamilzadeh. He asked that the Angels seem to be asking a very good question- how could this happen to people that follow Hashem’s will? And what is Hashem’s response? “Remain silent, or else I will return the world to a place of nothingness!” What kind of response is that? This response can seemingly be likened to a senior chastising a “newbie” who asked a question with an obvious answer. But these are Heavenly angels, and they seem to be asking a very good question. What, then, is Hashem’s response?
After many years of looking, Shimon heard an answer from his friend Yaakov Bree Zatzal. In order to fully understand this answer, he gives a beautiful parable which helps explain it. A king once called in his tailor and said to him “I want you to make for me the most beautiful suit that you have ever made. Take whatever you want from my Royal Treasury- Gold, silver, diamonds, rubies. I will pay you handsomely for it. However, there are two stipulations. Firstly, it must be beautiful. Secondly, you must have an accounting for every last drop of thread. You may take whatever you would like, but there can’t be anything missing from what you take. If there is, I will kill you.”. The tailor agreed.
A year later, the tailor returned, and presented the king with the most stunning suit fit for a king. Everyone was oohing and aahing it! The king summoned the tailor, and said that, indeed, it is a most beautiful garment; however, I will still have to kill you. You see these button holes, where are the extra threads? You see the flap in the back where is the extra thread? The tailor said “Your Majesty, I can show you exactly where the extra thread went. You see this waistband, I had to strengthen it over here. You see this pants cuff- I had to put some more thread on the inside. Your Majesty, I can show you where every single little thread is and that they are all accounted for, but for that I will have to rip up the beautiful suit and show you where every thread is.
That is what Hashem was responding to the angels. You asked a phenomenal question. Why are all these bad things happening to such righteous people. Why do babies and young children die? Why can a terrorist blow up so many people? Why can an Arab disturb a happy occasion like a Shalom Zachar and turn it into a battlefield? Those are all amazing questions! I can you show you why everything had to happen but for that I will have to bring the world back to a world of nothingness. Then and only then, will you be able to see My master plan and then you will understand why young people get sick and die, why singles have such a hard time getting married, and why people can be so brutally murdered in their own home.
May we all merit the day soon, when we can greet Moshiach and the Third Beis Hamikdash, and then we will be able to fully understand why such tragedies can happen to such righteous people.]