Suffering of Children: The Holocaust Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Suffering of Children

I believe that God is just, yet I cannot reconcile this with the countless innocent children lost in the Holocaust. Did these children do terrible misdeeds? How can we justify God allowing this terrible suffering?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The idea that no one suffers unnecessarily is a fundamental concept in Judaism. The reasoning is as follows:

It is unthinkable to imagine that God would create a world and walk away from it, even momentarily. That would make God less responsible than His very own creations!

Therefore, it is a truism that God is very much involved in what happens in the world, and does not allow madmen to do as they please without license.

Your question is how to understand suffering in the lives of children. Since a child is not responsible for his actions until the age of 13, how can the child's suffering come as a result of their misdeeds?

One answer is that the misdeeds which brought about the suffering may not have been done by this particular soul in this lifetime, but rather in a previous lifetime.

Although the soul is in a child's body, the soul is actually much older than the body. When the child is born, it is for the purpose of refining and perfecting the soul which has been placed in this particular child's body.

Indeed, when the soul reaches perfection, the child may die, having fulfilled its mission in the world.

Another possible understanding of children's suffering is that God doesn't only deal with individuals, he also deals with nations.

For example, when God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorra, Abraham asked God, "If I can find enough righteous people in Sodom and Gomorra, will you spare the cities?"

Apparently there were some righteous individuals, and although they were not the catalyst for the disaster, now that the disaster is going to happen, you need a tremendous amount of merit to be saved from it in a miraculous way. Because God deals both on a national and individual realm. And that complicates our understanding of the equation.

The bottom line is that it is very difficult for us to "judge" God, because we are stuck in time and space and thus limited in knowing which ground rules God is employing. When "bad" things happen, there are so many possibilities why. "Is this a challenge in life that was given to me so I could become an example to inspire others? Or is this to get me to fix a wrong I've done? Or is this due to historical/national forces that are affecting me as an individual?"

In Exodus 33:13, Moses asks God, "Make Your ways known to me." The commentators explain that there are "50 Gates of Wisdom," and Moses had reached the 49th Gate. This means that only one aspect of existence was still unknown to him. And which was that? The issue of "why bad things happen to good people."

God answered Moses: "No, you can never fully understand this. Perhaps in retrospect you can see how the pieces fit into this complex jigsaw puzzle. But in general, you ultimately are not to privy to the reason.

Still, God has a terrific track record, and we are certain that He knows what He's doing. That knowledge alone - that God has a reason - goes a long way in helping us cope with suffering.

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