Tragically, a family in my neighborhood lost their house this weekend to fire. Everyone escaped without injury (thank God), but the house and its contents are likely a total loss. The fire probably started because something was left turned-on over Shabbat and caught fire, which spread to the rest of the house.
The fire started at 2:00am Saturday morning. The family, exhausted in every conceivable way, dragged themselves to synagogue not for pity or charity, but to ”Bentsch Gomeil” – to bless God for the intervention which spared their lives.
As it turns out, my family had been invited to eat lunch that day 2 doors down from site of the fire – sharing our meal with several other people in the community. One woman at the table asked: “How are we supposed to make sense of something like this? Why would God cause/allow something like this to happen?”
My first reaction (which, to my wife’s immense relieve, I kept to myself) was to inwardly groan at the the boring, cliched, over-done discussion. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God DO something? (and of course the unavoidable piece de resistance) Why did God let the Holocaust happen?
I smiled and chewed my salad thoughtfully and said nothing. Because it wasn’t my place to respond and because I had nothing remotely interesting (let alone charitable) to say.
But silently, I answered her question with a question: Why do we keep asking that? Aren’t we ever going to get bored with it?
Later on, however, I realized mine was the exactly wrong response. I realized the real question ought to be:
Why aren’t we asking it MORE?
I woke up this morning. How could God allow such a thing to happen? Knowing what a completely jerk I can be sometimes? Knowing (as only God can) the things I’ve done? I have 4 healthy wonderful normal children. Why does that happen? What did my wife and I do to deserve that? For 3 years I drove almost an hour to work in crazy traffic, and made it to work safe each day. What kind of God allows that to happen? Week after week I, too, leave a burner on, along with candles and a hot water urn. Nothing has (yet, thank God and may we continue to be blessed) burst into flame. Why? Why, God, why? For what reason do my appliances continue to work so reliably?
If you are reading this, you might think you detect a note of sarcasm. Don’t make that inference. Read my words with a tone of sincerity, because that’s how I mean them.
Maybe – just maybe – we shouldn’t dust off our inquisitive nature only when tragedy strikes.
Perhaps we should be asking ourselves that woman’s lunchtime question each and every minute, trying with every fiber of our being to find the hidden reasons to God’s unguessable plan.