Thursday, October 14, 2010

"I'm Sorry."

Upon learning that his friend had just lost a loved one, Yossel tried to offer his condolences and sadly said, “I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”, replied the friend, “Don’t you know that Hashem runs the world?”

Although the words, “I’m sorry” in this context are not said to apologize for the way that Hashem runs the world, perhaps they can be misinterpreted as such.

What then should one say when he hears this type of news from another person? Should he try to offer words of consolation, should he ask how the person is holding up, or should he just be silent?

I don’t think there is an answer to these questions. Death is always something that makes others uncomfortable.


At October 14, 2010 at 8:50:00 AM EDT, Anonymous yehupitz said...

The warning "Al Titzdak Harbei", "Do not be overly righteous", i.e. Don't be frummer than God, applies to this narrative. The Mishna, composed by men who were presumably more religious than Yossel, mandates that one say "Baruch Dayan Haemes" upon hearing bad news, and "Boruch Hatov V'hameitiv" upon hearing good news. In this world, there is a difference between good news and bad news, and it is not healthy to pretend that there isn't. There are mitzvos or tearing Kriah and Nichum Aveilim that would be meaningless if Yossel's friend's worldview was correct. Halacha maintains a standard of crying for three days.

The Baal Hatanya (Igeres 11) and other great Chassidic Greats did promote the ideal of equanimity and emuna in the face of tragic circumstances. It is an important ideal and psychological aid to avoiding sadness and depression. Did these tzaddikim ever intend to thoroughly negate the perception that some circumstances are bitter? When Reb Nachman cried when he was informed of R' Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev's passing, did he believe that "Hashem runs the world" any less than Yossel's friend? I know the story of R Zushe saying "I don't suffer" is often cited as an example of this equanimity, but R Zushe also prayed for many people who suffered. Is there a tzaddik, from the Baal Shem Tov to R' Nachman to all branches of Chassidus, who advocated or demonstrated such a form of piety in which people in mourning minimize the significance of the death of a loved one?

This post upset me greatly and it took me several drafts before being able to type something snarkless. I don't know if I succeeded. I'm so glad you are back to blogging and hope my comments don't cause you to regret your return.

At October 14, 2010 at 10:11:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...


My intention with this posting was not to upset people. It was to express the feeling that sometimes it is extremely difficult to come up with a fitting response when hearing such news from another person.

I consider this blog to be a forum of ideas and the idea that Yossel's friend expressed was one I thought was worth exploring.

At October 14, 2010 at 12:12:00 PM EDT, Blogger Moriah said...

There was a well loved young man in our community that literally dropped dead of a heart attack while studying Torah in shul one Friday night. Needless to say, the entire community was shocked and his sudden death sent waves of trembling and introspection throughout. We were all confused and humbled. G-d rules the world and His decisions are incomprehensible to us. Baruch Dayan Haemes was on everyone's lips. .

We are commanded to love our brother. Is it not natural and reasonable to assume that we would weep with a broken heart when our brother dies or G-d forbid, is murdered? King David and Yonatan wept mightily when they separated. How much more the pain when the separation is permanent. We have laws of mourning where we disregard our appearance, cover our mirrors and sit on the floor. As visitors at a shiva house we don't speak until the mourner speaks to us and it is said if one finds words difficult - the best response is tears.

At October 14, 2010 at 12:22:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

I think that the first paragraph of the comment from "yehupitz" is the right perspective.

Hashem ultimately knows the outcome of all and the "truth" of the bigger picture.
It's important for a mourner to know this and that's one reason that Chazal instituted this response.

Death is something that most people (who haven't experienced the loss of a loved one) have trouble dealing with.
My wife's parents a"h were niftar a number of year ago and I thought I understood how she was feeling. I really had no clue, until I went through a similar experience.

Like during Shiva, it's imporant to let the mourner relate stories about the deceased. Even saying something like, "I know this really stinks and hurts, but that's part of the deal," can be a major comfort.

At October 14, 2010 at 1:06:00 PM EDT, Anonymous yehupitz said...

I should have been more careful with my words: The post did not upset me; the implication of Yossel's friend's comment and the attempted and misplaced piety behind the comment did.

The death of a loved one is a painful ordeal and it's amazing that after all this time there is something in us that refuses to get used to it and find a response that truly and fully consoles one and all.

At October 14, 2010 at 1:14:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

"I'm sorry" in this context means "I'm sad to hear the news" and "I'm sad you're bereaved".

It has nothing to do with an apology. Saying it is not reason to apologize, either.

At October 17, 2010 at 6:04:00 PM EDT, Anonymous schneur said...

I firmly believe that Hashem does not need people justifying his actions. WE neither understand his actions or can explain them and certainly can not justify them.
As Aaron Kahana kaddisha did upon his own tragedy - VAYIDOM Aaron, he remained silent.
In Eastern Europe such frum people were known as Vezidkoschas, they sought to justify all sorts of tragedies to other people in the name of G-d
Chassidus also does not want such nachschleppers to be mazdik es hadin, rather as the Kotzker said , he wanted people to change things.
If my memory serves me right Avrohom Avinu didn't say to Hashem great go ahead and destroy Sedom.
I recall listening to a drosha by the late Yerushalmi Maggid rabbi S. Schwadron, he describes how a young boy was hurt in a Meah Shearim alley and several women sitting on a porch around the corner upon hearng the crying said 'Kin baiz nit" its nothing but 1 lady recognized her grandson's crying and responded by crying for HELP HELP. So in my opinion saying I m sorry even it means sorry for what God did is not out of place although in reality all it means is i am sad that it happened.


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