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Explaining Tragedy to Our Children

05/28/2013 04:51 pm ET | Updated Jul 28, 2013

When I was a freshman in college, the little brother of my close friend was shot in the back and killed. For his beeper. Beepers were cool back then, and I guess the kid who murdered him really wanted it.

His loss affected me profoundly. It was so senseless, so unjust, so unnecessary. And I need things to make sense. I need to somehow understand and find a logical cause and affect. If someone is sick, he might die. If someone is old, he might die. But if someone has a beeper and someone else wants it, he might also die? I just didn't get it.

I still don't get it.

I am a mother now. I have four kids. And there are many things they don't get. Many things I can't explain.

They were all born in Israel. When my oldest was about 5 some kid told her that when there were pictures of children on the front of the newspaper, it meant they had been killed. There were all too many mornings that as we would pick up her chocolate milk at the local store, she would look at those beautiful, innocent faces under the headlines, then look at me with her beautiful, innocent face and ask if those children had died. Even if I didn't tell her, the answer was "yes."

And the recent headlines: Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Boston Marathon, the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, the Oklahoma Twister, a British soldier decapitated in the streets. From the natural to the completely unnatural. Pain and suffering. Death and devastation. How easy it would be to conclude that there can be no God, no purpose, no ultimate meaning. At least that way we wouldn't have to feel, to know, that God somehow allowed this to happen.

And so these are the questions my children ask me: Why did God let this happen? Why did He let children get killed? Why?

So I tell them the honest truth. I don't know. And I don't. And neither do you.

But there is something else I tell them. We have two choices: We can believe in a world where the things that happen are larger, bigger, more powerful than God. Or we can live in a world where God is more powerful than everything that happens.

Yes, He knows. Yes, for some reason He allowed it. And no, I don't understand why. But I do know that I want to believe that my Creator is greater than a twister or hurricane. Certainly that He is greater than a deranged individual with a machine gun, bomb or cleaver. And I know, with all my heart and soul, that when we are in pain, He is in pain. But that doesn't mean He won't let it happen.

When tragedy strikes we feel so hopeless. So helpless. Yet we aren't. We cannot change what has happened. We cannot bring back those taken. But we can and must use everything we have to save those we can. We have power. We have strength. And we can make a difference.

So along with the bad news my children hear, I make sure to show them the good. I make sure they read and watch all the heroes involved in every tragedy. The ones who run into the fire instead of away from it. The ones who work day and night to offer comfort and support. The ones who are saving the emotional, spiritual and physical lives of countless people. As the great sage Hillel taught, "Whoever saves a life has saved an entire world," (Tractate Sandhedrin 37a).

There is something else I tell them also. We cannot understand. We cannot explain. We cannot know. But we can pray. And our prayers do make a difference. We can beg and plead and scream for this painful exile to end. We can help another and offer our support to ease one's suffering. As Hillel also taught, "If I am only for myself, who am I?" And more so, "If not now, when."

It is never too early, they are never too young, to learn that they can make a difference. They count. They matter. Their actions affect others. And most importantly, that they are a world and they can save a world.

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