All of life’s questions have one universal answer – emunah. It is like a master key to life’s dilemmas. Emunah is the original biblical Hebrew term for a firm belief in a single, supreme, omniscient, benevolent, spiritual, and all–powerful Creator of the universe, which we refer to as Hashem. He alone cares for each of us in a unique, tailor-made fashion according to our own individual needs. Everything that happens to us in life is the product of Hashem’s will and personal intervention in our lives, which is referred to as Divine Providence.
According to the Kabbalah, completing one’s soul correction, or “tikkun,” is the loftiest achievement a person can accomplish in this world. Oftentimes, we must suffer or experience hardship in order to attain a higher spiritual level or to “correct” the soul, just like a champion athlete must withstand excruciating training sessions to reach higher achievements and peak performance. Once we develop a deep sense of emunah, firmly believing that Hashem, by way of Divine Providence, does everything for our ultimate benefit, to guide us along the path of the soul correction we need, then the puzzle-pieces of life suddenly come together to form a picture of striking clarity. With these principles in mind, emunah becomes the universal answer to all of life’s questions.
The belief in a world-to-come is the basis of genuine emunah, providing an explanation to many of life’s perplexities. Our powers of comprehension and cognizance become greatly enhanced when we realize that our lives began long before we were born and continue long after we die.
Here’s a true story about a tragedy that jolted the very foundation of an entire Jewish community’s emunah.
A modest young woman – a daughter of one of the community’s most prestigious and respected families – married a righteous merchant, a man of charity and compassion. The early years of their marriage were blessed with happiness, prosperity and children. The devoted wife became a wonderful mother, utilizing every spare minute allowed by her busy schedule to recite Tehillim or to care for the community’s poor and underprivileged. The husband, whose successful business carried him to surrounding cities and hamlets, never failed to fulfill his strict daily quota of prayer and Torah learning. In addition, he gave enormous amounts to charities all across the country, easing the suffering of thousands of impoverished people.
Suddenly, disaster struck. Their home – a bright beacon of charity, good deeds, and loving kindness – became the scene of agony. A drunken soldier viciously abused, mutilated, and murdered the couple’s three-year-old son. The tragedy sent shockwaves throughout the entire community. Thousands joined in the mourning, including the nation’s leading sages and spiritual leaders. No one understood. Many could not help but verbally express the questions that weighed heavily upon their hearts. Is this the reward that such a righteous couple deserves? Why did Hashem do to them something so horrendous? Why did the poor little toddler have to suffer so severely? Others harbored
malice in their hearts against Hashem that weakened their emunah and distanced them from Torah observance.
The couple, however, reacted with complete emunah and loving acceptance of the Divine decree. They continued their righteous lifestyle as if nothing had
changed – the wife with her acts of loving kindness, and the husband with his Torah learning and magnificent charity.
Shortly thereafter, tragedy struck again. Like wildfire, word spread around the town that the righteous merchant had fallen deathly ill. All of the local synagogues mobilized their members in round-the-clock prayer vigils. Everyone loved the merchant. Almost every person in town had benefited from his generosity at one time or another. Understandably, the cries of the community pierced the very thresholds of the Heavens.
At one point, the community beadle ran breathlessly into the town’s main synagogue, where the head rabbi prayed, and shouted, “The doctors have given up hope! They say the end is near!”
The head rabbi, himself a pillar of righteousness and a learned master of Talmudic law, declared forcefully but calmly, “It shall not happen! No evil shall befall our brother, the righteous merchant!”
The pain and bewilderment of the entire town reached new heights as word of the righteous merchant’s death spread. Such a young man, at the prime of his life – didn’t he suffer enough? He did nothing but good deeds his entire life. Is this what he deserved? The tears of the young, barely 35-year-old widow tore at the community’s already perplexed and agonized heart.
A few years passed. One Friday afternoon, the young widow’s newly-married son came to wish his mother “Shabbat shalom.” She tried to smile, but instead burst into tears.
“Mama,” the young man pleaded, “three years have passed already. You’ve cried enough! Our sages prescribed set times for mourning. If people cry more than they should, then their sorrow never leaves them. Mama, your crying not only saddens us – your children – but it saddens Papa’s soul, too. The matchmakers have been chasing after you with several good proposals, and you’ve been avoiding them. Mama, please, you must continue on with your life.”
The young widow took a deep breath. Enough! She made a firm resolve to overcome the sorrow. An encouraging thought flashed across her mind: “Am I more merciful than Hashem? Of course not! I’ve always trusted Hashem, so why shouldn’t I be happy?!” To the relief of her worried children, that Shabbat Mama became a new person.
For the first time in years, the widow slept soundly and peacefully. She realized that a lack of emunah, and not her husband’s absence, was responsible for the gap in her heart. Now, that gap had been filled again.
That night, she had a dream. She saw herself standing in an exotic garden of exquisite natural beauty, and she understood that this must be the next world. Standing among the aromatic, flowering trees, she saw an image of an old man with a long beard, whose face radiated brilliantly. He approached her, and asked if she’d like to see her deceased husband. She nodded in the affirmative. He led her to a magnificent palace where a young man was giving a Torah lecture to thousands of elderly righteous souls. When the lecture was over, the lecturer approached her, it was her husband!
“Dearest husband,” she exclaimed, “why did you leave me alone at such an early stage in our lives? How have you become the teacher of so many tzaddikim? You were a merchant and an upright man, but you were never a Torah scholar.”
The husband smiled. “In my former life,” he explained, “I was a great scholar, but I never married. When I died, I was told that I could not assume my designated place in the upper palaces of Heaven because I never fulfilled the first commandment of the Torah – the obligation to beget offspring. Therefore, I was reincarnated for the sole purpose of marrying and having children, and to raise them in the path of Torah. That is exactly what I did. As soon I completed my tikkun – my soul correction and my mission on earth – I no longer had to remain down there. Now, as you see, I live a life of eternal bliss.”
“Then why did our precious little son die?” probed the wife.
The husband answered, “He is the lofty soul of a holy tzaddik, an extremely righteous man. In his previous life, he was kidnapped at birth and raised on the milk of a gentile surrogate mother. Finally, at age three, he was redeemed by the Jewish community and subsequently became a towering sage. After his death, he was denied his rightful place in Heaven since his early childhood had left a tiny blemish on his soul. His tikkun was to return to earth, and to be born, nursed, and raised for three years by an upright Jewish woman; you, dear wife, were granted the privilege of being that woman!”
“But why was his death so horrible?” the wife asked.
“You should know,” continued the husband, “that since our toddler son had completed his tikkun, he was destined to die. Just at that time, the Heavenly Court had decreed – in light of the dire interpersonal sins that were being committed in our community –
that the entire community should be killed in a devastating pogrom. The righteous soul of our little one volunteered to die a terrible death as atonement for the entire town. He became a holy martyr and sanctified himself as a public sacrifice. No one is allowed to reach his lofty abode except me, his father. When your time comes, you – as his mother – will also be allowed. You can’t imagine the bliss of the Divine light that surrounds our son.”
The husband faded away. Before he departed, his voice reverberated, “Only by virtue of your reinforced emunah was I revealed to you! As long as you were in a cloud of sadness, you almost lost another child. All my requests to be revealed to you were refused. My tikkun is over, but you still have much to do. Go with my blessing… farewell!” The husband’s image then disappeared completely.
The widow awakened. She felt like she was born anew. She realized that her questions – as well as those of the rest of the
town – were needless. If the Torah teaches that Hashem is righteous and just, then there is no need to wonder why Hashem does what He does. Most of us, of course, do not receive revelations in our sleep, and so we need to strive to strengthen our emunah. The knowledge that Hashem does everything for our eternal benefit should be engraved upon our hearts and minds.
Each of us comes to earth to fulfill a particular mission. Longevity depends on the task we have to complete. One’s death – even in a sudden tragedy or accident – is always the result of Hashem’s personal decision. Some live for 20 years, and others for 100 years, but we all eventually leave this earth at the precise moment that Hashem decides. An incalculably large and complex set of Divine considerations influences the circumstances of a person’s life and longevity – the person’s deeds, former lives, public edicts, and other criteria that lie far beyond our very limited understanding.
Some souls come to this earth for a specific tikkun, and then return to the upper worlds. Such souls are usually remarkably special people with little or no evil inclination, gentle, kind, and pleasant. Therefore, don’t be surprised when you hear of young, honorable people who die suddenly. They’ve simply completed theirtikkun – their soul correction and mission on this earth.
Adapted from a shiur given by Rabbi David Ashear and from an article that appeared in The Jewish World of Wonders.