There Are No Answers, Only Responses: The Jewish Approach to Dealing With Tragedy

Drive-by shootings. Stabbings. Bomb attacks. Snipers. The list is long and the damage extensive. When tragedy strikes we are left to mourn those we have lost and filled with fear that it could happen again. And those heart-breaking questions permeate us all: Why? Why did it have to happen? Why did innocent lives need to be taken? Why do the loved ones need to suffer so greatly and deeply?

No matter how long we look or hard we try we will never be able to find worthy answers. But answers wouldn't change anything anyway. It wouldn't bring back those who were tragically taken. It wouldn't lessen the pain of those in mourning. And yet, while there will never be sufficient answers, there can most definitely be powerful and transformative responses. Our responses.

Judaism teaches us that what defines a person is not what we face in life but how we deal with what we face in life. There is undoubtedly a lot of darkness in this world. Some people spend their whole lives trying to push it away. But it is thick and it is amorphous and it is not going anywhere. Chassidic philosophy teaches us a different approach. Don't deal with the darkness head on. Just add light. One light will then light another without its own diminishing at all, and the collective light will instantaneously dissipate the darkness. This is why in Jewish tradition a candle is lit to respect and remember those who have passed. The flame is likened to the soul which is always reaching upwards, and even when we try to point a flame downwards its response is to jump that much higher in reverse.

When tragedy strikes we are reminded of both our fragility and our power. We recognize that we have no guarantees and that life is fleeting, and yet, ideally it inspires us to ensure that our every day and every moment be filled with meaning and purpose. If we are breathing it is an opportunity to help another, to do an act of kindness, to make a difference. Rather than focus on what is unchangeable, we can and must focus on the change we can create. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, taught that a soul may come into this world for an entire lifetime only to do a favor for another. We may never know which kindness we are here for and we often have no idea of the impact that our smile, our loving word or thoughtful gesture could have on the life of another.

While we mourn, let's ensure we also do. Make a donation in the memory of those lost to an organization focused on making this world a better place. Commit to a daily good deed in honor of those killed to elevate their souls above. And let's live more meaningful, more passionate and more compassionate lives in their memory and honor.

This article was originally posted on, the website for Chabad on Campus centers worldwide.

Sara Esther Crispe is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a multi-layered educational non-profit celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom.