Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, z”l, founded the Rabbinical Seminary International (RSI), from which I received my first rabbinic ordination in 2008.

He wrote:

“When my family was taken from me during the Holocaust, I asked the question a million times, ‘Why?’ and there was never any answer.

When I started to ask myself ‘How?’ (How do I deal with this? How can I go on living now?), little by little, I was able to find an answer; to concentrate on the solution rather than on the problem.

And I dedicated my life to teaching people of all faiths how to believe in God, to love God, and to walk with God, and to love their neighbors as they love themselves.” [1]

Jewish teaching is not so idealistic, so perfectionistic, that it denies the need for a period of sadness or grief when the situation requires it. 

There are (2) blessings we can say — one for “good” news, the other for “bad news.” In creating them, the rabbis of the Talmud made a concession to human nature; to us. The ideal, of course, is to accept God’s Will in all things. Yet, we cannot be asked to be indifferent to the loss of a loved one — or even the passing of someone with whom we have no direct personal connection at all. We are not heartless.

Yet the Talmud also says that in “The World-to-Come,” we will only say the blessing for “good news,” because we will see that everything God does and has done has been for the good. 

Rebbe Nachman of Breslav takes this even further, saying that one who can say the blessing for “good news” when a sad event happens, glimpses “The World-to-Come” even while still in this world.

Rabbi Gelberman adds his own wisdom to this. 

When we stop asking “Why?” and begin to ask “How?” (as he explains above), we empower ourselves to face the un-faceable.

He doesn’t say that this happens — or can happen — immediately. 

Nor does he say that as soon as we start asking “How?”, we’ll begin to feel better.

He says: “…little by little, I was able…to concentrate on the solution rather than on the problem.”

If we combine what Rebbe Nachman and Rabbi Gelberman taught, we can say that when faced with a problem or event that saddens us, if we focus on how we can help ourselves, how we can go on, how we can help others, etc., then little by little, we move our attention from this world to “The World-to-Come,” even while we are still in this world.

In prayer especially, if we move our attention from the problem to God’s Real Presence in and with us, we can be filled with a peace that allows us to bear what only a little earlier we called “un-bearable.”

And bear it with joyful gratitude to God.


[1] Gelberman, Rabbi J. with Lesley Sussman; Zen Judaism: Teaching Tales by a Kabbalistic Rabbi; The Crossing Press; © 2001 by Joseph H. Gelberman and Lesley Sussman; pages unnumbered and anecdotes untitled.