Monday, April 20, 2009

Death hurts, but it's not unfair

It’s been another deathfest these past couple of weeks, after a good two months in which, thank Gd, people stayed mostly healthy. I’ve lost some great friends and role models.

And, as inevitably happens at these times, I’ve heard people say, “It’s unfair.”

I have to disagree (although I would never say so aloud; to insult a mourner in his time of grief would be the cruelest stupidity).

I, too, am stabbed by pain. I hate eulogizing people, I am tired of the grieving process. Why do we have to lose anyone, let alone such good people? They were in the prime of life, or they were just about to enjoy retirement, or they were anticipating the birth of a grandchild, or they were doing good things, or they didn’t have a chance to say Goodbye…

But I do disagree with the “unfair” label.

Of course, from a Jewish perspective I disagree because we are taught to say ברוך דיין האמת, Blessed be the Judge of Truth, upon hearing of a death. We express this religious sentiment, which we hope we will come to feel in the course of the grieving process. We long to heal the ruptured relationship with Gd, to see through the immediate grief and agony and appreciate the good we were given.

But, beyond that longing for reunion with Gd, I think saying “it’s unfair” is illogical.

I see four logical arguments regarding Gd’s role in life and death:
1. Gd creates life as well as death.
2. Gd creates life, and not death.
3. Gd creates death, but not life.
4. Gd neither creates life nor death.

There may be gray areas in between, such as the idea that Gd is responsibility for “big picture” but not for details, but I don’t see that those shaded ideas contribute anything new here, so I omit them.

View #2 (possibly supported by Rava in Moed Katan 28a) says that death is the agent of unknowing fortune, and so it can hardly be termed “unfair” – “unfair” suggests a decision was made.

Similarly, View #4 assumes that no decision was made, and so death cannot be “unfair.”

View #3 strikes me as entirely against any idea of Gd I might conceive. I could sooner understand total atheism. So I discount this as well.

That leaves me with only View #1, which is the traditional Jewish view. If View #1 is true, then everything we received until this point is a gift… and how can I call rescension of a gift “unfair”?

I am in pain, but I concede that I have received far too much to ever say that the end of this gift is unfair.

ברוך דיין האמת.

[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here.]


  1. Wow. I don't know who your friend was, but obviously he was someone special.

    המקום ינחם אתכם...

  2. Your closing line is indeed most powerful and places death into a wonderful perspective. Despite my grief, I am so lucky to have received the gift of a relationship with loved ones and friends who have died.

  3. Thank you for providing a new way for me to look at this situation. (I still feel, though, that the way my father was treated for his final illness was "unfair".)

    I am also reminded of when my very classy aunt slowly lost her ability to function physically and my distraught mother asked her, "Why you?" to which my aunt replied, "Why not me?"

  4. I hate being told that there is a plan that we can't understand. But at the same time I try not to expend too much energy trying to understand things that don't make much sense.

    Some evil people live incredibly long lives and good people die young. Doesn't make sense, but it happens.

    All we can do is try to make good use of the time that we have.

  5. In last weeks Parashah, Moshe told Aaron that the deaths of his sons brought them closer to Hashem, that in fact they were righteous enough to be brought closer.

    Death is something we don't/can't understand. We trust that Hashem knows what He's doing.

    Be well.

  6. Chanie, Anonymous, Fruma, Shorty-

    I have no comment on understanding it, at all. My point is only that the word "fair" is irrelevant.

  7. Whoever came up with this idea of fair? I think people who play games, they're the ones who need rules and if you step outside the rules, then you're not playing fair.

    Being a society that loves games and competition, Greek values, btw, why wouldn't people want everything to be fair?

    But I'm with you, Rabbi. No reason to think it's fair or should be. I prefer to think of our struggles as the fact of life, they go along with breathing and actually don't won't let up, not for long.

    When the serotonin's on the rise,however, we're grateful, thank G-d for that, and enjoy the respite. We're not thinking, when we're feeling good, Now THIS is fair!

  8. Therapydoc-
    Thanks; now I know I'm in good company!