Translation of a letter from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
The following is a free translation of a letter by the Rebbe to someone who wrote him regarding a tragic event which occurred in his, the correspondent’s, home. This person had invited members of his community to a festive meal in his home on Shavuot, to celebrate the completion of a Torah scroll which was scheduled to be presented to the synagogue in the days following the festival. In the course of the celebration, a young woman suddenly fell ill and died. The distraught host wrote the Rebbe, posing the following three questions:
A) How can it be that a mitzvah such as the writing of a Torah scroll should be the cause of such a tragedy?
B) What should be done with the Torah scroll?
C) What lesson must he, the host, derive from the fact that something like this occurred in his home?
The Rebbe’s response (the stresses are the Rebbe’s):
... Regarding A):
(1) It is impossible for man, a finite creature, to comprehend all the reasons of the infinite Creator. Indeed, we’d have no way of knowing even some of G-d’s reasons, were it not for the fact that G-d Himself told us to seek them out in His holy Torah (Torah meaning "instruction").
(2) According to the Torah, it cannot be that anything negative should result from any of G-d’s mitzvot (including your Torah scroll); on the contrary, these protect against evil and prevent it.
(3) Each and every individual has been granted a set amount of years of life on earth. (It is only in extreme cases that one’s deeds can lengthen it or shorten it (with some terrible sin, etc., G-d forbid.))
(4) Based on (1), (2) and (3) above, one can perhaps venture to say that had the departed one (peace be to her) not been invited to the Sefer Torah celebration, she would have found herself, at the onset of her attack, in completely different surroundings: on the street, in the company of non-Jews or, in any case, of strangers; without the presence of a doctor who is both a friend and a religious Jew; without hearing, in her final moments, words of encouragement and seeing the faces of friends and fellow Jews. Can one imagine: a. the difference between the two possibilities?; b. what a person experiences in each second of her final moments, especially a young, religious woman on the festival in which we celebrate and re-experience our receiving the Torah from the Almighty?!
(5) According to the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov--that every event, and its every detail, is by divine providence--it is possible that one of the true reasons that Mr. Z. was inspired from Above to donate the Torah scroll, etc., was in order that, ultimately, the ascent of the young woman’s soul should be accompanied with an inner tranquility, occurring in a Jewish home---a home whose symbol and protection is the mezuzah, which opens with the words, "Hear O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is one."1
The Torah scroll should be brought into the synagogue in conjunction with the shlosim2 from the young woman’s funeral (even if the official presentation will be held on a later date).
(1) Obviously, you and your wife, may you live, have many merits. Without having sought it, you had been granted the opportunity from Above for a mitzvah of the highest order: a. to ease the final moments of a fellow human being; b. to take care of a met mitzvah (a dead body with no one to care for it) until the ambulance arrived. The extreme merit of the latter can be derived from the fact that Torah law obligates a Kohen Gadol, on Yom Kippur, to leave the "holy of holies"3 to take care of a met mitzvah(!)
(2) Such special merits come with special obligations. In your case, these would include explaining the above to those who might have questions identical or similar to those posed in your letter, until they see the event in its true light: a tremendous instance of divine providence.4
1. Deuteronomy 6:4. These words embody the heart of the Jew’s faith, and are the words he endeavors to recite in his final moment of physical life. Perhaps the Rebbe’s intention here is that if the stricken young woman was not in a state which allowed her to do so, the fact that she was in a home with a mezuzah on its door compensated for this
2. Thirty-day period of mourning
3. The "holy of holies" (kodesh hakadashim) was the innermost chamber of the Holy Temple and the most sacred place on earth. Only the Kohen Gadol (“high priest”) entered there, and only for a few minutes on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year (the only such confluence of the most sacred points of the three dimensions to existence: time, space, and man). Nevertheless, the law is that is that the Kohen Gadol is obligated to leave the "holy of holies" to attend to a body that has no one to take care of it
4. Printed in Heichal Menachem, vol. II pp. 70-72