The recent death of a young boy in a brutal murder shocked the frum community. This is only one of several tragic, strange deaths of our community’s children during the past few years. In 2009, a nine-year-old boy never woke up on Shabbos morning. The cause of death has still not yet been determined. A ten-year-old boy in Williamsburg died when he tried to escape a stalled elevator and fell down the shaft. A five-year-old girl crossing the street for her school bus was killed by a speeding car that ignored the stop signs and flashing lights of the bus. At a bungalow colony upstate, a bear snatched a baby from her carriage.
Three children died in a house fire in New Jersey (which occurred even after firemen had been called to check out a smell of smoke). Three sleeping children, including a baby, were murdered in Itamar with their parents.
Why did these strange terrible tragedies happen? Why do innocent young children die?
The question, “Why do innocent young children die?” is only part of the larger question of why any tragedy happens, which in turn is part of the biggest question of all, “How can a loving merciful G-d bring so much misery upon the world?” Job tried to answer these questions three thousand years ago and could not.
Perhaps we should be grateful in the sense that nowadays the death of children is something rare and unusual. In prior centuries it was commonplace for children to die. One monarch had fourteen children who all died very young. A noted tzaddik from the Old Yishuv had nine of his eleven children die during his lifetime. Rabbi Meir and Bruriah of the Talmud lost their two sons, while Rabbi Preida showed mourners a bone from the burial of his tenth son (the Talmud is unclear on whether this means just his tenth son died or if ten of his sons died). Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal lost a young son to whooping cough in Russia. Jewish cemeteries have tiny headstones for infants. The Holocaust, which claimed six million Jewish lives, also killed one-and-a-half million Jewish children.
What do we do? Start off by hugging our healthy, wonderful children and thanking G-d for them every day.
Think seriously about the meaning of the blessing that a father says when his son is Bar Mitzvah, thanking G-d for “being released” from responsibility for his son. What does this release mean? Does a young child die for his parents’ sins, G-d forbid? G-d forbid! Then why would there be criminals and villains with with healthy, fine living children?
One explanation is that such children are Gilgulim, reincarnations, neshamos that only need to come to Earth for a very short time, in order to finish something important, and then return perfect and cleansed to Shamayim. That the parents are granted such precious neshamos as a brief loan of gems (see the story of Rabbi Meir and Bruriah above). The neshama finished his/her mission here in only ten years instead of seventy, and thereupon goes back to G-d.
I don’t know the answers to these unanswerable questions. One person said it as follows: “On Earth there are no answers. In Heaven there are no questions. Yet no one from here is rushing to get there.”