The terrible tragedy at Virginia Tech raises a number of questions, but the ultimate question is: where was God when this happened? This is not a new question. We are forced to ask ourselves it in the face of every tragedy.
I am reminded of a response given by a Holocaust a survivor who replied to the question in a typical Jewish way: with another question. He wrote: ask not where God was in the Holocaust, ask where was Humanity?
In Judaism we believe God gave us the world to care and develop. God gave us good rules to follow. God vested us with the responsibility to care for those around us. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We are God’s hands in the world.
Let us remember that there would have been no Holocaust if there had been 6,000 Oscar Schindlers, each willing to protect 1,000 Jews. There would have been no Holocaust if the nations of the world had accepted Jewish refugees.
Dr. Liviu Librescu, the professor who sacrificed his life for his students at Virginia Tech, understood this. He lost his entire family during the Holocaust. Persecuted in his native Romania for not following the party line, he was freed to go to Israel in l978. He came to Virginia Tech on sabbatical in 1986. It is ironic that he stayed because he loved the peaceful atmosphere. On Monday, when the gunman came shooting to his classroom, Dr. Lebrescu blocked the door with his body as he yelled for his students to jump out the classroom window to escape. All his students got out. He stayed and kept the door closed while the killer riddled his body with bullets through the door. He gave up his life on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, so his students could escape.
There were others who were also God’s hands that day: Trey Perkins helped hold the door shut in his German class while staunching the wounds of a classmate with his sweatshirt. Kevin Sterne, a senior and former Eagle Scout, grabbed an electric cord and fashioned a tourniquet to stop a student’s bleeding from a severed artery. I am sure we will be hearing the stories of other such heroes over the next days and weeks. They were God’s hands. Like the righteous gentiles who endangered themselves and their families to save strangers during the Holocaust, these individuals represent goodness in the midst of evil.
Where was God at Virginia Tech? In the hearts and minds of these individuals. In the ability of the students and faculty to return to campus this week and pick up their lives and go on as caring, feeling, and loving individuals.
That is where God is in the midst of tragedy: in motivating good people to help others and in giving us the strength to go on even in the midst of tragedy.
–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman
Read the Full Debate: God & the Virginia Tech Shooting