Rabbi Gershon Schusterman
I was an Orthodox rabbi, married to a wonderful wife, with eleven children—that’s right, eleven! I was the leader of a growing community and the director of a day school, the Hebrew Academy of Huntington Beach in Southern California. When people in my religious community or in our school suffered tragic loss, God forbid, you could say I was the consoler-in-chief.
It was my duty to sit with the families, to listen to them, to see if they wanted an explanation or a hug. I hoped to provide them with the time-honored answers that Judaism has always given to those who were spiraling through tragedy and loss.
I knew all the answers because I was a well-trained rabbi.
And then my wife died, suddenly and unexpectedly, on a beautiful sunny southern California spring Sunday morning. I was thirty-eight and she was only thirty-six.
I was in deep shock and pain. Lacking the emotional language to express my feelings, they began to eat away at me. In fact, I felt betrayed by God and began to distance myself from Him by giving Him the cold shoulder.
I still accepted God’s ultimate dominion and goodness as an article of faith. My mind accepted it fully, but my heart refused to engage. With the help of wise counsel I learned that I could and should release God, as it were, from the grudges I was holding against Him. I realized that for my own sake I really needed to renew my relationship with God, and that our renewed relationship be unfettered. These realizations allowed me to gradually return to my balanced self.
Since that time, I have engaged in a much closer study of what Judaism teaches us about suffering and loss. I have learned how we can begin to accept that even inexplicably painful losses have their own divine purpose, even as His reasoning remains elusive. I have built a deeper, more trusting, and more authentic relationship with God. Now I more easily see His blessings and endless kindness. It’s a closer relationship than before, having been tried and tested, and a more honest one, too.
Getting to this point of closeness with God has been the work of many years. I understand that for those still immersed in grief, this outcome can sound remote, if not impossible. My personal experiences with tragedy, and my determination to find the answers that I knew existed within Judaism, led me to discover teachings that have transformed my life and enriched my faith. In particular, I know that even when God’s actions remain beyond our understanding, God is the ultimate Parent, always caring, and always here to listen to us. From an abyss of pain and bewilderment, I learned to rebuild a meaningful,
purposeful, joy-filled life. I consider it a privilege to share these ideas with you through my book, Why, God, Why?
About the Author
Rabbi Gershon Schusterman was born in Paris, France and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Educated in the United Lubavitch school system, Schusterman served as director of a thriving Jewish Day School in Long Beach, California for many years, as well as directed activities of six Chabad-Lubavitch branches in Southern California.
“Why, God, Why?” is the author’s first book.
As Seen In
Does God Really Know What He's Doing?
Moving talk by Rabbi Schusterman, Working through your grief while not becoming stuck in it.
Learn more about Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, his new release, Why God Why, and the Jewish outloook on tragedy and loss.