After reading Sheindel Weinbach's excellent article about
suffering, and the first batch of responses, I would like to
add my `two cents' to the discussion.
I strongly agree with the article, with two important
First of all, I feel that suffering should be an intensely
private matter, solely between the sufferer and his Maker.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein often lamented that the generation of
Jews who came to America en masse during the period between
the 1880's and World War I was guilty of verbalizing one
specific sentence that did more to push their children into
assimilation than anything else.
What was the sentence? "It is hard to be a Jew."
Yes, it was extremely difficult for these people. A Shomer
Shabbos worker spent every Monday and Tuesday job hunting and
then worked very hard the rest of that week. However, after
knocking himself out to put in a stellar job performance,
when he informed his new employer that he would not be in on
Saturday, he was told not to come back at all. And this went
on month after month.
There wasn't much food on the table, clothing was threadbare
and recycled from child to child, and shoes were the biggest
luxury. Most of these people were too busy scrounging for the
next morsel of bread to step back, so to speak, and to
realize that the suffering they were experiencing was a
beautiful way to connect with the Ribono Shel Olom. They were
too demoralized to be philosophical about the whole
Therefore, they didn't tell their children that they were
making sacrifices in order to follow their religion in an
alien land that didn't understand about Shabbos. Only a
minority of people in that generation had the wisdom and
foresight of R' Yaakov Yosef Herman, who happily pressed on,
doing everything "All for the Boss". If the senior Hermans
were suffering from deprivation, they kept it to themselves.
Their children had happy, well adjusted childhoods.
And look how they turned out: A Rebbetzin Scheinberg and a
Rebbetzin Shain, not to mention the oldest daughter Esther,
the mother of R' Moshe Aharon Stern, z'l.
If YOU are suffering because of anything, from illness to
financial problems to the demands of caring for elderly
parents or for a special child -- keep it to yourself. Yes,
you can join a support group and tell your colleagues there
about what you are going through, but your children should
not be part of your circle of confidantes.
And I am not merely saying: Don't verbalize to the children
that you are suffering. I also mean you should not wince
dramatically in front of the children, with a few, `Oy's and
then even more dramatically say, "Oh, don't worry about me. I
will somehow be all right."
The Sarah Bernhardt routine is no more productive than was,
"It is hard to be a Jew."
The second suggestion I have is a set of short guidelines for
those who wish to dabble in "elective suffering", i.e. seeing
how long they can hold out before reaching for the aspirin
After Rabbi Yissocher Frand describes a potentially dangerous
experience -- either something that was performed
supernaturally at some place in Tanach or a phenomenon
best left in the hands of experts, he says with a chuckle,
"Don't try that at home!" I would put elective suffering in
that category. Before you take on any suffering that does not
land directly in your lap, please learn how best to pull it
I know one woman who was coming to Eretz Yisroel with her
husband and family to spend a summer. She herself had lived
here for a number of years during seminary and afterwards,
had returned to the States to marry and raise her family. Now
they were planning their dream-of-a-lifetime vacation: two
months in Yerusholayim.
She asked us to help her find an apartment for that summer,
and this is the mandate this wise woman gave us, "I am not
looking for a luxurious four-bedroom penthouse with a
magnificant view from each of three porches. We would like a
place that is fairly clean and nicely kept up. The one thing
I must have, though, is air conditioning.
"We have air conditioning in our house in the States and my
kids are used to it. Years from now, I want them to look back
fondly on their wonderful trip to the Land flowing with Milk
and Honey, rather than kvetch for years about that
awful summer with the sweltering heat."
She didn't want to inflict any "elective suffering" on her
family that would have detracted from a very important life
experience. Some other summer, let them camp out in the
mountains, suffer from hot days, cold nights, mosquito bites
and poison ivy, and the deprivation of creature comforts. But
let the trip to Israel be beautiful. In other words, know the
right time and place to opt for elective suffering.
Also, know your limits.
If you elect for natural childbirth and you view it as a form
of elective suffering, know where to draw the line. If your
midwife or coach tells you that you are in a special
situation that warrants anesthesia, be prepared to throw in
the towel and graciously accept whatever you need, even if it
will deprive you of the suffering you were looking forward
Think of it this way: For you, giving up the ordeal of
childbirth is a sacrifice. Isn't that also a form of
In addition, don't think of yourself as some kind of a
tzaddik/ess or holy martyr because you are choosing to
suffer. That level of pride would inflict unbearable
suffering on just about everyone around you.
Lastly, we can elect to suffer, but we are definitely not
supposed to enlist others as fellow sufferers. If your
spouse/ teenager/ relative asks you to hand him an aspirin,
Tylenol or the like, don't look down on them because they
aren't responding to what YOU see as a noble call to
suffering. Maybe they don't hear the call; maybe they don't
want to hear the call.
Don't get all preachy. If you want to leave a copy of
Longing for Dawn, Rabbi Nachman Bulman's master
translation of Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Beifus' work on the
subject, lying around with a bookmark in page 90, gezunter
That is something postive and productive. In that way, you
will be doing your loved one a favor, sharing the important
information about suffering that Mrs. Weinbach wanted us all
Thanks, Bayla. You deserve an Alef for that very
comprehensive, wise, insightful analysis!