Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Shevat 5763 - January 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family


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 caveats:

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 experience.

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 bottle.

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 off.

Consider timing.

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 to.

Think of it this way: For you, giving up the ordeal of childbirth is a sacrifice. Isn't that also a form of suffering?

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 heit.

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 to have.


Bayla Gimmel

Thanks, Bayla. You deserve an Alef for that very comprehensive, wise, insightful analysis!


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