Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Tishrei 5766 - October 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by Sara Glaser

"[Rebbetzin Kanievsky] listened to me with such obvious concern, caring and intensity that I felt as if she was absorbing me into herself! When we finished talking, she went to her husband, in another part of the apartment, and relayed what I told her. While waiting for her return, I prayed very hard that what I would hear would help me better understand what to do."



Eighteen months after my bout with breast cancer, I was again in the hospital. This time I was diagnosed as having colon cancer. Tests revealed that it was unrelated to the breast cancer.

After surgery was performed, and the pathological evaluations were made, my surgeon said, "Although we removed the left side of your colon, the cancer has spread beyond the wall. There is at least a 50% chance it will return within three years. If and when it does, it most likely will metastasize to the liver."

I took a deep breath, and thought, not again! Then, trying to sound brave, I asked, "So when are you going start chemotherapy and/or radiation?" "I'm not giving you either one." "Why? Are you giving up on me?" I quickly asked. "No, I just don't want to put you through a painful process which would be needless, because studies have shown that your particular cancer does not respond favorably to treatment. Besides, there have been times when patients with positive attitudes, such as yours, have been known to get better even though there were no medical explanations for it." I appreciated his honesty and concern.

It is not my nature to sit back and wait for things to happen if there is a chance that my input might have a worthwhile effect. I needed to know if there was anything I could do to stop the cancer from growing. I called The U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, giving them all the necessary information and asked if anything was being done in this field that might help me.

I was told about an experimental program, similar to the immunization shots we received as small children. A serum is developed, preferably from one's own cancer, and the patient is given a series of injections over a period of months. Hopefully, the body will develop antibodies to fight the disease. The results, so far, were not encouraging.

The doctor in charge of the program explained it all to me and answered my questions. I then gave all the information over to my internist, surgeon, and gastroenterologist, asking each of them if they would participate in this program if they were me.

The first two said yes, that I had nothing to lose and should, therefore, go for it. The third doctor said he would not participate, but would rather sit back and wait to see what happens.

I decided 'to go for it.' I was admitted to the program and over a period of three months received a series of shots. I had been told that there was no pain involved, but mine was excruciating. At each injection, hours later, the site became a hole large enough for me to be able to insert my thumb. Pus would ooze out and each site felt like a fire was blazing inside.

I would scream and bang the walls with my fists in agony. Fortunately, these reactions lasted for a day or less. I kept telling myself that perhaps the pain was an indication that the treatments were helping me, since others had no pain but their situations did not improve.

Once more I was pleading with Hashem to help me understand what I was supposed to learn from all that happened. What should I be working on and doing teshuvoh for? Again, I was not aware of anything that could bring me to a better understanding of what in particular I should be doing, or not be doing, to become a better person, and observant Jew.

Looking back, I think perhaps the problem, or part of the problem, was that I was expecting Hashem to provide me with the answers instead of trying, through intense and consistent soul searching, and self-analysis, and learning Torah, to realize myself.

I believe that Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, knows when I need repetition for review of a particular learning in order to be able to internalize my mind and heart as one unit about something so I can eventually act upon it. For example:

When I was five years old, I was walking down a street my brother had warned me not to go to because it was dangerous. I wasn't paying attention to were I was going. Suddenly I was surrounded by boys and girls of different ages who seemed to appear out of nowhere. The look on their faces frightened me. One of the bigger boys came forward and in a gruff voice asked, "Are you a Jew?" I felt instinctively that if I said yes I would have been beaten up, so I said no. He nodded his head and told me to leave.

I ran as fast as I could to the safety of my home. I've always felt ashamed that I denied being Jewish even though I did not know what being Jewish meant. This was the first experience with anti-semitism that I remember.

During my sophomore year in college, I took a basic sewing course which was two semesters long. Ever since elementary school, where I had to sew a tea apron, I have never liked sewing. Now, I was having a great deal of trouble, both technically, and emotionally.

Each day the teacher would look at my work of the night before and say the same three words, "Rip and sew." There were never any explanations of what I was doing wrong or how to improve, nor did she allow me to ask questions. I was the only student she treated this way, and the only Jew in the class. It did not take long for the rest of the girls to notice that I was being singled out with this cruel and unfair treatment.

Although I received good grades on my midterm and final exams, and passing grades on the garments I made and wore, I received D as a final grade, meaning I received credit for the time put in, but no educational credit. I was so upset that, without thinking of possible consequences, I went to the teacher's home across the street from the school, and surprised her by asking why she gave me a D. Her response was also immediate. "Oh, it was for nothing personal like religion."

These and other experiences helped bring me closer to Hashem, His Torah, and wanting to live in our Holy Land, even though at the times they occurred I was unaware of this. Just two months after my colonectomy, I was again rushed to the hospital in much agony because a part of my intestines became knotted. My abdomen was re-opened in the same place where the colon surgery was just done. Boruch Hashem, the doctors were able to untie the knot manually. No additional cutting was needed. I told myself I was working on my PH.D. in Pain Endurance.

Two weeks before moving from Silver Spring to Baltimore, I slipped on the icy parking lot where I lived, and broke my wrist in several places. Packing and unpacking with one hand in a cast is quite a challenge!


In 1987, a few months after I was in my new home, as I began preparing to leave on a business trip to Israel, I learned I had a bleeding ulcer. Hashem was talking to me for a long time, in a 'loud' voice by means of all these physical things happening to me. My frustration kept growing because I did not understand what He was telling me.

My first visit to Israel had been fourteen years earlier. Now I was Torah observant, and my yearning to be in my spiritual homeland was great. There was so much to do and see. Most important, I wanted to speak to a tzaddik or a godol. I needed and was hoping to receive some spiritual guidance, some insight, and perhaps advice, regarding the many things that were happening to me, one after the other, and what to focus my efforts on.

Friends arranged a meeting for me with the renowned Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky in Bnei Braq. Since the Rabbi does not speak to women, his wife was the intermediary. The rebbetzin is the granddaughter of Rabbi Aryeh Levin zt'l, and the daughter of Rabbi Eliashiv shlita. We spoke in Yiddish.

I have never met anyone like her before or since. Her presence seemed to create an aura of holiness in the small, sunny, and narrow room. Wherever one looked, there were holy books — on the shelves, on tables, and in boxes on the floor.

She listened to me with such obvious concern, caring and intensity that I felt as if she was absorbing me into herself! When we finished talking, she went to her husband, in another part of the apartment, and relayed what I told her. While waiting for her return, I prayed very hard that what I would hear would help me better understand what to do.

She returned after about a half-hour, with a big smile on her face. She sat down and took my hand. "You are a most fortunate woman," she said looking intently into my eyes, "and you should be very happy, because Hashem is giving you your troubles now, in this world. When Hashem sees that teshuvoh is sincere, He can decide to give the penitent, you, in this case, your punishment here and now in this temporary world, so that you can have a wonderful Olom habbo."

She patted my hand and said the Rabbi advised me to get a learning partner, and review the laws of Shabbos again when I returned to the States, and to continue learning in general.

The rabbi's explanation regarding why so many things were happening to me may be why I was not getting the insight I was searching for as to what I was doing wrong. I have since learned that there are numerous reasons why Hashem may inflict suffering upon us. Atonement for sins is one reason. I left, feeling that a weight had been lifted off my chest.


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