All of us face moments of crises. Take Reb Yisrael, for example. For years this tall, humorous fellow was part and parcel of communal life where I am Rav. You never saw a frown on his face, never heard a word of disquiet pass his lips. He was just there, a vibrant member of the shul’s stalwart brigade. Then he vanished for a time, and no one could find out where he had gone. After a month’s absence, he showed up as if he had never missed a day.
No amount of questioning could clear the mystery. He had gone, and now he was back.
As Rav, I was of two minds. Should I try to find out what had happened? Maybe I could help in some way. Or, should I remain quiet, allowing our friend to approach me if and when he wanted?
One Shabbos afternoon, Reb Yisrael solved my dilemma. He came to my home and asked me if I had a moment to spare.
“Reb Yisrael, for you I have all the time in the world,” I said.
“Rebbe, I have just been to hell and back…” At that point, he broke down and told a tale of woe that even now I cannot completely come to terms with.
It would serve no purpose for me to share his confidences with you. I only want to express how humbled I was by his ability to look tragedy in the face and still remain the joyful person he is.
Reb Yisrael is no great scholar. He never had the advantage of a yeshiva education, his childhood being marred by his father’s passing when he was only eight. His limited background allowed for only a smattering of practical learning, scarcely going beyond the siddur. Yet he had somehow absorbed the heart of Yiddishkeit, with a capacity to believe that no matter what life handed him, Hashem would see him through. During his long absence from shul, he had lived through situations that could have ripped his whole life apart. Yet he persevered and came through it a stronger Jew.
We are all Reb Yisraels, each schlepping our own pekale of difficulties. Rabbi Yisrael Miller, in his book What’s Wrong With Being Happy? writes on this subject most beautifully and brings the sixth chapter of Tehillim to make his point. My sighs have exhausted me. My tears drench my bed….
King David cries out from his sickbed with so much anguish that Chazal tell us his bed linen had to be changed numerous times a day due to the tears that soaked it. Such pain is almost beyond comprehension. And yet every Yid says these words almost daily. There is relevance for us in David’s cries.
In Tachanun, we use David’s words to express our own pain. These words are not just poetry. They are real to our own experience and meant to connect with the inner self that often has to suffer both physically and emotionally. As it says in this kapitel, Heal me, Hashem, for the illness has penetrated even my bones. This pertains to physical suffering. My soul too is utterly terrified refers to emotional and spiritual trials.
The Me’am Lo’ez tells us that King David felt the soul’s pain was more difficult to bear than the body’s. As long as his spirit was strong, he could withstand physical suffering, but when the soul was stricken with dread, he feared for his eternity.
When you meet someone, it is likely that that friendly face hides a deep river of self-doubt and despair. If we were honest, we could say the same thing when we look in the mirror. Since Adam and Chava, mankind has not been able to be at total peace with itself. This is the outcome of being banished from Gan Eden.
The test in life is to try to create as much peace as one can and to accept that this will always be difficult. King David offers no quick fixes to his pain; in fact, it took thirteen years for him to recover. What he does teach us is that ultimate recovery from all our ills comes from Hashem.
When facing demoralizing situations, we should take a lesson from David. He asks nothing for himself. He fully realizes that he has not earned such merit. Rather, he asks G-d to release his soul from the pressing straits David is experiencing. “Save me,” he pleads, for only an act of Your kindness can help. Withdraw Your wrath, Hashem, David begs. “I sincerely regret leaving Your holy presence and wish to return. Please let me.” Then David exclaims, For after death, I will not be able to mention You, nor will I be able to praise You from the nether world. As proof of his changed attitude, David declares that his sole motivation in begging for restored health is to use the gift of life to sing Hashem’s praises.
Each of us can find hope in these words. We are not the first person nor the only person to experience difficulties, for such is the human condition. King David has shown us the way through hardship. We can channel our prayers toward finding true relief. When our stated goal becomes acclaiming Hashem’s glory, relief is near. How holy we are to discover the secret of turning adversity into spiritual growth.
More, we owe it to our family, friends, neighbors, business associates and everyone with whom we come into contact to realize that they too are carrying their own burdens. Remembering this will make us more willing to help. The Torah is replete with mitzvos that guide us in this direction, and there can be no greater help than lifting one’s neighbor out of the depths of despair.
This doesn’t mean we should try to play psychologist or that we should we pry into others’ hearts. We can, however, make things easier by empathizing with them.
Whenever I am faced with a situation where someone is being difficult, I ask myself, What’s really bothering him? Are his words hiding the fact that he is hurting about something I know nothing about? I wish I thought in such terms all the time but, since I too carry my own pekel, communication sometimes breaks down.
Next time you are in a rough patch with someone, stop. Think for a moment. Ask yourself, What troubles is this guy really having, and how can I help him instead of being just another part of the problem?
As our kapitel ends, My enemies will be ashamed and terror stricken. Instantly, they will repent and feel regret. If we don’t help the other guy, we may become the enemy, an added pain for him to deal with. We may not even realize we’re being seen in such a light we may only feel terror stricken by it all.
How often do you hear someone voicing real anguish over something you thought of as an innocent occurrence? Every second generates its own impression. Many people live their whole lives with tension and torment. You can actually see it in their faces. How sad this can be, how soul- destroying.
Should it only be the grave that gives us release? There is so much hope and caring out there if only we return to Hashem with hearts devoted to acclaiming His goodness.
The first step is always the hardest but it will give us instant relief from our suffering. All we have to do is realize that to help ourselves, we must first offer help to others.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Torah.org.