Nov 30, 2015

On Forgiveness

I don't know if Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (1976) is the first book to explore the possibilities and limits of forgiveness, but it is probably the most famous. 

Wiesenthal describes a dying Nazi soldier asking him for forgiveness for murdering Jews, which he does not grant.  He then has fifty-three distinguished people tell us how they would respond to such a request.

Three other, more recent books, come to mind which have understanding the enemy and/or forgiveness as its theme.  One is, Revenge: A Story of Hope (2003) by Laura Blumenfeld.  Her father was shot by the PLO and survived and she sought revenge. 

Not by the Sword: How the Love of a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman (2012) by Watterson, is about how a Jewish cantor changes the life of a white supremacist by offering him friendship.

And a book I recently read is called The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas (2015) by Giridharadas.  It's about white trash shooting what he thinks are Arabs after the WTC attack on 9/11 and the one victim who survives, a Bangladeshi, forgiving him and working hard to prevent his execution.

Lots of food for thought here about who has the right to forgive and whether forgiveness and understanding are always positive qualities.  Is there a G-dly standard for forgiveness?



Nov 25, 2015

No Such Thing as Being in Limbo

There was a sad write-up about the fifth person to die in the Har Nof shul massacre, Chaim Rothman, who lingered for almost a year after the attack last November.  Mishpacha interviewed his wife who said a most remarkable thing.

Someone commented to her, "Risa, poor thing, you're in limbo." And she could have remained in this situation for years, with her husband comatose, terribly injured, and she raising her large family, the youngest is five, on her own. 

But Mrs. Rothman said, "That comment didn't sit well with me, and the next day I realized why.  I realized, no, I'm not in limbo.  There's no such thing.  This 'limbo' place is exactly the place where I'm supposed to do my avodas Hashem, not waiting for the time when it will be better.  Someone who's waiting for a shidduch or a baby or any other yeshua, this is where you have to do your avoda - in the waiting, not when it gets better.  Limbo is now, limbo is here, where I have to develop myself, not this happy picture of where I would like to see myself."

Nov 23, 2015

Pain and What It is Telling Us

Dr. Oliver Sacks tells a remarkable story of seeing a patient who had headaches every Sunday.  From his description of the symptoms, the diagnosis was migraines.  Dr. Sacks prescribed medication for him to take as soon as he felt the onset of symptoms.

A week later, the patient called, all excited, to tell him that the medicine worked and he had no headache.

A week later, he called the patient to hear how he was doing.  Interestingly, the patient said the medicine worked but now he was bored.  "Every Sunday for the previous fifteen years had been devoted to migraines, his family would come, he was the center of attention, and now he missed all of that."

A week later, he got an emergency phone call from the man's sister about her brother having a severe asthma attack.  When he visited his patient, the man told him that he had had asthma attacks as a child but that they had been "replaced" by migraines.

When the doctor suggested giving him something for the asthma, the man wisely said, "No, I'll just get something else.  Do you think I need to be ill on Sundays?"

The doctor and patient spent two months discussing this and as they did, the man's migraines became fewer and fewer and disappeared.

This is a perfect illustration of Dr. Sarno's approach to a lot of pain symptoms.  Look him up online and you'll see his books and what people have to say about him.  His approach is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, "back pain is a symptom created by the unconscious mind as a distraction to aid in the repression of strong unconscious emotional issues." That means, the physical pain serves an emotional need.  If you confront the emotional need directly, the physical pain vanishes.  This works with other pain too like shoulder pain, etc. It should be noted that Dr. Sarno will physically examine a patient to determine that there is no real, physical problem.

It should be noted that last I heard, there is a R' Elya Katz in Boro Park who presents Dr. Sarno's approach for free, 718-232-2741, at certain times.

Nov 22, 2015

When Talk is Dangerous

Tehillim 73:15 אם אמרתי אספרה כמו הנה דור בניך בגדתי
"If I said, "I shall tell it as it is," behold I have made the generation of Your children into traitors."

Rashi: Said Asaph, “If I said in my heart to tell everything as it is, all that His people say about this, I would make them into traitors and wicked men."

Metzudas Dovid: If I say it the way it is, i.e. whatever it is that I think, then the talking will incite even those who are your children, i.e. those who believe in You, for when they hear what is thought, I will make them into traitors which is why I won't talk much.

I heard someone say, based on this verse, that the trend to discuss all our frum society's ills out in the open is the modern day version of "es iz shver tzu zayn a Yid" - it's hard to be a Jew.  How many Jews are being turned off to frum life when they hear about all the crises and social ills we are suffering from?

Back in the early 1900's, when shomer Shabbos Jews sighed over the hardships of being religious, they lost their children who were not interested in living a hard, religious life.  These days, why would someone want to belong to a society which has a shidduch crisis, tuition crisis, parnassa crisis, housing crisis, drop-outs, those who keep "half Shabbos," Kiddush clubs and alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, shalom bayis problems and molestation problems? Sounds quite unappealing!

Some editors and askanim pat themselves on the back for "breaking taboos" and (supposedly) dispelling stigmas by airing issues that used to be kept quiet.  Are we gaining or losing thereby, that is the question.  What would they say if they knew that just one person was turned off to Yiddishkeit because of this openness?

a related post

Nov 21, 2015

Power of a Song

The other day I heard a remarkable story.  A woman who taught preschool 37 years ago, met a man who told her that he still remembers the song, "Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere," that she taught the class.

He said this song guided him in life.

What a zechus for Uncle Yossi (Goldstein) a'h who composed the song!

Nov 20, 2015

Some Invitation That Is ...

The pattern repeats.  Massacres in France, calls for Jews to "come home" to Israel, panicked French Jews leave in droves.

Ironic it is that on the same Friday that the butchery ensued in Paris, a Jewish father and son were murdered in Israel to be followed by the murders of another five Jews later that week.  So what exactly is the claim of the "come home" proponents - come home so at least you can get killed on holy ground?

Nov 9, 2015

Feeding the Hungry

Today, before leaving the house, I prepared a snack of cashews in a baggie to take along.  I was sitting on the subway and, as happens periodically, someone announced that he was homeless and diabetic and hungry.  Did we have anything to give him?

I don't give money because you don't know what they'll do with it.  And I usually don't have anything else to offer.  But this time, I had nuts.  So I took out the baggie and when he came by, I asked - would you like these?

He gave a big "yeah!" and grinned and moved on.  I was hoping everybody else saw whitey give him food, and if they were discerning, Jewish whitey, while most of his kinsmen gave him nothing.  I feel that if someone says he's hungry, and you can feed him, then you do.  I should have thought, but forgot, that I am emulating Hashem by providing the man with food.

I hope it made a Kiddush Hashem.  I really missed my snack later in the day.

Nov 1, 2015

Recreation in the Library

The children's section of the public library is noisy.  Aren't libraries supposed to be quiet places?

Well, the children are playing computer games.

Computer games? In the library?

I thought libraries are for reading.

I commented to a librarian and she said libraries provide recreation.

Recreation?! Like ball playing and Scrabble?

She pointed out the chess games.

I said, libraries have changed drastically since I was a kid.  Used to be, libraries were for reading books.

I don't think this is a change for the better.