Monday, March 10, 2008

Why is My Heart Closed to the Pain of My People?

When I read and think about the terrorist attacks on the yeshiva bochurim at Merkaz HaRav, I wonder why it is that my heart seems closed to feeling the pain and I feel unable to daven to Hashem to save us.

I think the first part of the answer is the fact that, deep down, I'm just afraid that of disappointment. I think that I don't want to daven for something to stop if it's just going to happen again and again.

And I think behind that, there's a general way of dealing with things that I have grown accustomed to because it serves me well most of the time. My general approach to things is not to be bothered at all by things that I cannot change. If there's nothing I can really do about something, I have conditioned myself not to care. This is connected to one of my favorite Gemaras, which says, "לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז- מסכת תענית דף כ. "A person should always be flexible like a reed, and not hard like a Cedar." After the plague of Barad, hail, all of the plants in Mitzrayim, Egypt, were killed, except for the young, soft plants. They were able to just go with the flow of all of the hard hail that hit them, and therefore they survived. The idea is that I can keep my equanimity in the face of most things that happen to me by this method of simply not taking anything to heart that's really outside of my control anyway.

So when it comes to these terrorists, Yemach Shemem V'Zichram, who kill Jewish people, I guess I feel that this has been going on for as long as there have been Jews living in Eretz Yisroel, so I have a hard time believing that my tefillah will actually change anything. I know this is a wrong way to think, but my natural tendency is to avoid disappointment by not expecting things to get better. If I don't daven and I don't hope, I won't be disappointed by not being answered. And if I keep my heart closed, I won't have to feel the pain of other Jews.

So what's the answer? How can I open my heart and find it in myself to daven for our people when bad things happen, without losing the ability keep my equanimity in everyday life when things don't go in the "ideal" way? ???

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of New York Times)

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A Simple Jew said...

I, on the other hand, have a proclivity not to question Hashem's reasons for things. Perhaps, however, this shows a blemish in my Ahavas Yisroel since if I really felt every Jew was a close family member then I would do otherwise.

Anonymous said...

An article from one of the Jewish magazines from a few years ago

Israel’s Crisis and Us: Avoiding a Devastating Acceptance

Something is terribly wrong with us. Yes, deep down, we are all worried and grief-stricken over the horrible pain our brothers and sisters are experiencing in Israel. Yet, if you look around, we seem to be quite comfortable hearing news that tells us of the constant terror killings of our brethren. We take comfort in knowing that ‘only 4 people’ were killed. We get a little more upset when the casualties are higher but our lives quickly return to normal.

This is not the first article to appear at or other Jewish periodicals or websites which attempts to address the concept of trying to feel our brothers pain in Israel. There have been many articles and speeches devoted to this subject. There have been many Psalms, prayers and rallies. But it does seem that over the past few months those articles, speeches, and rallies have been few and far between.

In fact, as I write these words, Israel is still reeling from yet another heinous attack and ambush(on Jan. 24) in the Chevron Hills, that killed 3 soldiers. Strangely, I didn’t hear anyone talking about or discussing this horrific crime. No one seemed outwardly moved or deeply saddened. There was no sense of urgency in the synagogue I went to this morning or even in the Tehillim(Psalms) after regular Shacharit morning prayers that we have said for over 28 months now. This was apparently viewed by most of us as ‘just another attack’.

How could it be? How could it be that over 700 Jews have been killed by Arab terrorists over the past 2 ½ years and we are not moved to cry, to pray better, to finally hear the call for repentance?

The answer is quite simple and quite frightening. We are resilient to a fault. We can get used to virtually anything. We are very much like the boiling lobsters.

In order to kill lobsters in the most efficient way so that they remain fresh, seafood sellers take live lobsters and drop them into water. Then, they slowly increase the temperature of the water so that the lobster barely notices the water becoming hotter. Eventually, the lobster becomes used to a very hot temperature and then easily allows itself to be boiled. Had the lobster been placed initially in boiling water, the lobster would fight to jump or crawl out.

We, like the lobster, have become used to Jews getting ‘boiled’ on a regular basis. Our brothers are getting murdered in Israel and we hardly blink anymore.

We all remember Rosh Hashana 5761/2000, when the Arab intifada had just begun and how scared we were. The heightened awareness in our prayers then was easily perceptible. Who doesn’t recall the fright we all felt when the soldiers were lynched in Ramallah? And back then there were barely 10 casualties in those first few weeks of the crisis. Remember the summer of 2001 when so many lectures and events were dedicated to the memory of ‘the 73 Jews murdered’? And now, we have close to 730-a full 10 times more! But the speeches, events, and prayer rallies seem to be a distant memory.

The question is: did we pray with more feeling then, at the beginning of this horrible ordeal, or now, after thousands of terror attacks? If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we have virtually reached a stage of acceptance, which has largely removed any sense of mourning, grief, and emotion from us.

Many of us are familiar with the ‘4 Stages of Grief’ which psychotherapists use to help patients. They are: Denial, Depression, Anger, and Acceptance. Most of us have experienced the first three of these stages in relating to the crisis in Israel. In the beginning, we were in denial, we then became depressed at the gravity of the tragedies, and we were definitely angry at the Arab terrorists. Under regular circumstances, a normal and healthy grief process concludes with acceptance, which enables the mourner to continue and move on with his life. This is vital for any mourner. But for us to accept the situation in Israel and stop feeling the reality of the pain would be the biggest tragedy of all. Unfortunately, we are showing some signs of reaching this dreaded state.

We all sense that we are living in the most dangerous time period for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Our Arab cousins are experiencing numerous successes in their terror campaign, and there is no end in sight. All the diplomatic and military suggestions for solutions have failed to stop the attacks. No matter what the outcome of the Israeli election is, no one has much hope that the terror campaign will end in the near future. Yes, we must be constantly appreciative and thankful to G-d for the tens if not hundreds of attacks that were supposed to happen but were thwarted. But, as we are well aware, too often, G-d has not stepped in to provide us with protection from the terror. He has allowed the killings to continue.

It is true that G-d does not directly bring terrorist attacks. They are the results of man’s free will used for evil. But, when an attack succeeds, it is due to G-d allowing it to succeed by His not protecting us from it. Why does G-d sometimes choose to let the terrorists succeed? He does so to inspire us to return to Him, to cry out to Him, to improve our service of Him, and to realize we need Him.

As Maimonides(Rambam Hilchot Taaniyot, Laws of Fast Days 1:1-3) writes(paraphrased): “It is a Biblical commandment to cry out to G-d whenever a crisis develops. This is one of the paths of repentance. When tragedy strikes, and we turn to
G-d in prayer, knowing clearly that our failings and misdeeds have permitted the crisis to occur and are the reasons why G-d has not saved us, these prayers and cries will cause the removal of the crisis.”

This is the purpose of turning to G-d in all prayers for deliverance and salvation. We need G-d to save us, and our prayers, spiritual growth and change brings G-d’s protection.

If we accept the crisis in Israel as the reality of our existence, and fail to let the continuing murders shake us to our core and improve our spirituality, we squander the opportunity to ultimately end the killings in Israel.

So now, the reader is probably hopeful that I will provide a solution to this awful set of circumstances. I am glad to report that I do have a suggestion. Unfortunately though, I am also confident that the reader will be disappointed with my suggestion. You see, there are no easy answers. There is no repentance pill that we can take that will solve our problems. We would love for there to be a magical paragraph of prayer that we can say that would make all the problems disappear. But true growth, change, and repentance don’t come easily.

What I will suggest is to add a fifth item to our list. Let me explain.

The Talmud in Brachot 32b says: “Four items require strengthening(chizuk): Torah study, good deeds, prayer, and integrity/honesty concerning one’s livlihood(derech eretz-see Rashi)”. The Sages are teaching us that in order to succeed in these four areas, we must always increase our intensity for them. But why are only these four items listed? Don’t all commandments require strengthening and increased intensity?

The answer would appear to be the following. No Rabbi ever needs to give a lecture or sermon in order to inspire his community to eat Matzah on Passover. There isn’t a rabbi who feels compelled to tell his congregants about the importance of coming to hear the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashana. Why not? The reason is obviously because rituals or events that only happen once a year have a dramatic, emotional, even sentimental appeal to us. Strengthening, chizuk, or increased intensity for such mitzvot is unnecessary. It comes naturally.

Torah study, good deeds, prayer, and proper performance of our livlihood(which includes working honestly and efficiently for our employers) are challenges we face each and every day. Anything that we do constantly, will automatically and necessarily fail to carry a natural intensity. We know intellectually that Torah study is of supreme importance and that every word of our prayers has the power to change decrees against us but it’s hard to maintain these ideas without growing very stale to them. We hear about the significance of righteous and kind deeds and performing our jobs properly constantly and this is the very reason why it becomes tedious and uninspiring for us. Anything that we do all the days of our lives, all the time, will always lose its drama and glory.

This is exactly the issue the Talmud is trying to address. The only way-and it is difficult, there is no quick and easy method-is to constantly inspire oneself. As Rashi there explains: ‘A person must continuously strengthen himself with all his energy(koach)’. There are 2 keys that Rashi mentions: continuity, and with all one’s strength. In order to succeed in the four areas the Talmud lists, there must be a daily, continuous, concerted, and energetic effort to inspire oneself. Passion will not happen by itself.

As explained, the reason why the Talmud mentions only four items is because these four encompass the four major areas that we are involved with on a daily basis. And the fact is that any experience that occurs constantly, makes us lose any dramatic and emotional pull we may have had for it.

Similarly, the constant deaths and killings in Israel have made us lose sensitivity to the dire and tragic aspects of the crisis. We have become ‘used to’ Jews dying on a regular basis. We therefore, fail to become shocked nor do we react with proper emotion when we hear the news of the tragedies. Only through daily strengthening (chizuk), as the Talmud suggests, can we maintain the feelings of grief for the horrors. Only through continual reminders, will we strive for spiritual improvement in order to help prevent the attacks.

So, in our tumultuous time period, it would seem that we are obligated to add a fifth item to the list mentioned in Brachot 32b: Remembering the Crisis in Israel. We must, on a daily basis, set aside time(even if only for a brief moment) to reflect upon the scope of the tragedies, on the over 700 dead, on the hundreds of serious and permanent injuries, on all the grieving families, and on ways we can improve and grow in order to create merits to earn G-d’s protection.

I have no doubt that every reader of this article has accepted some area of improvement upon himself or herself as a result of the tragedies in Israel. Whether it is praying with more intensity, a special daily kindness one performs, or an extra Torah study session, we have all accepted things upon ourselves in order to create merits. What we need to do now is to monitor ourselves and make sure we are continuously and consistently performing our area of growth and doing it with all of our energy and effort(as Rashi Brachot 32b explained).

And if after all this, we still find that we cannot muster the strength to begin feeling the extent and depth of the tragedies, nor can we cry, we run the terrible risk of accepting the crisis as normal and part of our reality. And if G-d forbid that were to occur, is that not the biggest reason to cry?

If we can’t cry from the pain and can’t be moved from the suffering, shouldn’t we cry that we can’t cry?

WHERE'S THE UPHEAVAL? My daily routine for the past 8 months has included checking news on the internet at least once and sometimes several times a day. From the friends and acquaintances that I have spoken to, it would seem that there are many Jews who do the same. And we continue to check day after day, hour after hour. Why are we so obsessed? It is because we care about our brothers and sisters in Israel. Israel, our home and country is at war. But I suspect and feel that throughout these terrible times, most of us have 'missed the boat' and remain clueless to what is truly happening. Put two Jews together these days and the conversation invariably turns to 'the situation' or the 'matzav'(in Hebrew). "Did you hear if anything happened today in Israel? Was anyone hurt? How many casualities? Where was the bomb? Did the IDF strike back? Did they use helicopters or gunships? How did the media report it? Can you believe the anti-Semites at CNN? Peter Jennings is out of control! It's so unjust and unfair! It's terrible! How many shootings were there today? Where were they? Oye, children were hurt! Did you hear that Sharon said that Arafat is not a peace partner! Bush said Israel is right. Powell sounded like he's criticizing Israel. Or did he? How long do you think Israel will hold out before they really start to fight back?" We are concerned. We are worried. It is natural to react this way. But I believe we're missing something-something significant. All cliches are true. We are living in historic times. A quick review of Jewish History over the past 100 years reveals unbelievable, earth shattering events. From the horrors of the Holocaust to the birth of the State of Israel, we realize that there has not been a century which has borne more drastic changes to the structure and makeup of the Jewish Nation in a very long time. As believers in Divine Providence, we are also aware that G-d has brought about these tremendous changes in the Jewish landscape for a purpose.

FIVE MINUTES A DAY We need to learn how to feel the pain of other Jews. Deeply. Like we need to learn to feel the joy of other Jews. Children know it instinctively. When there's no more watermelon, they can kick and scream for half an hour. When we hear of "another shooting in Israel", do we drip a tear, let alone kick and scream? Or do we say "oh dear" and carry on with our important paperwork? Until we develop the ability to kick and scream, these killings will continue. Unless it's happened to someone you know, it's hard to feel that pain. I know. Even in Israel, one sometimes becomes cold to the constant scroll of shootings and wounded. There is a certain relief if you don't know the person involved. Here's an idea. Find a picture of one victim of the latest war. Or an article about the person. For five minutes a day, think of his wife, or her husband, or their children, and all the everyday situations they might now find themselves in and that we take for granted. How would you manage without your spouse at this time? How would your children cope without their parent? How would you explain to your 11-year-old that he no longer has a daddy or a big brother?

Miriam Woelke said...



In my eyes you are choosing the wrong approach.
Let me tell you that in Jerusalem, we think completely different. Especially because we are in the month of Adar. Even Adar B with additional joy.

Never should we give up hope and stop praying for positive changes.
Of course, you can have your doubts or question HaShem. This is very human.

But never give up.
The Purim - Story shows us how we should react when mischief is ahead.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Perhaps your right. And my problem would be similar. Probably if it were more personal to me because my Ahavas Yisroel were stronger, I would care too much not to daven, regardless of how I usually handle more urbane setbacks.


Thank you for that article. Do you have a link to it that I can share in the main post?


Of course you are right. I know that already and that's what I said in the post. I know my attitude is wrong. My problem is figuring out how to have hope and keep davening, when that's such a painful way compared to my usual pattern...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the key is to remember that your questions and doubts are questions and doubts and not the answer. M'chazek yourself in emunah, afterall that is the great test before Moshiach. Ask Hashem to remove your stone heart. And I think in the second volume of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh or maybe its in Da Es Atzmecha, the Tzadik tells a misa about Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l, in which the Rav begins to cry over the death of a talmid, (I think) and then stops crying and begins to cry again. When asked why, the Rav responds that he thought about the pain of the mother and then about the pain of the father. If you have a few moments think deeply about the matzav in Eretz Yisrael. This is not an issue of disrupting your equanimity, that is the voice of the yetzer hara. Equanimity or Menuchas HaNefesh, however one want to refer to it is not a response to the outside, its an internal reality that is independant of externals. Everyone needs to think deeply about the matzav in Eretz Yisrael, and feel that pain and cry out to Hashem. In these incredibly difficult times, a person must believe in themsleves and the koach of their tefillos, if a Jew cries out in tefilla Hashem will surely listen.

Neil Harris said...

IMHO, the fact that you question the effect of Tefilla is simply that you have an innate connection to the power of Tefilla and your Yetzer Hara is trying to get the best of you.
My two cents will be deposited into your PayPal account.

Akiva said...

I perceive a different problem. We are so inundated with the shtuss of the media, constant fake details of fake violence, irrelevant stupid news of idiotic celebrities doing irrelevant stuff. Even if you don't play close attention to such stuff, you're flooded with it!!!

So, we learn to filter it all out. Don't get upset by the ongoing load of BS that we're constantly fed. When something real comes along, those filters don't just disappear.

And that is also the klippah doing a wonderful job in the modern world.