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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Sharing The Pain

People all over the world are conveying their prayers and expressing their appreciation for my decision to share my personal trials in a public forum.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Over the past few weeks I’ve received numerous e-mails from people all over the world conveying their prayers and expressing their appreciation for my decision to share my personal trials in a public forum. They all felt strengthened and inspired.

I know beyond a doubt that it is in the zechus – the merit – of those prayers that Hashem has granted me miraculous recoveries. Prayer is the power that can open the Heavenly Gates. Prayer can make miracles happen even in the face of the most dismal prognoses. And if at first we do not succeed and feel our prayers are in vain, we need only follow the guidance of King David, who taught us to place our hope and trust in G-d, to never give up, to never tire of praying.

Over the years I have discovered that people are happy to share their successes and achievements but are reluctant to expose their struggles and failures. I can certainly understand that, yet there are times when it is important to share so that others might gain courage, inspiration, hope and the fortitude necessary to go on.

At one time or another, dark days assail each of us – days when we are convinced we can no longer go on. At such times it strengthens us to know that someone else has walked on the same path – and may have even fallen into potholes but survived.

When I was a young girl my revered father, HaRav HaGaon Abraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, taught me a lesson I shall never forget: “Whenever difficulty besets you, it is not a random happening. It was given to you so that you might grow, become stronger and share your experiences with others.”

He went onto to say, “When someone has pain you must become more sensitive to that pain. You must feel what they feel, cry with them, and be one with them.” My father not only taught me this lesson, he lived by it. He would shed tears when he saw someone suffering. He actually saw the anguish in a person’s heart. And he would take on their torment as if it was his own.

I remember one occasion when my father was visiting our congregation in North Woodmere, Long Island, for a Chanukah celebration. In the midst of the large crowd there was a widow who had lost her son over a year before. My father came over to me and asked in Yiddish, “Why is that woman so sad? Why do I see such pain in her eyes? What is the heavy burden she is carrying in her heart?”

How could my father have possibly known? He had never seen her before. He was unaware of her history. How did he pick her out in a room of several hundred people? I told my father her story and tears flowed from his eyes. He felt her pain and he whispered to me, “Bring her over to me, I want to talk to her.” The ten or fifteen minutes my father spent with her changed her forever.

My husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, was just like my father. He too felt each person’s pain. I will never forget the story of Mike and Shirley. Their only child had been killed in a horrible car accident. They were not members of our congregation. We did not know them, but that did not make a difference. When my husband heard about the accident he immediately went to their house. He spent a great deal of time with them, visiting them every day during the shiva period.

Sometime later, while shopping in a supermarket, I bumped into Mike. “Rebbetzin,” he said, “I must tell you that if it hadn’t been for your husband, Shirley and I would never had made it. Please convey our appreciation to him.”

That evening I told my husband of my chance encounter. “Mike is so grateful to you,” I said. “What exactly did you tell him that he found so helpful?” My husband just looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing. What could I have possibly said? What could anyone say under such circumstances?”

A few weeks later Mike called and asked if he and Shirley could come over to visit with us. We set a date for the following Sunday night. When Mike and Shirley rang our doorbell my husband was still at the synagogue and I thought to myself that this would be the perfect time to find out exactly what had transpired during those shiva nights.

“Mike,” I asked, “do you remember when you told me how comforting the rabbi had been? What did he actually say? Can you recall his words?” Mike swallowed hard and said, “Nothing. I know it sounds crazy, Rebbetzin, but it was really nothing – that is, nothing I can quote.” He must have noticed the puzzled look on my face. “When the rabbi entered our house,” he explained, “he walked straight up to me, put his arms around me, and then” – Mike’s voice broke with emotion – “he cried with me.”

Mike paused for a moment. “Rebbetzin,” he said, “no one else cried with me like that except for Shirley. The rabbi came every night and he took on my pain. I will never forget it as long as I live.”

Then Shirley added, “Do you know what I think made all difference? He did not have to say ‘I’m sorry’ – we felt he was sorry. He did not know us, yet he knew us better than our closest friends. He took us into his heart and we felt it. Just knowing he was there made it easier. He’s the most compassionate man we have ever met.”

Such identification with someone else’s pain and tragedy can only come from experiencing your own pain – and from reverencing G-d. It is reverence for Hashem that can render a human being merciful and compassionate in the sense that G-d is merciful and compassionate. When belief in the Almighty is absent, a vacuum is left in the heart – and that vacuum is filled with the selfishness our society promotes. Sadly, ours is an entitlement culture. We want and we want some more, and we are never satisfied. And our eyes and ears are closed to the pain of others.

(To Be Continued)

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