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September 1, 2014 / 6 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘pain’

Medicinal Cannabis and Dr. Johnny

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Toward the end of his life, my father suffered indescribable pain. He was at the stage where the doctors in the oncology ward focus on other patients, and you run – helpless and harried – between doctors who don’t know how to work outside the book. “Your father is finished, we’ve done all that we can,” they would say, adding, “Johnny. Talk to Johnny.”

The government recently closed Dr. Johnny Greenfield’s pain clinic in the Tel Hashomer hospital. It was only from the media reports that I realized that Johnny is a highly respected oncologist. There, in the hospital, he would sit behind a tiny table in a tiny cubicle, helping his pain-wracked patients. In that tiny room, he was simply Johnny.

Johnny would talk to my father. He would calm him. He would explain that it is legitimate to want the pain to stop. My eyes fill with tears when I remember those searing moments. Johnny is one of those people who are really card-carrying angels.

And Johnny helped – a lot. More than the medicinal cannabis that he prescribed for my father, he helped with his love for others and his completely unorthodox approach. No “Do these tests and come back with the results,” and the authorizations and all the running around that turns people suffering their most difficult moments into miserable mice running down unfamiliar halls, pushing and pressured between all the other equally miserable people. Anyone who has experienced this can understand what I am talking about.

Johnny wants the pain to stop. He is a professional and explains the exact implications of each drug, telling my father what part of his cognizance may be impaired and the consequences of every drug he offered. He is a true healer. For the first time in a long time, my father relaxed. The cruel world suddenly looked different. A world with a person like Johnny looks beautiful, nurturing and warm.

After a few meetings, I told Johnny that I had read that Israel is one of the leading countries in its use of medicinal cannabis. Johnny didn’t have to hear more than that to pour his heart out. He spoke of all the patients who could not get treatment, and about how good cannabis and cannabis products would be for a vast array of illnesses. Perhaps the economic interest of the drug companies has something to do with the obstacles that the state places in the path of those who wish to be treated by this amazing drug. “I believe that if God created it, he did it so that we can use it,” I say to him.

Since my father died, I have not heard from Johnny. Suddenly this man, considered an angel by so many, is publicly denounced.

Have a good, sweet year, Johnny. It makes no difference what they write. In your merit, there are so many people that can smile a little bit at the end of their lives.

‘Did You Add Salt to a Wound?’

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Just days ago on Yom Kipper, The Day of Judgment, Jews gathered as one in shuls, shteibels and temples and desperately and profusely promised Hashem that we would reform our ways and improve our behaviors and actions towards Him, our Father and Creator, as well as towards our fellow man, who, being made in His image, is deserving of our respect and compassion, and of being treated as an equal, no matter their social or financial status, age or gender.

Our prayers were saturated with sincerity, our pleas- passionate and pure. This time, we would amend our not so pleasant ways. Nothing motivates the determination to improve oneself than the fear of Divine Retribution. The knowledge that teshuvah – repentance and remorse and regret for less than stellar behaviors, attitudes and activities – can postpone, even cancel a stern, life-altering judgment is the best fuel to ignite an unwavering commitment to change.

And many of us are making a conscientious effort to keep our promise to be kinder, more ethical and more tolerant, both as Jews and human beings. But within weeks, ingrained bad habits will free themselves from the restraints we so self-righteously encased them in, and reclaim their turf in our flawed personalities.

So how do we prevent that regression? How do we fortify our resolve to self-tikkun in a way that will help ensure that on the final Day of Judgment in the Heavenly Court, our neshama will be headed “north” not “south?”

It is generally accepted that one of the questions people will be asked on That Day will revolve around business ethics. We will be asked if we were honest in our financial dealings with others.

Perhaps one question that we should expect to be asked of us is, “Did you rub salt into a wound?”

“Rubbing salt into a wound” is an expression that has come to mean adding tzaar – emotional hurt – to someone who already is in great pain and distress. It actually is based on a practice centuries ago when slaves, captured enemies or prisoners of war were lashed either as punishment or as a way of making them talk. Many were further tormented by having salt rubbed into their open, bleeding wounds, causing excruciating pain on top of the pain they were experiencing from the whipping.

(Baby-boomers no doubt remember all too clearly the intense pain that would have us howling and jumping out of our skin when iodine was dabbed onto a skinned knee or cut or scrape to prevent infection. The cure was worse than the sickness. Only much later did soothing, antibiotic ointments become available.)

Of all the “bad” behaviors we indulge in, whether through misguided “kindness” or deliberate maliciousness, enhancing the pain, grief or hopelessness of someone who is hurting mentally, emotionally or spiritually is especially harmful to the recipient – it is like rubbing salt in an open wound.

When I say,” kindness,” it is because there were times when salt was rubbed into an open wound to prevent infection and promote healing. Nonetheless, the resultant agony was just as horrific as when it was done out of pure cruelty.

So many people are what I call the “walking wounded.” Young and old, wealthy or poor, married or single; pillars of their community or barely visible in the crowd, no one is spared from torment, loss, loneliness, fear, self-doubt or the inevitable emotional battering and trauma that comes from being a breathing, sentient human being.

Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, children, teachers, rebbeim, acquaintances, friends, bosses, colleagues, even strangers like a bus driver or store clerk can deliberately or inadvertently, via “good” intentions, salt a wound.

This is clearly evident in the story of Penina and Chana, who became the mother of Shmuel Hanavi. In Shmuel 1 chapter I, verse 7, we are told that a man, Ephraim, had two wives, Penina who had many children, and Chana, who was infertile. Penina would torment Chana about being childless, but the Midrash says she did so out of kindness, to spur Chana to daven with more kavanah, and garner Hashem’s sympathy – but all it did was make Chana feel worse, so she did not even want to eat.

Use Fish not Chicken for Kaparot

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Thousands of Orthodox Jews are preparing to swing live chickens over their heads before Yom Kippur, symbolically transferring their sins to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor for consumption. This practice is called ‘Kapparot,’ which literally means “atonement.”

Using fish, money or chickens are acceptable methods of performing this expiation ritual. Using a live creature has the impact of allowing one to appreciate his or her own life and the life of the animal. A deep appreciation for animal life is fostered by seeing an animal slaughtered so that man can survive.

This chicken swinging ritual is controversial both in terms of the practice potentially leading to animal cruelty and the view by many leading rabbinical authorities that the practice should be avoided because of its superstitious nature.

Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Code of Jewish Law, called the practice “heathen, foolish and superstitious.” Other Rabbis especially Kabbalists like Rabbi Isaac Luria encouraged the practice of using a live creature for Kapparot.

Another common objection to the practice is based on the Jewish principle that one is forbidden to engage in tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (causing unnecessary pain to animals). While the ritual itself does not necessitate animal cruelty, the pragmatic outcome may result in the unnecessary suffering of chickens:

Because modern kapparot chickens are trucked into the city from long distances, often in open trucks exposed to the weather and without adequate food or water, the question of … cruelty to animals …. has become an … issue. The birds may also suffer while they are being handled for sale or during the ceremony, because many urban Jews are unfamiliar with the proper, humane way to hold a chicken. (Which should be with a hand above and one below the bird, supporting the weight of the body, not held with the wings painfully pinned back, as is done at some kapparot centers.) In some places in Israel and the United States, chickens are sold on street corners for this ceremony, and not every merchant takes proper care of his chickens during this period. The birds are frequently cooped up in baskets, and some merchants neglect to give them sufficient food or water. In some cases, the caged chickens have been left out in the rain or under the hot sun with no shade or shelter, or simply abandoned in warehouses and left to starve if not sold in time for the ceremony.

Notions of animal cruelty do not apply to fish under Jewish law, so by using a fish for the Kapparot ritual one would avoid causing unnecessary pain to an animal yet still have the benefit of using a live creature for the ritual. Jewish law does not recognize fish as an animal for the purposes of animal cruelty laws. (See Beis Yehudah ביור”ד סימן י” where all opinions say you can cut a piece of fish when it is alive and no one says it is tsa’ar ba’alei chaim. Therefore it must be that there is no tsa’ar ba’alei chaim for Fish). Also ritual slaughter does not apply to fish, therefore it is understood that fish don’t experience the same kind of pain as an animal.

Another advantage of using a fish is that you avoid the concerns of rabbinical authorities that were critical of using chickens. At the same time you are respecting those authorities that said Kapparot should be done on a live creature.

Chickens are required to be slaughtered in a particular method for them to be deemed kosher. In contrast, fish do not require a particular method of slaughter, so by using fish you offset the concerns of the animal being rendered non-kosher due to an improper slaughter procedure.

At this Yom Kipur’s Kapparot, consider using a live fish instead of a live chicken. You will avoid potential animal cruelty under Jewish law. You will be respecting Halachic authorities that were critical of using chickens while also respecting those that encouraged doing the procedure on a live creature. You will also avoid concerns that your animal was slaughtered improperly. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Feel Frightened and Depressed? Be Happy!

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Should an individual choose a life of sin, God forbid, rather than a life of t’shuva, a terrible darkness envelopes his soul, and his thoughts, aspirations, and character become seeped in evil. These people are the wicked of the world, who see the world in the dark colors which mirror their soul. These are the cynics who find fault in everything, the irreverent who complain against God.

Lacking the will to escape his dungeon of sin, cut off from the world’s future of goodness, the wicked cower behind defensive masks of scorn. They are like the sour notes of a symphony, the coughs in the theater, the laughter in the balcony, the Nietzsches and Nazis of the world, who condemn the ideals which they cannot obtain. Too weak to escape the clutches of sin, they become its proponents.

The fear that accompanies the awakenings of t’shuva is what keeps people imprisoned in darkness. It is a fear that grips whole nations. Rather than acknowledge that their cultures are based on falsehood and evil, entire civilizations cling to their delusions and myths. Instead of embracing the light of God, the world pays mere lip service, hiding behind one brand of paganism or another.

Existential pain is not only experienced by those far from God, but also by the righteous. A tzaddik who dedicates his whole life to fostering goodness, can also fall out of harmony with existence. Because his soul is so sensitive to evil, he reacts to every small transgression with grief and despair. Perhaps his intention in doing a good deed was not on the proper level. Perhaps he failed to maintain concentration throughout all of his prayers. To the extent that he fails to be pure in all of his actions, emotions, and thoughts, his soul experiences and calls out for t’shuva. He longs to be closer to God, to be reunited with the harmony of existence.

Rabbi Kook explains that the pain of the righteous person stems not only from his own personal shortcomings. Even if he were to be sinless, he would still feel the pain of the universal soul as it longs for a higher connection to God. Because of the unity of all existence, as long as the world is darkened with sin, the tzaddik suffers too. He feels the absence of Divine light in the world, and the pain of the exiled Shekhinah. He carries the pain of the world in his soul, and he expresses, with all of his being, all of his organs, all of his strength, the world’s longing for God. Because he embodies the sufferings of the world, when he is forgiven, the world is forgiven with him.

Rabbi Kook has further good news. We all can be righteous!

Every person who deeply feels the remorse of t’shuva and the inner turmoil to redress his wrongdoings, both those which he can readily mend, and those which he hopes to address, with God’s help, in the future — he should include himself with the righteous whose thoughts of t’shuva renew the entire world with a new light” (Orot HaT’shuva, 8:6).

Rabbi Kook’s level after level exploration into the psychology of sin does not end in despair, but in peace and salvation. He explains that the despair a person feels when he confronts his sins is itself a source of hope. The fact that a person is in a state of pain and despair means that he senses his alienation from the positive forces of life. He realizes that sin is not the ideal. This means that the light of morality and holiness in his soul still flickers. In his innermost heart, he still longs for goodness. All is not lost. The important thing is not to fall prey to despair, and to remember that a great happiness is on the way.

When an individual contemplates embarking on a course of total t’shuva, of mending all of his feelings and deeds, even if this is only a thought, he must not be discouraged by the feelings of fear which arise when he faces his many sins, which now seem so pronounced. This is only natural, for as long as a person is seized by the baser side of his nature, and by the dark, negative traits which surround him, he does not feel the weight of his sins so strongly. Occasionally, he feels nothing, and fancies himself a tzaddik. But since his moral sense is awakening, the light of his soul immediately is revealed, and it probes all of his being and exposes all of his wrongs. Then his heart shudders with great fear over his lowliness and lack of perfection. But it is exactly at this instant that he should feel that this awareness, and the worry it causes, are the best signs, forecasting a complete salvation through self-perfection, and he should strengthen himself through this recognition in the Lord his God (Ibid, 8:16).

Cheeseburgers and T’shuva

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

In some of our previous blogs about t’shuva, we have mentioned the bitterness and pain that accompanies the early stages of the process. When people begin to enter the realm of t’shuva, they start to experience a fear, an uncertainty, an inner anguish and pain. While this unpleasant aspect of t’shuva is quickly overshadowed and forgotten in the baal t’shuva’s pursuant great joy, it is a necessary step in the process. Recognizing its value and purging effect can help the penitent weather the stormy seas he must travel. The knowledge that the sun is shining just behind the clouds can give him the strength to continue. In the same way that a woman soon forgets the agonies of childbirth in the happiness of being a mother, the baal t’shuva quickly forgets the “labor pains” of t’shuva in the great joy of his rebirth. Rabbi Kook writes:

“T’shuva does not come to embitter life, but rather to make it more pleasant. The joy of life which comes from t’shuva evolves from the waves of bitterness which the soul wrestles with in the beginning of the t’shuva process. However, this marks the higher, creative valor which knows that sweetness stems from bitterness, life from death, eternal delight from infirmity and pain” (Orot HaT’shuva, 16:6).

When you first swallow aspirin tablets, there is a small taste of bitterness in the mouth. So too, in the initial stages of t’shuva, the first explorations of one’s inner world can cause uncomfortable feelings. However, as one continues on the path of inner cleansing, one discovers a great happiness in knowing that he is doing exactly what he was created to do — to get closer to G-d.

The process is not that at first you are sad and then you are happy. Rabbi Kook teaches that you are happy from being sad. It is the bitterness itself that causes the joy. One’s suffering makes one realize that the t’shuva is sincere.

Some people are overwhelmed by the mountain of sin which seems to confront them as they begin to set their lives in order. How can they deal with so many transgressions? How can they ever make the drastic changes needed to live a holy, ethical life? Rabbi Kook reassures us that this feeling of nervousness is a very good sign. It is a sign that the person has already broken free of his previous material perspective and is ready to consider a more spiritual life.

In the same way, Rabbi Kook tells us that if you are hurting inside, that is a sign of spiritual health. It’s a sign that your inner self recognizes that it does not belong to an environment of sin. Feeling pain over the sins of the past is an important part of the t’shuva process. It goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to a life of good deeds in the future.

The pain and anxiety associated with the first thoughts of t’shuva evolve, in part, from the need to separate from former ways. Just as an operation to remove a cancerous tumor from the body is accompanied by pain, so too is t’shuva. However, the pain is a sign that a healing process is underway. An amputation hurts, but sometimes it is needed to save a person’s life. Before the operation, the patient is wary. His leg may be gangrene, but it still is his leg. What will he be like without it? Will he be the same man? How will he function?

These are all natural, legitimate, and very distressing questions. The unknown can be scary. So too, when a person has become used to a part of his psyche, even if it be some negative trait which is detrimental to his inner well-being, it is not easy to escape from its clutches. Already it has become a citizen of his soul. Breaking away from the past and being open to change is not a simple task. Great inner courage is needed. Often, it can only be done with the help of a teacher or guide. In effect, in unveiling the step-by-step process of t’shuva, Rabbi Kook is giving us a map to assist us on the way.

“The pain experienced upon the initial thought of t’shuva derives from the severance from evil dispositions which cannot be corrected while they are organically attached to the person and damaging all of his being. T’shuva uproots the evil aspects of the spirit and returns it to its original essence. Every separation causes pain, like the amputation of a diseased organ for medical purposes. However, it is through these deep inner afflictions that a person is freed from the dark bondage of his sins and base inclinations, and from all of their bitter influences” (Ibid, 8:1).

Remembering and Forgetting on 9/11

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Eleven years after the tragedy, 9/11 events are happening across the United States today and in other places where the memories of that most dramatic of turning-points still resonate.

In Washington this afternoon, the president of the United States promised Americans in a speech from the Pentagon (“Obama says victims will never be forgotten as 9/11 remembrances begin“( that the September 11 victims would be remembered “no matter how many years pass“. The whole country shares their loss, he said.

This is never an easy day, but it is especially difficult for all of you, the families of nearly 3,000 innocents who lost their lives… But no matter how many years pass, no matter how many times we come together on this hallowed ground, know this: That you will never be alone, your loved ones will never be forgotten. They will endure in the hearts of our nation…

The breadth of his solemn undertaking lost some of its majesty, in our view, when Obama  added that

I’ve always said our fight is with al Qaeda and its affiliates, not with Islam or any other religion… This country was built as a beacon of freedom and tolerance.

The problem with that is that no one serious or sane is claiming America is, or ought to be, at war with Islam, whatever such a statement might mean.

But to assert that the threat comes from this amorphous thing called al Qaeda, and then to silence suggestions to the contrary with a reminder of America’s devotion to freedom, is to miss the point. Terrorism is a vast, growing threat today. It’s more than a threat; it steals the innocent lives of ordinary people’s children literally every day of the year. Plainly, the terrorists are not all Moslems. And Islam does not equate to terrorism. But to ignore the ties between myriads of exponents of Islam and of Islamism on one hand, and the proliferating network of lethal and hideously well-armed terrorist groups on every continent on the other hand, is simply foolish. Or dishonest.

Still, it’s good to hear one of the world’s most influential voices speaking about the enduring nature of a nation’s memory of its terror victims.

Here in Israel, we (the bloggers behind This Ongoing War) waged a campaign for years to require the city fathers in the most important, the most central, Jewish city in the world to remember Jerusalem’s victims of terror. Here is a shortened version of an essay Frimet published seven years ago. We hope you agree that it still makes some strikingly relevant points in 2012.

Keeping Murdered Israeli Children in Our Hearts Frimet Roth  FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 12, 2005

Not since the Holocaust have so many innocent Jewish children been murdered as in the last four and a half years. Not a handful or a few dozen, but hundreds of precious children, targeted by an enemy who saw in their murders nothing but an effective political tactic.

Once a year on Israel’s official Day of Remembrance, the Jewish people accord these children a moment or two of attention. At other times, it seems to me, little thought is given to them and to their deaths. The parents and siblings they left behind—left to grapple for eternity with the daily, grinding pain of loss—get even less.

Some would argue that this is natural and normal. Would I prefer for everyone to pause once every day to remember them? Perhaps that would be asking too much. But there are reasons to think more often of those children, holding no rocks in their hands, having no explosives strapped to their waists, harboring only kindness in their hearts.

This is a particularly appropriate time to do so with Palestinian and Western pressure mounting daily for Israel to release even more Palestinian prisoners.The advocates of prisoner releases like to equate the situation here with South Africa and Ireland. They too “had blown each other up for years” as we have, was the way Amit Leshem, of Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute, put it. Once released those terrorists embarked on peaceful, productive paths, he wrote recently.

Then there are the expectations of the Palestinian people who demand that Abu Mazen deliver the goods—meaning that every last prisoner goes free, or else. Israel, it is maintained, must bolster Abu Mazen’s regime with a full release or else face the overthrow of Abu Mazen and an end to the current calm.

Fearing Vandalism, Eilat Hotels Refuse Guests Under Age 21, IDF Soldiers Included

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Tourism experts say the decision of some Israeli hotels to bar young people under age 21, including soldiers, from staying, was born by multiple cases of hotel room vandalism, especially in Eilat, the young people’s favorite resort, Globes reports.

A Globes reporter recorded (clandestinely) sales representatives at the reservation centers of the Club Hotel and C-Hotel chains, who said that young men under 21 are not allowed to stay in any of their hotels, blaming it on “Rules of the chain.”

Those same representatives were unable to explain why an IDF soldier is good enough to serve his or her country but not good enough to stay at their hotels.

Chairman of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers (AWIS) Avigdor Kahalani told Globes: “We are surprised and shocked to hear that there are hotels which do not host IDF soldiers. We hope these procedures will be changed. We invite the soldiers to stay at any of the AWIS facilities scattered all over the country.”

It appears that the damage these hotels have been sustaining from young, exuberant Israelis outweighs the PR disaster the decision to bar even enlisted soldiers is sure to cause.

According to Globes, luxury hotel chains such as Dan and Isrotel have placed no such limits on the age of their guests, including in their prestigious outlets, Dan Eilat and Royal Beach, Eilat. The reason is the high price, which acts as a natural selector, keeping up the middle-income youngster who, apparently, is more likely to break stuff.

Unless the young guests at those super-luxurious hotels belong to a rock band…

Ronnie Pivko, CEO of the Club Hotel chain, said in response: “I feel the pain of the soldiers who want and are not allowed to stay with us, but the damage outweighs the pain. We had to draw some kind of line, and, if you ask me, we should have raised the age limit to 24 this line, because these guys don’t stop going wild even at 24.”

Which should have placed the age limit at 25, much like cheaper car insurance.

Pivko said he is working, in his capacity as acting president of the Israel Hotel Association, a blacklist, which will include the names of both young and old guests with a troubled past in Israeli hotels.

“The list will be distributed to all the hotels in Eilat, where most of the problem exists, and those problem guests will not be allowed in,” said Pivko. “I plan to raise the blacklist for discussion at the next meeting of the Association.”

The Club Hotel chain runs two hotels in Eilat and one in Tiberias.

Or Bareket, VP of marketing for C-Hotel, emphasized that young people accompanied by their parents are, of course, always welcome.

She also said that her hotel chain hosts many lonely IDF soldiers on holidays, and support many other FIDF programs.

“Unfortunately, we have received numerous complaints about inappropriate behavior of young people in our hotels,” she said.

C-Hotels runs five hotels in Israel, one of them in Eilat.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/fearing-vandalism-eilat-hotels-refuse-guests-under-age-21-idf-soldiers-included/2012/09/11/

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