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January 16, 2017 / 18 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘pain’

Democrats: The Party of Palliation

Monday, October 15th, 2012

A month before the presidential election, we know it will be close, and it will be a choice — no mere referendum on the executive management skills of the current president.  The electorate is choosing the balance between public and private sectors, between more and less government.  But it is also choosing between the different ends to which government is directed, the different visions about what government is for, and in particular, the relationship politics has with suffering and sacrifice.

Paul Ryan offered the clearest expression of this choice, in forthrightly declaring his opposition to “the best this administration offers — a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.”  With nods to Rand, Hayek, and Tocqueville, Ryan presents an exaggerated but effective reductio ad absurdum of the policy and endpoint of the progressive welfare state.  The statement was also bold in its way, because all of us on our worst days, and too many of us every day, actually crave the security of a “system” that eases our cares and allays our fears, and we are moved at times to offer this peace to others worse off than ourselves.  To highlight this shared anxiety — the source of the eternal appeal of the Democratic Party — is to take a risk.  It becomes easy for one’s opponents to say, as they will do in myriad ways, We care about you and for you; we will relieve your suffering, and all your ups and downs will be smoothed and gentled; and, if the state hanging on your sleeve means you cannot jump very high or run very fast, well, at least you will never falter, fall, and be crushed beneath the crowd.  Here at last is a real choice for the electorate, but inevitably, many will select the less painful option.

This selection implies a dull and “adventureless” life, perhaps.  But what good, after all, are adventures?  As Bilbo Baggins of the famous novel Lord of the Rings said, they are nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things that make one late for dinner.  For Bilbo to change his mind and leave the drowsy comfort of the Shire required the intervention of a wizard, in short supply these days.  Tolkein’s ultimate answer, however, is that the chance for a fuller and nobler existence is worth the discomfort of the adventurous life, and something in that vein must also be the foundation of the Republican answer.  Therapeutic competition with Democrats is obvious folly, so Ryan was right to offer something different; the open question is whether he and Governor Romney can persuade the voters to take up the offer.

The Democratic Party presents itself as the enemy of pain — no bad thing, certainly, from an electoral perspective.  On its leftist fringes is a political theodicy attributing the existence of suffering to the malign forces of some hidden power: the one-percenters, the fat-cat bankers, the rich, the greedy, the privileged, the vampire capitalists.  You suffer and lack because They take too much; you hurt because They allow it through their cruelty and indifference.  More broadly, though, the Democratic Party as a whole seems committed to the proposition that one’s suffering is contingent and corrigible, that if only the nation got the policy right pain would disappear.  At the least, it is deemed our collective duty as good utilitarians to redress pain wherever it is found.

Some voters choose Democrats to seek a palliative for their own problems, but many liberals are simply motivated by a strong emotional reaction to human suffering.  To the exclusion of other goals — honor, tradition, excellence — research has shown the psychology of the Left is singularly focused on an ethic of caring and on the consequent “sacralization of victims” and their suffering.  Progressives have prioritized pain as the world’s central evil and dedicated themselves to its alleviation.  As a corollary, they prize in leaders the supposed Clintonian capacity to “feel the pain” of anonymous masses, and the anesthetic expertise to relieve it.

No mainstream parties are friends to pain, nor should they be, for needless suffering is a great wrong.  Still, the Republican Party’s view is more complex because achievement, liberty, responsibility, and many other qualities are within its calculus, to be weighed against discomfort.  Nor does conservatism have the luxury of believing in government’s power to wholly take away the pain of human existence — its view of the limited malleability of human nature is not utopian, but instead richer, more tragic.  When Republicans centered their first day’s convention theme on the claim that individuals (rather than government) “built that,” it was not solely as a rebuttal of an awkward quote from the president; rather, it went to the larger point that suffering is endured for a purpose — that through it, through long hours, through anxiety and uncertainty, through the work of the hands and lives, something is created.  The pride and joy of creation, ennobled by the suffering that made it possible, was certainly an undertone of the Republican message.

Charles N.W. Keckler

Everybody Is a Winner

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

I recently read a disturbing news article about a social phenomenon that is tragic beyond words.

The article stated that more people were losing their lives by committing suicide than by car crashes. This conclusion was based on a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health based on data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics from the years 2000-2009.

The study found that vehicular fatalities during this period had declined by 25%, but deaths from suicides rose 15%. Experts, however, believe that the number is actually closer to 20%, and that many deaths listed as accidental were not. There is a cultural and religious stigma in regards to killing oneself, so some suicides were orchestrated to look unintentional.

Conversely, despite it seeming as if there are more drivers on the road – we are all to often frustrated by traffic congestion that turns highways into parking lots – and the increase in distracted drivers, the decrease in car accidents was attributed to various safety features like front and side air bags, seat belts and stricter penalties for speeding and drinking.

So why are so many people killing themselves, or attempting to, since some try but fail? I can only imagine that they are looking for a way out of lives saturated with abject misery; they feel trapped in a cage of never-ending unhappiness.

Many wake up wishing they hadn’t. Each day is emotionally traumatic and they do not even entertain the possibility of their lives getting better; they have no iota of hope that the situation they find themselves in will ever improve.

In trying to understand the mindset of a suicidal person, I imagine that it is like having your finger stuck in a flame. No matter how hard you try to pull the finger out of the fire, you cannot. You are in such torturous pain, and so desperate for the agony to stop, that you want to kill yourself to get blessed relief. You see no other option.

But their excruciating pain is not physical – it is emotional.

They are enveloped in the flames of relentless despair and hopelessness; some try to dull the pain through alcohol, drugs or unsavory distractions and behaviors. But all they manage to achieve is a temporary respite. Their finger is still in the fire and they face endless years of torment. I believe the fuel feeding this flame is a deep sense of worthlessness, an overwhelming belief that they are perpetual losers; thus they see no point in even trying to strive for success, be it socially, financially or spiritually.

They have given up, believing they have failed and will continue to do so. They feel like caged gerbils on an exercise wheel, running and running and running to no avail – as hard as they try, they get nowhere.

Sadly, the “oxygen” that feeds this extreme sense of inadequacy is often supplied by those who should have been building their egos and fortifying their sense of self, planting and nurturing the seeds of confidence and self-like that would bloom into a happy, optimistic, and emotionally healthy human being. These include mothers and fathers, siblings, spouses, teachers, neighbors, friends, colleagues, employers – even strangers.

Constant, unrelenting criticism, denigration, and belittling – whether unintentional (in a misguided attempt to motivate you to do better academically, improve your job performance, or your looks,) or deliberate – bullies trying to shore up their own low self-esteem by mocking, teasing, and even physically hurting someone they perceive to be a bigger “loser” than themselves – whittles away a person’s belief that he is worthful (as opposed to worthless) and deserving of respect.

Individually, every put down or jab is just a single straw, but thousands of these straws piling up over the years can crush the strongest back and break the sturdiest spirit.

(I remember when I was little and would walk down the street, an elderly neighbor who often sat on his porch, would call out to me, “Hey fatty!” I was a bit chubby, but what did he gain by denigrating me? I was too much of a tomboy to care how I looked, but it was a negative straw nonetheless.)

Cheryl Kupfer

‘I Celebrate Your Holy Name’

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

I am postponing the follow-up to my previous column – “Technology, Yom Kippur, Ahmadinejad” – so that I might share with you a very personal experience.

As most of you know, in the final days of Pesach, while speaking in San Diego, I sustained a severe hip injury that required immediate surgery. While three of my fractures healed, the fourth did not. Every time I took a step (despite my constant companion, the cane), I was in pain.

To be sure, I continued with my normal schedule of speaking and teaching. My trips abroad, however, had to be put on hold.

For example, I had been scheduled to speak in France where I was especially anxious to address the Jewish community of Toulouse, the site of that horrific massacre of a rabbi and three children by a Muslim fanatic. We had planned to have a mass gathering of the Jewish community during which I was to present the widow of the rabbi with a Hineni medallion symbolizing that her pain was the pain of Am Yisrael.

From Toulouse I was scheduled to go to Marseille, Lyon, Paris, and Budapest, but all those events had to be rescheduled.

As the weeks and months flew by, it became apparent that more surgery would be required. The operation was to take place on October 10and I asked one and all to pray for me. In our computerized world, the Internet makes such requests an instant happening. I received calls, letters and e-mails for a refuah sheleimah from every part of the globe. I felt blessed and strengthened in the knowledge that my brethren were praying for me and wishing me well.

There were those who asked why I shared such private concerns with the public. My answer was simple: “The Power Of Prayer.”

Yes, I have witnessed the power of prayer many times. With my own eyes I have seen that when all else fails, when the skeptics declare the situation is irredeemable, the miracle of prayer turns everything around. We, the Jewish people, never give up. Our strength, our might, is in the voice of Jacob, the voice of prayer. That still small voice can vanquish all. With words that emanate from our inner hearts, we storm the Heavens and open gates that even the best locksmiths cannot open.

That is why I went public.

Though all was in place and I was scheduled for surgery, in my inner heart I was hoping for a miracle.

Even as I write this, I must tell you I fully realize that everything in life is miraculous. To undergo surgery and emerge in good health is itself an awesome miracle. I recall witnessing a car accident some years ago while walking to shul. It was a frightening sight and I davened for the man’s refuah sheleimah. A bystander, visibly shaken, said to me in Yiddish: “Rebbetzin, people think you have to go to a rebbe for a berachah to find a shidduch, parnassah, and so on, but truth be told, you have to go for a berachah simply to go forth from your home and return in one piece!”

So yes, everything is a miracle. Everything is under the guidance of Hashem.

In our morning prayers, when we bless G-d Who resurrects the dead, in that very same berachah we also praise His name for the miracle of rain. At first glance, this is difficult to understand. Can resurrection be compared to rainfall? Of course it can! Our sages juxtapose the two blessings so that we may forever bear in mind that one miracle is the same as the other, the only difference being our perception of the events. Rain is common – we witness it regularly, so we do not see anything unusual or miraculous about it. Resurrection, on the other hand, is something we never experience and therefore the whole concept is miraculous.

As I mentioned above, I am very much aware that all is miraculous, including successful surgery. Just the same, I beseeched G-d for a miracle that all would see and identify with the power of prayer. I was yearning to continue reaching out with the teachings of our Torah to our people in all the lands of our dispersion. I asked G-d that He heal me naturally, without human intervention.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

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.

Moshe Feiglin

‘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.

Cheryl Kupfer

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.

Eliyahu Federman

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).

Tzvi Fishman

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