Sharing Pain

When he was a chosson, Rav Shneur Kotler, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah, visited his venerable grandfather, Rav Issur Zalman Meltzer, to receive his brachos before the chasunah. One can imagine the deep emotions of thankfulness that Rav Issur Zalman felt at the time. That he merited having such a distinguished grandson and that he was saved from the destruction of the European Jewish communities, and now he was about to start building a Toradike Yiddishe home of his own, filled the zaide’s heart with joy. After giving his ainikel his most heartfelt brachos, Rav Issur Zalman got up to escort him as he was leaving for America, where the chasunah would take place. He went outside and down a couple of steps with Rav Shneur, but then he stopped, said goodbye, and immediately returned to his home.

Some of the family members asked Rav Issur Zalman about this abrupt farewell. Why didn’t he accompany his grandson longer, as he did other guests? Rav Issur Zalman’s answer is so telling. It shows us his tzidkus and how sensitive we have to be about the feelings of others.

He quoted a Gemara (Megillah 28a): “Rav Zeira was asked by his talmidim how he merited to live such a long life. What special deeds did he perform to be granted such longevity? One of his merits was, ‘I never rejoiced at the misfortune of my friend.’” Why, Rav Issur Zalman wondered, is this an attribute? Were any person to be happy at someone else’s adversity, he would be considered a rasha. How, then, could this be considered a merit for Rav Zeira’s long life?

Rav Issur Zalman explained that Rav Zeira was saying that when another person was experiencing hardship, he so felt the friend’s pain that he did not rejoice in his own simchos. So deep was his feelings for another’s suffering that he could not enjoy his own happy event. This is the meaning of “I never rejoiced at the misfortune of my friends.” I never rejoiced in my own simcha when my friend was suffering hardship.

The tzaddik concluded, “As I went out to escort my grandson, who was about to travel and celebrate his wedding, I thought about all of the Yidden who were killed in the churban who would not be able to see their grandchildren walking down to the chupah, so I didn’t escort my ainikel for more than two steps in order to express my sharing in their grief that they would not be able to experience such a simcha.”

In a simcha vein, we find that when Hashem blessed Sarah Imeinu with a boy after so many years of being childless, many other women were blessed with children, many ill people were cured of their sickness, many tefillos of the needy were answered, and there was much rejoicing in the world (Rashi, Bereishis 21:6). Why did Hashem perform such yeshuos for everybody else? In what merit did they deserve this?

Rav Avrohom Pam explained that Hashem knew that Sarah felt the pain of each and every person who was suffering, and he knew that she wouldn’t be able to enjoy her own simcha as long as other people were in pain. He therefore brought yeshuos to many others so that Sarah Imeinu’s simcha would be complete.

In this week’s sedrah, we find the names of Binyomin’s ten sons: Bela, Becher, Ashbeil, Geira, Naaman, Eichi, Rosh, Mupim, Chupim, and Ard. What is the meaning of these curious names? In all of the years that Yosef was gone, his younger brother, Binyomin, did not take his mind off of him. In each one of these names, there is a connotation of sadness over Yosef. Bela, he was swallowed up amidst the nations. Becher, he was a firstborn to his mother. Ashbeil, Hashem put him in captivity. Geira, he lived in temporary dwellings, away from home. Naaman, he was especially pleasant. Achi and Rosh, he is my brother and my head. Mupim and Chupim, he did not see my chupah and I did not see his. Ard, he went down among the nations of the world (Sotah 36b).

The Ponovezher Rov, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, points out how much we should be amazed by Binyomin feeling the pain of his brother. The disappearance of his brother was constantly on his mind. During all these years that Yosef was missing, he never ceased to forget the tragedy, and constantly hoped and davened that he would return, so much so that with the birth of every one of his sons, a great personal simcha, he remembered the misfortune by naming each one of them after the loss.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz saw another angle here. That Binyomin would bemoan the fact that his brother couldn’t participate in his chasunah is understandable, because it put a damper on his own simcha. But that Binyomin would lament that he couldn’t take part in Yosef’s chasunah is a totally different level, because here he felt the pain of his brother’s simcha being lessened, to the extent that he named his son Chupim to constantly remember this.

Rav Boruch Frankel Tumim, the Boruch Ta’am, rov of Leibnick, was meshadeich one of his sons with the daughter of a wealthy family. Once, during the days preceding the chasunah, the mechutanim were in Leipnick and visited the rov. When they greeted him, they found him in a sad mood and he didn’t say much. They were afraid that perhaps he was having second thoughts about the shidduch, so they asked him about it. The rov answered that he was perfectly fine with the shidduch. It was just that a member of his kehillah was ill and the doctors couldn’t do much for him.

Seeing how troubled he was, they were sure that the sick man was one of the pillars of the community. “Is he a rov or a rosh yeshiva,” they asked, “or perhaps one of the wealthy people of the community?”

“It is the town’s shoemaker,” answered the rov.

“Nu, nu,” said the mechutan. “Because the shoemaker is sick, it pays to be so upset?!”

“Now I want to break the shidduch,” said the rov. “If people could be so callous that they don’t feel the pain of even the simplest Jew, then this shidduch is not for us.”

During World War I, when the Chofetz Chaim and his family fled Radin, the Chofetz Chaim’s rebbetzin noticed one night that he was sleeping on the floor. In the morning, she asked him about it and he answered, “A sizable number of Yidden have been uprooted from their homes. Many of them don’t have a roof over their heads or a bed to sleep in. How, then, can I enjoy the comfort of a bed when my brothers and sisters are suffering?”

How do we survive in golus, especially in these turbulent times? How did Klal Yisroel survive through the generations, a lone sheep surrounded by seventy wolves? Of course it had much to do with Hashgocha from Above and the power of tefillah. But there was another key factor involved as well.

When Yosef finally revealed himself to his brothers, we learn, “Then he fell upon his brother Binyomin’s neck and Binyomin wept upon his neck” (Bereishis 45:14). Rashi says that Yosef cried over the two Botei Mikdosh that were in the portion of Binyomin that would eventually be destroyed, and Binyomin cried over Mishkan Shiloh, which would be in Yosef’s land and would eventually be destroyed. After all these years of not seeing each other and then finally reuniting, one would think that Yosef and Binyomin would be ecstatic. Yet, here they were, crying for a tragedy that did not yet occur. Why?

The shevotim paved the way for future generations in golus. What they did is a lesson for all of us on how to survive. Yosef and Binyomin realized that this moment would bring them all to go down to Mitzrayim with their families. This was the beginning of golus. If so, the only way to endure the exile is if we are b’achdus and feel each other’s pain. In fact, the suffering in golus would bring Klal Yisroel together, as they would perceive their brethren’s needs and help each other out.

The world is one big mussar sefer. By observing what goes on around us and giving it some thought, we can grow considerably in our ruchniyus. It used to be that politics were based on principles, a genuine belief in what is best for running the country. There were always differences of opinion and even the harsh biting words used against opponents when arguing about which path to take. Then, in later years, one heard that before major elections, each party was doing extensive research. For what? On how to best serve their constituents? No. They were trying to dig up as much dirt to embarrass and demean the opposition.

Nowadays, one would never guess that the two parties are part of one union and should be working together to see how they can better the country. They display such open disdain for one another. Not a day goes by without some accusation against the opposition, and the news media is only too happy to fan the flames of contrived scandals and trivialities. This is “gutter politics” at its worst, and just when you think they have reached rock-bottom, they manage to descend to a new lower level. Of course, this has such a negative impact on the citizens. Not only does it compromise their tranquility, but it has brought about a total mistrust of government and politicians. And we, who observe how repugnant this breach in society is, must conduct ourselves in the opposite extreme, eschewing this ugly selfishness and promoting achdus.

How much time do we spend thinking about the needs of our friends, our neighbors, and members of our community? And if we have indeed given it some thought, how much are we willing to invest to do something about it? There are so many people in need today, whether financially or in shidduchim. Some have difficulties raising their children, and very often an outside hand can be a yeshuah for them. Some have health issues and could use help. Others feel isolated socially and can use some friendship. And many are the people who can use a listening ear to share in their burden.

By standing up to the call and acting, we can do much to help our brethren survive in golus. In this merit, we will shorten the golus by bringing the geulah soon.