shmuley boteach 88.
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Every day I receive emails from people communicating their personal problems. They write of broken marriages, children who won't speak to them, parents who have never shown them affection. The tone of anguish in these letters is unmistakable and excruciating. You can feel the pain pouring through the words. The writers want me to figure out how to make the situation right so the pain will go away.
I once tried to respond to the majority of these emails. But as the volume increased, I found it difficult to respond to more than a few. Still they would come, and I would peruse them and decide which two or three I would answer.
Then I began to notice something happening as I glanced at these anguished pleas for help. I was no longer feeling the pain of the writers. The personal nature of the emails was being lost to me. Indeed, many represented a nuisance, since they got in the way of the many responsibilities I had.
THEN ONE day I had a fight with my wife. She and I love each other deeply, and, thank God, rarely argue. But this was a notable exception as we wounded each other intensely, neither prepared to retreat from cutting and hurtful words.
I walked away from the fight numb with pain. My heart was in so much pain that it went into shock from the trauma and lost its ability to feel any emotion. It had become stone.
It was the loneliest feeling of my life. I was desperate for someone to pity me. But since fighting with my principal comfort in life - my wife - was the source of my pain, I had no one to turn to for comfort.
I am blessed with many acquaintances, but not a lot of friends. To be sure, I agree with the proclamation of the Talmud that without friendship death is better than life. But with eight kids, many religious responsibilities, and a career which is all-encompassing, something's got to give, and it is mostly friendship and socializing that I have been forced to cut out. This only magnified the depth of my despair.
IT WAS at that moment that my mind turned back to all the emails I receive. I thought of how I had closed my heart to them. Each writer was God's child, but I had not found the time to take away even a granule of their pain. And yet the knowledge that they were out there, and that they, and they alone, understood the depth of my despair, was the only comfort I could find. Their existence was what sustained me.
I vowed that when I came out of the all-enveloping gloom that consumed me I would fight with my nature to always have an understanding heart and devote myself even more to those in crisis.
Even as I write these words, I cannot guarantee that I will fulfill my pledge. It is a poor excuse, I know, but I lack the discipline to necessarily carry it through. But of this I am certain: The memory of the pain I felt that day will never leave me and I will tap into its scar tissue to remind me of my obligation to my suffering fellow man.
EVERY DAY of our lives we come across acquaintances, family members and friends who are in unspeakable emotional pain from domestic strife. But it's a pain that often does not register with us, seeing as it does not involve the death of a spouse or extreme bodily injury. We trivialize this suffering even as the sufferers lose their sanity because they have no shalom in their homes.
Not wanting to be a nuisance to us, they wait for us to inquire as to their dejected state. We indulge them with a light sprinkling of interest by asking a perfunctory question or two, because we do care - just not enough to truly invest ourselves in helping them. And yet alleviating their pain could be as simple as lending a sympathetic ear and an empathetic heart. The most passive effort, like simply nodding acquiescence as they share their trauma, is enough to validate their pain and offer a horizon of hope.
These people are not necessarily looking for answers. In many cases, people with significant personal problems already know what they must do to make the situation better. Rather, they need to know that the world is not all pain, that there are people who care and even strangers who see the depth of their anguish.
WHEN I lived in Israel as a yeshiva student I loved and was close to an uncle named David. He nurtured me like a father and loved me like a son. After my two years of study there finished, he lit up like a firework display whenever I would come to Israel to visit.
But then a personal problem began to affect his life. He turned to me for support on my regular visits, but after a while the exposure to a problem I felt I could not help with became a terrible burden. Whenever he brought up the issue, I changed the subject. I came to Israel for inspiration, not depression. So I pretended not to see his distress and let him down.
A few years later my beloved uncle passed away. He died without my comfort. When our son was born last year, I named him David in my uncle's loving memory. But it was second-tier compensation for a monumental omission of life. And all I had to do was listen.
In our current state of human development it remains unclear whether we will correct one of life's greatest tragedies, namely, the inability to appreciate a blessing until it is lost.
Somehow we need to go forth as one human family to comfort each other and support one another through pain. If you have a friend who is recently divorced, go and comfort him or her. If you know a woman whose marriage has ended and who is raising her children alone, give her some support and reassurance. And if you know a man who senselessly argues with his wife or she with him, endeavor to make peace between them.
You will make the world a brighter place, and God will smile upon you.
The writer's Web site is: www.shmuley.com