Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Time to Advise or a Time to Listen

My friend and I were absorbed in an intimate discussion when a knock at the door interrupted us. Holding a blue aerogram my friend’s neighbor was clearly upset. The letter from America contained the news that her mother had diverticulitis.

“That’s nothing to worry about,” I breezily dismissed her concerns. “My father has had it for years. My mother-in-law, too. It means they can’t eat popcorn or nuts.”

“Really?” The neighbor seemed reassured and once she left my friend and I returned to our conversation.

Obviously that was years ago since very few write letters today. Looking back with the wisdom of time I wonder how comforting my words really were. Perhaps the neighbor was far less concerned about medical facts and wanted some emotional support about living so far away from her family

Through the years I’ve lost contact with my friend and long ago forgot what was so important about our conversation. What I do remember is that some ten years afterwards my mother, may she rest in peace, died of diverticulitis. An infection causing severe stomach pains made emergency surgery a necessity. And though it was a relatively minor operation my mother’s emphysema precluded her ability to come off the respirator following the procedure. A month later she died of pneumonia. I wonder how I would have reacted then if someone had told me diverticulitis was nothing to worry about. It’s so easy to downplay the emotional anguish of others.

For decades Israel has suffered from random acts of terror and the world has preached restraint to us. Now, sadly, that terror is becoming common worldwide. It’s easy for us to think we’re the experts on dealing with violence.

Recently there have been several cartoons on facebook giving out advice. One has Prime Minister Netanyahu telling President Hollande to make peace with ISIS and give them half of France. Intellectually I can appreciate the sarcastic humor. That peace plan is as realistic as the two-state solution for the Middle East. On an emotional level, though, I’m uncomfortable when we’re not more sensitive to the suffering of others.  
Most of us have a strong desire to fix problems. Sometimes, though, those in pain just need the time and space to moan and groan. Soon the Jewish people will be sitting on the ground crying and mourning the destruction of our Holy Temple. Throughout the centuries there are those who have told us to stop wallowing in our grief and get on with our lives and we refused to listen to them.

There’s a story about Napoleon walking with his aides somewhere in France on the night of the ninth of Av. He passed a synagogue and heard weeping from those inside. Puzzled he asked what they were lamenting. “Tonight is Tisha B’Av,” he was told. “The Jews are mourning the loss of their Temple.”

Napoleon was stunned. He hadn’t heard of any temple destruction. Then his aides explained that it had happened over two thousand years earlier. Even more stunned Napoleon expressed the famous sentiment that if we could cry and mourn for so long we would surely be rewarded with our own land restored to us and our Temple.   

Instead of playing down our pain, like I did with my friend’s neighbor, Napoleon respected it. Half of his words have come true. Our land has been restored to us. Soon, I pray, the rest of his words will become a reality as the Holy Temple is rebuilt. 

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