Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Teves 5763 - December 18, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by A. Ross, M.Ed.

The Spartans were proverbial for their indifference to pain or death. They were trained to be tough, hardy, rigorous and frugal. There is an enormous difference between being stoic towards one's own pain and indifferent to the pain of others. Some of our Torah giants who were so sensitive to the feelings and pain of even complete strangers, certainly did not pamper their own bodies. Being human, they surely had the occasional headache or other ailment, but these are not usually mentioned in the published biographies. In fact, it is well known that many gedolim suffered severely in their lifetimes but they ignored their own infirmity and torment, and used all their time to learn Torah and to help the rest of humanity.

Jews in general are more prone to take illness, any illness, more seriously than their non-Jewish neighbors. If they have an ingrown toenail, they want a second opinion. If it is something slightly more serious, they will most likely seek out the greatest expert in the field. They will beggar themselves for their physical well-being.

In former years, a child with tonsillitis, or strep throat, was kept in bed for at least a week. A child who was running a fever was kept in bed for several days, even the day after the fever had gone down. Admittedly, in the days before antibiotics, parents had to take illnesses more seriously because complications were likely to lead to death. But antibiotics have been with us for over half a century now and we are not discussing serious illness. We are discussing the daily childhood woes. It is not a sign of indifference if a mother plants a kiss on a grazed knee, or on a scratched finger. It is not lack of love when a mother tells a child who complains of a stomachache to go and use the bathroom. She is showing the child that she sympathizes, but that he should now get on with life.

Some parents are stoics and in turn, try to inculcate stoicism into their offspring. Others have been reared on paracetamol and dole out medication at the slightest whimper. It is not a mitzva to suffer; on the other hand, a slight pain cannot really be called suffering. It can be ignored. Only who is to decide how severe the pain is and where another person's threshold of pain lies? Some people, and this includes very young people, that is, children, have a low pain threshold and feel they are dying when they have a sore throat. Others can be really quite ill and yet gasp that they are perfectly all right. Strangely, children in the same family fall into the two categories.

There are some people who were educated to be Spartans but who have gone to the other extreme as they mature. The doctor is consulted for every trivial malaise, for themselves and their children, and their medicine cupboards are well stocked. These people may have siblings who approve of their own parents' cavalier attitude and pass on this same attitude to the new generation.

One young man who had been educated to make light of his ailments, charged his parents with the idea that this training had taught him to be insensitive. It had taught him to belittle other people's troubles. He is in a position of authority and many people come to him for advice. If a man comes to complain that his wife has dented the car for the second or third time and that he is beside himself in fury, this advisor can hardly bring himself to sympathize. He feels it is unimportant and blames his early education for his insensitivity.

Yanky fell down and grazed his knee. His mother picked up the bawling child, dabbed a kiss on the wound, and the child stopped crying immediately. Her friend who was with her remarked that she was insensitive to her children's woes.

When a devastated teenage daughter came from school with a 75% on a test instead of the expected 95%, Mother asked mildly, "Does it matter? You tried and didn't do so well. Next time, please G-d, you will do better." The daughter thought to herself, "Doesn't she care?"

Is it better for a child if the mother leaps up and expresses great shock and consternation when he falls off a chair? Is it insensitive to pick up the child without any sign of shock, kiss him and then distract him after a hug? Is it heartless and unfeeling if a mother tries to help a child overcome some tiff with a best friend rather than immediately taking her own child's side? There are many situations each day where one can stay calm and defuse the situation, or one can add fuel to the potential blaze. It is elementary that the child, small or big, feels important, and knows that all his afflictions matter to his nearest and dearest. Love is the most essential ingredient in a child's development. Nevertheless, one can express love both physically and verbally, frequently at every opportunity, without making too much of adversities. Different children want different expressions of love. Some like hugs or a short touch, some like constant kisses, and others prefer not to be touched, but still want Mother's assurance verbally that they are beloved.

"They" say that Chassidim have more heart, and that Yekkes [or the English, Mrs. Ross] are cold and uncaring. Is that really a fact, or do Yekkes hide their feelings and just keep a stiff upper lip? Furthermore, people change and their attitudes change. As they gain more experience, they might become more caring, or learn that showing less concern is more valuable at the time. A person also gets his priorities straighter as he gains experience, and learns to sympathize without exaggerating the situation.

It would be interesting to hear readers' [American, English and otherwise] opinions...


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