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
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
"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...