I wonder if others have had this experience, too.
Before Tish’ah B’Av, I was listening to a lecture about the importance of being nosei b’ol im chaveiro (sharing the burden with one’s friend). Essentially, it refers to our obligation to empathize with the plight of others. In some instances, it motivates us to do all we can to help alleviate the pain of others, while in other situations it at least ensures that those going through challenges don’t feel alone, but that there are those who care about their plight.
But, it goes beyond even that. On a metaphysical level, our feeling and sharing the pain of others demonstrates to Hashem that we care about our brethren, an important key to bringing about the future redemption.
The renowned speaker shared some incredible anecdotes that demonstrate the unparalleled love and care that great Torah leaders have even for strangers, including that a gadol couldn’t sleep or eat normally because he was so disturbed by the pain of others.
How does he always exude so much simchah despite all the tragedies he is privy to?
But the strange thing was, the more I listened to those stories the more deflated I felt. Instead of being inspired, I felt dejected. I have a hard enough time balancing all of the responsibilities in my own life. Am I obligated to strive to fully internalize the pain of others? If I am, how can I ever be happy and dance at a wedding or appreciate a sunny day, when there is so much suffering and sadness in this world?
I reminded myself of a conversation I had with our family’s rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Schabes. Rabbi Schabes is not just a scholar and rabbi of note, but also a selfless person who gives freely of his time for the needs of klal Yisrael, well beyond those of his own k’hilah. I am constantly astounded when I hear from numerous friends and acquaintances that when there were communal issues or personal struggles, they turned to Rabbi Schabes for advice, even though he is not their “rabbi.” I cannot understand where he has the time in his day for his k’hilah, the multitudes of others who seek his counsel, and to prepare and give drashos and shiurim.
Throughout the years, whenever we have met privately with Rabbi Schabes to consult with him about various family matters, he always gives us his full attention, as if nothing else was going on. The only interruption is from the incessant buzzing of his phone, which indicates that there are plenty of other matters vying for his attention beyond our meeting.
I once asked Rabbi Schabes how he is able to deal with all of the painful stories he hears on a constant basis. How does he always exude so much simchah despite all the tragedies he is privy to?
He replied that when one hears painful news, and surely when one is listening to another relate a personally painful experience, at that time he is obligated to try to be nosei b’ol and empathize with true care. Then when he davens, he should include heartfelt prayers on behalf of the suffering person and his situation. But beyond that, one must live his own life, and cannot allow himself to be overwhelmed by the suffering of others.
(Of course, that doesn’t include doing what one can on behalf of the person. This only refers to one’s emotional investment. Rabbi Schabes noted that he believes that he heard this perspective in the name of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l.)
When my rebbe related to me this idea, I was very much moved. I suggested that it’s a mitzvah to publicize it to others in order to alleviate the needless guilt many of us feel that we are not nosei b’ol. He nodded affirmatively.
It is no small order to truly empathize with another when he is sharing his pain and you have other things to do. Nor is it easy to remember his plight when you are davening, to add t’filos on his behalf. But if one has done so, he has fulfilled his obligation to be nosei b’ol. At that point, he should strive to be b’simchah with the feeling of the words we say in bentching: “And for all, Hashem our G-d, we thank You and bless You…”
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking for “instant inspiration” on the parshah in under minutes? Follow him on Torahanytime.com.