When I was 8 years old, I needed to have an operation to correct a hernia. I remember davening at home with my father in the wee hours of the morning and then heading to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital, the receptionist looked at me and exclaimed, “This is the infant?” Apparently, they had written down that I was an infant, and that’s what they were expecting. Thankfully they found an empty bed and I didn’t have to use the crib they had prepared.
I also remember the nurse placing a mask on my face, and thinking that it smelled funny. I also was quite sure that it wasn’t helping me fall asleep because I wasn’t feeling the least bit tired. But that’s the last thing I remember before being back in the room where my parents were anxiously waiting for me.
For the duration of that day, my parents switched off sitting at my bedside. My mother read me the entire Frankenstein while I listened from my hospital bed. Thankfully, I was able to come home that afternoon.
Shortly after Pesach a few months ago, our 12-year-old daughter Aviva had surgery on her hand, which she broke doing gymnastics the Wednesday night before Pesach. Although it was set and casted in the emergency room the night she broke it, on a subsequent visit to the doctor a few hours before Pesach the doctor informed us that it wasn’t healing properly and she would need surgery.
On the morning of the surgery, I woke up early with Aviva and brought her to the hospital for pre-op. Chani arrived while Aviva was in surgery (it was the first day back to school after Pesach for our other children). We were both there when she woke up from surgery, and, thankfully, Aviva was home by midday and, baruch Hashem, has healed well.
Despite the fact that when Aviva went in for surgery Chani and I were not in physical pain, it was far more challenging to send her into surgery than it was for me to undergo surgery myself. As any parent can testify, seeing one’s own child in pain is the most difficult experience for a parent.
It reminded me of a powerful thought I heard on Tisha b’Av morning a year ago. In Camp Dora Golding, Rabbi Noach Sauber, camp’s learning director, introduced kinot by relating the following:
Before Tisha b’Av, a group of women from the camp families had viewed a lecture given by Mrs. Gayle Sassoon, the mother who lost seven children in a devastating fire in spring of 2016, rachmana litzlan. After the lecture ended, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and it was dead quiet for a few moments. Then, one of the women turned to another and remarked, “Can you imagine the pain Hashem felt when He needed to cause that to happen?”
It’s an extraordinarily poignant and very true perspective. We don’t often think about suffering and pain from that vantage point. We know that Hashem is rachum v’chanun erech apayim v’rav chesed (compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundance of kindness). Can we imagine how difficult it is for Him when He causes us to suffer, based on His Divine reasons?
Rabbi Sauber then added that Tisha b’Av is a day of tragedy for Hashem! Hashem is crying over the losses of His House, of His People and of that intimate closeness. Every iota of pain and suffering we feel is magnified before the King of Kings, as it were.
If it was so challenging for us to watch our beloved child endure surgery, even though we were fairly confident all would go well, how much harder is it for Hashem every time He sends His nation, or any individual, for “surgery”!
And if we didn’t leave Aviva’s bedside for a moment, despite the fact that there were wonderful nurses all around us, can we imagine that it is any different with our eternal and ultimate parent?!
Although we have such an incredible amount of blessing in our lives, we hear about pain and anguish way too often. In just the past few days we are reeling from the death of a beautiful 7-year-old who drowned last week, a family losing a married son after losing another son years ago, and yet another savage terrorist attack at a shalom zachor in Eretz Yisrael, to name just a few.
But above all our pain is the pain of Hashem, Who is surely waiting—more than any of us—to fulfill His promise (Yeshaya 25:8), “And Hashem, Elokim, will abolish tears from upon all faces, and the guilt of His Nation He will remove from upon the earth, for Hashem has spoken.”
When that happens, we will merit the ultimate fulfillment of the cherished words of the haftarah: Nachamu, nachamu ami—Be Consoled, be consoled, My nation!”
By Rabbi Dani Staum
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead as well as a rebbe and the guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is: [email protected]. His website is: www.stamtorah.info.