Are there any benefits to pain and suffering?
This is a question at the heart of the book Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe (William Morrow, 1995), adapted by Simon Jacobson based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory. The response to the question is as follows:
Pain and suffering are opportunities to challenge the way we look at life. When things are going well, we tend to take life for granted, but trauma brings us to the edges of life, allowing us to view it from a new, revealing angle.
So the real question we must ask is not just why we sometimes feel such acute pain, but what we are meant to learn from it?
And according to the Lubavitcher Rebbe “We must translate pain into action, and tears into growth” — The Rebbe
My own personal journey- the Rebbe as my guide and mentor
On November 1, 2015, 19th of Cheshvan, 5776, I attended a Chabad sponsored lecture, the subject of which was the Rebbe’s perspectives on the Akedat Yitzhak. As would be anticipated, the discussion turned to how did Avraham as a parent and as a servant of Hashem deal with such a test/sacrifice as Hashem demanded of him?
As I left the lecture, I entered a pitch black area and proceeded to lose my footing and fell and dislocated and fractured my left shoulder. I have never experienced physical pain as I did that night being transferred from the trauma Terem (Emergency) Center by ambulance to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem for treatment.
Upon meeting the orthopedic surgeon, I was informed that the first treatment was incapacitation for three weeks 24/7 with a sling and then intensive physical therapy for an indefinite period of time to address the 24/7 unrelenting pain from the shoulder and sleepless nights. The period of recovery was left open from 6 months to a year and then??
At the time of the fall, I was involved in several Labors of Love, the most special of which was taking care of my two grandchildren for my working daughter (who resides in Efrat, Israel). Babysitting for my grandson, Tuvia Mair ben Leah Ayalet, is a particular joy because he experienced a very traumatic birth 18 months ago and a stay in the intensive newborn care section of Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. During those difficult days, I spent hours with him singing, caressing, and bonding in an extraordinary way, and our special relationship continued afterwards with my twice to thrice weekly babysitting time. At the time of the fall, the only initial reaction was how is this fall going to impact my babysitting, and I informed the doctors that they had to help me so that I could take care of my grandchildren! One can easily understand how distraught I was when I learned about the severity of the fracture and not being able to pick up my grandson for an extended period of time.
Another immediate challenge related to physical limitations associated with facilitating workshops for marriage education that I was conducting on behalf of the non profit Together in Happiness/B’Yachad B’Osher (that I started in memory of my beloved parents, Feigel bat Tuvia Nisan and Esir ben Avraham Benyamin). The relentless pain from the fall and need for medical treatment and physical therapy prevented me from active planning and implementation of the workshops.
Out of Mitzrayim to Freedom
The sudden change of bad fortune all triggered by going to a Chabad lecture about the Rebbe, left me with what could only be described as a sea of emotions – surely the Rebbe had some positive role to play in this painful encounter and intuitively this pain had to be translated into action immediately or I could easily sink into self pity and what is worse lead to questions about Hashem and his system of injustice.
So how have I been able to cope with the situation and discover the path out of my own Mitzrayim to the road to Freedom?
What has been actually required in retrospect is the adoption of the attitude described by Rabbi Ari Shishler in his talk Passover: The Urgency of Personal Growth – and that is the necessity for maintaining a sense of URGENCY and to act NOW. It is due to this admonition that I immediately started the full Project Holistic Healing to help expedite the recovery from the shoulder injury.
The other major influence has came from the Alter Rebbe and the daily study of the Tanya I have undertaken as part of the Chabad Daily Torah Study regimen. The Rebbe’s focus on the challenges of depression and necessity for maintaining focus on the performance of mitzvoth (positive commandments) with total concentration and dedication has served as a catalyst for me to find light even during dark moments!!!
In addition, I have been fortunate to identify on the internet and elsewhere a number of sources and healers who have been lamplighters for helping my rehabilitation on every level – physical, emotional, mentally and spiritually, and they continue as beacons of light to help make my journey the most meaningful one of my life. These resources are identified in Appendices A and B.
I hope others who have had injuries and incidents of a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual nature will use this blog as a spiritual guide for their own project holistic healing and see that with the right mentors you too can find your own healing oasis.
Project Holistic Healing
The first decision was the necessity to push life aside and devote all my resources no matter how much time was required to Project holistic healing which would entail as its goal the refuah schlema (complete healing) in the physical, mental, emotional and most of all spiritual spheres. To achieve this goal, I identified the following objectives:
- to assemble the most experienced holistic physical team of experts
- to develop and effectuate an integrated philosophy of holistic healing – based on 3 simple mindsets
Objective #1: To assemble the most experienced holistic physical team of experts including:
Physical therapists including hydro therapists– it was critical to find the right physical therapist(s) who are not only experienced and versed in the particular type of injury that I had, but who would also serve as a psychologist, therapist, and in any other empathetic listener capacity that I thought I might require for the long rehab months that the healing requires. For the rest of the world, an injury may cause an initial rush to help, similar as one treats an illness. However, as the days go into months in rehabilitation, there tends to be a reduction in those (primarily due to lack of knowledge on the long rehab period required for healing) who recognize that you still require attention in the tender loving care department. I have been blessed with a physical therapist, Melanie Josman, and a hydro therapist, Eve Kelaty, both residing in Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel respectively, and they have been the primary reason that I have had the ongoing motivation to take on the grueling sessions and home exercises prescribed for healing.
Osteopath and Classical Homeopath – it is important to seek out those medical professionals who recognize that healing physically is more than a short checkup visit to examine the injured limbs, but one who treats the physical body as a whole and evaluates what is required for healing the physical and emotional combination. I was fortunate to find such an individual, Dr. Binyamin Rothstein, Osteopathic Physician, who as a Chabad osteopath has the perfect combination of talents to help guide the healing particularly necessary at the beginning of the journey when one is the most vulnerable to negative depression and dark moments. In turn, he directed me to Vera Resnick (IHM DHom Med (Lic), a Classical Homoeopath. Prior to meeting Vera, I had no knowledge and association with a Homeopath and she has added a dimension to my healing and journey that has resulted not only in physical healing, but also more awareness on so many levels of the possibilities that homeopathy has for the immune system and energy vitality.
Mental Wellbeing – a holistic healing would not be complete without the inclusion of a mental wellbeing specialist to help address those inevitable feelings of trauma anxiety accompanying a traumatic injury. My angel of mercy in this journey has been Dr. Miriam Adahan. Dr. Adahan is also known as Dr Love -Teacher, author (20 books) and lecturer with over 50 years of counseling experience. Throughout this journey, she has been a source of empathy, a fountainhead of knowledge and most of all a dear friend.
Objective #2: To develop an integrated philosophy of holistic healing based on 3 simple mindsets:
- Discover Joy In Suffering
Taking a cue from the words at the beginning regarding the purpose of pain, I set about to discover as many responses to pain as I could on a spiritual level and the list includes the articles and audio and video listed in Appendix A.
- Maintain a Happy, Positive and Optimistic outlook
After finding solace from all the sources mentioned in Appendix A, it was clear that unless I found a safe haven in terms of staying happy, positive and optimistic, I was going to fall prey to perhaps lapses into the world of depressed while trying to keep the joy side on high alert.
Likewise, I am adopting a happy outlook even when I am feeling pain, in memory of the Chabad Schlucha Rivky (Deren) Berman z”l whose life served as a blueprint for how to overcome challenges and lived her life with joy and perseverance.
Hence the journey took as its next mini assignment –
Sub project HPO – Happy Positive Optimistic
This sub project entailed exploring what the definition of Happiness/Simcha is in Jewish terms and why staying Positive and Optimistic is such a requirement for living a meaningful Jewish life. From exploration of the subject, three expressions identified by the masters became my mantra:
Think Positive it Will be Positive (advocated by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn, fifth Chabad Rebbe)
Everything Hashem Does is For the Good! (advocated by Rabbi Akiva)
This too is for the good! (advocated by Gam Zu l’Tova)
With these three mantras in my mind, the cavalry of people and resources who epitomized these mantras came quickly in the form of the articles and audio and video and books listed in Appendix B.
- Discover and Cultivate Mindfulness and Meditation and Living in the Present
What is mindfulness – according to the spiritual teacher Rabbi Laibl Wolf in the video Jewish Mindfulness, the definition is to live Deeper in the Moment. Rabbi Wolf provides a unique definition of the preferred state of living – which is vertical living – making time expand and live in the moment. Such mindfulness demands changes in perspectives at will as advocated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
This concept of being in the moment is summarized in an article entitled Be In the Moment by Rabbi Ben A. who states The Key to gaining the sensitivity to G‑d’s role in all of the details of your life is – trite as it may sound – to simply BE IN THE MOMENT.
Since the injury and especially during the time of intensive physical therapy, staying in the moment has afforded me the opportunity to block out negative voices that discourage physical progress as well as to remain focused on the idea of how far you have come instead of how far you still have to go.
Postscript and Conclusion: Turning Challenges into Opportunities
As a postscript, during this entire period of time, I have continued to babysit for my grandchildren discovering more creative ways to engage and care for them.
Regarding my workshops, I have taken a marketing course to explore more ways to conduct online I-PREP marriage education workshops. I have also produced a video of a workshop with Hebrew subtitles for couples to enjoy as a Date Night opportunity.
Throughout the entire rehabilitation period following my fall, I found myself experiencing a full range of emotions that is a work in progress with the goal to have a change in perspective as advocated by the Rebbe.
This approach demands a lot of vigilance to retain and build on the principles discussed in this blog –including sustaining joy without suffering and a focus on happiness, positivity and optimism and most of all staying In the Moment and making every moment count.
My hope is that others may benefit from my story and access the resources referenced in the appendices and the approach I have outlined in the blog, and experience a healing that will result in a rejuvenation of body and soul.
Susan Barth is founder of a nonprofit Together in Happiness dedicated in memory of her parents Esir ben Avraham Benjamin and Feigel bat Tuvia Nisan to promote marriage education for healthy and happy Jewish marriages using the curriculum of I-PREP (Israeli Prevention Education and Relationship Program). Susan made Aliyah with her family in 2003 and resides in Beit Shemesh.
Articles and audio and video related to Joy in Suffering:
Living in Tanya – The Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
Articles and audio and video and Books regarding the subject of Positivity:
שמחה The Chassidic Approach to Joy by Rabbi Shloma Majeski
Think Good It will be Good by Rabbi Shloma Majeski
Living a Significant Life by Rabbi Laibl Wolf
Happiness is a Serious Problem – Dennis Prager
Be Positive- Rabbi Pinchas Winston
You Can Heal Your Life – Louise Hays
Learned Optimism- Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD
Kabbalah Love Life Course- Rabbi Michael Zev Wineberg