“Look at me. You’re just focusing on the problem! If you focus on the problem you can’t see the solution! Never focus on the problem, look at me…You’ll see what no one else sees! You’ll see what everyone else chooses not to see, out of fear, conformity or laziness. You’ll see the whole world anew each day! “–Patch Adams
“They say I gotta learn, but nobody’s here to teach me. If they can’t understand it, how can they reach me? I guess they can’t, I guess they won’t, I guess they front,; that’s why my life is out of luck, fool!” –Coolio, Gangsta’s Paradise
It was the most tragic time in his life. Everything had seemed to have fallen apart. His kids were dead. His wealth was gone. His own wife was mocking his faith in G-d. Even his body had seemed to have turned on him, giving him sleepless nights and burning, torturous sores that gave him no respite. His friends came to comfort him in silence. Then they began talking. A lot. Only to rub salt into Job’s already potent wounds.
The interesting thing about the book of Job is that while this basically sums up the conversations between Job and his friends in several chapters of the book, we seem to be given every speech of the friends. Indeed, if one reads them without bias, one could even find great wisdom, beauty and even comfort in some of the things that Job’s friends say. There is a reason that so many chapters are filled with the speeches of Job’s friends. Yet, it would seem that for all of the wisdom and logic that they shared as to how to fix Job’s problem, it was only more painful for Job. You can’t comfort a grieving person with logic and rebuke, especially one who is in serious physical pain and is essentially under duress.
While this sounds like common sense, often times I’m daunted at how often we, upon hearing of someone’s pain, will give a simple answer that we think solves all their problems. For me personally, at one point when I was in what I’d consider some pretty heavy emotional pain over a certain issue, I was presented with a Halachic technicality from a friend and told not to worry about it. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes some such answers actually work. Other times, however, when someone is in so much pain…
Returning to Job, I honestly have to wonder, what would it have been like had Avraham Avinu been there? What would he have have said to Job? Would he even have said anything to Job at all?
In analyzing Avraham Avinu, we look in the book of Genesis and find a man of astounding action. In the ancient Middle East, he was what we could call by today’s standards a “Renaissance Man.” He traveled throughout the ancient civilized Middle East, from Ur which was one of the most advanced metropolises in ancient Mesopotamia, to Haran, a city along the trade routes and bordering the Hittite Empire in now modern Turkey, residing in ancient Egypt (The most advanced ancient civilization), and of course finally, living among the conglomerate of world-trade city states in Canaan. He fought in a great war with only three hundred soldiers at his side against a coalition army of huge numbers and was victorious. His hospitality and compassion for others was infinite, as we can see in his prayers for mercy of Sodom and Gomorrah. When looking at the book of Genesis, Avraham seems to be looked upon as a Bedouin prince. Everywhere he went, leaders of nations saw him as someone worth their time to speak with.
According to the Rambam’s Laws of Avodah Zarah 1:2-3, Avraham had hundreds if not thousands of students. What was it that drew people to this spiritual powerhouse? Moreover, what gave him the ability to have the strength to care for all of these people? Where did all of this action come from? What was Avraham’s ultimate motivation to this great ability?
In some ways, I believe that Avraham Avinu had something that is lost to us these days. The ability to see past the problem to the person.
To illustrate this, let’s imagine a beautiful soul up in heaven about to come down to earth. This soul tells G-d, “I want to make a better world for You! I want to make Your creation more beautiful! Please send me down so that I may have an effect and make a difference!” The soul is then sent down, forgets this great Divine conversation that he had like every one of us does, is born into a particularly difficult environment–and becomes Sadaam Hussein. Or perhaps a gang banger, a drug addict, a serial rapist; someone by society’s normal standards who is so messed up that there almost seems to be no hope.
Avraham Avinu was able to look past all of this. He didn’t look at the problem, he looked at the person. He looked at the soul in his inner world and saw someone who needed love. As a father of a nation himself, he was able to look at everyone around him like a good father–often those who simply embraced evil and acted out in the dirtiest of deeds–and not see enemies, but beautiful soul sparks from G-d. As one friend of mine put it, “Avraham Avinu didn’t really want to convert anyone, he just wanted to love them.”
The late Rabbi Adin Steinsalzt, may his neshamah receive an aliyah, writes potently in his blog “Who Will be Our Rabbis? (Where are the Rabbis Who Care about the Prostitutes of Tel Baruch Beach?)” thus:
“My sandak, Rabbi Avraham Chen, wrote a very emotional book about his father, Rabbi David Zvi Chen, who was a great man in many ways and the rabbi of Chernigov, in the Ukraine. In this book he relates how a young man came to his father to register for marriage. While formally examining his documents, Rabbi Chen discovered that the young man, who was also a Torah scholar, was actually a mamzer. There was not a shadow of a doubt in his mind that this man was indeed a mamzer. It was not even a question. He held the papers in his hand, and the young man, who realized that something was amiss, asked: “Rabbi, what about my match?” and the Rabbi said: “It cannot be.” The young man said: “I understand that there is a reason why this match cannot work, so what do you suggest I do?” At that point the rabbi had to reveal to him that the match could not be, not because the specific bride was unworthy of him, but because, being a mamzer, he could not marry at all. At this point, the son discloses that eventually he found the young man sitting in the rabbi’s lap and both were weeping.
“This is the kind of rabbi I am looking for. Rabbi Chen did not suggest a solution for that young man’s problem, because there was no solution, nor was he the kind of person who would contrive a solution for a person born of a forbidden union. But he wept together with him. He wept because he was a “head”; and he felt the terrible pain of the young man who would never be able to have a family of his own, just as he would feel a pain in his own body. For a pain, even in the smallest of fingers, is felt first of all in the brain.
We must find a person who is a head, one who can feel the pains of the public as well as of the individual and uplift them, one who can cry over the sorrows and tribulations of the Jews both to God and together with other people, and occasionally also participate in the joys of his fellow Jews.” (Who will be our rabbis? | Adin Steinsaltz | The Blogs (timesofisrael.com))
Thus in looking at Avraham Avinu, of whom we could call the spiritual leader of his generation, it would be fair to assume that had he been there with Job he probably would not have said much, if anything at all. He would have cried with him, and by far, more than he would have talked, he would have listened. For most of us Halachic problem solvers who excel in dealing with simple logistics, this idea may come as foreign to us on some level. And yet, it is indeed this type of Hesed (Loving-kindness) of Avraham Avinu that truly ties us all together in friendship and strengthens our unity–because so often we just want to be understood when in pain.
Without this type of hesed, we would be destined to lose our national connection to each other, G-d forbid. Should we excel in this, we become not only a light to each other, but also a “light unto the nations,” because before Avraham Avinu–the man of great action–began his outer acts of hesed towards those all around him and the rest of the world, he started from inside of himself, by having a feeling “heart of flesh” for the soul sparks around him.
As a disclaimer, I would say that often times, yes. There are mental health issues in which a therapist is needed. Often times, should we embrace this type of hesed in our lives, we must be careful not to be too naive lest we be taken advantage of. Nevertheless, often what people need these days more than a psychologist or someone to prescribe pills, is someone to be a friend on a bad day.
This is the hesed of Avraham. And because of it, just like it happened in the book of Genesis, an incredible spiritual revolution began that continues to shape the world today.
May we embrace this inner hesed of Avraham, our father.