William Hamilton

When somebody’s in pain

Israel has two memorial days. The first, for the six million, is about the cost of not having a State. The second, for the soldiers, is about the cost of having one. 

I thank Ben Chartock for sharing this powerful framing with KI’s morning minyan last Friday. A week later, today, we find ourselves perched between these two days. Having remembered the Holocaust last Tuesday, this coming Tuesday, Israel’s Memorial Day, will offer a solemn entry into her 75th Birthday. 

It’s been a dream come true to share this week in Israel with the more than 300 hundred participants in CJP’s Spark Mission, Co-Chaired by KI’s inspiring leader, Geraldine Acuna Sunshine. I’ve been spending most of my time with first-time visitors in their twenties and thirties. They are theologically thirsty. Highly interested, open, and curious. 

Earlier today in Jerusalem’s Old City, one of the participants who isn’t sure what she believes about God, noted how powerful it was to be at the Western Wall. “I suppose I can look for God anywhere,” she said, “but taking a more concentrated look feels common here.”

Concentrated looks are a big part of the diagnosis, treatment, and healing of an infectious condition described in this week’s portions of Torah. Interestingly, when we take a concentrated look at the detailed procedures, we see almost no attention given to the feelings or reasons why infections occur. Later on, causes will be introduced. But this week, our focus is on being with the afflicted and helping them get better. 

Sometimes when people try to interpret other people’s pain, they end up generating more distance than help. When somebody’s in pain, it’s important to listen to them. When they’re hurting, don’t tell them why they’re hurting. Instead listen to them. Learn from them. In so doing, you’ll help them through it. 

Yesterday we met Frieda, a leader of her Druze community in Northern Israel. After she taught us about her religion and how to bake thin breads, she told us that this year’s holiday in honor of their Prophet is being postponed this year. Why? It conflicts with Israel’s Memorial Day on Tuesday. 

When I commended her for the way the Druze set aside their holiday for Israel’s national observance. She smiled. Then she quietly said, “It’s a Memorial Day for our fallen IDF soldiers too.” When she could see I was embarrassed for not realizing this. She calmed me and said, “You were trying to say something nice. Thank you.”

We can all learn how to help each other get better.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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