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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review April 16, 2004 / 26 Nissan, 5764

Big Worries

By Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein


The wife of a world renowned rabbi is stricken with a life threatening disease. A moving account about what he's learned about faith, hope and good intentions gone awry.

A must-read for those dealing with tragedy and wishing to help others through it


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | I can't quite remember whom, but one gadol (Torah luminary) often bestowed a rather unusual blessing upon brides and grooms when speaking at their wedding. It was this: "You should have a life full of little worries."

There's no doubt that upon hearing the wish, many arched their eyebrows and were more than a little perplexed. Some might have even been offended. After all, the words, at first blush, seem to be more of a curse than a blessing.

What the sage meant, to be sure, was that the couple should have a life in which there is no BIG worry.

Until about five years ago, my wife, Chaya, and I had a normal life. It was one full of "little worries." They involved, among other things, rearing kids, financial matters, family politics, community politics.

Then my wife found a lump.

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It was technically a breast lump but it was so high up on her body, it appeared to be more a lower shoulder lump. The doctor who gave us the result of the biopsy was Spanish. I remember her words very clearly, "You have a leetle cancer."

To this day I am almost amused by her use of the adjective "Leetle." The truth is that there is very little "Leetle" about Cancer. It is a BIG worry.

Approximately a third of all humanity is plagued by Cancer. There are even forms of it unique to Ashkenazi Jews.

While recently on one of my lecture tours, I was asked by two people to write down some thoughts that might be useful in helping people with a BIG worry. This is for them and anyone else who might be worried about saying or doing the wrong thing when all you want to do is help.

HOW TO HEAL
There are two words in English that derive from the same Greek word and sound almost the same. The word is Pathos. It means "to feel." The two English descendants of that word are "sympathy" and "empathy".

The first means to feel sorry for someone. The second means to feel as though you are the person suffering. It is what the works of Mussar (Jewish ethics) say is essential in order to perform the Mitzva (religious duty) of "Noso B'OIm Chaveiro," carrying your friend's burden together with him. You have to be with him, able to feel and carry the pain.

The Talmud famously teaches that when visiting a sick person, a sixtieth of the illness is removed. But only if a certain condition is met.

There are two explanations of what that condition is. One view is offered by Rashi. The other, by the Ron.

The visitor either has to be the same age as the person he is visiting or have the same "Mazal". In other words, the same life experience. That way, the person visiting easily sees himself as though it was him lying in bed ill. With the same background, age or circumstance, there is, after all, no discernable reason why it could not be him lying there.

In that way, you feel his pain and, as there is only an exact and set amount of pain ordained for him from Heaven, in feeling part of that pain, you suffered instead of him.

When confronted by a BIG worry, you need to be able to have access to people who cannot just sympathize, but, more importantly, empathize.

I knew a lady who was a counselor in a hospital's burns unit. Many times this smartly dressed and attractive woman would sit beside someone who was very badly deformed. In some instances, the patients no longer had facial features. Often, as she attempted to offer comfort, the reaction to her gesture would be one of unbridled anger, "What do you know about what I'm going through, have you ever been burned!?"

It is difficult to express in writing, just the amount of anger and fury with which their words and sentiments were sometimes expressed. The counselor remained calm and quietly replied, "No, I have never been burned. But both my parents were burned alive in Auschwitz."

With that said, the barrier was breached. The patients would allow her to help them.

I call it an "Equivalence of suffering." When confronted with a BIG worry, you need to get help from someone who has an equivalence of suffering.

Thank G-d, most people, especially under the age of about thirty five, are not likely to have an equivalence of suffering. Yet often, especially if they are a rabbi or a rebbetzin, they will have to deal with people with BIG worries who are in very great pain, indeed. These few pages are an attempt to offer some insight that might help at the very least, good people from making bad mistakes while attempting to do their best .

HUMOR IN TRAGEDY
My wife and I are blessed by the Divine in so many ways. One of them is that we both have a sense of humor. Medical research proves, by the way, that people with Cancer who can laugh about their situation have an enormously better chance of defeating the disease than those who can't.

Early on in our story, when the word "Leetle" was looming very large indeed, one of our very good friends phoned from Jerusalem. She is Rebbetzin Leiba Gottlieb and she gave us a great piece of advice, "Keep an Idiot book!"

We have found that an invaluable tip, but I'll let her explain what an "idiot book" is.


"Lots of people will say lots of really stupid things. Write them down and see what is the current dumbest comment."


We haven't done that literally, of course. But we do keep a "Top Ten." Every now and then, a particularly talented person, who is to tact, what Ossama Bin Laden is to Roman Catholicism, will come along and depose the current number one!

A certain lady told my wife,


"You know, Mrs. Cohen has the same as you and she received a blessing from a Tzaddik [saint] that she should live to see all her children married. Why are you marrying off your children so quickly?"


This was said with absolute sincerity and curiosity… drum roll, PLEASE! — Yes ladies and gentlemen… The new number One! Mrs. ***** from Holland!

She has been topped a few times since then but she is still firmly there in pride of place in the Top Five.

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES
When you are talking to someone who has a BIG worry, you are always walking in a minefield. It might be that on that particular day she or he might be in a state of mind where they are very sensitive and almost nothing will be the right thing to say.

Don't "beat yourself up" because you failed and said the wrong thing. It may well be impossible sometimes to say the right thing. Before you call or visit, speak to the one nearest to the person with the BIG worry and find out their state of mind. They might be in the mood to hear encouraging words or simply welcome the chance to tell someone what is happening. But they may also not want to receive visitors at all. Asking the "expert," the spouse or children is the safest first step.

There are a few other rules that almost always hold true.

Mention people you know or know of, who had the same condition twenty years ago or thirty years ago and today are fine. Hope is the most important weapon of all. My wife, for instance, had a second cousin who had cancer seven times over thirty years! — in both breasts, bone, skin etc. She died last year at the age of 70 — of a heart attack.

Her name was Dora and we think of her often. There are people — lots of people — who beat and vanquish this disease and other diseases, too. Listen out for Doras and file them away ready to introduce them to people who might need to meet them and hear about them.

DOCTOR (S OF) DEATH
In that last paragraph I used the words "vanquish" and "beat." Words are important. But words also scare. "Remission" is a word that suggests a temporary respite. I refuse to use it.

Last September, my wife was in the local hospital because of fluid building up in her lungs. One day, I received a call from a nurse to come immediately, as the consultant had given Chaya bad news.

I was terrified that the recent scans had revealed that the disease had moved to the lungs. In fact, this doctor had different bad news. He told my wife that she had less than two weeks to live.

This was done without any consultation with myself and when I arrived he shared his prognosis with me. I didn't think — I didn't think the way a Jew should — I was in shock. I needn't say that the hour or so we spent together afterwards was the most painful and difficult of our lives.

When the Consultant Oncologist in the Cancer Hospital where my wife is a patient, heard what had been said by this other Consultant, he sent a message that he strongly disagreed and wanted us back in his hospital. He had certainly not given up hope. This message was delivered by a junior doctor to our bedside with the caveat that her Consultant thought that it was crazy and there was no point.

Once you have "thrown in the towel", it is very difficult, almost impossible, to pick it up again. Reconciled to dying, you become ready and almost willing to die. Now we were being invited to start fighting all over again.

My wife asked me what I thought we should do. I told her that the decision had to be hers. There obviously had to be the will to fight, otherwise the best efforts of our Oncologist would be fruitless.

After a while my wife replied, "I suppose I am obliged to carry on." This was, of course, the right reply. The one the Torah would expect. It was not though given with the determination that would make the "carrying on" successful. The damage of the Consultant's words had overwhelmed her.

Before we left the hospital, I phoned our own G. P. (M.D.) and told him what had happened and to get hold of the Consultant and tell him to get back to my wife's room and "Un-say" what he had said the day before. He tried and at our Oncologist's insistence started her on Steroids (He had not given her this medication as he was quite convinced she was going to die.)

The next day we were transferred to Manchester's famous Chrisite hospital (Tamoxapen was discovered there.)

A junior doctor who initially saw my wife told me that she didn't think that her boss (our optimistic Oncologist,) had realized how bad Chaya was and this doctor too thought that there was almost no hope at all.

At the Chrisite, I have a friend who has been a superb support to both of us. He is a senior Consultant Oncologist and I had alerted him to our story and arranged for him to visit my wife and challenge the pessimistic prognosis she had been given. All this helped a little bit to repair the damage, but only a little.

The next day I had a much better idea. My son stayed with the world renown Rabbi Mattisyahu Salamon while he studied in the Lakewood, N.J. rabbinical seminary. I am a disciple of Reb Mattisyahu. He spoke at our wedding.

At a prearranged time — while my wife's sister and I were at her bedside — my cellphone rang. I handed it to my wife and she looked perplexed as to who it might be. As she put the phone to her ear and heard Reb Mattisyahu's voice, together with my sister in law, I watched a miracle.

If you think he began by speaking gently and kindly to her, you would be wrong. He was quite stern. He told her to remember who she was and what she was. He insisted that she recall that it is the Divine who decides when a person passes away, not Doctors. Then he spoke gently and kindly to her.

I don't know if you have ever watered a plant that is wilting because of insufficient moisture. In a few minutes, it comes back to life before your eyes. Chaya came back to life and the dreadful damage of the wicked words of the Consultant was at last undone. Reb Mattisyahu phoned my wife every day after that. Chaya also received calls from Lady Jacobovitz and Rebbetzin Ehrentreu (Dayan Erehtreu's wife) from London — and the fight back was well on it's way.

At that time, I received a call from a student of mine in New Jersey who comes with her husband to hear me speak whenever I am in their state. She is a wise lady and I already cite an example of her wisdom in my book, "Dancing Through Time."

She responded to an e-mail I had sent out requesting our friends' prayers. When I told her the story that appears in the above last few paragraphs she said …


"You know Rabbi Rubinstein, the problem is that doctors think they're gods…and people forget that G-d's a doctor!"


Writing this now, when it's nearly April, with my wonderful wife and I planning to spend a few days away together in England's beautiful Lake District, I think it's a tale worth telling. And those words should be engraved in every Jewish mind: "The problem is that doctors think they're gods…and people forget that G-d's a doctor."

There is another obvious lesson to draw from this story. People who are special to the patient and who can make a difference, should be involved in helping them get well.

(By the way, the Doctor at the Christie who refused to give up, is one of the best people I have ever met. He is brilliant medically and has great people skills. He is named Greg Wilson.)

BEWARE OF SURVIVORS BEARING HELP
Be very careful, though, of those who are themselves survivors of a BIG worry and want to come and encourage someone else.

Such people fall into two categories: Those who sincerely want to come to help the sufferer and those who need to come because they need to help themselves. In telling others that they will get over things as they have, they really need to hear themselves saying those words. They are actually reassuring themselves, not the person who is ill.

The person receiving the visit will know the difference. The first will help, the second will not and could cause much damage.

WHEN AND HOW MUCH TO DISCLOSE
There is an area in dealing with BIG worries that seems similar but demands from us a different approach.

I once read about someone who was very ill indeed from an incurable disease. His Doctor had offered him an operation that would extend his life by six months but would be very painful. He went to discuss with the late great sage Reb Moshe Feinstein Zt'l what he should do. The patient was a religious Jew and Reb Moshe told him, "You know already what you're supposed to do… but I can't tell you that you should do it."

That story is a very important lesson when dealing with people with a BIG worry. They have to be allowed to deal with their situation in the way that is best for them. They might well ask for advice; medical, spiritual, spousal or whatever, but ultimately they have to make their decisions and the people offering the sought advice, have to know them and abide by them.

At the beginning of our tribulation, my wife was very happy for people to know what was wrong. Some friends organized an evening where women were invited to a school hall to recite prayers for her recovery. Hundreds came. The numbers were so huge that people had to participate by standing outside on the playground. Chaya found this a tremendous support and Chizuk, inspiration.

The type of woman who came also CREATED Chizuk. Every type of woman came. I know of at least one young woman who had been a student of ours while at University who had told me many times that she didn't believe in G-d. She was there reciting Tehillim (Psalms) with the rest, crying her eyes out.

Other people we know who have a BIG worry, prefer that nobody knows.

Of course that means that prayers will not be said for them by hundreds and, in our case thousands and thousands, of others. We know that prayers can change everything and leave doctors scratching their heads.

That though, is how they are able to deal with their situation and that is how all of us who are near those individuals have to proceed.

I mentioned before that sometimes finding the right words will prove impossible. We can't know what is going on in the sufferers mind at any given time. Try to avoid cliches. The sentiments behind the cliche might well be sincere and genuine but the formulistic nature of the words will rob them of the appearance of sincerity.

Be wary of being too encouraging! Phrases like "You'll be fine." can be deadly. The person might well be thinking "What on earth does he/she know. Has she ever felt pain like this?"

The people nearest to the person with the BIG worry have the BIG worry too. They sometimes need handling that is as gentle and thoughtful as the person with the illness.

Once again, all the things I mentioned about "equivalence of suffering" and the rest, apply here as well.

Occasionally, people ask me how I am. I truthfully reply that I am fine. But a little thing, a silly thing, may distress me or provoke an angry response that is totally disproportionate to the incident. That is how I discover that I am not as "fine" as I imagined.

The people closest to the sufferer sometimes can do the greatest kindness by allowing themselves to be shouted at by the sufferer. The friends and family of the ones closest to the sufferer have to allow them to sometimes shout, too.

How much should the children be told? That very much depends on the nature of the individual and of course their age.

My master, the Gateshead Rov Zt'l, told me that the children should not be told when the situation is very bad. Since he said it, I heard of one teenager who has never forgiven her father for not sharing that news. The Rov himself has been passed on since we spoke about the subject; so I was unable to tell him of this and ask for elaboration if "very bad" also applied to "the worse."

When our own "Doctor Mengele" pronounced his death sentence in September, thinking there were only days to go, I let my three married sons know relatively quickly, over two separate conversations (I assumed as young men they no longer fell into the Rov's definition of children.)

Troubled by the story of the unforgiving teenager and unsure what my Rov would have said, I told my unmarried son in rabbinical seminary more gradually still.

With my 13 year-old daughter I took a different approach. I asked if she was worried about Mummy and she replied that she wasn't. I paused and replied clearly, "I am." That was about as much as I thought appropriate.

I told nothing to my nine year old daughter. I didn't feel the Rov's ruling needed any clarification here at all. She knew that Mummy was not well and in hospital. I am very glad I didn't tell her any more.

Her mother came home and everything is more or less back to normal. She didn't know how bad things were and so the last half a year have been for a little girl, worry free.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein, an international lecturer, is a commentator for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). He was cited by the U.K. paper, Independent, as being among the five most regarded people in the Britain to turn to for advice. Comment by clicking here.

© 2004, Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein