Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Chukas-Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9)Finding a Place for Pain

Leon Fleisher was one of the 20th century’s greatest pianists. At the peak of his career, he developed a rare hand condition due to his 7-8 hours of practice each day and was no longer able to play with his right hand. “I was desolate, my life fell apart, and this mysterious debilitating condition destroyed my relationship with my second wife, striking deep into my family.” Doctors could find neither medication nor surgical procedure to repair it. Fleisher even considered suicide. “I grew a beard, wore my hair long and in a ponytail, and I got a Vespa scooter. I felt I had no purpose anymore; I was simply floundering.” After a few anguished years, he tried three new careers. The first was being a left-handed concert pianist, the second a conductor, but it was the third career that ultimately gave him a reason to live; he began teaching and soon realized that his connection was with music, not just with playing the piano. Fast forward about two decades, through a new medical procedure, Fleisher got back control of his right hand and was able to perform again. In an interview in the New York Times, Fleisher said, ”Believe it or not I’ve had some of my most satisfying – even ecstatic – experiences since I stopped playing…enlightenments that very possibly might otherwise not have happened. Yes, my life would never have had this variety if I’d remained just a poor old ivory pusher. And now, how will I manage to continue doing all these things, once I start playing full time again? I think it’ll be almost the other way around. I think I’ll just have to fit in the playing, now, to what my life has become.” 
Where does one find the strength to continue when life doesn’t go as planned? The reaction of the (worn out desert wandering) Jews to an unexpected rejection sheds light on this question.After many years of complaints and hardship, the Jewish people were eagerly waiting to enter the Land of Israel. They needed to pass through the Edomite kingdom to do so, but the King refused them passage and threatened to attack them if they tried.
The children of Israel replied, “We will keep to the highway, and if we or our cattle drink your water, we will pay for it…” (Numbers 20:14-20:21)
One would expect a king to find it in his heart to allow a nation who had endured years of slavery and decades of desert wandering to pass through his land, especially considering that he would profit from the sale of food and water.
How did the people react when they were refused entry? They complained.Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no food and no water, and we are disgusted with this rotten bread. I(Blaming G-d and Moses.)
The verse says “the people’s spirit grew short.” They were discouraged due to the hardship of traveling and wanted to settle down in their own land. Rashi explains that whenever short spirited is mentioned it is “due to something intolerable; something the mind cannot bear.”When a person is beset by travail and his mind is not broad enough to accept that thing; he does not have a place in his heart where that pain might reside. Now, the thing causing distress is depicted as looming large, since it seems large and weighs heavily on the person. (Num. 21:4)
How many times have we seen two people who have endured the same loss of job, change in financial or social status, or even the loss of a loved one. Both are in pain but one manages to move on whereas the other falls into depression, substance abuse, or just simply can’t get over it. The reason is because the first one has found “a place in his heart where that pain might reside.” We need to develop the ability to broaden our heart so that we can place the pain there and move on. Don’t confuse this with being in denial, which is ignoring the reality you must face. What Rashi is talking about is putting things where they belong but not letting them get in the way of the rest of your life.
The Israelites couldn’t ignore the fact that they were almost in their homeland but a heartless anti-Semite wouldn’t let them pass through, which necessitated taking a circuitous route. But there was no reason to blame G-d or Moses for throwing a proverbial monkey wrench into their plans.
Furthermore, their basic needs—food, clothes, shelter, and protection—were met but, still, their hearts were not broad enough to “bear patiently the lengthy road for the longed-for goal.”
How can one start building and flexing the emotional muscles required for a heart broad enough to find room for life’s unexpected vicissitudes? One useful tool is to become a giver. When you give without expectation, you remain focused on the receiver, rather than yourself. You will be living in the moment and won’t have time to think about your own circumstances.The next time you are feeling down due to career or financial misfortune or a broken relationship, the more largely you give to others, the smaller and more manageable your “short spirit” becomes. It could be as simple as a phone call to someone who needs it or as small as letting someone else take your parking space in a lot where there are more spaces; as long as your giving is genuine, it will work.    It takes effort to find a place in your heart for disappointment. You can’t just ignore your issues and expect them to disappear, but you can do something about them—and create a bigger/kinder heart for yourself in the process.  Good ShabbosRead More