Seeing Another’s Pain

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By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

A man who is suffering from tzara’as has to call out, “I am tamei.” The simple reason behind this commandment is to warn others not to approach him since he is tamei. However, the Gemara says that he calls out “Tamei Tamei” in order to inform others of his predicament so that they will beseech Hashem for mercy on his behalf. The Gemara in Shabbos uses this understanding to explain the source of another custom. If a tree in an orchard is suffering from various ailments, the owner uses all available means to cure the tree of its malady. In addition, he paints the tree red. Onlookers will see the red tree and pray to Hashem that the tree be cured.

The Sifsei Chaim points out that there is a vast difference between the metzora and the orchard owner. The metzora is personally suffering. Further, the tzara’as affects his whole life as he must live apart from others. The owner of the orchard could have many other excellent fruit-bearing trees. His suffering is limited to what may very well be a minor loss of income from one tree. Yet, it is evident from the Gemara that when others would see the orchard owner suffering they would daven for him.

This is supposed to be our attitude. When we see others suffering we should feel their pain. We shouldn’t rationalize and say that they really aren’t suffering that much. Even a little suffering is too much.

My rosh hayeshiva, HaGaon Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l, used to often repeat an observation from Rashi. The pasuk in Sh’mos tells us regarding Moshe Rabbeinu witnessing Klal Yisrael in slavery (Sh’mos 2:11), “And he saw their burdens.” Whereupon Rashi comments, “He focused his eyes and heart to be distressed over them.” Did Moshe Rabbeinu really need to concentrate on what he was seeing to appreciate the suffering of the Jewish nation? Wouldn’t anyone witnessing the cruel and crushing, backbreaking, forced labor of his brothers be terribly moved? The Torah is teaching us that even someone as kind and caring as Moshe Rabbeinu cannot fully appreciate another’s suffering unless he consciously contemplates their plight. This was the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu, that he made the effort to comprehend and feel the pain of Klal Yisrael to the fullest extent humanly possible.

Rabbi Aharon Friedler, a rebbi in HANC, lives in Far Rockaway in an area now commonly referred to as FEMA flood zone A. As a Hurricane Sandy evacuee, he was spending yet another Shabbos away from home in the community of Queens. The rav of the local shul was commending all the help that people were offering to the storm victims. During his sermon he quoted Rabbi Fishel Shachter, who referenced a flood that occurred 200 years ago in the City of Pressburg, now known as Bratislava.

The dawn of the nineteenth century found Europe in deep turmoil. Napoleon’s legions were rolling across the continent in an irresistible advance, overwhelming the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian armies. In 1809, his forces laid siege to the ancient city of Pressburg whose Jewish community was led by the illustrious Rabbi Moshe Sofer, universally acclaimed as the Chasam Sofer. Only the mighty Danube River impeded Napoleon’s onslaught. What followed was a terrifying siege lasting 42 days during which the people of Pressburg experienced the unbridled fury of French firepower. The beleaguered city, pounded by an uninterrupted rain of bombs, rockets, and missiles was turned into a scene of utter devastation, its populace decimated. Miraculously, the Jewish population was shielded from harm and escaped virtually unscathed. In his Sefer Zikaron, translated under the title of Pressburg Under Siege (CIS publishers), the Chasam Sofer offers a description of the spectacular events surrounding this time in Jewish history.

Some time before the siege, parts of the Danube River had frozen over. When the river began to thaw, a torrent of water flooded many cities and villages. One of those cities that flooded was Pressburg. Many Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed. People were saved from the roofs of their houses via boats. There was an outpouring of communal chesed for all who were affected. The Chasam Sofer remarked, “Maybe we needed the zechus of the tremendous chesed during the flooding to merit being saved from a different upcoming catastrophe.” The Chasam Sofer’s words seem prophetic when applied to the siege that followed soon after.

(Interestingly enough, this extremely rare occurrence just happened this past winter when the Danube River experienced what was called a record freeze. The subsequent thawing caused flooding on February 27, 2012. Modern records on the Danube River date back to the late 1800s, many years after the flood in Pressburg.)

On Sunday, Rabbi Aharon Friedler returned home to his devastated block in Far Rockaway. (As of this writing only one quarter of the 32 families who resided there before the storm had returned home.) The beautiful derasha he heard in Queens was fresh in his memory. The number one priority for making his home habitable was reestablishing heat and hot water. He figured he would make a trip to a local plumbing supply store and purchase a hot water heater. Obviously it would be too heavy for one man to carry; he headed to Sh’or Yoshuv seeking help. At Sh’or Yoshuv, there were teams of volunteers ready to assist anyone in need. Our evacuee called out, “Does anyone want to help me purchase and transport a hot water heater?” One man stepped forward. Rabbi Friedler blinked in surprise. It was the very rabbi of the Queens shul who delivered the moving sermon. The evacuee protested, “I can’t make use of a talmid chacham like you!” “Nonsense,” the rav responded. “I’m here to help,” he said while pointing to his work clothes.

Mi k’amcha Yisrael! v

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at

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