| Inbox |

Inbox: Issue 985

“Hashem accepted Yishmael’s tears as he cried alone, but he lovingly embraced Aharon’s prayers as he shared in his brother’s pain”

Who We Really Are [Inbox / Issue 984]

Last week, several readers took umbrage at some Yidden in chutz l’Aretz who were concerned about the degree of graphic coverage about the war in Eretz Yisrael. We were accused of being upset that “our safe cocoon of the highest standards of luxury was slightly prickled,” of “pure selfishness and immaturity,” of “having the audacity to hide under the covers in the face of such horror,” to “intentionally blind oneself,” to be “self-centered and be displaying a complete lack of empathy,” of exempting ourselves from “the basic tenet of Yiddishkeit of being nosei b’ol.”

As a trauma therapist, allow me to introduce ourselves in chutz l’Aretz. The Mesillas Yesharim states that 999 out of 1,000 individuals have yissurim. Some of us are suffering severe health issues and may even be awaiting organ transplants. Some of us may be single, experiencing severe grief. Some of us may be suffering from infertility, adding intense suffering to our lives. Many of us have our own histories of serious trauma. Some of us are divorced or widowed. Many have lost relatives of our own.

Some of us may be suffering abuse in silence. Some are contending with acute tzaar gidul banim challenges. Others are dealing with extremely limited functioning special-needs relatives on a constant basis. Some of us are struggling intensely with parnassah, not knowing how we will keep a roof over our heads.

Before this war, we may have been outside our window of tolerance and barely sleeping. With the advent of the war, we somehow expanded our window of tolerance to include the Yidden in Eretz Yisrael. Our Tehillim seders have been increased to include not just our own milieu but Yidden who are strangers located 5,000+ miles away. We have taken on additional kabbalos, above and beyond what we were already doing.

When we read coverage that isn’t too detailed, that puts us into fight/flight mode. A host of body changes take place, giving us a surge of energy to fight off a threat. This fight/flight mode is constructive, allowing us to say more Tehillim and do more kabbalos.

However, when we read coverage that is too detailed, such as graphic descriptions about trauma, we experience a neurological change. We transition from fight/flight mode to freeze mode. We may vomit. We cannot say Tehillim or take on kabbalos or do anything else. Nor can we be present for our families who need us. This is why I very respectfully disagree with Mishpacha’s position to print graphic traumatic details versus keeping it general.

Dear Inbox letter writers: the obligation to be nosei b’ol begins with you. The Jews in Eretz Yisrael aren’t the only Jews suffering deeply. When you email a letter, you have no idea who will be reading it and what pain you have caused with some of the caustic remarks and lightning-quick judgments noted above. Please hold the judgments and keep the tone respectful.

Dear Editors at Mishpacha: please don’t print letters in which writers cannot express themselves respectfully, thus harming the psyches of strangers whom they will never have an opportunity to meet and ask mechilah from.

Ilana Orange, LCSW


Feel Our Pain [Inbox / Issue 984]

To the letter writers who are so upset with the current reality in Israel that they have ripped out pages, thrown out the magazines entirely, and kept their heads buried in the sand, a message from your brothers and sisters in Israel:

It hurts that our current reality is so disturbing to you, that you refuse to acknowledge the tremendous suffering your brothers and sisters are going through.

It hurts that our grief over burying over 1,400 of our brothers and sisters — entire families wiped out, mothers, fathers, children, grandparents — is so disturbing to you, that you refuse to mourn with us and read our experiences.

It hurts that our horror over 240-plus of our brothers and sisters being kidnapped and taken hostage in Gaza is too disturbing for you to feel the same agony that we have felt since the news started trickling in over Simchas Torah.

It hurts that this overwhelming sadness and grief is too disturbing for you to feel the same as we do, by priding yourselves on knowing almost no details of the horrors our brothers and sisters have gone through, and continue to go through.

It hurts that our current reality of living poised with a foot in the bomb shelter, ear up for the next siren, mental calculations of how quickly we can shower, how quickly we can get to and from the public shelter, is so disturbing to you that you refuse to even read about it.

This is the reality of your brothers and sisters in Israel. This is not some book you can shut and say, “I want to read only happy endings.” We are one nation. We rejoice together, we mourn together. Even when it’s tough.

For the sake of your brothers and sisters, hurt. Feel our pain. Cry for our brothers and sisters who are no longer with us. For their families, who forever are missing a branch. For the families desperately hoping and praying for news of their loved ones, of their spouses, of their babies, being held hostage in Gaza.

Feel our pain.

For it is your pain, too.

And thank you to Mishpacha for covering our pain in such eloquent terms, that does not share even a fraction of the feelings that are truly indescribable.

Name Withheld


Entitled to Their Sensitivities [Inbox / Issue 984]

Thank you for allowing Mishpacha to be a safe space where people can express their different opinions. It is clear from the many letters that you receive that some people have a misunderstanding of what the word “opinion” means.

I do not say this with sarcasm or mockery. To the people who don’t see the problem with Mishpacha’s coverage, please remember: We all have a) different sensitivities b) different imaginations.

Yes, there will be people who can’t handle seeing a hostage draped in a white cloth. Or a burnt home. Or a terrorist holding a gun. They’re sensitive to it. Don’t tell them to don thicker skin. You wouldn’t tell it to someone with a food sensitivity. Everyone’s entitled to their sensitivities.

What’s more is that everyone’s imagination works differently. Some simply see a hostage covered in a cloth. Others imagine what the hostage is thinking. “Where is the rest of my family? Oh, G-d, what is happening? Where are they taking me?” They imagine their hidden tears. They wonder if their breath is labored. Their own breath gets labored due to that. Their imagination makes this personal.

To A.N., who says that people in chutz l’Aretz need to see the images in order to understand the horror: No. No, they do not. They understand it without looking. They’re not avoiding it out of denial, but out of concern for their mental health.

As an aside, that is going against what our rabbanim, professionals and our very own seichel is telling us. Is the whole point of the images really to “disturb” us? Who’s to say if we aren’t already “disturbed”?

E. Goldman, do you think people “can’t be bothered”? Have you ever spoken to someone who couldn’t read the magazine and asked them how they’re doing? You might have heard a different story.

Are we not a nation of “baishanim and rachmanim”? No one is out there to “not be bothered.” If they would be, they wouldn’t “be bothered” enough to spend time sending in a letter to Mishpacha.

To the people who found the coverage gory: Please learn to respect your triggers. If you are finding this situation too difficult, don’t look at the news. Not online and not in print. When someone starts a conversation that may leave you feeling overwhelmed, walk away. As someone wise told me: Hashem chose for you not to be in the war zone. Why put yourself there?

I say this as someone who checks the news, sees the pictures, reads the stories and hears the cries: Mishpacha coverage wasn’t the worst there is out there. But I also say it as someone who has a hard time falling asleep, sees the images in a loop on my head, and wishes I hadn’t seen them in the first place.

May we merit the Ultimate Redemption quickly.

R. B.


Carry Your Brothers [Inbox / Issue 984]

Over the last month, we’ve read many letters debating the merit of shielding oneself from the horrific images of our collective trauma versus reading and feeling the details of our brothers’ and sisters’ pain and connecting to their individual tragedies from our cocoons of safety. I would just like to add one thought, an idea from last week’s parshah that I was taught repeatedly in elementary school but that I now comprehend as truly relevant to our painful times.

As Hagar and Yishmael wandered in the desert in parshas Vayeira, water pouches empty and near death with thirst, Hagar placed her son under the shade of a tree, and moved herself a far distance away for she could not bear to hear his cries or witness his death. By shielding herself from her son’s anguish, the mother put her own needs first, consigning him to die alone without the comfort of a loving embrace in his greatest hour of need.

Of course Hagar cried for her son. Of course she prayed for him. Of course she knew, in a general sense, that he was suffering and she was indeed nosah b’ol chaveirah. But she did not cry with him, she did not pray with him, she did not hold him when he so desperately needed to be held. And ultimately, it was not the blending of a mother’s and son’s wails that Hashem heard, but the cries of just the child, the one immersed in pain, abandoned and alone.

Contrast this to the starkly different scene that plays out in parshas Shemos. Baby Moshe was placed in the teivah, and seemingly abandoned to the mercy of the dark waters and hungry crocodiles of the Nile River. Who could bear to watch that gory scene play out?! The pasuk states that Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the baby, “and the lad was crying.” Baal HaTurim picks up on the switch from “baby” to “lad” and distinguishes between the two. The baby is obviously Moshe; however the lad is Aharon, the baby’s older brother. Aharon (and Miriam) remained, hidden among the reeds, crying, praying, dreading what would or could become of their helpless brother. These two future leaders of Am Yisrael did not shield themselves from the terrifying possibility of what might come, they did not turn their faces and run home to escape the potential nightmare. They stayed, they watched, they cried.

This is the way of Jewish leaders, and this is the way of Jewish siblings. We carry each other through the pain. We aren’t just nosei b’ol chaveiro, we don’t simply bear their pain. We experience and feel a shared pain. We cry together, our prayers interwoven as one as they rise to the heavens.

There are horrific stories that I wish I could sear from my brain as I try to fall asleep at night. And yet I continue to read them. For I do not believe that praying for a conglomerate, faceless mass of 242 hostages is the same as davening for Avigayil, a three-year-old, scared and alone in Gaza, without her mother’s skirt or her father’s shoulder to bury her face into, for both of her parents were murdered that awful day. Or for Daniel Shimon ben Sharon, a hero who rushed to the border as soon as he received the call, but unfortunately was captured, and whose parents have not heard news of him since.

There is a difference between watching the videos glorifying torture and murder, and reading the stories honoring those who were lost, those who are missing, and those we call heroes. I agree: don’t watch the Hamas propaganda; it only strengthens their terror goals. But learn the names, see the faces, and carry the pain of our precious Jewish siblings that we have lost, and our grieving Jewish siblings left behind, who are mourning their broken families and shattered futures.

Hashem accepted Yishmael’s tears as he cried alone, but he lovingly embraced Aharon’s prayers as he shared in his brother’s pain. We are not the children of Hagar. We are from the family of Aharon. We have the strength and the faith to carry each other through this painful time, and come out, like Aharon HaKohein with the promise of a bris shalom and a portion in the greater Salvation.

Ayelet Tuchman, Harish, Israel


Even with a Kosher Phone [Connected Journal]

Aliza Feder, you are a true inspiration!

In the community I am part of, baruch Hashem, technology is kept to a minimum as much as possible and smartphones are almost unheard of for the average woman. So when I listened to the speeches of the Nekadesh event as well as other speeches on technology awareness, I figured it doesn’t so much apply to me... I mean, I have a kosher phone, right?

Except it does!

The yetzer hara does not rest, no matter what community anyone’s a part of.

He knows that kedushah is what keeps us apart from the nations of the world, and connects us to something so much Greater, and so he tries in every which way to get in.

Of course he does it in a smart way. For example, you can have an extremely filtered smartphone which is less convenient and fun, but it can still distract you from things that are so much more important while you’re busy texting and forwarding (inspiring) emails.

Instead of truly looking into our spouse’s and children’s eyes and connecting to them, we’re busy looking at that screen and sending (urgent) texts to people, who, if we would actually be with them in real life, we would tell them hang on two seconds while we send someone else an urgent text or email.

Please Hashem, help every one of us through this nisayon, no matter how kosher our phones and devices are. Because without You, we’re incapable of anything.

Malkie Stern, Montreal


Happy with My Fig [Connected Journal]

I am so grateful for all of the feedback I have gotten on my series, “Connected.” After reading last week’s Inbox letter, it was important for me to correct one important point: I am completely happy with my choice of flip phone (the fig), and I never meant to insinuate that it was a subpar option on any level.

I don’t believe the difficulties I have with it are at all to do with this particular brand, and when it’s no longer serviceable I fully intend to replace it with the newer fig model. I apologize if I inadvertently fell into any avak lashon hara about this particular phone.

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify,

Aliza Feder


No Replacement [Inbox / Issue 983]

I would like to respond to the mother who is struggling to raise her children b’derech haTorah. She complained that the magazine prints conflicting advice from various chinuch experts and it confuses her as to the reasons children struggle and the approach she should be using to help her own children.

I also struggled with raising my oldest son. There were times when I told my husband that I just wish someone can tell me exactly what to do, and I will follow it. But alas, Hashem made me his mother. And a mother’s intuition is invaluable.

Reading a magazine cannot replace individual advice from your own rav or therapist. Hashem made us all different. Hashem made each of our children and circumstances different. Expecting printed advice to solve your life’s dilemmas is kind of like going to group therapy and wondering why it’s not helping. It can point you in the right direction, but it is not a script to follow. It’s not tailor made for you or your children.

There are times that reading an article can be helpful with a specific issue. It can raise awareness. It can resonate with you and help guide you. That said, none of us should be replacing rabbanim or therapy with reading articles or books.

Sara M. from Flatbush


What Works for Some [Inbox / Issue 983]

In response to the letter writer last week who is confused by the conflicting messages about raising struggling children, the topic of “kids at risk” is truly confusing, and just like chinuch is not a one-size-fits-all for the mainstream child, of course the same applies to the struggling teenager.

Yet, with that being said, I remember the night a few short years ago when, at 2 a.m., my struggling son demanded I give him something very unreasonable — threatening that if I did not, he would end his life. To say I was terrified is putting it mildly. At that time, I did the only thing I could think of: I called Mechy Brandwein. He had been walking me through this slippery slope of confusion, and I knew he would be available in the middle of the night to help me through this crisis.

With his calm demeanor, Mechy strongly advised me to say no. He knew my son, and he assured me that the night would pass uneventfully.

Fast-forward three years and many more incidents later, my son is learning in Eretz Yisrael, and he hopes to marry a girl who would like to continue to grow with him.

I do not write these words lightly. The years were hard, but this is the method that worked for my family, and I am eternally grateful to Mechy for his hours and hours of guidance and encouragement.

I know there are many methods, some easier than others, and what works for some doesn’t work for others. My advice to the parents of struggling children is that if the method you have been trying isn’t working, perhaps it’s time to try something else. The ultimate goal is that every struggling teen should one day embrace his beautiful heritage and be a source of nachas to his family.

Name Withheld


Not Meant to Understand [Inbox / Issue 983]

Dear Esther T.,

I read with interest your letter referring to the article in issue 980 titled “The Heart of the Matter.” You write that Rabbi Gedalia Guttentag, Rabbi Shimon Russel, and Allison Josephs mention conflicting reasons for our children choosing a different derech. Along comes Mechy Brandwein and confuses you all over again.

As someone (in her seventies) with a lot of experience in dealing with children with issues, I’d like to weigh in.

All four of the people mentioned above are 100 percent right... some of the time. They are also 100 percent wrong... some of the time. That is because none of them, as far as I know, are neviim and can tell you with certainty what the reason is. Therefore, it is simply a matter of their opinion.

You may choose to agree or disagree with their perspective, as none of them actually knows your child as you do.

However, what concerns me a bit is your needing to know a reason. I have a son who died in an accident, another with Down syndrome and yet a third with cerebral palsy. I, baruch Hashem, have others, sons and daughters, who are amazingly perfect human specimens. It wouldn’t occur to me to ask why not all of them are perfect, because I know that nistarim darkei Hashem, and I’m not meant to understand. There are neshamos and gilgulim and myriad other reasons that I, or Rabbi Guttentag, Rabbi Russel, Rabbi Brandwein, or Allison Josephs could weigh in on for my being “blessed” with all of the above. However, it would be meaningless because, like I mentioned earlier, they are not neviim.

I understand the comfort you would get from “knowing” as well as I would, but as far as I’m concerned it would only help me feel better if I would know for sure that it isn’t my “fault.”

So let me help you by saying it is not your fault — as all people have choices and by raising your child the best way you know how, with the tools you were given, when they choose yet another way it is definitely no one’s “fault.”

You and I were given challenges we didn’t ask for or agree to. I will continue to be very grateful for all the easier things Hashem gave me and do the best to be mekabel, preferably b’ahavah, the harder things He sent my way.

Hoping your challenges become easier and easier,

I remain respectfully yours,

Miriam Berger


To Save the Lions [The Mir’s Lost Lion / Issue 983]

A great yasher koyach on last week’s feature on the Yonas Eilem. The writers have set a very high bar for every researcher of our rich history to emulate.

I was particularly excited to read it, because just a few days earlier I taught one of Rav Yonah’s classic pieces to my mesivta bochurim on the topic of amah ivri’ah. It is so ingrained into the “curriculum” of the yeshivah world, that when a colleague asked me where we were holding and I mentioned that particular sugya, he answered almost reflexively, “Oh, there’s a famous Yonas Eilem on that!”

We are not even talmidim of the same yeshivos but the Yonas Eilem spanned them all. I recall how Rav Mendel Kaplan ztz”l, himself a Mirrer talmid, would speak about Rav Yonah Minsker with the same reverence and admiration reserved for the gedolim of his era.

If I may add, the reference to Rav Yonah as the lost lion of the Mir has special significance. Rav Avraham Kalmanovitz and Rav Simcha Wasserman z”l received a delivery of money that was to be forwarded to the Mirrer Yeshiva in Shanghai, which arrived in the middle of the night. Rav Kalmanovitz insisted that they immediately proceed to the central post office in New York City, which was open all night, and send it off. Rav Simcha asked what the rush was if the post office wouldn’t send it out until the morning regardless. Rav Kalmanovitz responded with a vort that has become a classic, known to many of us.

We are taught that Noach was punished for being tardy in feeding the lion on the teivah; he suffered a blow that left him lame. Why? How much can we expect from him already, as he was stewarding so many animals at once? The answer is because this was the last lion on earth and Noach had to treat it as such. The entire lion world was dependent on him — so lateness was simply unacceptable. So, too, the Mirrer talmidim are the last lions in the Olam HaTorah, Rav Kalmanowitz said, and we must act with alacrity to make sure they are saved!

Sadly Rav Yonah Minsker was not saved, but thankfully for the efforts of those mentioned in the article and all of those who had a hand in the hatzalah of the Mir, their Torah and their influence on the entire Olam HaTorah lives on forever.

Rabbi Henoch Plotnik, Chicago


Skokie’s Nazi Rally [For the Record / Issue 982]

In Issue 982, historians Mr. Geberer and Safier uncovered the Jewish rallies, demonstrations, and campaigns to silence the Nazi party and sympathizers from marching, amassing in numbers, and showing their faces in Jewish areas. The Jewish mobsters had their code of conduct and the Nazis ran in fright.

Yet the notorious “Nazi March in Skokie” was not touched upon. In 1978, the Nazi group wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, where many Jewish residents and Holocaust survivors lived. Permission was granted for the march, determined by legal courts and freedom of speech advocates. The Nazis were planning to march in their storm trooper uniforms with the swastika insignia, which ignited and inflamed the rage of Chicago’s Jews.

While docile Jewish Federation and other groups organized a peaceful response, Meir Kahane, who was living in Israel at that time, amassed ten filled-to-capacity buses from the tristate area to travel to Skokie to “loudly” protest. It was quite a scene, as my parents related in detail as they returned the next day on the bus. Baruch Hashem the Nazi March was canceled at the last moment.

Today we are dealing weekly with pro-Hamas marches, riots, attacks, and assaults to breed fright. Our history keeps repeating and repeating. May Mashiach Tzidkeinu arrive quickly.

Mrs. Caren May


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 985)

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