This was the vision of the greats of history. Beyond moments of crisis, they saw blooming buds of blessings. In every pain, they found gain. And in every suffering, they planted trees of hopes that served as a reminder that freedom and joy are soon to come.Rabbi Allouche
I’ll never forget that moment and its invaluable lesson.
It was a late afternoon in 2001. I was visiting a Jerusalem hospital, when I suddenly bumped into my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, in the hospital’s elevator.
“Good afternoon, Rabbi!” I greeted him. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m going to study the Talmud,” he replied immediately.
“To study the Talmud? In this hospital? Are there no better places to study?” I retorted.
His wise response still reverberates in my mind: “Well, the doctors here have to connect me to a dialysis machine for a few hours, and in the meantime, I’ll study the Talmud.”
At that moment I had learned that Rabbi Steinsaltz suffers from a genetic condition named “Gaucher,” which requires him to be “connected to a dialysis machine,” each and every month for approximately three hours. Apparently, he has followed this monthly routine from a very young age. But what stunned me most is not the fact that he never shared this with me and his close students. Rather, it was the idea that Rabbi Steinsaltz never saw this repetitive treatment – which was undoubtedly painful and, in many ways, debilitating – as a challenge. For this giant of man, it was an opportunity to study the Talmud for three hours, without interruption.
And it taught me an invaluable lesson for life: we all face challenges, big or small. We all suffer from diseases, physical or mental. We all endure pain, temporary or permanent. But it is the way we choose to address them that makes all the difference.
My dear mentor approached his monthly medical treatment as a golden opportunity to study the Talmud every month in quietude. Yes, he could have seen it as an aching, disrupting, and frustrating nuisance. But he chose to see it differently, with positivity and joy. And this compelled me to ask: Can we, also, not follow his shining example when faced with our personal challenges?
This thought came to mind this week, as I too suffered a medical setback, from which I am, thank G-d, recovering. However, inspired by my mentor, I tried my very best to see it as a time of reflection and study, that enabled me to deepen my connection with G-d and my loved ones. (This is also an opportunity to thank the many for their good wishes and gestures, that were deeply moving and encouraging.) My only hope is that this approach continues to trickle into every sphere of life.
When the Israelites left Egypt, they carried with them cedar trees to, eventually, build a tabernacle for G-d in the desert. These trees had been planted in Egypt, by their forefather, Jacob, some 300 years before them. But why did Jacob plant these trees in Egypt for his descendants? Weren’t there enough trees in Egypt?
The answer is poignant: Jacob knew that his descendants will suffer greatly in Egypt as slaves to Pharaoh. And so he planted trees for them that stood as a reminder that, one day, they will be freed. “Don’t despair,” these trees were whispering to Jacob’s descendants. “Soon, you will leave this desert; soon G-d will reclaim you as His people; soon you will build a home in which you and I will dwell together.” These trees gave a nation of tormented slaves something to “hold on to” and it provided them with a will to live on, even during their darkest moments.
This was the vision of Jacob and all of the greats of history. Beyond moments of crisis, they saw blooming buds of blessings. In every pain, they found gain. And in every suffering, they planted trees that served as a reminder that freedom and joy are soon to come.
As the late Lubavitcher Rebbe once quipped: “Imagine you could open your eyes and see only the good in every person, the positive in every circumstance, and the opportunity in every challenge.”
May this marvelous imagination become our reality, now and forever. Amen.