During the shiva, the heartbroken father tearfully declared his acceptance of God’s Will and his beloved son’s untimely death. Many people were moved by the father’s unwavering faith despite the harsh blow.
However, while Rabbi Miller praised the father’s faith and acceptance, he also said that the father should not have left his young son alone with the candles.
In other words, a cheshbon hanefesh (self-accounting) was missing.
What If You Pushed Just 1 More Baby-Step beyond Your Comfort Zone?
At the same time, I do know this person. And while there is a lot to like and appreciate about her, she also has stuff she needs to work on. (Just like me and just like everybody else.) While I admired her use of the painful challenge to successfully strengthen her emuna (and while I also don’t delude myself: I don’t see myself as handling such a challenge better than she), I couldn’t help noticing that she skipped the step of cheshbon hanefesh.
Yes, she briefly touched on it by noting that problems in various body parts hint at what needs to be worked on.
(For example, problems in one’s mouth hint at sins of speech.)
But her body part didn’t have an obvious correlation.
(And to be fair, it’s much harder to figure out hints coming from inner organs, such as the liver, bladder, kidneys, gallbladder, blood, and so on.)
Yet even with hard-to-figure organs, the following can help:
- Sefer Charedim (among other books) lists different body parts and their correlating mitzvot
- Garden of Healing (based on the above) lists different body parts/organs and their correlating issues
- A mekubal could be asked what needs to be worked on
- One could directly ask God during a session of personal prayer
- Chinese medicine details how different emotions and middot with different organs. (For a frum take on this which middot and emotions go with which organ and how to heal it all with God’s Help, please see How to Talk to God and Fix Your Health.)
I wondered whether she really had needed all the medical intervention (a large part of which was performed incorrectly, painfully, and uselessly at first).
What if she’d gone a step further than faithful acceptance (which certainly was a form of self-transformation) and actually went to work on fixing another trait that needs polishing?
It’s impossible to know for sure in the above circumstances. Yet we do know that we are here to do teshuvah, to rectify ourselves, and to become better people. And there are certainly stories of ill people doing teshuvah whose teshuvah reversed the process.
Yes, strengthening emuna is definitely doing teshuvah.
Intensifying one’s gratitude is definitely self-improvement.
In the above example, my acquaintance ended up with a clean bill of health after all those procedures—procedures which themselves were life-threatening, in addition to her life-threatening illness.
Baruch Hashem, while she was a wonderful person before, she is an even better person from it all and she is totally healthy, may she live in good health until 120.
Also, sometimes a decree is a decree. The illness continues, but at least the teshuvah saves from Gehinnom.
But I look at my own flawed messy self…and I see that strengthening my emuna and accepting Hashem’s Will with joy isn’t enough.
Measure for Measure: An "Ouch!" for an "Ouch!"
One day, I was pushing a baby carriage home through a charedi area on a hot day. On the way, I noticed a young woman sporting bushy bleached hair with a thick black stripe through it while wearing a micro-miniskirt waiting for a bus. There was something in her sullen demeanor that made me want to reach out to her. It’s like I wanted to reassure her that she was still likeable and acceptable, even though she was looking rebellious and unacceptable.
I decided I would smile and say hi as I passed by her. The problem is, I’m an introvert at heart and doing these kinds of things call for a certain gutsiness that I can’t always muster. In short, my good intentions stumbled along the way, and my greeting didn’t come out audibly enough and I’m not sure she saw my smile. (Or if she did see it, if she interpreted it correctly…maybe it came off as a smirk?)
Immediately, I felt this unbearable stinging sensation in my flesh. I couldn’t take care of it on the street and my home was over a block away. I had no choice but to continue walking even though every step brought another sting.
Once upon a time, I would’ve just felt self-pitying and resentful about this. But at this point, I knew it was from Hashem and it was for my good. So gritting my teeth, I said, “Thank you for this stinging sensation!”
Was that progress? Yes.
Could have I just been content with that? Yes.
Is it correct to be content with that? Well…no.
So I did a quick search of myself and it didn’t take long to make the connection between the stinging sensation and my "stingingly" clumsy interaction with the girl. I realized my good intentions had come off badly and though she didn’t show it, it probably stung.
So now I was stinging.
I deliberated whether to go back. I wasn’t sure whether I could physically manage to walk back to her and then walk back home again. I wasn’t sure whether apologizing might make it worse. (i.e., “Hi! Maybe you thought I was smirking at or insulting you, but really, I was trying to be nice!” Weird…) She didn’t look vulnerable, she looked hostile and sullen.
Anyway, I decided to happily accept this as atonement for my unintentional blunder and to ask Hashem to somehow make the girl realize that the strange lady who passed her by wasn’t horrible, but just odd.
Is that progress compared to how I used to be? Yes.
Is it enough? Well…not really.
So I dug a bit deeper into my nefesh, and this is what I come up with:
1) Next time someone interacts with me in a way I find offensive, I could ask myself whether the person is innocent and actually means well, but is merely expressing herself in a clumsy or awkward manner, as I obviously can sometimes do myself.
2) Despite what all the outreach enthusiasts preach, sometimes reaching out is the wrong thing to do. Compassion can be condescending if it’s not done just right. Sometimes, people prefer to be unnoticed and just acting normal around them is actually the kindest and most compassionate thing to do.
3) There is a time to act and a time to hold back.
4) Ask Hashem before deciding on my own.
And no, all the self-introspection didn’t make the stinging sensation go away until I got home to fix it. That was the atonement for unintentionally “stinging” another person. Hopefully, it’s off my Heavenly slate.
Is that enough?
Well, I don’t know.
But I reached my limits on what I could think to do and here it is.