Impressively, all these people keep soldiering on despite pain, terrible inconvenience, and even threat to life. It’s beautiful to hear how they turned like a child to their Father b’Shamayim during lonely, fearful nights in the hospital and how they plow onward, managing their families and homes while investing in a meaningful job outside the home. They all accept the problems as decrees from Hashem.
Some of them received a complete healing and some are still challenged by ongoing health issues.
But one thing niggled beneath the surface. I couldn’t help noticing a certain “giburah” attitude prickling through all their good traits: “If I can do it, then anyone can…and everyone must!”
(This is NOT true of all people suffering from health problems. I’m using these particular people as an example to make a point. I'm NOT blaming people for their illness.)
Some of them even boast and demand outright that others follow their example.
The problem is that extenuating circumstances exist, which they refuse to acknowledge.
Giburah Knows Best!
Candy wrappers and popsicle drippings decorated the stairwell and the entryway. And of course, there was always the neighborly pre-Pesach huffiness against those families (this popsicle-dripping family included) who dared let their children use the stairwell while carrying chametz (even chametz in a little baggie).
It's true that this behavior is not okay.
However...the husband is a bad-tempered bellower and I can’t help noticing that the mother has her children outside unsupervised in the spirit of other mothers I’ve known in the same situation: to protect their children. The house stays neater and quieter that way, plus the children are away from their bad-tempered bulldog—I mean, their father.
And the mother can't always be with them to supervise because she may have a nursing or sleeping baby, or she may need to tend things in the home.
But the giburot insist on getting huffy with the old “I would never let myyyy children do that!” (No names actually mentioned of course! But if you know the people in their building, then you know exactly whom they mean...) Or they even say it in front of the mother in front of a group. Hint, hint! Everyone knows, the mother also knows, she’s dying inside, but she can’t show it.
These giburot also don’t consider that maybe if they didn’t have such flexible (submissive?) husbands who let them run the whole show, then they might not have been able to be the very giburot we all know and love today.
With some of these giburot, you can hear them getting loud and high-pitched throughout the evenings. Nothing traumatic or abusive, but just very insistent and emotional about clean-up, homework, and proper bedtimes. I know one person who stopped indulging in his evening coffee on his porch because he found all the giburah's “yi-yi-yi-yi!” so annoying.
But if you’d ask her, she’d just say that she’s giving a proper chinuch. She feels she’s not really angry; she’s just being firm about what’s important. She’s being mosser nefesh to raise her children properly. Proof: They never litter the building or throw dirt around outside.
But perhaps the woman married to the bad-tempered bulldog feels she can’t add even more stress and loudness to a home that’s already stormy. And she’s right. Why should the kids get it from both parents when they’re already overwhelmed by one?
(The giburot will tell you that they either wouldn’t have married such a man OR they would never “allow” him to behave that way OR they would just put all their kochot in raising their children properly, even if that would mean yelling at them too.)
Or some mothers b’shitah decide they want to avoid indulging in routine “yi-yi-yi-yi!” Maybe they don’t always succeed in avoiding it, but at the same time, they don’t want to permit themselves limitless and loud nagging.
ME, me, ME, me, MEEEEEEEEE!
They also feel that they're being completely fair and staying far from the ugly trait of hypocrisy. After all, they aren't asking anyone to do anything they wouldn't do themselves!
“I never left my stroller in the building lobby,” she says. “Even when I had twins and we lived on the second floor, I lugged that thing up and down aaaall those stairs!”
“Well,” said her neighbor. “I also never left my stroller in the lobby, even when I had two kids in the stroller and another two clinging to the side. But what can I do that I honestly no longer have the physical strength to lug even one little baby up and down the stairs in a stroller? It's not my fault that I'm no longer 29 and that my last pregnancy took so much out of me.”
The neighbor got a doubtful look in reply.
Part of the problem with giburot is that their own resources and strengths define what is important and what isn't.
If they can manage it, then it's important.
If they can't, then it's not important.
Simple as that!
What a Little Bit of Teshuvah Could Do
What if they decided that since everything is from Hashem, they’ll accept the nisayon of candy wrappers with the same faith they accept their nisayon of illness?
What if they would daven for others’ shalom bayit, success in child-rearing, and good health with even half the fervor they daven for themselves?
What if they thanked Hashem for the irritation of litter and dirt and noise because heck, those irritations are a lot better than losing an internal organ?
Needless to say, I don’t know what Hashem decrees for each person and why different people suffer different things. That’s not my point here.
My question is if they had gone one step further past accepting Hashem’s Will of poor health (which is a phenomenal level, BTW, and they deserve credit for achieving that) ......and done a cheshbon hanefesh?
Note: Judaism actually insists that people do a cheshbon hanefesh over their suffering.
If someone would decide to stop putting herself on a pedestal as the example everyone needs to follow, if she would try to understand that we are not all made with equal situations and equal amounts of strength and equal amounts of intelligence nor do we possess equal amounts of other keilim and resources…then would she no longer need this nisayon to bring her down to size?
Would Hashem then allow her to keep her kidney or her gallbladder in such a situation?
Again, I’m not saying I know why people suffer. I don’t!
But IF the reason for that illness is only because Hashem wants that person to refine a particular aspect of herself—or to at least start refining that aspect with a first baby step—then wouldn’t at least a little bit of teshuvah possibly cure her?
Nothing's guaranteed. But possibly...?
Isn't it at least worth a try?
Learning from Others' Mistakes
I don’t know what they need to do exactly.
And certainly, they are doing many admirable things apart from their not-so-admirable traits.
These are very fine people in many ways.
But for my own self-scrutiny, I use these observations to ask myself, “What am I missing? What blindspot in myself am I overlooking?”
Because it’s not really about them.
Hashem is showing me their oversights to nudge me into knuckling down on my own blindspots.
If I see it, then Hashem expects me to do it. It’s not about condemning them.
It’s about learning from their mistakes to comb through my own mistakes and untangle my own blindspots.
In other words? Cheshbon hanefesh: a self-accounting of your soul.
And that's the work we're here to do.