One Motzoei Shabbos, the Pnei Menachem, zy”a, turned to a close confidant and began to speak of his Uncle, Harav Mendel Alter, the PabienitzerRav, Hy”d.
“I call him my maggid,” he revealed. “He comes to me in dreams and tells me things…”
He proceeded to relate a dream he had about his uncle.
It was during a time when the Pnei Menachem’s young son was seriously unwell, and various members of his extended family were experiencing personal tzaros.
“Does the Uncle know that almost everyone in the family [has reason to be anguished]? Why is this happening to us?”
“[You] don’t know?” the PabienitzerRav replied. “It used to be tzadku yachdav, if one person had a tzarah, everyone experienced [the anguish] with them. Today everyone has [himself] in mind, each one is given his own pekel…”
While the Pnei Menachem did not elaborate, the Chassid — who enjoyed an unusually close relationship with the Rebbe — offered a possible explanation.
There is a teaching from the Rebbe Reb Bunim, on the passuk (Tehillim 19:10) “Mishpetei Hashem emes, tzadku yachdav — The judgments of Hashem are true, altogether righteous.”
When a mortal king punishes an individual, he only takes into account the deeds and misdeeds of that specific person. In contrast, before deciding a person’s fate, the Ribbono shel Olam takes everything into account, including how family members will be affected.
This is a powerful lesson in how we should approach the troubles of others, and the fundamental importance of being mishtatef b’tzarasan shel Yisrael. It teaches us that in addition to being an intrinsic part of ahavas Yisrael, the degree to which we feel the pain of others actually has a profound influence on our own lives.
There is often a tendency to react to distressful news with an effort to create a distance between those circumstances and our own lives. Instead of feeling the anguish of the victims and their immediate families and channeling this pain to lead us to thoughts of cheshbon hanefesh, self-improvement, and drawing the appropriate lessons, we seek to concentrate on the relatively insignificant details of the situation.
Often we don’t even realize that subconsciously, by focusing on the where, when and how, and in some cases even trying to assign blame to some third party, we are trying to assure ourselves that there is little chance that such a catastrophe would happen to us.
On another occasion, the Pnei Menachem, whose 20th yahrtzeit is being marked this week (see special supplement with this week’s edition), related a personal story that provides crucial insight into how an individual facing a personal crisis should use the opportunity to look beyond the present and the immediate issue.
It occurred during a period of time when the Pnei Menachem’s mother was ill and living with him. Her medical costs, together with the mounting expenses of supporting his own family, far exceeded his own meager earnings as Rosh Yeshivah. One day the Pnei Menachem returned home and tbl”c, the Rebbetzin, shetichyeh, was crying. She told her esteemed husband that she did not have with what to buy food for the children.
“Things cannot continue this way,” she told him.
Deeply moved, the Pnei Menachem made his way to the kever of his father, the Imrei Emes, zy”a, located in the courtyard of the yeshivah.
“Tatte,” he implored, “you see what I am going through. In this zechus, may I merit good children!”
It is telling what his request was at this time: It was not about his dire financial situation; it was something he clearly considered even more important — good children.
All of us, at one time or another in our lives, encounter periods of challenge. As we seek to fortify ourselves with emunah and bitachon, and pour out our hearts in tefillah, we should never lose sight of the larger picture, of the things that matter most in life.
During a period of hardship, when our hearts are filled with anguish and tears well up in our eyes, it is a most opportune moment to cleave to Hashem. As the yissurim we are experiencing cleanse our souls, we grow enormously in the process. It is a most opportune time to daven for ourselves, for our children and for all of Klal Yisrael.