Numbing Our Sensitivities

Those of us living in galus care for the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael as we do for our own well-being. We daven for them every day, and make sure our askanim exert whatever hishtadlus they can in dealing with American political leaders, to better ensure the security of our brethren in the Holy Land.

When there is an eruption of violence and terror, we get shaken up and it makes a real difference in the way we live our lives. We resolve to improve in areas where we are lacking. Many times, these resolutions actually lead to change.

But time passes and everything (for us) reverts to the norm. At times the security situation gets a little better, as the conflagration of violence recedes to a level that allows those in Israel to get on with their lives. Other times, we get back on track while those overseas are doing anything but.

The current violent wave in Eretz Yisrael is one example of the latter instance. When the stabbing attacks began many months ago, we were all deeply affected. Life, it seemed, could never be the same so long as Jews could not safely walk the streets without fearing for their lives.

I found myself thinking about this last week, while reading a story about one such attack. The “mere” fact that a terrorist stabs someone is not enough to arouse the same level of interest or emotional response as it did months ago. But the attacks have been continuing at a steady pace. Since they began around six months ago, there have been over 500 attacks, with 34 people being killed and almost 400 seriously injured.

There is a simple enough reason for this. Harav Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu, 4, p. 339) points to the inherent miracle in the planting of a seed and its subsequent growth as an example of this phenomenon. If this would be a one-time occurrence, he writes — in which one would take a dry and apparently lifeless seed, bury it in the ground, soak it with water and allow it to shrivel and rot — would one ever expect to see new life come out of it? Yet, this happens over and over again every day, and we aren’t blown away by it.

It is precisely because of that, he explains, that when we see something over and over, we become accepting of it as the norm, and become numb to it. The only solution for that, he says, is deep thought and introspection.

The Steipler Gaon, zt”l, (Kehillas Yaakov Nidah, siman 66 and Bava Kama, siman 29) explains the principle of “chazakah,” wherein something happening three times (such as an ox goring other animals) causes a status change as well. Doing something (or having it happen, in some cases,) over and over again can create a new nature, he says. And although the subject hadn’t had this nature before, it will after.

We see a similar pattern in how we react to all the disturbing occurrences surrounding the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

I find it increasingly harder to understand how it is that any thinking person cannot be disturbed by his rise — let alone count themselves among his supporters. And while I’d love nothing more than to write a detailed rebuttal of his stated policies, it’s close to impossible, seeing as he has yet to confine himself to any position on anything.

Simply put, what he is selling is demagoguery and anger. As Jews, we should know better than anyone how dangerous that mix is.

But set that aside and look at the coarseness and vulgarity he has brought into the mainstream, his egging on his followers to get violent with protesters and the strong-arming tactics his campaign practices — with his campaign manager apparently assaulting a reporter who asked a question of the candidate that was not to his liking.

None of this seems to make a dent in anyone’s opinion of him. It is only the people who never liked him before who grow scandalized when more and more scenarios occur which justify their abhorrence for the idea of Trump in any position of power. Those who like him, or those who are ambivalent, remain with their opinions unchanged.

The steadiness of how his campaign has continued unashamedly shattering norms has changed nature to the point that most people are no longer shocked. And unless they engage in deep thought (or any thought, for that matter) about it, it won’t change.

The same holds true about the terror attacks in Eretz Yisrael. The best course of action we can take so as not to grow cold to the plight of our brothers and sisters would be to dedicate a few minutes of thought to the situation. Doing so would help us better care for them, and be better motivated to do whatever we can, especially daven, to help alleviate the current state of affairs.