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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler

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Miketz - II

Suffering Together

And to Yosef two sons were born, before the arrival of the year of famine, whom Osnas the daughter of Poti-fera priest of On bore to him. (Bereshis 41:50)

Rabbi Pinchas Hamburger (1857-1918), of Jerusalem, was an expert mohel who would travel far and wide to perform a bris. Once, a Sefardi Jew living in Gaza had a baby boy Since there was no mohel in the vicinity, ten days went by without a bris. His wife forced him to travel to Jerusalem to find a mohel so he got on his donkey and made the long trip to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, he could not find any mohel willing to travel to Gaza because it was quite dangerous there. When Rabbi Hamburger heard of this case, he volunteered to go with the father and perform the bris.

After the bris, he rented a donkey to reach Har Tuv where he could catch a train back to Jerusalem. A young Arab boy traveled with him so that he could return the donkey afterwards to its owner But the boy was unacquainted with the roads, and they lost the way and could not find the main road. Nor was there anyone to ask. It was the middle of the summer and the burning sun beat down on them strongly. The donkey became exhausted, stopped and could not continue.

Rabbi Hamburger prayed to G-d and said, "My L-rd, You know that I went on this journey to do Your will. Please have mercy on me, and show me the way, since our Sages say, "Those who travel do a mitzvah are not harmed; neither on their way to do the mitzvah, nor on the way back." I

He had just finished praying, when a man in Arab headdress approached him. The Rabbi was frightened, since the Arab might very possibly be a bandit. But he strengthened himself with the thought, "What will be, will be. I place my trust in G-d."

The Arab came closer and gave him a hearty greeting and returned the Arab's greeting.

The Arab asked, "Where are you going?"

"I want to reach Har Tuv but I got lost," answered Rabbi Hamburger.

Immediately, the Arab took hold of the donkey's reins, and led him to the road to Har Tuv. The relieved rabbi offered the Arab a monetary reward, but he refused to accept it. He offered him cigarettes, but he refused those too. When he tried to thank him, the Arab simply disappeared.

Rabbi Hamburger said to himself, "I am sure that was Avraham Avinu, from whose bris I am returning. Or maybe it was Eliyah Hanavi who comes to every bris. "


Rabbi Hamburger empathized with the Jew in his situation, (that he could find no one to perform the bris on his son), and took action in spite of the danger involved. In marriage too, we must always be aware of the situations that our spouses are going through and empathize with them, listening and helping in any way we can.

It is forbidden for a person to have relations with his wife during years of famine, as it is written, "And to Yosef two sons were born, before the arrival of the year of famine." 2We have learned: those who are barren are allowed to have relations in the years of famine. Our Sages have learned: at a time when the tzibbur [community] is in sorrow, if a single person removes himself from the ways of the tzibbur, the two angels who escort him place their hands on his head and say, "so-and-so, who has removed himself from the ways of the tzibbur, shall not see the consolation of the tzibbur." Someone who has suffered with the tzibbur will merit to see the consolation of the tzibbur, as was the case for Moshe Rabbenu, who suffered along with the tzibbur, as it is written, "And Moshe's hands were heavy, and they took a stone [and put it underneath him].3 Did Moshe not have one pillow or mattress to sit upon [why should he sit on a hard stone]? But Moshe said, "Since Israel is suffering I will also suffer." Perhaps someone will ask [what a person does at home and whether or not he is suffering with the tzibbur]. The bricks of his house will testify, as it is written, "A stone from the wall will holler."

(YALKUT 148, from Taanis 11a)

Even if a person must suffer along with the tzibbur, why is it forbidden to have relations during years of famine, when there are other ways to suffer? Why are couples who are barren exempt from the above prohibition Why is it necessary for the two angels who escort a person to place their hands upon him and say that he will not participate in the consolation of the tzibbur? Where do we find that Moshe saw the consolation of the tzibbur, as it is promised to one who participates in the suffering of the tzibbur? What are our Sages referring to when they say that the bricks of his house will testify against him?

Abstaining from marital relations is truly the ultimate participation with the tzibbur in their suffering. No one knows what a person does in his bed at night, and even though he might show some sympathy for those who are suffering, he feels that at night and at home he has the right to do whatever he wishes. But our Sages are teaching us that truly participating with the tzibbur means that they are close to one's heart, and one feels their plight as if it was his own. Hence, it makes no difference whether someone is looking at you or not, since you feel a moral obligation to be part of the communal situation, even in bed at night.

Couples who are barren are exempt from the above prohibition, since their lives are already full of constant suffering. Our Sages say that someone who is barren is as if he were dead. 5Therefore, he is constantly participating in the suffering of the tzibbur and there is no need for him to abstain from relations during the years of famine.

It is appropriate that the two angels who escort a person everywhere should be the ones to proclaim that he will not participate in the consolation of the tzibbur, since these angels know the real truth about his participation in the plight of the tzibbur.

We find that Moshe saw the consolation of the tzibbur as is promised to one who participates in the suffering of the tzibbur. He experienced this consolation immediately, as we know from the following verse, "And Yehoshua broke the strength of Amalek with his sword." 6That was his reward for sitting on a stone in order to feel the Jewish people's sorrow.

Our Sages were referring to the temptation to enjoy oneself when no one is looking, when they said that the bricks of his house will testify against him. A person must be on such a high level that he will do the right thing, not only when someone is looking at him, but simply because it is the right thing to do. That is why our Sages say, "You should fear Heaven just as you fear human beings." 7 People tend to fear their fellow human beings and not to fear G-d, even though He sees them at all times. Therefore, our Sages gave us pictorial way of feeling G-d's presence when they said, imagine that the bricks of your house are people who are going to testify against you. Wouldn't you then take care regarding what you do, even in the privacy of your own four walls?

Married Couples Feel Each Other's Joys and sorrows

The idea of suffering along with another person is one of the foundations of married life. If your spouse is ill, in a bad mood, has lost something, or is out of work, you will naturally feel as if this has happened to you. You cannot be complacent when your spouse is suffering. Participating in his or her sorrow is a real chesed and is very important in establishing and maintaining the bond between you.

Never try to place the blame on your spouse. Do not say, "You should have been more careful." "See what you cause yourself by your stupidity." "When will you ever learn lesson?" Any statement like that is pouring salt on the wound. Instead, try to comfort your spouse by expressing confidence in G-d, and explain how everything is for the best even if we do not understand it now. Explain that everyone makes mistakes, and this is the way we learn in life. By saying the right words in time of crisis, you can be a great support to your spouse.

When your spouse comes home, always ask him or her about their day, and make yourself a live participant in all the adventures of the day. Empathize with your spouse's feelings. Feel with his or her sorrows and Joys, and feel it from your heart. it is important that you take time, no matter how busy you are, to listen to your spouse every day tell about the happenings of the day. Listening is of tremendous importance, and it forms a strong bond between you and your spouse.

That is what marriage is all about, doing chesed with one another and sharing experiences. If you are oblivious to your spouse's needs and problems, joys and fears, then you are causing a rift between you that will be hard to mend.

1. Pesachim 8b
2. Bereshis 41:50
3. Shemos 17:12
4. Chabbakuk 2:11
5. Nedarim 64b
6. Bereshis 17:13
7. Berachos 28a

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