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Reflections on Mumbai
by Abraham Twerski

"Why, then, should we avoid emotional pain? Why not say that when a person feels pain about a certain event, it is positive - that the pain is a force pushing him to change? There is tremendous inertia when it comes to changing our personalities, and without such motivation it is questionable whether a person would in fact change.."  - The Chassidic Approach to Joy - Ch.8

A thousand people packed the hall, sanctuary actually, at the Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue in Toronto. A giant screen in front of the ark displayed a powerful video presentation documenting the magnificent lives and achievements of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg of blessed memory. The Chabad House at Mumbai
Above the ark, carved in stone, we could read the divine fiat, "Thou shalt not murder," as we watched the massacre unfold on the screen below. Inside the ark, a Torah scroll was poised to express this week's reading about Jewish continuity, our patriarchs and matriarchs, even as we reflected on the abrupt discontinuity of a young couple, two of the finest, most selfless, accomplished, loving and dedicated people you could ever hope to meet.
The emcee's words heightened the contrast, juxtaposed the promise and the pain, and framed the question: How can we come to terms with this evil terrorist strike at the heart of goodness and kindness? He introduced the guest speaker, the famed psychiatrist, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, author of fifty books, to guide us in how to make sense of it all.
All eyes and ears were on Rabbi Twerski as he opened, "Any attempt to make sense of this massacre is doomed to futility." He cited the precedent of Moses, G-d's right hand man, prophet extraordinaire, who begged his Creator for an explanation when he asked, "Let me know Your ways," i.e., Why do bad things happen to good people? If anyone could merit an explanation, it would be Moses. But heaven's answer was: There is no explanation, at least not one that a mortal human being could comprehend.
The juxtaposition of unspeakable evil in the face of incomparable good always raises for us this question of purpose: Why?
Rabbi Twerski turned the question around, and in so doing, reminded us of our humanity and our spirit. His words paved for us a road of self-improvement, a uniquely human road, an especially Jewish road from personal slavery to personal liberation, from material to spiritual values, from exile to redemption, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe would always emphasize.
Rabbi Twerski believes that the spreading of Chassidus is the only antidote to the massacre of Mumbai. Twerski, who is a direct descendent of both the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, explains how the goal of Chassidus is to create Chassidim, people whose personalities are characterized by selflessness, generosity of spirit, and devotion to G-d.
These are not qualities that fit the model of man we were taught in high school or university. There, man is merely a specimen of Homo sapiens, no more than a clever baboon. But is this view of human nature correct? Perhaps we are much more.
No cow ever got up in the morning and asked itself, "How can I be a better cow?" Animals don't make ethical judgments, don't study history to learn lessons for the future. It's only humans who can decide their goals in life or question the purpose of their existence. And what animal is likely to defy a bodily drive for the sake of some moral or ethical value?
All these qualities have nothing to do with man, the machine, man the bag of bones whose very existence is a random chemical hiccup. The humans that we really are, are creatures of spirit. All these above-mentioned qualities exist on the spiritual plane, quite beyond the biological. In fact, as a psychiatrist Twerski testifies that the exercise of these spiritual values is actually a human need just as much if not more than the biological needs we share with lower forms of life.
Like any other essential lack, if we are deficient in spirit we humans will exhibit symptoms of malaise as certainly as we would if our deficiency was chemical. Biologically, were we to suffer from an iron deficiency, no multivitamin or alternative medication would help, only iron. Analagously, if the deficiency is a lack of purpose, no amount of money or materialistic indulgence is going to provide anything more than a temporary distraction from the true deficiency, which is spiritual in nature.
What are the symptoms of a spiritual deficiency? One feels stuck, discontented, agitated, sometimes hopeless. This is not clinical depression nor an anxiety disorder. All the prozac and valium in the world won't cure it. But if you supply the meaning, the purpose, the goals, the program of self-improvement, higher values, community service, charitable works, you will see the difference - you will see growth, and with it comes happiness and peace of mind.
But spiritual growth is not always easy. There is usually something holding us back, be it our habits, our desires, our distractions, or our addictions. Dr. Twerski tells of one patient of his who beat his drug addiction and then went home for Passover. Right at the beginning of the seder, when his father said, "We were slaves in the land of Egypt," he said, "Dad, what do you know about slavery and liberation? I really have been a slave. The drug told me what to do and I did it - for years. Now I've been liberated and there's no words to describe how grateful I am."
Have you ever wondered, Rabbi Twerski asks, why Jews are so obsessed with the Exodus from Egypt? They mention it in their daily prayers, they commemorate it when they make kiddush on Shabbat and festivals, they mention it in the Shma, they associate it with mitzvos like tefillin, tzitzit and sukkah. Even Passover itself is no simple one day commemoration but weeks of preparation plus a week of celebration.
The answer is it's not about leaving Egypt at all - it's about liberation from slavery, and that's what life is all about. In slavery there are many kinds and degrees. There is slavery to gross addictions like drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. But we may also become enslaved to things that could be benign if we had the right attitude to them: like food, fashion, fame and fortune.
There's nothing wrong to live with these things. The problem is when we live for them. When life is defined by our material needs and wants, our spirit become encrusted and we can't break free. Our only way out is to repress the physical a little to make room for other things.
We can learn a lesson about this from the lobster. Have you ever wondered how lobsters grow? Their shells are hard and fixed in size. As the soft creature within grows larger, it starts to feel squeezed inside its shell. This discomfort signals that it's time to cast off the shell to enable growth. The lobster finds a nice rock to hide under, climbs out of its shell, and then grows a new one to match its size.
The lesson for us is recognize that the discontent, agitation and hopelessness we feel may in fact be our souls calling out for a little more space. Every once in a while we need to cast off our materialistic exterior which of course could make us vulnerable for a time, but it also accommodates inner growth.
Imagine what would happen if lobsters had doctors. "Hey doc, I'm feeling uncomfortable in my shell. What do I do?" The doctor could say,"Take a pain killer." or "You need to lose weight" But that won't solve the problem. The need is growth and that need must be met.
Sometimes pain is a blessing. It's a neshama crying out for meaning. At that point it's time to heed the call.
R' Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg heard the call of the neshama. They put their own material comfort to the side, dedicating all their inner and outer resources to helping other Jews find their way in the world. If we can deny our material obsessions and gratifications just a little bit, we can rise a step closer to living a life of meaning like theirs.
And then our personal redemption will contribute to the ultimate redemption, may it take place speedily in our days, Amen.

Reprinted with permission from



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