Acharei Mot(Leviticus 16-18)
In everyone's life, things happen - sometimes big, sometimes small - that cause frustration, aggravation, and pain. This week's Torah portion teaches us about Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we make an effort to look at our lives and think of ways to become better people. One way we do this is by making ourselves less comfortable on that day through fasting. The discomfort a person experiences when fasting would help to put him in a more serious frame of mind, making it easier for him to focus on his most important values, and consider ways in which he might improve himself, which is one of the main goals of Yom Kippur. We can learn from here that, while we needn't seek discomfort in our lives, if it does come our way, we can try to view it as a growing experience, and thereby turn our pain into gain!
In our story, a boy comes out of a difficult experience with a new view of life.
If you could say that the Hunter Valley School had a 'king,' it would certainly be Robert Gershon. The big, brawny kid, known as 'Bulldozer', wasn't only the captain of the football team, but a baseball and track star as well. Tall, and good-looking, the kid literally and figuratively stood 'head and shoulders' above everyone around him.
In school, people would naturally move out of the way when they saw him bounding down the hallway - and with good reason. You see, Robert also had a bit of a temper, to say the least, and he felt that any slowpoke that got in his way deserved the 'bulldozer' treatment. More than one hapless kid ended up sprawled on the floor, after a stiff push from the not-so-gentle giant.
And so things went, until the day came that was to change Robert's life, and the lives of everyone in the whole school.
It started at a typical football practice. The guys had worked up a good sweat and were about to call it quits, when they decided to practice one more play. Robert ran to the far end of the field and jumped to catch the football being thrown his way. He caught the ball, but as he landed, his leg twisted the wrong way and the loud pop of the breaking bone could be heard clear across the field. Medics rushed the boy to the emergency room, and even though he would be okay, Robert found himself confined to a wheelchair and then crutches for two long months.
The boy was crushed. Now, instead of being able to powerfully bulldoze around the way he was used to, he would have to hobble along like an old man. The poor kid couldn't even open a door by himself. One of the hardest times for Robert was when he tried to make his way through the busy school corridors. Kids would rush by him on their way to class, and sometimes even shove him out of the way in their haste.
"What's their rush?" he would think. "Couldn't they show a little courtesy for a guy who can't move as fast as they can?"
Robert was really starting to feel down about his tough situation, when he had a thought that almost made him laugh out loud. "Hey, look who's talking!" he thought. "They don't call me 'Bulldozer' around here for nothing. I've been pushing people around like this for years. I guess at least one good thing that's come from my injury is that I'm getting a chance to know what it feels like to be on the other end of the push!"
Time passed and Robert had his cast removed and was back on his feet. Soon enough he had built himself back up into the bruiser he always was. But now there was one big difference that everyone in school couldn't help but notice. When Robert would walk down the hall, he didn't push anymore. He would even actually wait patiently for the smaller, slower-moving kids to get by. Whenever someone would comment on this, Robert would just smile, and say, "My time in the cast was hard, but taught me a very important lesson: 'bulldozers' belong on the playing field, and not in the hallway."
The whole school benefited from Robert's new attitude, and everyone felt inspired by the boy who learned how to turn his own tough break into a lucky break for himself and the people around him.
Q. How did Robert feel about pushing people around, before he broke his leg?
A. He felt like it was okay since he was bigger and faster than the other kids.
Q. How did he feel afterwards?
A. His time in a cast let him feel what it was like to get pushed, and he saw that it wasn't right.
Q. Why do you think experiencing a broken leg caused Robert's attitude to change?
A. While he was healthy, Robert was only able to see things from one perspective; since he was the toughest, he had the right to push around anyone he wanted to. But once he broke his leg and found himself in a weak and vulnerable situation, he was able look more deeply at his behavior and to realize that it really was not the proper way to behave. Robert grew into a more sensitive person as a direct result of the discomfort he suffered from his injury.
Q. Can a person really grow from every difficulty he experiences?
A. Our growth depends largely on the choices we make. Indeed a person could come out of a painful situation without growing at all. But this would be because he chose not to focus on what there was to be learned. Every difficult situation surely contains within it a lesson, and a chance for personal spiritual growth, but we have to make the choice to be open to seeing it.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is the insight that we gain from difficult experiences really worth the pain?
A. It might not feel that way at the time. Nobody enjoys difficulty or pain, but when we consider that our ultimate purpose in life is to perfect ourselves into better, kinder, and more spiritual people, anything that brings us closer to that goal, even if it hurts, is in the end worth the price.
Q. Isn't there any way to grow that isn't painful?
A. Growth, like anything else worthwhile, demands a price. However there are ways to grow that don't require us experiencing pain directly. One way is to become more sensitive to the pains and difficulties others are experiencing. By empathizing with others, we open ourselves up to the growth potential of their situation as well. Another thing we can do is to make a constant and conscious effort at self-improvement. When we do that, we will come to learn on our own many of the lessons that it would otherwise require painful experiences to teach us.