From the desk of Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
917 446 2126
August 12, 2021 ###

The importance of being a good listener –
finding hope, solutions and meaning of life.

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt gave an update to approximately 100 rabbonim nationwide via zoom Tuesday August 10th, 21 regarding the concerns and issues of Covid-19 and the “contagious” Delta Variant. I am not going to share what he discussed about this strain, but rather the importance of loshon harah and sinas chinam. There are so many variables and most of all opinions who should mask, when to mask, where to mask, who was vaccinated or not, finger pointing, accusations, mistrust, or not caring about other opinions. There is an older couple who I mentioned in a previous article during the pandemic and the restrictions their physician recommended at that time were once again reinstated even though they received both vaccinations. Unless certain accommodations can be made, they might not be able to attend their grandchild’s afruf and wedding ,as they are both considered “high risk”. The concern is being amongst those who have not been vaccinated . The potential of transmitting the virus is greater than those who are vaccinated. The potential of contracting the virus is greater for those who have not been vaccinated according to the experts.

Why then take the vaccinations? According to the experts, should someone who was vaccinated contracts the virus, there is less chance of developing a more serious reaction or none. How then to avoid machlokes? By adhering to the decision of ones Rav and policies of a shul based on the advice of his medical experts. Be understanding of another person’s opinion if neither causes bad feelings or insisting on imposing his or her views on the other person. Learning how to compromise whenever possible. Most of all, just be caring, sensitive and understanding. Honestly, there are so many opinions conveyed from different types of media, it is often difficult to know who to believe and who to trust. Of course, trusting in the Ribono Shel Olam is utmost important. Rabbonim can be a tremendous source of comfort as well as the rebbitzens and chaplains just by listening to a person concerns and possible fears with heartfelt feelings. Giving sound advice should be based on concrete information and knowledge. There is absolutely nothing wrong in being honest not knowing the answer. It is important to give advice that is appropriate for that person and to always find hope. Regarding one’s medical concerns the best response is to encourage a person to seek advice from his /her primary care physician. Of course, as at anytime during the year, anyone who does not feel well should seek medical advice. No one should take the chance of having an illness that might be contagious and attend davening possibly spreading it to another person or persons. We must overcome any challenges to the best of our abilities. With emunah and betachin we can meet those challenges head on and bring meaning of life, understanding and appreciation of bringing achdus amongst and with Klal Yisrael. These are some of the frequent questions asked. When will this end? How much more can we take of this virus? In all the years of dealing with the flu which also could be contagious and even deadly, we never had to deal with the restrictions, concerns and effects of Covid 19 and other strains of the virus – why? There are so many political controversies and impact on the economy as today that I can remember- why? When will things change for the better? How can I succeed in life? Can I succeed in my business? Can I succeed in my personal life and future endeavors? There is much chesed in listening and giving supportive encouragements. There are many spiritual questions and sometimes doubts. For some, there are emotional concerns and issues. Some of them can and do lead to symptoms effecting one’s mental health and relations with other family members and friends. As with other challenges there are always some kind of solution or ways of meeting those challenges. If someone is exhibiting possible serious mental health concerns, consult with a mental health professional.

The following is from Maurice Lamm “The Power of Hope The one Essential of Life and Love” Rawson Associates Scribner Simon and Schuster Inc.  (Page 64). 

“Six Ways to Beat the Odds”

  • Do not trust statistics; the ones you see quoted may not apply at all.
  • Do not waste your energy denying there is a problem-use it instead to find the solution.
  • Always leave a door open- in fact, leave as many doors open as you can.
  • Study others who have succeeded in doing what you want to do. For now, ignore anyone who failed.
  • Hook up with G- His partnership can save your life.
  • Never say never.”

The following is from Rav Pam on Chumash by Rabbi Shimon Smith (published by Mesorah Publications Ltd Parshas Re’eh pages 212-214). “An important aspect of chesed is that it is not administered in a “one size-fits-all” manner. Every person is unique and has needs that must be dealt with individually. The Torah stresses this when it addresses the topic of tzedakdah and chesed in Parashas Re’eh: You shall open your hand….and provide whatever is lacking to him (Devarim 15:8). The “him” is emphasized to underline the importance of dealing with each person as the unique individual he is (see also Kesubos 67b). There are people who believe that acts of chesed require a great deal of money, time and talent. The result of this misconception is that they disqualify themselves from doing chesed because they lack some or all these things. This is an unfortunate mistake because frequently all a person needs to perform chesed is a good pair of ears; The pasuk advises, when there is worry in a man’s heart, he should suppress it (Mishlei 12:25). In commenting on this pasuk, the Gemara (Yoma 75a) offers two different methods of dealing with the varied problems and worries of dealing with the varied problems and worries that are a part and parcel if life. In certain situations, a person can fight anxiety and remove it from his mind by diverting his attention from it. By offering a sympathetic ear to a person who is burdened with a problem, one can perform a tremendous chesed. Often, the only relief for certain problems is that they be verbalized. The listener cannot resolve the problem or even offer constructive advice. All he can do is listen. Yet this seemingly insignificant act can bring relief to a suffering person, “tzu arup nemen dem shtein fun der hartz” (to remove the stone from the heart)”. continued “Every human being needs someone to listen to him sometimes some more often than others. The ability to listen can be a great chesed, and at times even a lifesaver”. continued “Lending a sympathetic ear, whether in person or via the telephone, is a tremendous chesed and will be a source of great merit in the World to Come. Parshas Re’eh is read during the height of the summer season and always coincides with the bein hazemanim (intersession break) of the yeshiva world. For most people it is a period of respite from their year-round hectic schedules, when they have time for relaxation and recreation. But it is also an opportunity to listen to others and give them the chance to unburden themselves of whatever pressing problems they may be shouldering. H created human beings with ears. Man’s task is to know how to use them”.

We know the tremendous abilities rabbis, rebbitzens and especially chaplains have for their sensitivity, care, abilities of the power of listening, being in the present, being there for each person and patient, especially in their time of need. It is important to convey the message that a person is not alone in his or her troubles and challenges in life. If one does not have the answer or solution, then it is important for a person to know there is hope and solution can be found. Not every situation is “life threatening”, but when a person is having difficulty, in spiritual pain, emotional pain, concerned about his or her future, everything can become magnified and troublesome. With a sincere heart, and a prayer to the Aibershtah to say and do the right things, so much can be accomplished, hope and solutions can be found. However, words alone cannot help in finding solutions. An active effort is always necessary. Let us be mispallel there will not be any interruptions in our daily lives in the days to come especially school age children. It is important to find happiness and joy to have true simchas hachayim. Bringing a smile to someone’s face or even a chuckle is so important. A kind word for anyone who might be feeling down. It is important to keep in mind those who are homebound, alone or feel alone for in only 25 days will be Erev Rosh Hashanah, then comes Yom Kippur and then Sukkos. Many could use the assistance for shopping, meals, or just that special visit or phone call to know they are truly not alone.

Psalm 147 “He will gather in, He is the Healer of the brokenhearted, and the One Who bandages their sorrows, He counts the number of the stars, to all of them names He assigns. Great is our L rd and abundant in strength; in His understanding is beyond calculation.”

May we all be blessed with a shanah tova umesukah, a good and sweet year and be inscribed in the “Good Books” Just as the refuah came about with the vaccines “at warp speed” so to can another vaccine be possible through the greatness of H. dealing with not one, but all the illnesses. May the New Year bring much happiness, simchas and shalom al Yisrael. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank

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