Diminishing Returns by Dr. Joel M. Berman


“Vayetzei Haechad Me’iti…Tarof Toraf,” “One son has left me…he has been torn to pieces” (44:28).  I am writing this article Le’ilui Nishmat my sister, Sara Leah Bat Pinchas, who was Nifteret on the tenth of Shevat, 1995.  Her Neshama should have an Aliyah.

The Yaakov Avinu we see before his sons return from Egypt seems deeply entrenched in his mourning.  He is still so upset that when he is finally convinced that Yosef is indeed alive, the Pasuk says (43:27), “Vatechi Ruach Yaakov,” “the spirit of Yaakov was revived,” implying that his spirit was effectively lifeless in the intervening years.  Why was Yaakov Avinu unable to get past the initial and most painful stages of mourning?  To his knowledge, his son Yosef had died more than twenty years before!  Why did he remain so upset?

When I was in the army, I was once wounded.  It was not what you might think.  I had only been in Tzahal for two weeks when an emergency broke out in Lebanon.  Although I was not yet trained as a mechanized infantry soldier, I was fit to schlep – and schlep I did!  My unit had just started basic training under very primitive and difficult conditions when we were taken out of the field, Besimcha Gedolah, to an army base, where we were to load trucks with ammunition and supplies.  We enthusiastically began our task early in the morning, happy with the thought that anything would be better than what we had suffered during the previous two weeks.  By midmorning, however, the great Simcha had disappeared.  Our arms and legs were tired and heavy.  By the afternoon, our backs were aching.  About this time, I skinned the outermost knuckle on my left hand.  “No big deal,” I thought; it hardly bled.  I wiped it off and continued.  By the time we finished, we were actually shivering and shaking with exhaustion – we were totally spent!

We were dismissed at 10:00 PM.  As we walked to the twenty-man tents set up for us, we were exhaustedly joking that no earthly force could possibly keep us awake.  A few hours later, I dreamt that I was sleeping in my childhood bedroom in Massachusetts.  A Mac truck, parked immediately under the bedroom window, was blasting its horn at ear-splitting volume.  I awoke, instinctively touching my skinned knuckle.  I nearly jumped five feet in the air!  The pain was unimaginable.  The area around my knuckle was swollen nearly to the size of a golf ball!  I suffered in this state for the rest of the night until the hospital base opened.  The doctor told me that I had a very serious infection that had actually entered the bone.  He put a mysterious yellow cream on the wound, dressed the wound, filled me with antibiotics, and sent me home.  After about two days, the pain had diminished to the extent that I did not have to shower with my hand outside the shower.  By the next day, sleeves could now touch the wound.  A day or two later, I was back in the field.  But even years later, every now and then, when the weather or temperature changes, I am aware of the wound.  (In fact, it is even bothering me slightly as I write this article.)

For those of us who have been through it, Aveilut (mourning) is much the same.  The first few days of Shiva are very painful.  Afterwards, as the pain diminishes and the tears dwindle, the mourner becomes more comfortable.  As the year progresses, the pain continues to subside.  Still, even after the year is over and all the restrictions are off, the pain never completely goes away.

Chazal teach us that the natural diminishing of pain that a mourner experiences only occurs when someone actually dies.  Yaakov Avinu, given his Ruach Kakodesh, never emerged from the initial stages of mourning because he knew on some level that Yosef was still alive.  To him, the wound of Yosef’s death was still fresh.

Much like my wound, a former mourner’s pain causes him a twinge every now and then.  This is particularly present on a Yahrtzeit.  Unfortunately, I am afraid that Kaddish is waiting for all of us.  It therefore hurts me to see people talking during Kaddish.  What could anyone possibly have to say that is more important than answering “Amen” and “Yehei Shemei Rabbah?”  The person saying Kaddish is reliving the pain of mourning.  We must consider this and treat the occasion with proper respect.

Like Teacher, Like Student by Willie Roth

Why Yosef and Chanukah? by Shlomo Tanenbaum