Sensitivity to Others’ Pain by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein


The Berachot that Ya’akov bestows upon each of the Shevatim prior to his death are informative on many levels. For one, we are finally introduced to some of the brothers that, at best, have played cameo roles throughout Sefer BeReishit. These Berachot also provide us a window through which we are able to catch a glimpse of Ya’akov’s insights into each of his children as well as his concerns for what lies ahead for Bnei Yisrael. His Berachot highlight for us the unique qualities of each tribe and, at times, hint to how these qualities will benefit the Jewish people in the future. It is interesting to note that when Ya’akov is addressing Menasheh and Efrayim, he adds on a special Berachah: “HaMal’ach HaGo’eil Oti MiKol Ra Yevareich Et HaNe’arim,” “May the angel who saved me from all adversity protect these children” (BeReishit 48:16). Ya’akov, concerned with the challenges of slavery that lie ahead, gives over the Berachah to Menasheh and Efrayim that the angel who helped him deal with the adversity in his own life should help get through the adversity of the impending slavery in Egypt. This explanation raises a question: If all of the Shevatim are about to face the challenges of enslavement in Egypt, why does Ya’akov request the extra help only for Menasheh and Efrayim?

I want to share an interesting answer that I once heard to this question. While the nation as a whole would have to endure the pain and suffering of slavery in Egypt, for Menasheh and Efrayim the slavery would be significantly worse. While their workload and living conditions might be the same as their brethren, their sadness and stress can be significantly more intense. The other tribes had lived through challenging times and even had to pick up and leave their home in Kena’an for Egypt. Menasheh and Efrayim, on the other hand, lived in the palaces of Egypt for their entire lives. They are accustomed to a level of comfort and respect. In other words, their expectations are higher. The plunge into slavery would be difficult for all the tribes, but Ya’akov is sensitive to the fact that Menasheh and Efrayim will be exposed to more stress than the others because of the regal lifestyle they have become accustomed to. It is for this reason that Ya’akov Avinu addresses this special Berachah to them. His hope is that the Mal’ach who helped him will provide Menasheh and Efrayim with the extra help they need to endure.

This explanation struck me because it reminds us of an important lesson about dealing with the pain and suffering of those around us. Every person has his own sensitivities. What is painful, stressful, or depressing for one person might seem completely insignificant to someone else. Ya’akov does not dismiss Menasheh and Efrayim as spoiled or pampered. Rather, he tries to relate to the challenge of slavery through their eyes.

Picture the things that would cause a young child to break out in uncontrollable tears. Say, for example, there were no more blue lollipops on the way out of Shul. For an adult, the color of a lollipop seems trivial. It is certainly not worth crying over, yet for the child, it can be devastating. In order to help comfort that child, we need to see the situation from his perspective. In bestowing this extra blessing on Menasheh and Efrayim, Ya’akov teaches us that in order to help people endure pain and suffering, you have to understand who they are and where they are coming from. Most importantly, you must understand why the situation is difficult for them. It is this same sensitivity that guides us when giving Tzedakah to a person who had been accustomed to living an affluent lifestyle. We make every effort to provide him with more than the basic necessities. In that situation as well, we have to be sensitive to the added stress that he is experiencing.

There are several lessons that we can learn from this explanation of Ya’akov’s Berachah to Menasheh and Efrayim. Every person experiences pain based on his own expectations and life experiences. What is distressing for one person might seem laughable to someone in a different circumstance. That being said, Ya’akov is teaching us to be sensitive to each person’s pain. Never trivialize what someone else is experiencing. There is no measure that determines what is and what is not considered painful; it is all up to the individual.

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