One minute, I was cruising along, pretending I was in fine athletic form, enjoying the sun on my face and the wind in my hair on a majestic summer morning – and BOOM. I was face-down on the concrete, my limbs splayed in too many directions and my palms on fire, with little pebbles wedged between my fingers and under my skin.
Everything hurt. A lot.
I wasn’t training for the next marathon. I wasn’t even jogging. All I had attempted was a nice, brisk walk, hoping to burn enough calories to enjoy an ice cream cone without too much guilt.
I looked up from my place on the cement to see my walking partners hovering over me, offering to check my vital signs or carry me home. Mortified, I forced myself to get back to my feet, brush the gravel off of my clothing, and laugh off my klutziness. Thankfully, all of my bones were still intact, and I was able to hobble home.
The story should really end here. Except ….. I didn’t recover as quickly as I thought I would.
My knee screamed in pain every time my skirt rubbed against my scab. My palms burned when I tried to wash the dishes or bathe my baby. My neck was sore and my bruised shoulder sent me limping toward the Advil bottle. I was in so much pain, I even picked up the phone to call my husband – just to kvetch a little.
“It really hurts!” I moaned.
“I’m sure it does,” he said. I imagined what he was thinking: So you tripped. Happens to people every single day. Apply some ice and move on.
I get it. I am a thirty-something-year-old woman who skinned her knee. No need to stop the presses, right?
That’s when I realized. Things are never a big deal – until they happen to you.
You know how it is. Approximately once an hour, one of my kids will fall from something, bump into something, or get hit by some unidentified flying object. Sure, I take the time to kiss every boo-boo and wipe away every tear, but unless it is a legitimate injury, part of me is thinking, “We are being a little dramatic here, aren’t we? Let’s get back on the bike and continue having a good time.”
Now, with my own boo-boos, I started thinking. When my son got a paper cut and insisted I call Hatzalah, maybe it really seemed like a crisis to him. When my daughter fell off her scooter and she wailed like it was a five-alarm emergency, maybe it really felt like one to her. It took a taste of my own injury to help me move from sympathy to empathy, from gritted-teeth patience to genuine compassion. When it hurts them, it should hurt me. If it’s painful for them, it should be painful for me.
It is an appropriate lesson in the days leading up to the Three Weeks, and then to Tisha B’ Av.
We know that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed for sinas chinam – senseless hatred.The antidote for sinas chinam is ahavas chinam – an unencumbered love. A love that moves beyond sympathy to the ability to fully experience someone else’s pain. To feel it like it is happening to me.
And that is sometimes more difficult than it seems.
More than a decade ago, when I flew home from my year of seminary in Eretz Yisrael during the second Intifada, I remember letting out a deep sigh of relief when my plane landed on the tarmac back in New York City. Here I was safe. I no longer had to worry about suicide bombers on my buses or taxi drivers whose accents made me want to jump out of a moving vehicle.
Three months later, on a perfectly sunny September morning, two planes flew into New York City and irrevocably burst my false sense of security.
I’ll never forget the feelings I had that day. It was happening to us.Over here.
And that’s when I realized that the pain I felt when reading about the people in Eretz Yisrael paled in comparison to the pain I felt when it came much closer to home.
It isn’t happening over there, and it isn’t happening to them. It is happening to us. Over here. There cannot be a distinction.
When I read about the murder of a 13-year-old girl near Chevron, I shouldn’t feel sadness for her family and move on. When I read about a lone soldier killed while trying to defend the nation he loves, I shouldn’t turn the page with a sigh.
My heart should break.
That is ahavas chinam – a love that is genuine and not limited by proximity, country of origin, or language of choice. It is a love that forces me to look beyond myself and recognize how interconnected we all are.
And it is that love that will drive us to look deep within ourselves and strive to be better – and ultimately merit the building of the third Beis Hamikdash, b’meheira b’yameinu – Amen!