Entering the “Three Weeks” between the fasts of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, a time of pain and sadness culminating in the yearly re-living of the Destruction of our Holy Temple, it might be an appropriate time to consider pain.
As I’ve reached a certain age, chronic pains seem more eager to join me than do new students, fans of my music or unexpected checks in the mail combined! Seriously, though, these pains which many of us find increasing as we age are, like every thing else in our lives, sent by The Creator as just the material we need at any given moment to learn and to grow. It might still seem a rotten deal, but we can at least try to cut our losses by paying attention to the lessons they provide.
Without getting into medical details at all, I’ve recently developed an intermittent, sudden shooting pain in one of my feet. It seems to arrive on its own–I’ve not been able to discern a pattern of movements that either cause or delay it. It just hits. If this happens while I’m walking, my very first reflexive intuition, of course, is to stop and wait for it to pass. However, I quickly learned that this is the very worst thing I can do. If I stand there, the pain lingers longer. However, if I just go back to walking, it almost always quiets down much more quickly. It’s pretty clear to me, someone who is easily distracted by much less immediate and less intense things all the time, that I’m offered the lesson in my own body to not let obstacles, even painful ones, stop me.
Thinking on that, I thought I’d experiment with the pain when it strikes me while I’m just sitting still. If I continue doing whatever I was doing, even something productive, the pain seems to float on for quite a while before it subsides. However, if I get up and take a few steps, become even just a little more physically active, it disappears. Perhaps this is reminding me of the danger of complacence. Even when I am working, I surely can be doing more.
I certainly don’t have sayings of Chazal, our holy sages, let alone pasukim, verses, from the Torah to support these insights. And I might be completely off-base–one of the truisms of our tradition is that there will always be infinitely more we don’t know than we ever can, and that that’s alright. But when I start off assuming Hashgacha Pratit, the individual Divine oversight of each of our lives, then these pains, just like everything else that comes into my life, are intentional and, hard as it might be to accept with experiences like pain, beneficent. It’s my challenge to make positive use of them.
There’s a story about Rabbi Akiva walking with some colleagues on the relatively recent ruins of the Holy Temple. As they were lamenting the damage and the loss, a fox ran across and Rabbi Akiva laughed. Of course, this seemed an outrageous, inexplicable response until he explained that we have a tradition that just as low as the Temple and the People of Israel have fallen from their previous glory, that high will they rise beyond that previous glory.