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Max Roytenberg: Painful

by Max Roytenberg, posted July 30, 2017

We cannot deny that our world is full of joyful things that illuminate our lives. Indeed, they come in so many forms that they are almost impossible to describe and enumerate. And they vary with the sparkle in the eye of each beholder. The same is very true of pain. Its origins are innumerable and its extent almost infinite.


In our family we have recently experienced the loss of a loved one, a loss so much before its appointed time. The pain of the loss resonates in me, as it does in the minds and hearts of others, on a continuous basis, hiding in the crevices of our minds, leaping out into our consciousness suddenly, unexpectedly, with pain that takes our breath away. It has made me think about the phenomenon. It has made me think about how varied are its sources. Like the joy we welcome, the joy we hope and pray for, it is a part of our portion in being alive.


We all know about physical pain, excruciating, suffocating, gut-wrenching. The unlucky, the unfortunate, the diseased, those whose calling puts them in harm’s way, know it all too well. A whole industry, more than one, have grown up around our efforts to mitigate the worst of it. We do what we can. In spite of our efforts there are sometimes millions in our world who suffer the pain of hunger for which the cure is well known. The scope of the challenge is enormous but there are solutions that are in many cases within the human capacity to achieve.


There is that other kind of pain which is infinitely more challenging, one before which we feel more helpless, one for which we are likely to have fewer answers. There is the pain of the mentally ill, hostages to the incessant noises in their heads. We have abandoned the institutions that once offered a safe harbor for the disturbed. We have released them into the streets or have consigned them to our prisons. We offer medications that many of the subjects find so inadequate to their needs that they abandon them. Then some go on to visit violence on themselves and others as a means of arriving at a self-immolation that will quiet the pain of the noises.


There is the pain of failed expectations, forlorn hopes, broken promises. There is the pain of unrequited love, how infinite is that? There is the pain of disillusionment, betrayed love, self-recrimination for our failures of courage. There is so much that confronts us as humans to blast our hopes. Let me recount just a few of my horrors.


I look out on the panorama of U.S. politics. Others may see only the natural order of things. I feel physical pain from seeing a leadership that is betraying all the principles that constitute doing the “right” things that I used to believe was the essence of America. Parading lies as truth, deriding truth as false, attacking the courageous, commending the abominable, to pursue political ends, how can this be taking place in America? Some people have no moral compass. I am in pain.


So fresh, we are feeling the pain of the collapse of an ordered world. Millions are fleeing the places where extremist minorities are making normal life unbearable. So why do new arrivals to liberty seek to recreate the framework that fostered the environment they are fleeing? And why do our places of refuge blindly enable these efforts in the interest of freedom, a freedom we will ultimately lose as history repeats itself. The proof is before our eyes in nearly every place where this scenario is playing out. I am in pain, anticipating our losses.


I look out on the story of Israel. It was the realization of a dream spanning the millennia. The conflagrations inherent in the World Wars of the Twentieth Century redrew the maps of the world. Those with the power to do so saw it in their interests to re-establish the sovereignty of many peoples. The Arab peoples had their states established stretching over continents. The Jews were permitted a speck of land in their midst, the place where Israel’s story began.


But it was only in this spot in the region that was established a vibrant democracy where minorities have a legislated voice, with equal rights guaranteed by the rule of law. Only here in the region was established a flowing fountain of knowledge, agricultural productivity to feed a starving world, science to probe the unknown for answers, medicine so the blind could see and the halt could walk, the dying could live, technology to uplift humankind from the burden of labor. Yet only here is that sovereignty questioned by many powers in the world. Why must it be sustained only by its military might, fashioned by its indomitable people? Are not enough the gifts Israel has brought to mankind enough, not least, the principle of justice, law above the power of men, and the idea of the one God. Why does the world require any additional justification for its existence? I am in pain.


I prefer to seek causes for joy in our world. I am a seeker of light and color, music and laughter. I bear with the darkness, even welcome it because so often it heralds the light. Darkness unveils the stars which are the light’s harbingers. I bear the pain because I hope eternally for its relief.


I know I have lots of company in this. I hope we more of us can join to work toward an end of pain. Isn’t that our nature as human beings?

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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