We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create
z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Listen to someone who is upset when that is what they need most.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
And Do Not Attempt To See Him At The Time Of His Degradation
ואל תשתדל לראותו בשעת קלקלתו
V'al Tishtadel Lir'o'so Bish'as Kalkalaso
Perek Daled, Mishna Chaf Gimmel Part 2
Story: (based on a true story)
My son jumped off the garage roof two weeks ago.
Shmuel was always an adventure-seeking child, creating obstacle courses out of lawn chairs and climbing any rocks and trees he could find. At the age of six he received his official diagnosis of ADHD, but since he does OK in school we mostly continued to think of him as “a whole lot of boy”. As a result, we bolted our bookcases to the wall, replaced a couple of windows, and got a parenting teacher involved for planning the best way to discipline. We also added some medication a couple years ago when he started to get bigger and accidentally hurt one of his brothers. Other than that, we’ve been basically OK.
This year, though, Shmuel’s school has been calling us a lot about him. His eighth grade teachers have seen a bunch of problems with his behavior, and his grades have started to slip. He’s also been irritable and restless at home. A couple months ago his psychiatrist raised his medication levels to compensate for his growth, but we haven’t seen much difference, so the doctor recommended weekly sessions with a behavioral therapist.
The process of finding a therapist was kind of overwhelming for me, so after a couple weeks work I put it on the back burner until after winter break. But on the Shabbos afternoon of vacation, Shmuel went out back and twenty minutes later I heard the screams. I ran into the driveway and saw him in a heap on the ground. As we waited for Hatzala, my daughter explained between gasps that he had been angry after she told him that something he was doing wasn’t safe, and then started showing off to her and the neighbors. He had climbed a drain pipe up to the garage roof, screamed, “Check this out!”, and jumped.
The whole block came out to see the ambulance, of course. Clumps of kids stared from the nearest sidewalks and it seemed like every doorstep was occupied by an adult who watched as the medics negotiated the best way to move Shmuel onto the gurney. My husband went along in the ambulance and I stayed home to figure out what to do next. My next door neighbor Kayla came over to help with my kids and asked no questions except for Shmuel’s davening name.
When another neighbor came to check in on me and asked what happened, I retreated to my room. What could I say? My kid jumped off the roof? Who does that? I think Kayla knew from her kids, and I heard her tell a couple people that Shmuel fell hard and seemed to have hurt his leg. I was grateful to her for being a buffer and keeping Shmuel from being the talk of the town. When Shabbos ended and I found out Shmuel had two shattered ankles and a skull fracture and would need surgery, Kayla became my rock. She continued to not ask, just do, and she kept all of the other doers out of the house except for the ones I absolutely needed.
We were now dealing with a psychologically and behaviorally complicated teenager with significant physical injuries, along with our own guilt in letting it get to this point. It was a lot, and I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. Clearly, everyone knew and saw over the next couple of weeks that Shmuel was hurt and was in the hospital and came home in a wheelchair with two casts. They brought desperately needed meals and I thanked them quickly and shut the door. They called and I told them I couldn’t talk but would let them know if I needed anything. They soon learned to ask Kayla all their questions, and she gave short, polite answers. We didn’t even know if we wanted people to daven for him; that seemed so severe.
People have been offering help and advice. I don’t want it. I screen my calls before I answer because I just don’t know what to say. I do have a couple of people who I talk to about it who truly understand and can help, but in general, it is hard to explain the situation without fully explaining it, and I don’t want to do that. It’s not fair to Shmuel and uncomfortable for me. He keeps saying that people are treating him like a freak show, and I know the feeling. Is everyone trying to figure out how not to have this happen to them? Are they just curious?
I know that with a little more time I will be able to handle normal interactions with people, and then I will start calling them and I will say more than “Hi” when I pass them on the street. I hope that they will respect my need to not talk about what happened unless I volunteer it, and that when I respond to heartfelt questions of, “So how’s Shmuel doing?” with “Great, coming along. And how is your son?” they will get the message. Until then, just talking to people is becoming one more stressor in my already complicated life. I am grateful to those who give me my space.
"רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר: ...ואל תשתדל לראותו בשעת קלקלתו."
"Rabi Shimon ben Elazar omer: ...v'al tishtadel lir'o'so bish'as kalkalaso."
"Rabi Shimon ben Elazar says: ...and do not attempt to see him at the time of his degradation."(Perek Daled, Mishna Chaf Gimmel).
Nobody wishes to be discovered in a moment of weakness. Should we happen to be present when someone acts inappropriately, we should withdraw so as to spare him embarrassment. Midrash Sh'muel adds that if this person grows aware that he was seen, he may think that he is being hounded and that others rejoice in his distress, and this may arouse hatred in his heart. That is why when Adam and Chava sinned, Hashem gave them time to sew garments for themselves before He confronted them.
If the mishna merely meant that one should not watch while a friend is being embarrassed, it would have simply said, “Al tir’eh bish’as kalkalaso”. The apparently superfluous term, “tishtadel” meaning to attempt, implies much more. Do not harbor a sense of lingering resentment against your peer which would invariably lead you to look for-tishtadel lir’oso-the worst possible explanation for his behavior, kalkalaso (Imrei Emes, Maggidei HaEmes).
Avos al Banim, quoted in Likutei Basar Likutei, focuses on the words, “Do not attempt to see him.” Often a person who is suffering appreciates a helping hand and an empathetic presence. But if he has withdrawn from public view so that one must make effort to seek him out, that is a sign that he does not want help. And so, states the mishna, if you cannot easily find such a person, do not keep trying to do so.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What causes people to watch or follow the hardships of others?
In what situations do we sometimes offer unneeded or unwanted advice or help?
How can we balance helping someone out and giving them space?
Stretch of the Week:
Find a way to help someone while still giving them space.