On Cancer, Satmar, and Make Up

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tJt.com

Recently, Yeshiva World News reported that one of the Rebbes of Satmar has been reporting an increase in cancer in his community rachmana litzlan.  While no one can vouch for the accuracy of what was actually said, it seems that after some examination they (it is unclear who else was involved) concluded that it might possibly be due to a breach of tznius in their community – highlighting that it may be the wearing of excessive make-up.  To this end, a new Vaad was created accompanied with a solicitation for funds.

It is this author’s opinion that such declarations are often counter-productive for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it shortchanges the beauties of Torah Judaism, whose great commentators have offered fascinating insights into illness.  Secondly, it is terribly insulting to a very fragile group of people that are looking toward Rabbinic leaders for solace and instead receive a brutal slap in the face.  Thirdly, it may be a manifestation of a “blame something or some-one” mentality which diverts resources and attention from addressing other problems.

Recently this author was asked by a person who had experienced a tragic loss in his family to explore what Torah Judaism has to say on the matter.  In this essay, an attempt will be made to address grave illness from the perspective of classical Torah sources, rather than “omniscient assumptions” of contemporary figures and personalities.  It is hoped that the words of the Maharal and others cited below will serve to inspire others and imbue them with a hope and positive attitude to the future rather than despair.

The Gemorah in Chagigah (12b) states that the world stands on twelve pillars.  These pillars are the Shvatim of Klal Yisroel, who represent the essence of Klal Yisroel.   These Shvatim have an unparalleled connection to HaKadosh Boruch.  This is why Dovid HaMelech describes them as Shivtei Kah (Tehillim 115:16).  Klal Yisroel has a unique ability to connect to HaKadosh Boruch Hu, like no other nation can.
Generally speaking, we can further these connections to Hashem with greater and deeper Torah study, with Avodah or Tefillah, and with acts of Gmilas Chasadim.  Each of these work in different ways.
Delving deeper in Torah study demonstrates our desire to be closer to Him, and His word.
To understand how the Avodah method works, it might be worthwhile to examine a parallel with parents.  Imagine one who was very close to my parents who have passed away.  This person will cherish every experience and encounter that he or she may have had with them, since childhood to adulthood.  Such a person will cherish how their mother cried the first day of school, the love and devotion at every stage of life, including taking their grandchildren on trips and shopping with them.  Tefillah should be looked at in the same way.  Each tefillah,
each bracha recited offers a different and unique opportunity to bond
with HaKadosh Boruch Hu.

And finally, there is the third method of being like HaKadosh Boruch Hu.  The Gemorah tells us, Mah hu rachum v’chanun af atta rachum v’chanun.. Just as He is merciful and kind so to must you be merciful and kind.  Hashem is the ultimate source of goodness and Chessed and we should strive to be like Him and do Chessed too.  The good feeling that we get when we do Chessed is because that Divine section within all of us described as that “Chailek Elokah mimaal” is charged and highlighted whenever we do acts of Chessed.

People that are given stress or challenges can generally be divided into three groups:
The first type consists of those who Hashem finds incredibly special. Hashem brings about the Tzaar precisely because He wants the added closeness.  This group is why the Imahos, Sarah, Rivkah, and Rachel and others such as Chana, did not have children at first.  Hashem wanted their closeness to Him through their Tefillah.   The Gemorah in Yevamos (64a), “HaKadosh Boruch Hu Misaveh leTfilasan shel Tzaddikim, Hashem yearns for the Tefilos of the righteous.”

A second group are those that Hashem wants to give more Schar, more merit, by bringing them closer to Him.   This group is also included in those described in Mishlei (3:12) in the posuk, “For those to whom He loves, He afflicts..”  In Yishayahu (57:15) the Posuk says, “Ani eshkon es dakah, I shall dwell in those who are broken-hearted..”

These people may be average or beinoni, but for some reason Hashem singled these people out to get ever closer to Him.

A third group are those people that Hashem wishes to give them an atonement on some action that they may have done.  One such case is Avimelech. Another case l’havdil, is Miriam who spoke, on a subtle level, negatively about Moshe Rabbeinu.

Whichever group one is in, the Maharal (Nesivos Olam – Nesiv HaYesurin chapter 1) explains that when Hashem brings these afflictions, just as a father comforts a child, so too does Hashem comfort us.  We should therefore, welcome the even closer entry of Hashem into our lives.

The Maharal explains that the Yissurin somehow prepares the person for greater Dveikus Bashem.  It removes the “Chomrius” physical nature of the person, in the words of the Maharal, and fully spiritualizes the person.  As proof he cites that an Eved, a slave, is called Chomrius and when he loses a tooth, the master must set him free.  Certainly, writes the Maharal when someone’s entirety is afflicted with Yesurim, that person’s entire essence becomes spiritual.  The Maharal further explains (chapter 3) that the person becomes Kadosh, holy.

The Gemorah in Brachos (54a) writes that we are obligated to make a bracha on “bad news” just like we make a bracha on “good news.” Chazal tell us (Brachos 5b) that we should accept all Yissurim, affliction or pain, B’Ahava – with love.   Yissurin B’Ahavah is an important level to achieve.  The Maharal (chapter 3) brings a proof from Iyov that if one reaches this level, the schar that a person gets is multiplied manifold.

This may be a high madreigah to reach, and let’s not be down on ourself if , occasionally, we don’t reach it.  Whenever we do reach it, we get that high level of schar. The Gemorah in Brachos (60b) says that a person should always say, “Kol Ma D’avid Rachmana l’tav avid – whatever Hashem (the Merciful One) does, He does for the good.”  Elsewhere, (Nesiv Ahavas Hashem p.43) the Maharal explains that this attitude even has the effect of changing what might be perceived as negative things around to fully perceivable positive things.  Understandably, this is a very worthwhile attitude to adopt.

The Midrash tells us (Bereishis Rabbah 32:3) that we have reservoirs of strength that allow us to withstand the difficult Yissurim that are sent our way.  What we must do is tap that those reservoirs within us.
One of the Psukim that we recite in Havdalah, is actually a fulfillment of a Mitzvah whenever we recite it.  “Hinei Kel Yeshuasi, evtach velo efchad”  It means, “Before me is Hashem of my salvation – I shall have faith in Him and not be afraid..  Another Pasuk that helps us focus is, “Hinei Lo yanum velo Yishan – shomer Yisroel – Behold He neither slumbers nor sleeps – the Guardian of Israel.”  This pasuk helps us focus on the fact that Hashem is with us in this
journey of ours..

The Mishna Brurah (230:6) commenting on the Shulchan Aruch (230:4) says that for any illness whenever one takes a cure should say, May it be Your Will before You, Hashem my G-d that this matter will be for me a Refuah, for You are the free Healer..
יהי רצון מלפניך ה’ אלהי שיהא עסק זה לי לרפואה כי רופא חנם אתה
The Mishna Brurah explains that one should realize that the healing only comes from hashem and not from the medicine itself.  After the application one should say, “Boruch Rofei Cholim. – Blessed is He that heals the sick.”

Sometimes people that are suffering from debilitating illness get depressed because they are unable to perform the Mitzvos that they used to do.  They do, however, have an extra Mitzvah that others do not.  It is a Torah Mitzvah (Shmos 21:19) to do whatever you can to get better.  This means also to be eating the right foods even when you don’t feel like it, and to exercise even when you may not want to.  Realizing that this is a Mitzvah can imbue one with a simcha that only Mitzvos are capable of doing.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

The article was originally printed by the Five Towns Jewish Times

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28 Responses

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    Why do our Rabbis always blame tragedies on: television,
    internet and modesty problems; but they never blame
    our problems on unethical businessmen?

    My personal theory:

    Television and internet are inanimate objects that
    cannot fight back against people who criticize them.
    Jewish women are also unable to fight back against
    Rabbis who criticize them.

    But unethical businessmen have many ways to fight back:
    by reducing contributions, by harassing Rabbis, paid
    advertisements in magazines and radio shows, even
    threats of violence, etc, etc.

    This explains why the tragedies that befall us will never
    be blamed on businessmen who cheat their customers, or
    cheat the governments, or testify falsely, or generally
    ignore the law, or treat people poorly, or advertise

  2. Bob Miller says:

    If events in any community are meant to prompt self-evaluation, its leaders should also try to review their own past attitudes and actions objectively. They should not automatically assume that they were perfect or that their sole defect was a failure to make more demands on their rank-and-file.

    Families living with grief are not exactly strengthened by someone’s facile, formulaic explanation, especially when their grief is being exploited to back this or that social policy.

  3. mycroft says:

    Bilaam thought he could understand God but he couldn’t even control his donkey.

  4. dr. bill says:

    believing that one knows the ways of God is an example of kefirah according to normative jewish doctrine. if all authors on this blog and others treated deviation as mildly, the world would be a better place.

  5. L. Oberstein says:

    This morning, I listened for 30 minutes to a recording of the Satmar Rebbe (Zalman)on Kikar HaShabat site.I learned that he is opposed to building in any site that has ancient graves because he does not trust archeologists and cares not what they say. He called the State of Israel so many names that he could have been using the phrasebook of the PLO. Malchus Haminim, Baal, Amalek, among others. He said that he was most concerned about a split in the Eida Hachareidis even though he opposes the psak of Rav Sternbuch allowing construction in Beit Shemesh.
    Can anyone explain to me why we all have to use their hashgacha and why we are supporting these people.
    Can’t the religious community of Israel come up with a hashgacha that everyone will trust besides one that funds those who oppose the State?

  6. la costa says:

    mr cohen–

    ‘unethical’ businessmen 1] support all the haimishe mosdos , so kesef metahair mamzeirim
    2] rely on the fact that ‘dina demalchuta dina’ is seen in many circles to not refer to tax and similar type laws…

  7. la costa says:

    dear rabbi oberstein
    since all the frum anti-zionists hate because it is a ‘shilton hakofrim’ they are mekayem a mitzva for every ‘hate’-filled word, according to their shitta..

    those who dont want to support anti-zionists can easily avoid their hechsherim [eg we were never allowed to bring satmar soda in the house on pesach] , and can direct their tzedaka dollars to those not wearing the Uniforms of the anti-zionists , which i need not describe….

  8. SA says:

    According to the Midrash, when Moshe Rabbeinu was reluctant to take the women’s mirrors to fashion the kiyor for the Mishkan because they’d been used to beautify themselves for their husbands, God himself told him to do so. Not only are the mirrors acceptable, declared Hashem, but they are more beloved to Me than any of the other donations.

    Just saying.

  9. SA says:

    On second thought, maybe this is where Rabbi Gordimer should weigh in on how dare a nobody like me cite a midrash in a pathetic effort to challenge a pronouncement by the Satmar Rebbe. Or how even a talmid chacham like Rabbi Hoffman dares to do so.

    I am not for one minute belittling the enormous effort that Rabbi Gordimer is making (where does he find time) to publicly counter insidious efforts to undermine halacha. It’s just that so many of us on the ground are not involved in or (yet) affected by those efforts, while we are confronted by these types of declarations all the time.

    What is our response supposed to be? Are allowed to say, “Come on, that’s ridiculous?” Cop out by saying, “Oh that’s just for Satmar, we can ignore it?” Question whether he really said it at all?

  10. Mr. Cohen says:

    Dear La Costa,

    Tell those people this:

    Sefer Chasidim, chapter 278:

    “If a just tax is decreed, those who pay the tax take
    the portions of Gan Eden of the people who do not pay
    the tax, and these [who do not pay] take the Gehinom
    portion of their friend [who paid].

    Those who underpay their taxes are stealing from their
    friends [who pay correctly].

    The good people who pay more than their share will
    inherit portions of Gan Eden [of the people who underpaid]
    and the wicked will inherit the portions of Gehinom from
    the good people.

    Leaders who fail to protest when they are able to,
    even if they paid, will also inherit Gehinom.”

    Mr. Cohen

  11. yg says:

    The quote from Sefer Chassidim is referring to the ancient practice of governments to collect a lump-sum tax from the Jewish community as a whole. The Jewish community leaders would then be responsible for collecting the money from the individual baalei batim. Someone who didn’t pay under that system was in fact stealing from the Jewish community. I’m not justifying anyone’s dishonest practices, just pointing out the context of the quote.

  12. Mr. Cohen says:

    Rabbi Shimon Schwab taught:
    He who cheats in business or on his tax returns
    cannot be considered a religious Jew.

    Rabbi Shimon Schwab was a leading Orthodox Rabbi,
    born in Germany in 1908 CE, died in USA in 1993 CE.

    SOURCE: Daily Halacha by Rabbi Eli Mansour

  13. Chardal says:

    L. Oberstein, as I often tell propel here, I am machmir to eat rabbanut and stay away from badatz.

  14. L says:

    Sadly, this reminds me of a poster I saw in a bungalow colony about 17 years ago asserting that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed due to Jewish women wearing eye shadow, and exhorting women to abandon this evil practice. It also reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw in Eretz Yisrael 12 years ago, blaming the Intifada on the practice of wearing sheitels, with the tagline “Rak Mitpachot!”. We shouldn’t be surprised that women in makeup are the cause of cancer, seeing as how we are already responsible for Galus and terrorism!
    How convenient that the men making these accusations are able to avoid any and all introspection, or acceptance of personal responsibility for the klal they purport to lead. What a gruesome distortion of Torah. Shameful.

  15. Reb Yid says:

    I guess those who call for boycotting Badatz and Satmar think the best way to fight hate (as they see it) is with more hate. In any case, do they also boycott the state of Israel for their anti-torah activities? Or is Zionism more important than Torah?

  16. David F says:

    I’m not a follower of the Satmar Rebbe – nor do I know which one of the two he even is, but something tells me that we’re not getting to hear his remarks in their full context. Is it possible that he provided sources for what he says or that he tempered his remarks in some way? Moreover, did he insist that this his message is appropriate for the broader public or did he target his remarks for his followers who’ve agreed to lead a lifestyle that is different from yours and mine?

    Absent full context, cherry-picking his words in an attempt to make a point is not only disrespectful, but possibly foolhardy. Rabbi Hoffman can make his points without mentioning the Satmar Rebbe and still have a worthy article. Instead, we’re left with a impression of the Rebbe, his followers, and nothing worthwhile has been accomplished regarding הרמת קרן התורה.

  17. Yakov says:

    I am always a fan of Rabbi Hoffman’s expert articles because he always butresses his arguments with solid sources and experience. In this case, I do not feel he had to be critical of one of the Rebbe’s. Satmar, in particular, have a mesorah for being extremely careful about tzinyus related issues and whether we disagree with it or not, I read it as they’re keeping to their mesorah in this regard when they need to be m’fashpesh b’maasov.

    What IS sad is that the machla of machlokes, which seems to be a more apparent metaphor to cling to and derive mussar from is eschewed or forgotten about. That is sad to me. Having said that, there have been a few times where the Satmar Rebbes have been together and probably more than any of us are aware. I crave for the day when there is less machlokes in our camps.

    Whenever Gedolim speak, our attitude should be that we listen with temimus. When we let go of the need to be self-defensive about what we are hearing, we will grow so much more.

    Looking forward to Rabbi Hoffman’s next article…

  18. Raymond says:

    One explanation which makes some sense to me for why good people often suffer while bad people often prosper, is that G-d, being a Just G-d, must give rewards and punishments to every single person, since everybody has done some good and some bad in their lives. But since this world is Finite, He gives the rewards that evil people deserve, in this world, so as to limit their rewards. G-d waits to give them their punishments in the next world, where things are of a more Infinite nature. Similarly, to the righteous people among us, G-d still has to give them their punishments, but does so in this world, where things are limited, while waiting to give them their rewards in the next world, where the nature of things are more unlimited.

  19. dr. bill says:

    having a role in moderation and allowing certain comments says more about the moderators than anything that can be written. imho, not even yom kippur is mechapair for the comment written above.

  20. Yossie Abramson says:

    The statement from the Satmar Rebbe is more dangerous to halachic Judaism than Open Orthodoxy or girls wearing tefillin. Everyone “knows” that OO and tefillin is wrong, but you still have people who will give the Satmar Rebbe’s words some weight.

  21. lamomma says:

    Any tragic event (or even a happy one!) can be seen as an occasion for introspection and examining our actions. But is the height of arrogance to believe that we truly know what the reasons are.

  22. mb says:

    Well I guess we won’t be seeing a Satmar partnership minyan anytime soon.

  23. Yakov says:

    The reason I give the Satmar Rebbe’s words “some weight” is because he is a manhig in Klal Yisroel and therefore deserving of that kavod because his ancestors were very holy Yidden. I could not presume to be m’harheir acharov. I would be very careful before criticizing Satmar. We are seeing the fulfillment of the Satmar Rebbe’s zl shita in our times, something I would dare say no one ever thought we really be reality. The connection to another movement is that of the writer who stated it and no more weight should be given to it so long as there is a medium for the hamon am to register their opinions which is not necessarily a very good thing even for a more reputable site as Cross- Currents.

  24. Yaakov Menken says:

    R’ Yair,

    I don’t know why you approved the first comment, since it’s simply false, slandering Rabbinic leaders. They never blame our problems on unethical businessmen? Really? I guess if you’ve been living in a cave for the last 20 years. Most of the communal criticisms are aimed at men — it’s not the Internet, it’s what people, especially men, do with the Internet that’s the problem. How many families do you know where, upon Rabbinic consultation, the wife has the password for what the husband is able to access? The one being treated like the misbehaving child, unable to control his impulses, is the man — and rightly so.

    Come back to this case, and you are very much mistaken if you think that “people that are looking toward Rabbinic leaders for solace … instead receive[d] a brutal slap in the face.” That’s precisely equivalent to saying that if we attempt to understand how the Holocaust could have happened, we are then saying that the Kedoshim of the Holocaust deserved to die. When Rabbis criticize a community for its behavior, and tie it to a particular gezeirah, I haven’t ever heard it claimed that the people who were afflicted were the very same people with the problem. On the contrary — HKB”H told us very clearly that if we abandon the path of Torah, terrible things will happen to us, but that it is often “Chasidav” who are the Korbanos for the misdeeds of others. The people who led to the abandonment of Torah were, if anything, underrepresented in the tragedy that the Torah predicted would result.

    Nearly thirty years ago in Monsey, there was a horrible series of accidents involving young children being killed by buses, many in freak accidents that even the latest safety equipment could not have prevented. Do you think the community didn’t look for reasons, or do you believe that this involved blaming the parents of those holy neshamos?

    While we may not agree with the Satmar derech or think that excessive make-up is a serious communal priority for most of us, tying our own misdeeds to gezeiros is straight out of the Gemara, which advises being mechapes b’maaseynu, searching our deeds to see what might have caused it, whenever something bad happens.

  25. Bob Miller says:

    There’s a tension between:

    1. HaShem often sends us messages through events

    2. Events often seem to give conflicting messages (people may pick the one that most fits their preconceptions) or no recognizable messages

    Lacking recognized neviim lately, we shouldn’t be too quick to offer reasons.

  26. Raphael Kaufman says:

    I’ve been involved in industrial health and safety for over 40 years. Whenever an incident occurs, there is always an investigation to determine the cause or causes the results of which are used to take corrective action. My question, therefore, is how did the Rebbe determine that the cause of the cancer cluster was excessive use of mascara as opposed to, say, talking during davening? Are there specific references in shas or rishonim that he can point to or did he just intuit the cause?

  27. Mike S. says:

    tying our own misdeeds to gezeiros is straight out of the Gemara, which advises being mechapes b’maaseynu, searching our deeds to see what might have caused it, whenever something bad happens.

    Examining our own misdeeds is an entirely proper thing. However, saying what caused (in the spiritual, not physical sense) a tragedy requires nevuah, not merely chochma and da’at. And examining someone else’s misdeeds in response to a tragedy is just wrong and counter to the Torah. It is true that, for a communal leader, examining his deeds should include his community. However, the Satmar Rav in question was not referring to his deeds, nor those of his Chassidim, but those of their wives, which seems uncomfortably close to blaming others.

  28. cvmay says:

    “I guess those who call for boycotting Badatz and Satmar think the best way to fight hate (as they see it) is with more hate”

    Do not understand this statement and further clarification is necessary to back it up. If I choose to eat OU kashrus and do not eat KUF KAY or NK does that mean that I am fighting hate with hate. If I choose to give my “maser money” to Aish Hatorah and not Mosdos Satmar since I am looking for my funds to further global Yiddishkeit in a pleasant manner, am I fighting hate with hate…

    Boycotting a product or organization means what? To avoid using that product, obtaining services from that organization and stop funding their tzedakah. Isn’t that a personal choice and a bechira that each individual has? Can I support Yeshivat Hesder and not Bonei Olem? (these are exs. only)

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