Nosei B’ol Im Chaveiro

by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

The coverage of the horrors of the Simchas Torah carnage in Mishpacha magazine generated many letters to the editor. Some complained that showing the images (and they were quite benign compared to the reality) were too jarring for them, causing them to lose sleep. Others complained about the complaints. And one even provided a psychological defense for the original complaints due to mental trauma inflicted by the criticism leveled against those who complained. I am not going to review the letters that took the complainers to task, since a) I agree with what they wrote and b) the letters complaining and defending the complainers are what opens the door for understanding an important concept that is thrown around too lightly. If you didn’t see the exchanges, here is a relevant sampling. (Emphasis is mine)

We were very bothered with your war articles and pictures last week. The pictures were gory, the articles were too graphic, and I and some others were unable to sleep after reading them.

I’m in total agreement with the people who took you to task for the horrific pictures of the war. One person said she tore out pictures. But in line with the statement that one cannot unsee what has been seen, I did one better. I threw the magazine straight into the garbage. (And no, not seeing the images didn’t detract one iota from my ability to be nosei b’ol.)

…there will be people who can’t handle seeing a hostage draped in a white cloth. Or a burnt home. Or a terrorist holding a gun. They’re sensitive to it. Don’t tell them to don thicker skin. You wouldn’t tell it to someone with a food sensitivity. Everyone’s entitled to their sensitivities.

From a trauma therapist:

…When we read coverage that is too detailed, such as graphic descriptions about trauma, we experience a neurological change. We transition from fight/flight mode to freeze mode. …We cannot say Tehillim or take on kabbalos or do anything else… This is why I very respectfully disagree with Mishpacha’s position to print graphic traumatic details versus keeping it general.

Dear Inbox letter writers: the obligation to be nosei b’ol begins with you. The Jews in Eretz Yisrael aren’t the only Jews suffering deeply. When you email a letter, you have no idea who will be reading it and what pain you have caused with some of the caustic remarks and lightning-quick judgments noted above. 

The only reason there were letters criticizing the complainers was because they wrote critical letters that didn’t understand the importance of the very limited scope of images. If they have the sensitivities indicated by the last two comments, as well as the therapeutic analysis, they should simply throw away the magazine, and NOT write letters about it. As one critics of the complaints wrote, getting a good night sleep is the last thing on the minds of the families of the captives, the parents of the soldiers and the soldiers on the front lines.

What is missing here? A correct understanding of “nosei b’ol im chaveiro” carrying a burden with your friend. That is what I would like to discuss.

Rav Shlomo Volbe, in Alei Shur, (Vol. II pages 211 and 275) presents important lessons in this characteristic, one that is listed among the 48 qualities necessary to acquire Torah (Pirkei Avos, Ch. 6, Mishnah 6).

In Shemos Ch. 2 there appears a redunancy in the verses. Verse 10: ויגדל הילד ותביאהו אל בת פרעה. Moshe grew and he was brought to the daughter of Paroh. One verse later – ויהי בימים ההם ויגדל משה ויצא אל אחיו וירא בסבלותם And in those days, Moshe grew and he went out to his brothers and he saw their suffering.

What happened in the second “growing” – says Rashi, based on Midrash Rabbah, “he gave his eyes and heart to be in pain over them.” Moshe was in the palace, completely safe and insulated from what was happening to the Jewish people. But he left what today would be called his “comfort zone” to proactively go out to see and feel their pain. And the Midrash (1:27) continues:וירא בסבלותם מהו וירא שהיה רואה בסבלותם ובוכה ואומר חבל לי עליכם …והיה נותן כתיפיו ומסייע לכל אחד ואחד. “He saw their suffering” – what did he see? He saw their suffering, he cried and said “It troubles me over you” and he lent his shoulder to help each and every one.

The literal translation of this midrash has Moshe lending assistance to each person in carrying his or her load. If you make a calculation, even if he helped each Jew for one minute to carry the load, not much of an assistance, the amount of time required would not be reasonable. The meaning, taught Rav Volbe, is the fact that he demonstrated to the people, in a concrete and tangible way – going out to them, giving his eyes and heart to be pained – that he was personally pained by what they were going through, something which made it easier for each person to carry their own burden.

This is the secret power of nosei b’ol im chaveiro. When the person carrying a burden, suffering, undergoing a difficulty is aware that there are others who are TRULY bothered by the situation he or she is in, it is easier to bear that burden. But it requires real effort to truly feel this pain on some level, and to such an extent that the one suffering knows others are pained with him or her.

While we can appreciate that there are those who have trouble viewing pictures, as benign as they were, of the tragic events of October 7th, the need of the community requires that they be seen, to feel the pain they cause, and let those suffering know they are also pained. And you can’t REALLY be pained at any level without hearing and seeing the results of those tragic events. We can be sensitive to those who are not able to “handle” the pictures and descriptions. But it is incumbent on them to refrain from consuming material that is damaging to them. It is certainly NOT appropriate for them to criticize the magazine for providing, in a very limited way, a resource for Jews who are comfortable in their communities, to experience some measure of discomfort, to have at least a glimmer of nosei b’ol im chaveiro. I apologize in advance to the anonymous writer who assured us that throwing away the magazine didn’t “detract one iota from my ability to be nosei b’ol.” If you didn’t see the pictures, you can’t imagine the suffering being endured by those whose family and friends were slaughtered or captured by the Hamas beasts. Even those of us who saw what Mishpacha published, and were exposed to visuals and descriptions that were much worse, have to work hard at being “nosei b’ol” and letting those suffering know it.

It is appropriate to conclude with the lesson taught to us by the Gemara in Ta’anis (11a). When the community is steeped in pain, one should not say “I will go to my home, eat, drink, and I am okay.” Rather he should pain himself along with the community, as we saw with Moshe Rabbeinu, that during the war of Amalek, when he couldn’t stand, he sat on a rock rather than on a pillow or chair. Why? Moshe said “Since the Jewish people are steeped in pain, I will also be in pain” and anyone who pains himself with the community, merits to see the comforting of the community.

The Jewish people are suffering on many levels, both because of the war situation in Israel, missles and terrosim, as well as rampant anti-semitism around the world not seen in 75 years. It behooves all of us to feel the communal pain, even if we aren’t directly affected.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky is Dean/Rosh Yeshiva and co-founder of Shapell’s/Yeshiva Darche Noam and Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya for Women in Jerusalem

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4 Responses

  1. Steven Brizel says:

    This is a superb article and response to those letter writers who don’t get it that you have to concretize your fellow Jew’s Tzaros even if it means reading about and seeing the evidence of the horrific events of 10/7 because if you don’t appreciate what happened you cannot be truly Noseh Bol Chavero

  2. Chaim Goldberg says:

    Thank you Rabbi Karlinsky for powerfully articulating the values at play here. It’s horrific, but what right do we have cut ourselves off from it?
    This and Rav Eisenman’s Short Vort today have been a healing balm to some of the painful statements I’ve seen the last couple weeks.

  3. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Rabbi Karlinsky, we have two sons and one son-in-law serving in reserves now and we really appreciate your sensitivity and awareness of all sides of the issue.

  4. Shades of Gray says:

    I didn’t see the specifics of the Mishpacha coverage, but I assume they are responsible in line with the “Joint Statement of Agudath Israel of America and Torah Umesorah Regarding War-Related Media” linked below:

    If focusing on the atrocities is too traumatizing for some, perhaps there are smaller, more subtle ways. As an analogy, a rebbetzin recommended to a relative of mine that she read “The Scent Of Snowflowers,” a Feldheim memoir about a Jewish family hiding in war ravaged Budapest during the Holocaust rather than a book about the horrors of the concentration camps.

    A current example of this might be seen in “Hearts in the Air,” an article by former Mishpacha editor Bassi Gruen, linked below, in which she describes meeting a friend at a wedding in Israel a few days after Simchas Torah whose son is an officer in the army. Her friend tells her:

    “I’ve been sleeping in my clothing,” she says. “How can I be comfortable when my son is in the field?”

    It may be easier for the letter-writers to relate to this image of sleeping in clothes than that of atrocities. I also find thinking of it helps put into perspective some of the recent controversy surrounding the rally. After all, there is an eim b’Yisroel, a mother in Israel who is, herself, nosei b’ol with her son on an issue of this magnitude, and so other items pale in comparison.

    The article is also noteworthy because the author’s husband learns in kollel and yet she was able to approach her friend at a wedding and ask about her son’s army service. As R. Adlerstein wrote in his Nov. 6 piece regarding the army service, “There is a chasm here that can’t be easily bridged, ” and yet the interaction occurred.

    R. Chaim Aryeh Zev Ginzberg wrote a Jewish Observer article that discusses feeling pain during times of terrorism and war which I submitted on the thread of “Rav Chaim Shmulevitz’s Powerful Wartime Questions” which is relevant here as well.

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