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 yairhoffman2@gmail.com

The article was originally printed by the Five Towns Jewish Times

You may also like...

1 year 7 months ago

“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)

Mike S.
1 year 7 months ago

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.

Raphael Kaufman
1 year 7 months ago

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?

Bob Miller
1 year 7 months ago

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.

1 year 7 months ago

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.