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Faith by Fire    

Faith by Fire

Yossi had been at summer camp. The counselors were cooking soup in a metal cauldron on an open fire. The pot suddenly toppled, badly burning several children sitting nearby...


It took me two buses and a train to get there but I eventually made it to the children's ward of Hadassah Hospital, a place no one wants to go. My friend Esther greets me and leads me to the bed where her son is lying, his feet thickly swaddled in white bandages, with just his tippy toes poking out, black and bloody.


Yossi had been at summer camp. The junior counselors were cooking soup in a metal cauldron on an open fire. The huge pot suddenly toppled, badly burning several children sitting nearby. Yossi suffered second degree burns on his feet and upper thigh. Other children were hurt even worse.


Yossi is a beautiful boy with a sweet face and it broke my heart to see him in the hospital. Esther was wavering between sympathy and exasperation as she coaxed him to eat a piece of meat.


“I need protein” Yossi explained, “It helps my skin grow back.”


His father came over to sit with him so Esther and I could go out to the hall and talk. We found some chairs and sat down, speaking quietly as mothers holding sick babies passed us by.


Esther was wrestling with her emuna. It was natural to feel outrage at the camp counselors. Boiling soup around a bunch of kids is the height of stupidity. Not only were several children badly hurt but in the immediate aftermath no one knew what to do and having no adult there with any medical training was completely unprofessional. Suing the camp was an obvious response, and within her rights.


And yet...


That does not contradict the reality that Yossi's accident was Divinely decreed. If Hashem had not wanted him to be burned he would not have been. Not only that but according to second level emuna this is actually beneficial for him, exactly what he needs. Doesn't that sound crazy?


My friend Esther is in too much pain right now to accept the fact that somehow this is for the best. How can she when she hears the daily screams of her son as the nurses change his bandage? How can she bear the sobbing of her youngest child? His shrieks tear at her and seeing him drugged with pain killers hurts as well.


What does Hashem expect from us when we are in the midst of anguish? Not more than we can be, not false emuna. Hashem knows it takes time to work up to such a level, to really believe that He bestows upon us only good.


Esther knows that Hashem runs the world. She is so thankful that Yossi is alive, that the extent of his injuries is limited. She is grateful he is receiving top care from a compassionate and skilled staff. Friends and neighbors are praying on her son's behalf and he is being showered with gifts.


Volunteers at the hospital come to comfort and entertain the children and Yossi is bringing pride to his parents by being brave and keeping his sense of humor. He generously shares his presents with another boy who was burnt and he is always polite to the doctors.


And yet...


The negligence of the camp counselors! The irresponsibility of the staff!


It's so natural to throw the blame in their face, so normal to feel angry and appalled.


And it's true that that a grave mistake happened and for sure the idea of making soup was not well thought out.


And yet...the camp is just the stick, the counselors mere twigs in the hands of God.


This horrible accident was ordained by Hashem for the good of everyone involved. Somehow this is for the best, as difficult as that is to accept.


It takes time and a strong willingness to go against human nature, to be counter-intuitive and to accept that we just don't understand.


I listen to my friend as she rants against the camp directors. I get it. Her son's feet are burnt to a crisp and he's unable to walk. He's homesick and traumatized. And Esther is a spiritual person. She's a believer. But she's also in the early stages of grief.


The nurse arrives to give Yossi another injection. He needs an especially strong painkiller now because it's time for him to practice walking. As the drug kicks in Esther opens up the walker he uses to make his way around the room.


“If he feels pain and bleeds that's a good sign,” Esther explains, “That means his nerves are alive.”


I thought that was metaphorically deep. The ability to feel pain and bleed is a good sign, it means you're alive.


Yossi is stalling for time. He doesn't want to get out of bed, he fears the pain that awaits him.  Esther becomes insistent. “You have to walk Yossi! Now, before the medication wears off!  C'mon c'mon, get up! Don't make me crazy!”


Yossi looks at me. “It hurts” he says, “I have no skin on my feet.”


“You must be so scared” I answer.


“I am” he says and looks sideways at his mother. “She doesn't understand.”


But she does. And she won't let up until he's standing. As he begins mincing down the hall Esther claps and cheers although her face is pinched with worry. “Another step” she urges, “C'mon!”


Yossi grimaces and she watches him closely, monitoring his pain. She wants to push him beyond what he thinks he can bear but not to the point where he freaks out. I realize that she's acting Godly. Pushing her child through his pain and fear so that he can arrive at a better place. She wants him to be healthy, to be able to run and play and go back to school. She wants him home safely where he belongs.


“Someday you'll help somebody else who's in trouble,” I encourage him.


“You'll be an inspiration.”


“I know.” he says, “My mother already told me that. She says I'm a tzaddik.”


And my bet is Hashem thinks the same.



* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen began her career as a Crisis Intervention Counselor in Silver Spring, Md. in the seventies. After moving to Israel, she worked as a marital mediator and social skills instructor for kids. Following the death of a son, Rebbitzen Channen became a certified bereavement counselor and worked with young mothers who had suffered loss. Most recently she worked at the Melabev Center for the memory-impaired, as an activity director and group facilitator for families coping with Dementia.  The Rebbitzen has written for numerous magazines and newspapers and recently led an interactive creative writing course called Connective Writing. Yehudit Channen is the wife of Rabbi Don Channen, Rosh Yeshiva of Keter HaTorah.  They are blessed to have nine children and many grandchildren and live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. 

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