Last Thursday, after finishing the Mincha services on the 9th of Av, I noticed we had about 30 minutes before the fast ended. Seeing the hungry faces of our dear congregants, I knew they weren’t in the mood for another sermon. So I decided to do something different.
I invited them to share interesting childhood stories.
After a few short and sweet stories, a person stood up. His name was Dr. Paul Klein. Usually he attends Chabad of Wayne, but today he joined his cousin Martin to pray with us.
“My story might sound unbelievable,” he began, “but it’s true. This is my childhood story.
“When I was six years old, I blew up.”
Everyone perked up. What could that mean?
He explained that he attended a makeshift fireworks display as a child, and a “rocket firework” landed near him and exploded. He was severely injured.
What followed was a nightmare. His mother soaked up his blood with a towel while his father drove them to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible. The doctors saved his life but wanted to amputate his hands.
“My father was a tough blue-collar worker. He grabbed the doctor by his lapel and said, ‘Doctor, you must try other things before you amputate.’”
And so they did.
This story occurred in the late 1960s when the field of reattaching limbs and veins was in its infancy. “Some of the operations I went through ended up in medical books because they were the first of their kind!” he exclaimed.
Growing up, people told him he would “amount to nothing” due to his injuries and deformities. Many doubted him when he chose to go to medical school to become a doctor and give back to the medical community. But he persisted.
Today, he’s a surgeon performing the same surgeries he underwent as a child.
“For years, I was angry with God,” he said. “Why did this happen to me? Why did I have to suffer so much?
“But then I found my life’s purpose. Because of my experience, doctors were able to help so many people. And now, I dedicate my life to aiding others dealing with similar issues I experienced as a child.”
This story deeply moved me. I hadn’t expected to hear such an incredible tale when I invited the congregation to share stories to pass the time until the fast end.
When I returned home after the break-fast and prepared for the upcoming Shabbat — known as “Shabbat Nachamu,” or the Shabbat of comfort — I came across a letter from the rebbe.
In this letter, the rebbe discussed the verse in our Haftarah “Nachamu, nachmu ami,” “comfort, comfort my people.” Why the repetition?
True comfort isn’t just when pain is eased but reversed. Instead of feeling pain, you feel pleasure. Understanding the suffering one has endured provides one level of comfort. But a more profound level comes when they realize that the suffering was for a hidden good.
I’ve just witnessed someone who has experienced this double comfort.
May we all enjoy only revealed good from this point forward.
And let’s pray that we all experience double comfort. On an individual level, we should be able to look back at past hardships and see how it was all good for us. And collectively, as a nation, we should be able to do the same with the coming of Moshiach very soon. Amen.
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the Rabbi of Chabad of Hackensack and an editorial member of Chabad.org. He welcomes your comments at rabbi@ChabadHackensack.com