1 Nissan 5761
Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:
The reason I am writing is because a friend of mine has a question that I don’t know how to answer. She described her question using the following mashal of a nonfunctional person who is basically a vegetable. Other people decide to help that person and give them therapies and put them on soft chairs instead of their confining wheelchair etc. – she claims that the person is happy as he is. The OTHER people aren’t happy with how he is and try to change his environment. But he doesn’t need it to be changed. He IS happy already!
That was really the mashal we talked about after she gave me this one about a prisoner. He goes insane in prison and watches cockroaches crawling through his cell all day, and he is completely happy that way. He is unaware that there is another way – and he doesn’t want any other way, because he is very content now – he LIKES watching the cockroaches! On the other hand, his captors tell him that if he does a certain uncomfortable thing each day, they will free him. But he has no interest – he doesn’t want to go free – he is happy with the cockroaches. Everyone else wants for him what’s better. What she is saying is that everyone wants for her to be frum, to keep Torah. They want her not to do drugs, not to drink, to associate with the right people, not to do foolish things with herself.
What do I tell her? That there is another way? She knows there is another way – and knows it’s better. But questions why we have to live that way if we can be happily insane? Why does everyone have to be normal?
Rabbi, any suggestions?
In Charles Dickens “Tale of Two Cities” there is a character named Dr. Manet. During his long years in the Bastille, he goes insane and just sits at his workbench, muttering to himself. His family and friends are shocked to see what he has become of him and rescue him. When he eventually regains his sanity, he is appalled by the years he spent out of touch with existence.
Your friend works with the assumption that she is like a deranged prisoner watching cockroaches crawl who will never regain her sanity. But life doesn’t work that way. She is making decisions now that when she is in her forties and fifties, perhaps with her beauty gone and with it the possibility of male companionship, unfortunately (because that’s what happens when you play with cockroaches), and perhaps no career, no family, nothing but a stark realization of how life passed her by, and all she has to look forward to is a few more decades of sadness, because she has regained her sense of reality, then it is very possible she will turn to those well-meaning friends and say either “you were right” or “why didn’t you try harder to save me?”
By the way, how can she see into the soul of the retarded child? Just because he seems happy on the outside doesn’t mean he isn’t suffering on the inside with a very real sense of his painful predicament. In “Tuesdays with Morrie”, Morrie describes how his body is degenerating from Lou Gherigs disease. Though he can’t move his body, he still feels pains. Perhaps the disabled boy is happier than he can possibly express – in this world. But there will come a time when he will express the appreciation for all the caring people who helped him feel better.
The gemera tells the story of Elazar Bar Durdai who used to frequent all the prostitutes in the world. One day he heard about a particularly special one who was far away and very expensive. He traveled and paid the money and as he was undressing, she passed wind. Perhaps to obviate her embarrassment she looked at him and said “just as that passes away, so will you”. This moment of stark realization of reality (from one of the cockroaches) so shocked him that he was overcome with remorse. The pain was so great that he ended up crying himself to death. You see, we Jews never lose it completely – only temporarily. And when we wake up and remember who we are the shock can be devastating.
Good luck and I hope this helps.