The remedy for stiff necks

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The remedy for stiff necks

By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

Some will say it comes with age, others will tell you that it can happen to anyone. No matter; when it hurts, it hurts big time. I am talking of the neck. If you are like me, (and I hope in this regard no one is!) you might have experienced exactly how painful a stiff neck can be. You will wake up in the middle of the night, or it can sometimes happen during the day; there is a sudden excruciating pain that words are powerless to describe. I am not talking of a simple pain in the neck (a title many a parent will bestow upon their offspring, bless them). No, this takes pain to a new level, one that encompasses your whole being. You can’t just stand up and take a few pills; you can’t stand, period! Every fibre of your mind is throbbing incessantly. There is actually a simple way out of this physical impasse. If you just take a breath, sit down, and slowly, very slowly allow your head to move down,

Sometimes in the chaos that passes for Yom Tov preparations we lose sight of what it’s all about.

then to the side, you will experience a miracle. Because as you move you will feel the grasp of the pain is abating; within minutes all that harrowing anguish will be just a fading memory. The secret is that you have to relax enough to let your tense muscles calm down. When first struck, you become even tenser. This merely exacerbates your pain, so the only way out of this cycle is to relax those muscles. Breathing in slowly and moving very calmly all helps to restore one to the status quo ante. You can sing a brocha to Hashem for releasing you out from the tension that had just moments before enveloped your whole being.

Such tension is endemic in our world; we have so much on our minds, and as age creeps up, our bodies begin to rebel. I share these medical asides because we are all in the throes of Pesach preparations. Surely a recipe for tension! However, there is more to it than a quick fix to any stiff neck.

Pesach is about removing the spiritual walls we build around us. We often fill our space with so much pain and difficulty that we can’t seem to flee from the anguish. The Egyptian redemption didn’t occur in a one-off vacuum of time; it’s happening today as well. Every neshomah experiences moments of bondage; if we keep our focus, we can find personal deliverance.

The first step is to calm down and catch one’s breath. There is a cacophony of noise that sometimes monopolises our minds. We can’t think straight, the pain of our circumstances seems overpowering. The bills are coming through the door, the kids are having problems in school and we can’t seem to find the right friends. All this builds up, we lose the words to articulate our situation and often as not, we fear to burden those we love. The intensity of the pain grabs our soul, and there is a searing sense of hurt that rushes over us.

Then we are given a gift from Hashem, a moment in time which offers us hope. Pesach is such a huge bequest from on high, we just need to realize it. Sometimes in the chaos that passes for Yom Tov preparations, we lose sight of what it’s all about. As we clean what we have just finished cleaning, for what seems to be the hundredth time, we should think of all the recesses of our souls that need a similar operation. As the plans for Yom Tov crystallize and new plans are set in motion, perhaps we can learn to accept that in our inner lives there may well be a need to change certain fixtures as well.

When I was a Bochur I had the merit to spend every Pesach at the table of the Bobover Rebbe Rav Shloma Ztl. His every move in those days before the Sedorim offered one a passport out of the confines of one’s personal Egypt. His ability to bring life to each nuance of Yom Tov preparations is legendary. As we baked Matzos Erev Yom Tov you could actually sense how spiritual hope was being breathed into our hearts. The singing and the intense pace were instrumental in freeing us from the confines of the everyday problems with which were beset. I often watched his son, The Rebbe Rav Naftali Ztl, as he swept into Yom Tov. His was a huge neshomah, one that we will never begin to understand. Single handedly he carried the entire burden of what was then a fledgling community soaked in debt and untold problems. His daily experience was filled with the worry of how the Mosdos would survive, and each day brought new- and huge- dilemmas. Yet his was a service to Hashem that was beyond any normal understanding. It seemed that with each added problem his spiritual strength became more profound. What would have crushed any other person seemed to just gently rest on his slight but holy shoulders. It wasn’t that he didn’t realize the enormity of what he carried, but he saw it all as Hashem’s special task that was granted him after the horrors of the Holocaust. Part of his preparation for Pesach was the facilitation of the selling of Chometz. People from all strata of the community would come to make him their agent in this halachic task. I was amongst those throngs of individuals; even as a Rav of a community I would turn to him to act for me in this way. I always felt that visiting him so close to Yom Tov was integral to the observance of the festival. His sweet smile was always there for me, and his advice cherished. In those days I was involved in running a yeshiva that was the first to offer special education for Heimishe adolescent boys and our debts were huge. I always felt that just by selling my chometz through Rav Naftali I unloaded the worry that came with my position. His voice just made one feel better, and after all, his burdens dwarfed mine. Alas, I no longer have his calming brochas to help me through these stiff-necked times, but I have his memory. It is from such holy souls that we can learn so much.

The Torah speaks of Hashem calling us “a stiff necked people.” This can mean that we are sometimes so racked with pain that we can’t lift our heads to see what possibilities await us. Our Tzadikim give us an eternal lesson, that with calm hope the discomfort can disappear


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