On the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel and Victims of Actions of Terrorism, Itzik Saidian, a wounded soldier, set himself on fire.
He was not physically hurt, but his soul has been shattered for years. In 2014, an APV (Armored Personnel Carrier) carrying nine soldiers from his platoon was hit by an RPG shoulder-fired missile. Seven of his friends died in the fiery explosion, and the two who survived were injured by the explosion and the barrage of bullets that followed. Itzik was not on that APV; he came to rescue his friends and saw what was left of them, and his soul was shredded for good. He kept fighting; he wouldn’t back down, and he stayed with his unit even after the battle. But that day, when he saw what had happened to his friends, prevailed over him. He never recovered. Itzik is not alone. For many warriors, who experienced the horrors of war firsthand, the war never ends.
“People need hope. If there is no hope in sight, if their present is full of torment and their future is bleak, I can see why they would see no point in living. But if their pain has a purpose, a worthy goal that is within reach, even if only in the long run, then life has meaning and existence makes sense.”
The other day, a student asked me a hypothetical question: “If you were to meet Itzik Saidian a few minutes before he torched himself, what would you tell him?” When you meet a person with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), the clinical name for the state such people are in, the most important thing is to listen to them, be with them in their pain. Only afterwards can you say anything. But when the moment comes to speak, I would tell him that for all the pain, life has a higher, more sublime and beautiful goal than he can even imagine. And even though at the moment, he is agonizing, he can still reach that goal. Despite all the pain, it is precisely from that state that he can rise to eternity, wholeness, and beauty, and be happier than any person on the planet.
I, too, have had my share of trauma. I grew up in a family that was wiped out almost entirely by the Nazis, I was in a car accident when a bus collided head on with the car I was driving, and I remember every second leading to the collision. I was clinically dead for days, and when I came to, I couldn’t breathe because my lungs were filled with blood. I remember the anguish. In fact, toward the end, it got so bad that when the doctors finally told me they were going to operate on me to clear my lungs, I literally jumped on the bed in the surgery room and said, “Cut me open!” And I meant it!
Despite the pain, I know what I have gained from these ordeals; I know what they have given me. The purpose of life is to rise above it to a higher realm that we can find if we truly seek it. And sometimes, it takes great pain for us to start seeking, but it is always worth it.
For this reason, I would tell Itzik, and anyone who is suffering unbearable pain, that the hurt is precisely the lever that can lift us above any injury. I would stress that nothing ever happens without a reason, and the pain he feels right now is only the beginning of a road whose end is bliss and beauty. And precisely this place of unbearable heartache is where that road begins.
People need hope. If there is no hope in sight, if their present is full of torment and their future is bleak, I can see why they would see no point in living. But if their pain has a purpose, a worthy goal that is within reach, even if only in the long run, then life has meaning and existence makes sense.
In truth, the states we go through are imprinted in nature’s system, and they all lead to happiness. However, how we experience those states depends on us. The path is paved, but we determine how to walk it. It will lead us all to rise above our selves, and immerse ourselves in humanity, and ultimately in all of creation. Life provides each of us with opportunities to take initiative and move in that direction of our own volition. We often miss these opportunities or decline to take them, and then nature leads us to our predetermined, yet blissful goal against our will. Our predicaments, our trials and tribulations are the levers that life hands us to propel us toward a better reality, a more transcendent one. Itzik’s trauma, however dreadful, is such an opportunity, and so are the traumas of countless people who suffer for no apparent reason.