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Throw Away the Crutches

Yocheved Lavon

Crises, traumas, personal limitations, disabilities, overwhelming pain — it’s enough to make a person sink into self-pity, crumble, and give up. But Aharon Margalit broadcasts an alternate message: that everyone — no matter what fate has dished out — is capable of retaking charge of their lives. According to the author of As Long As I Live, “There’s no moment in life when a person can’t somehow help himself.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

aharon margalitAharon Margalit has a message to bring to anyone who wants to hear it. At its core is rejection of self-pity, and for this generation, that’s a hard thing to let go of. After all, we’ve been bombarded all our lives with messages that we deserve a constant flow of ease, convenience, and delight, and when that flow is disrupted, there’s always something to swallow or a button to push to get it flowing again. Only sometimes there isn’t … and what’s left then but righteous indignation, venting, and self-pity?

But Aharon Margalit has an unusual set of credentials. When he says to stop pitying yourself and take charge of your life, you can’t brush him off as another slick motivational speaker who doesn’t understand what you’re going through.

Many have already read his autobiography As Long As I Live or the original Hebrew version, Ethalech, written for Reb Aharon by Moshe Gutman — and others already know the bare bones of the story: Aharon Margalit was two-and-a-half years old, playing blissfully in a sandbox outside his home in Moshav Tifrach, when his life of ease abruptly ended. A young fellow on a mock rampage in the moshav’s new tractor frightened the toddler so badly that he lost his power of speech. Shortly afterwards he contracted polio, which nearly killed him. He spent two months in an iron lung on the verge of death, his little body atrophying as the days and weeks progressed. Left paralyzed, he spent five years in an institution for severely disabled children in Jerusalem, far from his home in the Negev. Travel conditions in those days made visits very difficult, so he rarely saw his parents. When he eventually managed to speak again, he stuttered terribly for years. His disabilities made him a target for bullies.

As an adult, he fought deadly malignant tumors three times, and was given six weeks to live. He faced the loss of loved ones before their time, including his newlywed son Chaim, killed by drunken thugs while he and his wife were visiting Havana, Cuba. In short, his life has been a series of struggles that no one would wish on his worst enemy.

And although it’s improbable that all these things could happen to one person, somehow people come away feeling that Reb Aharon’s story has something to do with them. The clichéd catchword “inspirational” won’t fit; they call it “life-changing.” Had it been otherwise, Reb Aharon wouldn’t have agreed to make his story public.

So much has been written by and about people who overcame formidable challenges through prayer, faith, and fortitude. All this applies to Aharon Margalit as well, but he places a special emphasis on a person’s obligation to take positive action as long as he’s still alive and aware. His story proves that he won’t allow emunah to serve as an excuse for passivity, or for blaming one’s troubles on G‑d. 


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