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Locked-In State

The locked-in state is a rare condition in which people are conscious and able to think but are so severely paralyzed that they can communicate only by opening and closing the eyes in response to questions. They are aware, capable of thought and emotion – but are completely isolated from the world outside.

For many years, neurological researchers have been working on developing tools to help locked-in patients communicate. A promising technology that’s in the development stage is a computer attached to the brain by electrodes. The locked-in person can use the electric waves generated by his thoughts to move a cursor on the screen. At this time, the control is not accurate enough to allow much communication. It is hoped, though, that this technology can be refined to allow locked-in patients a full range of communication with the outside.

While it is hard for us to fathom the degree of seclusion experienced by a locked-in patient, many of us have experienced some form of social isolation. Sometimes, we feel that no one cares or understands, and we are powerless to express our needs. When two people have a conversation, very often there is no real communication going on – each one is only imagining what the other one thinks, and is projecting their wants, needs and feelings onto the other.

There are a few rare instances of truly empathetic communication: A mother and her baby, twins, or a long married couple. They seem to relate telepathically and can sense the other’s unspoken needs. However, these examples are rare, and most people never reach that level of relationship with someone else.

There are a few rare individuals who have a gift for communication, not on a superficial level but in a deep personal way. In the Torah’s terminology, they are referred to as “One who has spirit within him.” Rashi’s commentary explains: “One who is able to relate to everyone.” A true leader can sense the needs of every person.

It is hard to understand how a human being can reach this level of empathy. According to Chassidic teachings, every generation has a leader, a Rebbe, which is an acronym for Rosh Bnei Yisroel – the head of the Jewish people. Just as the brain, the head, serves as the command center of the body and receives all its signals, so too does the Rebbe sense and respond to the needs of every Jew. This is because the Rebbe has a general soul, bound up with every individual soul.

We are now living in a “locked-in” state, where the communication of the brain to the body, the Rebbe to the people, is disrupted. When we merit the complete Redemption, with G-d’s help, the communication of the Rebbe to the people will be restored and we will finally be able to relate to each other with true understanding and compassion.



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