You’ve experienced a difficult and overloaded day. The tension is mounting, and your head is pounding. Before your headache becomes utterly unbearable, you swallow two Tylenols. To your great relief, within several minutes the pain has subsided, and you can continue working.

You think you are now functioning as your normal self. But think again.

A new study by researchers at Ohio State University found that while acetaminophen—the main medical ingredient used in Tylenol and many other pain relievers—dulls your own pain, it also dulls your empathy to the trials and tribulations of others.

In this study, participants from two groups were tested; one group was given a placebo pill, and the other was given acetaminophen. After the medicine took effect, the groups were each asked to read sad stories of individuals experiencing challenges and distress. Each group was then asked to rate the pain of the characters. Those who had taken acetaminophen minimized the pain, while the placebo group had greater empathy for them.

Empathy is our ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and feel their emotional landscape from their own perspective. Apparently, the part of the brain that’s activated when you’re feeling pain is the same part that is activated when you’re imagining someone else feeling the same pain. And if your pain center is dulled, so, too, is your empathy to another’s agony.

Reading this study made me wonder if the converse is also true. Can experiencing a painful situation actually increase our compassion? While empathy comes more naturally to some than others, if you have experienced a particular challenge or trauma, can you use your experience to become more sensitized to the depth of another person’s pain?

In Acharei Mot, Aaron experiences the greatest pain a parent can ever have with the death of his two sons.

And Aharon’s sons, Nadab and Abihu each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the L‑rd foreign fire which He had not commanded. And fire went forth from before the L‑rd and consumed them and they died before the L‑rd.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the L‑rd spoke when He said, ‘I will be sanctified through those near me and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron was silent.

Aaron’s silence is certainly not a natural response. What did it express?

Aaron remained silent out of a sense of subservience to G‑d. He believed, as difficult as it was to comprehend, that it was G‑d’s will that this tragedy should befall him and so he remained silent.

The Midrash Rabbah explains that, because Aaron was silent, he was rewarded that G‑d spoke exclusively to him, teaching him directly a portion of laws, whereas usually it would be in conjunction or through Moses.

Aaron’s silence conveyed his awareness of his limited knowledge in understanding G‑d’s justice in running the world. This belief caused the expansion of knowledge, in Aaron’s case, by being taught G‑d’s laws.

Though we are not expected to react like Aaron to such painful predicaments, our lives are rarely easy. To survive our challenges we need to cultivate our faith that G‑d runs the world. This enables us to reach a level of “silence” or acceptance, even when conditions aren’t the way we would have ideally liked.

Losing one’s children is perhaps the worst pain a parent ever has to face. Nevertheless it did not transform Aaron into a bitter person; he remained the same minister of love, overflowing with empathy for his fellows.

Hillel said: “Be of the disciples of Aaron, who loved his fellow creatures and drew them close to Torah"(Ethics 1:12).

The Midrash (Avot d’Rabbi Nattan 12:3) recounts: When Aaron would pass a wicked man, he would greet him warmly. The next day, when the wicked man would want to engage in sin, he would think to himself, "Woe is to me! How will I be able to look upon Aaron tomorrow when he greets me with love?"

Others would think, "If Aaron only knew the hidden things of my heart and the evil of my deeds he would not allow himself to look at me, let alone speak to me. Yet he considers me to be a fine person—let me therefore make his words and thoughts true by changing my ways."

The Midrash also tells us: When Aaron saw two people involved in a quarrel, he would say to each of them, without the knowledge of the other, "My child, see how your friend is berating himself with remorse because of what he did to you? He asked me to approach you to seek your forgiveness." When the two would meet, their quarrel would disappear and they would embrace.

This was Aaron’s character. He transformed people through his empathy, love, and confidence in them.

I have met people who have suffered terrible challenges in their lives: debilitating sicknesses, financial crises and appalling emotional traumas. Some of these individuals have used their pain and suffering to transform themselves into greater people, overflowing with empathy. The depth of their pain seems to reflect the depth of their ability to feel the hurt of another—and to take action, to proactively do something to help.

While none of us ever wants to experience serious suffering in our lives, perhaps we can view our challenges as opportunities to grow into greater more empathetic individuals.

And while the researchers in Ohio never intended to prove that, perhaps this paradox can have even greater ramifications on how we function as human beings.