Friday, November 24, 2023

Parshas Vayeitzei 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei

11 Kislev 5784/November 24, 2023



It’s part of the paradox of our times. The more comfort, amenities, and conveniences we have, the more anxious and depressed we seem to become. Despite all our technological advancements, we are unable to predict or control the future and, despite what we have today, we have absolutely no guarantees about tomorrow.

Many people invest great energy to dull or escape feelings of emotional angst and pain. The danger is that escaping pain requires increasing effort and doesn’t make the emotions go away. By not dealing with the cause of one’s emotions, the issues become compounded.

Feeling negative emotions is often quite unpleasant and that’s why most people desperately seek to avoid it. But perhaps there’s another perspective to feeling one’s feelings that can make them more tolerable.

I recently shared the following analogy with a client who over time had developed negative habits to escape his emotional pain and was trying to get himself back on track:

During the winter months my hands become chapped very quickly. I have to put hand cream on my hands most nights during the winter. If I don’t do so for a few nights, the back of my hands becomes very red and extremely irritated.

At that point, when I finally put on hand cream, the back of my hands immediately feels like they are burning. But in a strange way, that pain actually feels good because I know it’s part of the healing process. The stinging sensation means that it’s getting better.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J Twerski related that on one occasion while making rounds in the hospital, a patient told him that he was feeling a lot of pain in his legs. Rabbi Dr. Twerski told the patient that he would immediately call for additional pain medication. The patient replied that this was the first time in ten years that he felt anything in his legs. He wanted to feel every bit of the pain; it was the most beautiful feeling he ever felt because it demonstrated that his feet were still “alive” and hadn’t atrophied.

Feeling one’s pain is uncomfortable but when one can recognize and acknowledge his pain and mental anguish and can forge on despite the pain, it demonstrates maturity and is an integral part of living.

In his powerful memoir, Out of the Depths, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau recounts an experience he had a few months after World War II ended. A 25-year-old acquaintance named Aaron Feldberg addressed an assemblage and said the following:

"If you will allow me, I would like to say a few words on behalf of my friends. We would like to thank you. Not to thank you for coming, because we did not want this visit. Not to thank you for the gifts, because we do not want them. We want to thank you for the greatest gift of all, which we received from you just a few minutes ago, and that is the ability to cry. When they took my father and mother, my eyes were dry. When they beat me mercilessly with their clubs, I bit my lips, but I didn't cry. I haven't cried for years, nor have I laughed. We starved, froze, and bled, but we didn't cry. For the past few months, before and since the liberation, I have had the feeling that I am not a normal person, nor will I ever be. That I have no heart. That if I can't cry when I am supposed to, I must have a stone in my chest instead of a human heart. But not any more. Just now I cried freely. And I say to you, that whoever can cry today, can laugh tomorrow, and he is a mentsch, a human being. For this I thank you.”

Feelings are very much a part of the human experience.

We say that emotions are felt in the heart even though emotions are actually processed in the brain. Intense emotions are felt throughout the body. When we feel happy, our entire body feels elevated, and we have a bounce in our step. Conversely, when we feel sad, we feel a lack of energy and like we want to crawl up and be by ourselves. Being that the heart pumps blood throughout the body, we say that emotions come from the heart because they encompass our entire being.

Part of being human entails dealing with all the different emotions we invariably feel. We can try to bury them and hide from them, but they are still there beneath the surface and will subconsciously gnaw at us. That doesn’t mean that we are subservient to our emotions and cannot persevere despite them. But we still need to acknowledge them and allow ourselves to feel them, because they are part of our reality.

As we pray, mourn and are deeply pained by the plight of our fellow Jews in Eretz Yisroel, and particularly in Gaza, we take comfort in knowing that the emotional pain we feel is itself part of the comfort. The mere fact that our brethren’s pain hurts us so deeply demonstrates that we are part of the most incredible nation on earth. That deep collective emotion reminds us that we will prevail.  


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum