Therapeutic Healing

A Six Day Journey

We come away from the ninth of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, with a spring to our step and a sense of hope. The six day stretch between the ninth and the fifteenth of Av are a transitional period, a time for healing. Our sages taught that the fifteenth of Av was the happiest day in the Jewish calendar. While the historical reasons for this are beyond the scope of this article, the fact remains that six days separate the Jewish year’s saddest day from its happiest day.

To me this implies that the gulf between supreme sadness and supreme joy is very narrow. It can be traversed in a mere six days. Not necessarily in a moment, it does take a little time, but it shouldn’t even take a week. It can be accomplished rather quickly. How does one transition from sadness to joy, how does one find therapeutic healing with such efficacy?

This question goes beyond sadness and joy; it touches on all poles of life. Insecurity to confidence, worry to calm, fear to reassurance and pain to pleasure. How does one gain relief from the former and traction in the latter? Is it an instantaneous pivot or a laborious process of time? I believe it is both. It is at once fast and slow, momentary and lifelong. The pivot occurs in a moment or a day, certainly less than a week, but the training that allows this idea to percolate can take a lifetime.

The Inspiration

A little while ago I was asked to explain how faith fortifies us in times of distress and how it helps us cope with our troubles. The following was my response:

How can I possibly answer this question when it is so highly personal? All I can do is share my own experience. At one point in my life I was feeling especially anxious about a number of concerns. I poured my heart out in prayer and begged G-d for help. After a good cry, I opened the book of Psalms and quickly came to chapter one-hundred-twelve and the words. “Nachon Libo Batuach Ba'hashem. Samuch Libo Lo Yira.” His heart is upright, he trusts in G-d. His heart relies (on G-d) he has no fear.

Though I have chanted these words countless times, that day they jumped off the page and into my heart. It was as if the words were writ large screaming their message to me. Don't worry, you are in good hands. The best possible hands, G-d's hands. Why worry? I walked away rejuvenated thinking my salvation would soon be at hand, but that was not to be, my salvation was not at hand and my problems continued to plague me. I then realized the true import of the words. It wasn’t that I need not worry for G-d would solve my problems. It was that I need not worry because, problem or not, I am in good hands.

I visualized it like a child held in the crook of his parent’s arms protected at once from one and all. The child still has frustrations, things he wants but can’t have and pains that won’t get away, but the child knows that the parent, who loves him, is holding him, cradling him, guiding him and protecting him.

The realization that as I walk through life, I sit in the crook of G-d's arm, He cradles me, sings to me, nudges me and encourages me, gives me strength to face my challenges. It is the knowledge that I am truly not alone. I can face my challenge and anxiety because I face it with G-d. Just knowing that takes away three quarters of the burden. The problem is very much still there, but the worry, anxiety and fear are mitigated. They aren’t gone, just mitigated. As they rise up and threaten to engulf me, I batten them down with the reminder that my heart is upright because I walk with G-d.

Three quarters of every problem is the fear/insecurity of how it will affect our future and the guilt/anger of why it is happening to us. The last quarter is the actual problem. I found that my faith cleared up the first three quarters and with that the pressure eased. I was able to breathe again, live again and function again. Here is the amazing discovery. I found that once I accepted G-d as my constant companion I was no longer overwhelmed by the last quarter; the problem itself. I was buoyed by a can do attitude. With G-d at my side, I felt that I could manage. Somehow I would find the solutions and solve the problems.

Mama Rose, my wife’s grandmother, lost her husband at a young age. She raised her children with warmth and dignity, but when they left home she was entirely alone. She complained of her loneliness to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who replied, “A Jew is never alone.” Five simple words, but so dramatic and powerful that they gave Mama Rose the strength she sought. We all know that G-d is with us, but when we hear it from someone that lives this reality it becomes real to us too. Mama Rose remained just as alone as before, but she never felt lonely again. Wherever she went, she knew that G-d was at her side. 

The Heavy Lifting
Realizing this truth and even embracing it is by no means a foolproof solution. We can coast on it for a while, but its long term efficacy is up to us. We can choose to hold on to this feeling and faith even when the inspiration wears off or to let it go and drown again. The words from Psalms can jumpstart our new approach, but there will be dry spells and to prepare ourselves we need to do some heavy lifting.

If we want faith to work, we need to put it to work and that requires training. Emunah, Hebrew for faith, is a derivative of the word Uman, a trained craftsman. We need to train ourselves to believe not just in general terms, but in the particular. We need to train our minds to think, visualize and remember that that G-d is with me, today, here and now. He knows of my anxiety, He feels my pain and is holding my hand. It is easy to subscribe to such faith when we are in sound emotional and psychological condition, but to accustom our minds to respond that way when worries and fears beset us and anxiety sets in, requires training, practice and reinforcement. That is the heavy lifting I speak of. If we do it, we will have used our faith correctly. If we don't, we will have wasted it.

Faith is just a key, the rest, turning the lock, opening the door and stepping through, is up to us.

The Pivot and the Heavy Lifting
It takes, but a moment, to imprint these words of faith on our minds, but a lifetime for it to percolate through our system and saturate our thoughts. We can turn from sadness to joy, panic to faith, in a short while, a moment, a day, certainly less than a week. But for the therapeutic healing to take hold in the long run, long term commitment is required. Six days can catapult us from the sadness of the ninth of Av to the joy of the fifteenth, but that is only a jumpstart. To make it last, we have to make it work.