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In his book, Learned Optimism, Martin Selegman, the forefather of modern-day positive psychology, breaks down positive thinking to 3 P’s. Permanent – Is the problem/offense/issue at hand one that is permanent? Pervasive – Is the problem/offense/issue at hand perceived as bigger than it really is? Personal – Is the problem/offense/issue at hand something that should be taken personally?
Positive people perceive problems as transitory, not permanent. Positive people believe that problems/challenges should not be taken personally. Positive people do not take their challenges as “all-encompassing” – that they are spread over the entire range of their life. Negative people are the opposite. They take things personally, or they believe that the problem/offense/issue is permanent, or they perceive the issue as pervading their entire reality.
When things go wrong in life, a person can ask, ‘Why me?’, as if he feels that G-d has something against him, personally. This is worse than thinking that your problems are permanent, or that your problems are worse than they are.
Mordechai Shapiro recently released a new hit song, called One in a Million. “I know in my heart, that no one can play my part”. The “Why me?” question, itself, is always a question that is asked out of self-pity. As Shapiro sings, I look into the mirror and I ask, what do I gain when I compare and I contrast? What a mistake to compare one’s self to others, something that makes one take things in a personal way.
Noach knew this. The people of the world, then, were still suffering from the curse Adam brought to the world by eating the forbidden fruit. There was a folktale at the time that the curse would end, only when a child was born circumcised. Noach was that child. וַיִּקְרָ֧א אֶת־שְׁמ֛וֹ נֹ֖חַ לֵאמֹ֑ר זֶ֞֠ה יְנַחֲמֵ֤נוּ מִֽמַּעֲשֵׂ֙נוּ֙ וּמֵעִצְּב֣וֹן יָדֵ֔ינוּ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵֽרְרָ֖הּ יְקוָֽק׃ Lemech, Noach’s father, named him Noach, saying, “This one will bring us relief from our work and from the anguish of our hands, caused by the soil that G-d has cursed” . R’ Yehuda Hachasid was quoted saying that Noach was the first freak of humanity. He was born with fingers. Everyone before him had mitted hands, like Lego and Playmobil people. That is why they could plow with their hands. But Noach could not plow with his hands. He had fingers. What a weirdo! But Noach knew that comparison is the thief of joy. He knew the mantra that – When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. So, he invented the first manmade machine. The plow. Noach was the greatest inventor of his time; he changed the world forever. Had he compared himself to others, what they have and what he does not, he would have robbed himself and the world of what only he could achieve. (See Rosh Breshit 5)
Pinchas knew this. He was the only descendant of Aharon who was not a Kohen. He was born before the cutoff time, and was not anointed along with his father, uncles and grandfather (Rashi 25;13). Pinchas ignored the “Why me?” voice,… ”Why was I left out?” Instead, Pinchas found a deeper, more positive inner voice to listen to. “When you feel depressed or anxious or different, congratulate yourself. You have now joined the club of everyone who has ever made a difference in the world.”
And Pinchas found that moment. He was the only one who could face the Angel of Death and save the Jewish Nation from the plague that had already killed 24,000 people. If Pinchas would have become a kohen prior to killing Zimri and Kozbi, he would have been disqualified from bringing a Korban, or from being fit to participate in Birkat Kohanim. (Sh”A OH 128;35) This is why, only after this act of zealousness, G-d made Pinchas a Kohen.
If we look at life in a positive way, as if yesterday, today, and tomorrow are all part of one big story that only G-d can orchestrate, it can shed light on and give meaning to our problems. Pressure is what turns coal into diamonds, and it’s what turns lemons into lemonade. Difficulties turn the regular characters of the story into legends. Characters can’t develop and grow without hardships, and only after facing hard times, you come out stronger and more confident. You really become “one in a million”.
As we begin the period of The Three Weeks, the “Why me?” question is not just a question that is asked by many on a personal scale. It is asked by many on a national level, as well. “Why us?” Why do we, the Jewish Nation, need to go through so many difficulties, hardships, programs, exiles, genocide? Aren’t we “The Chosen Nation”?
We cannot justify asking “Why me?”, only when things go wrong. We must ask it when things go right, as well. We must look at the world, knowing that difficulties have in them something amazing. Something that we can grow from. Here is yet another amazing Chidush in Dikduk. כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה Anyone who mourns over Yerushalayim … Merits and sees its happiness. (Taanit 30b) Why is this said in the present tense? Why does it not say, …Will merit and see, in the future tense?
Any generation in which the Beit Hamikdash is not built, it is considered [as if] it was destroyed in its day. )Yerushalmi Yoma 1;1) Mourning over Jerusalem is mourning over what we could have been, and were not. If only we could be more. More kind. More loving. More forgiving. More accepting. More humble. More believing. More fiery in our prayers. This is what the Talmud is telling us. If you mourn over what you could have been, and not what you lack, then you will find happiness, in the present. And this is what purifies us. Like the word זוכה, merits, which also connotes, זך, pure. Mourning over what we could have been is what polishes our souls, in the present.
Problems and issues are not permanent. It is only our negative thinking that, unfortunately, sometimes stays permanent. Sometimes, people ask, “Why did I have to receive this difficult child? Why Me?” Dan’s son, Chushim, was his only child. A deaf child. Binyamin, on the other hand, had 10 children. When the Torah takes a consensus of these two tribes, years later in the desert, G-d makes a point of placing the two extreme numbers one next to the other. Binyamin had the least of all the tribes, 35,400, while Dan had second to the most, after only Yehuda, 62,700.
All the negative Ps are rooted in Shiflut, the feeling of worthlessness. All this negativity is the Avodah Zarah of Pe’or. Pe’or was an idol that was worshiped by degrading it. This idol must be so powerful, for no matter how much you belittle it, it does not respond!!! The power of belittlement, the belief that you are worthless, is the sin of the idol of Pe’or. How low can you go? How far can you believe in your worthlessness, and still stay sane? The very opposite of Judaism!!! Judaism tells us that you can never begin to imagine how much G-d appreciates every Amen that you say. Every Amen, Yehe Sheme Rabba. Every word of Torah. Every blessing, each kindness, every feeling of appreciation that you have, every time that you stand strong in your values. Judaism believes that you are really, “one in a million”.
So how does one switch from being a negative person to a positive person? Here are the Selfie Steps, the practical self-help steps one can take to make the perspective switch, in your relationship with G-d, and your relationship with others.
- Know your worth. Meditate on how you cannot even fathom how important you are to G-d and how much He loves you. Ask the “Why Me?” question when things are going right in life, when you notice that you are actually blessed.
- In your interpersonal relationships, when confronted negatively, make believe that you are in the customer service department.
A: Don’t take it personally: Understand that most angry customers are not angry with you, but rather with the situation in which they currently find themselves. It’s not about you; it’s about them and what they are dealing with.
B: Let them “vent”. Sometimes, people just need to be heard.
- In our relationship with G-d, instead of taking difficulties personally, have patience. Don’t jump to conclusions. Look at the difficulty as part of a much greater script.
- Fill your calendar. Do not let the problems/ confrontations/ issues of life take a disproportionate amount of your time.