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Tisha B’av is a night when we cry each year over the Destructions of the two Temples, because we cried the night the spies came back with their report, over nothing that warranted that we cry at all. וַיִּבְכּ֥וּ הָעָ֖ם בַּלַּ֥יְלָה הַהֽוּא  And the Nation cried that night… Our Rabbis teach us that from that night of crying over the spies on the night of Tisha B’Av that year, Tisha B’ Av became the night of mourning for the Jewish people, a night to cry.

Isn’t that a bit harsh? So much pain and suffering that we have ‘til today because of one night, thousands of years ago in the desert, when my ancestors cried wrongly??!! What do I have to do with that sin? Don’t our Rabbis teach that a person does not get punished for the sins of his forefathers, unless he has that sin himself…? What have I done wrong – in what way am I considered following in the ways of my ancestors, that I have to suffer?

In Megillat Eicha that we read each year on Tisha B’av, when we cry over the destruction of the two temples, there is something interesting. Yirmiyahu the prophet laments over the destructions, but hints to the root of it all. The root of the Destruction is the sin of the Spies, but what was the root of the sin of the spies?? At the beginning of every passuk, the first letters are in alphabetic order. Except one letter in chapters 2,3, and 4. The letters Ayin and Peh. Ayin means eyes, and Peh means mouth. Megillat Eicha switched the two around, and put Peh/ Mouth before Ayin/Eye, because the spies said with their mouths what they did not see with their eyes!!!

The root of the sin of the Spies was that they did not say, only what they saw. They added their own perspective. “It is okay to say, וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֙ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים “We felt like grasshoppers, compared to the giants of Canaan”. But you can’t say, וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶֽם that we were perceived like grasshoppers by the Canaanites! How do you know what they think of you??? No one asked the spies for their perspective in their report of the Land, and especially, they were not asked to report their perspective to the masses! If they would have reported to Moshe privately what they felt, the story would have ended very differently! It is not up to them to decide that the Canaanites will be too difficult for G-d and His People to take out of the Land! כִּֽי־חָזָ֥ק ה֖וּא מִמֶּֽנּוּ ! They said they saw the giants Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai in Hebron, while they never actually saw them, themselves! Only Kalev saw them, וַיָּבֹ֣א עַד־חֶבְרוֹן֒  while he was in Hebron, praying. When Kalev saw these giants, he saw that their faces were pale, he saw death on their faces, סָ֣ר צִלָּ֧ם מֵעֲלֵיהֶ֛ם. The spies, though, intentionally hid this important piece of information from their report!

All my articles are self-help Torah articles. This concept of disconnecting the reality from your version of it is one of the keys to self-help. Your thinking is dependent on 4 Ss. State of Mind, Structure, Social, and… Story. You don’t think how you want to think, you think according within these 4 Ss. Your version of your story, is your story. Your version of your story, is what brings you to overstress in stressful situations. Every time we become overstressed, we sin, with the sin of the spies, and we bring about destruction. Allow me to explain.

One of the greatest keys to the gates of serenity is getting in the Now. Moving past the past. Ignoring the fears of the future. How do you get into the Now? Simple. You notice the Now, and you get into the Now. Notice your breathing, notice your thinking, notice that you are alive. Notice the choices you have, all your options, and the choices you don’t have. Notice your strengths, and notice your weaknesses. Notice the good and notice the bad. Notice the smell, the air, and cherish the moment. Notice that G-d is חי וקיים, aware and existent, wherever you are. We are meant to go in His way and be like Him, to be aware and existent.

In meditation, there is a practice called Naked Sound. Perceiving the sounds you are hearing without any mental interpretation, judgment or labeling. Simply observe sounds as they arise without attaching any meaning or narrative to them. We get caught up in thoughts about the sound, identifying its source, recalling memories associated with it. Instead, focus solely on the sensory experience of hearing the sound itself. This practice encourages a non-reactive state of mind, fostering a deeper sense of calm and mindfulness. Why is a nonreactive state of mind the key to being calm? Because stressful circumstances don’t cause us stress: it is our reaction that causes us stress. The escalation of stress from the raw circumstance is what causes the stress, not the circumstance itself.

When I help couples with their Shalom Bayit, I let them talk to me, about what bothers them with their spouse, in front of their spouse. But they are not allowed to talk to each other when they are expressing their offense about their spouse, or their defense on their spouse’s claim. All communication is through me, so that things don’t escalate.  I help them both to understand where their spouse is coming from, what is the underlying pain, weakness, issue. I make sure that the problem does not escalate beyond the issue at hand and metamorphose into something personal.  I try to help each spouse to enter into their partners “shoes” and understand them a bit better. This is very dangerous, because they bring out all their accusations against each other in front of another person. So, how do we end this conversation with a safe landing? At the end of each session like this, I ask them if we can do a sure-love exercise.

“Before you talk to each other again, after you have aired all that bothers you about your spouse, I want you, one at a time, to say to your spouse what you love about them, why you married them, what you appreciate about them. Look them in the eye, and tell them how much you love them! It gets very emotional though, because each one needs to do this on a timer for at least 3 minutes!!! Try telling the person you love why you love them, looking straight into their eyes, for three minutes, and you will see that you will both start crying.

Why is this such a powerful exercise? Because it deescalates the issue from becoming something personal. Issues can be dealt with. Taking things personally can’t be dealt with. When Korah challenged Moshe with questions like why we need tzitzit on a Tallit that is all Tchelet, or a Mezuzah on a room that is full of Sefrei Torah, Moshe never answered the questions! Because the root of these questions was something personal: Moshe, we don’t need you as a leader, because we are all holy men! The Mishna in Avot tells us that Hillel and Shamai disagreed, but Korah and his Edah didn’t disagree with Moshe; once it was on a personal level, Moshe was not going to answer.

This is why we cry on Tisha B’Av, because we still suffer from escalating issues, saying with our mouths what our eyes did not see. Escalations avalanche too fast into something that can destroy any marriage, can cause people to want to commit suicide or overdose, throw a struggling teen out of the house, etc. It can make a Bar Kamtza, who was hurt over an invitation, to cause a whole nation to go into exile for 2000 years.

Here is a list of the most common stresses found in “regular” people, according to Chat GPT: Work and school deadlines, debt, breakups of family, of friends, of partners, health issues, getting married or divorced, starting a new job or ending one, having a baby, uncertainty, social pressures of fitting in, feeling judged and keeping up to expectations. Perfectionism and high standards, and more.

For us Ultra Orthodox Jews, Chat GPT says we have some added stressors:  Keeping halacha, Shabbat, Kashrut, educational pressures of ensuring a religious education while meeting secular education standards, financial challenges of providing for a large family, dealing with family members who don’t share the same levels of religious adherence, supporting religious institutions, balancing a strong religious identity while integrating into a broader society, anti- semitism and more.

When a robot tells me that my stressors are normal, I somehow feel calmer. Why? It used to bother me that when I heard other people going through difficulties that I am going through, it would cause me to be calmer. I used to feel, hey – what’s wrong with me? Am I happy that others are suffering? What a Rasha I must be!!

But that is not the truth! Our Rabbis quote a famous pearl of wisdom: צרת רבים חצי נחמה. When the difficulty is a difficulty of one person alone, that is what is painful. When it is a difficulty shared by others, it is half a consolation! Why? Because then it is not personal anymore!!! This is just the normal way of life!! The stressor is not the circumstance! It is your escalating it, taking it personally, that is the problem! It is not that these stressors don’t bring stress. Those stressors are part of being alive and the price of existence. Only the dead have no stress at all! The escalation of those issues, though, is what causes stress to become unbearable. So, one way of deescalating stress is to stop taking it personally. Try to “unpersonalize” the whole thing; try to look at your issue, as if you were Chat GPT.

Another escalation is making the problem permanent. The problem can be dealt with, if you look at it as a temporary issue. The problem is when you visualize mental images as this is how things will remain forever. Instead of thinking, “I can’t handle this”, try to think, I can manage this, one step at a time.

Another escalation is making the problem pervasive. Pervasive means you think of the problem worse than it actually is. When you challenge the thoughts that you have when you have stress, questioning their accuracy, considering alternatives you can come up with more balanced perspectives.

The first step to deal with life stressors is to take back your power of choice, to choose how to respond. I mentioned Chat GPT’s list of most common life stressors, to help you not to take anything personally in the stressful circumstances, realizing that these are all normal stressors. When you examine evidence for your stressful thoughts, you will be able to reframe the stressors in a more constructive manner. Then, you can take action, small steps, towards improving the situation.

If you are feeling stressed, go for a walk. Change the scenery, but most importantly, defuse the stressor from the escalation of the stress. Remember, that you have only three things you can manage in life. מחשבה , דיבור , מעשה. You can choose the way you think. You can choose the way you communicate. And you can choose which actions to take. Focus on managing those three, and only those three. You can’t manage time, you can’t manage the people in your life and you can’t manage G-d.

Don’t try to deal with your stress alone. Reach out to friends and family members, reach out to mentors and therapists. Remember. If they would have just asked Moshe first, things would not have escalated like they did. Most importantly, reach out to G-d. He is always listening. If you can’t figure out a solution, make sure in Arvit, you say the following words with more Kavana ותקננו מלכנו בעצה טובה מלפניך, And set us aright before You, our King, with good advice, And don’t tell Him how big your problems are. Tell your problems how big G-d is.


About the author, Yosef

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