Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Waiting on Anxiety

The Torah in the first words of this week's parsha tells us "Judges and officers you must make in all your gates which Hashem your G-d gives to you". Rashi points out that the terms 'gates' here refers to the cities Israel will inhabit. Other commentaries interpret the text similarly. But then why does the Torah use the word 'gates' when it might better have used the term "cities". What is the hidden message the Torah is trying to teach.

The holy Shaloh understood the use of the term 'gates' by taking the Torah imperative and personalizing it. He notes the Torah does not say "you must make..." employing the 'you' in the plural form. On the contrary the 'you' in the text is in the singular form as if the Torah is giving the imperative to each individual Jew, that each individual must set up "judges and officers" in his/her gates. He goes on to interpret the verse in a creative way saying that the 'gates' of the text intimate the 'gates' within the individual. Each person has seven gateways to the body, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and a mouth. These are vulnerable places. We can do much damage to ourselves and to others if we don't guard what comes out of them and what goes in carefully. It is about these gates that the Torah calls on us to protect. We must put in there proximity inner judges and officers lest we misuse them and cause harm.

In the context of this blog in which we personalize the Torah text to reveal things we need to know for our spiritual and emotional well-being, I would like to adapt the idea of the Shaloh to make it personally relevant. I would suggest that the 'gates' of the Torah text not only be thought of as parts of the body, in keeping with the view of the Shaloh. We need to see the 'gates' in the context of our experiences. 'Gates' then would mean places of transitions in our lives, places that mean change, new ends and new beginnings. It is precisely in these times where our world is in transition that we may well regress and make mistakes of judgement we normally would not make. It is in these time that might well do something that will compromise both ourselves and other and later severely regret.

And why would be more vulnerable to make serious errors in times of transition? Why are these 'gates' so important to protect? The answer is that transitions bring with them anxiety. We become afraid of what will happen to us when we have left the past and have not yet a secure future. In transitions we don't yet know what's expected, we don't yet know whether we will succeed or fail, we don't yet know what will be the implications of our going and coming. Most transitions only happen because we either have no choice or feel we have no choice. Otherwise, even to our own dis-ease, we will choose to stay put, rather than leave and risk the change and the anxiety it brings.

It is hard to hold tight in this situation of anxiety. We want to escape it as soon as possible. Ideally we will contain the anxiety and find the ability to wait.Difficult as it is, we will bear the feelings of instability. We will trust G-d and our own abilities to let time bring us to the other side and the new beginnings it affords. But occasionally the anxiety feels too much and along comes a quick rescue.In our healthy and settled mindset we would reject the 'rescue' as inappropriate for us and damaging. But in our hurting state we see the option before us as a potential great relief. We don't have the stomach to wait any longer. We are too ill at ease to wait for peace and settledness to come naturally and bring with it the opportunities we sought when we made the transition in the first place.
So much effort goes down the drain, all because we are too anxious to wait.

Waiting on anxiety is a huge challenge. So many lives are ruined by the inability to wait. Think about it. Men and women after one failed marriage so typically marry early and make the same mistake again. The reason, they could not wait for the anxiety of the transition to pass. They chose to relieve it prematurely and rather than make their life better they wound up back in the same place or worse. Psychologists tell us one should not remarry for at least two years after a divorce or being widowed.

After losing a job its so tempting to take the first job offered us, even when, somewhere inside, we know that job will not make us happy and is not what we are meant to do. The anxiety of living in the state of transition is too much for us and we choose any means possible to escape it rather than wait for the healing to happen.
I am sure you can think of many more cases where we are tempted to cut the short the healthy process of change in our lives. And the price we pay is that we surrender the gifts the process of change was meant to realize and sometimes the new becomes worse even than the old

It is to the difficulties of living in these gateway times in our lives that the Torah at the outset of the parsha demands that we have "judges and officers". The Torah wants for our well-being. It wants us to be able to grow. In order to support our process and help us wait on anxiety the Torah calls on us to have friends who will remind us of our situation and disciplines that will keep us grounded, our 'judges' and 'officers'.

May we find through our faith in Hashem and in our belief in ourselves the courage to wait.

Shabbat Shalom

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