Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Struggle Delayed

Have you ever noticed that often just after a person crosses the finish line, having run with supreme effort and at times a great distance, he find he can no longer move? Have you ever known a person who struggled long and hard to reach a goal and, against great odds, to succeed, only to get sick and die immediately after?
What happens? How is it that someone has near super-human energy to meet a challenge, overcoming every obstacle in his/her path, only to collapse on the other side?

My morning chavruta, Shmuel, told me that many years ago he and a group of his friends decided to climb Massada. Not climb like you and I might, but in the spirit of the youth, they were determined to run up the snake path at full gallop. Indeed they did and they scaled the top in 18 minutes. Problem was that once there they never even made it past the turnstyle. They collapsed in the waiting room for the cable car and slept for the next two hours on the floor. Afterwards, still exhausted, they simply went down, never even visiting the historic site!

It is this phenomena that explains a troubling portion in this week's parsha of Toldot. In the course of the narrative we are told that Yitzchak has a strong conflict with Avimelech the Phillistine king of Grar. Yitzchak is thrown out from the town because of jealousy over his affluence. All the wells his father dug are filled by the Phillistines making them unusable. Yitzchak's sheperds are in constant struggle with the sheperds of Grar who claim any new found water belongs to them. Twice Yitzchak digs a new well only to see the ownership contested. On the third occasion, Yitzchak digs a new well without challenge. The Torah tells us " And Yitzchak called the place Rehovot, for now G-d has made expanse ("rohav") for us that we might prosper in the land." The Torah then tells us that Yitzchak moved on from there to settle in Beer Sheva.

It is there, in Beer Sheva that G-d appeared to Yitzchak in a dream and told him "I am the G-d of Avraham your father. Do not be afraid for I am with you and I will bless you and increase your children because of Avraham my servant."

Why does G-d suddenly appear to Yitzchak here? He had made promises to him a bit earlier, as the Torah told us, before he moved to Grar. Why again the promise of protection? The Ramban explains, G-d wanted to ease Yitzchak's fears. Yitzchak had been involved in some dangerous interplay with Avimelech. The prophesy was intended to reassure him.

But the question remains, why here? why now? It makes great sense that Yitzchak was in need of reassurance but he needed it when the conflict was raging. Then he was indeed in danger. Then at every turn he felt vulnerable. Yet G-d does not appear to Yitzchak in an expression of support until after the controversy has subsided.
The last well dug caused no strife. Moreover Yitzchak left the region and moved on.
Why does G-d wait to appear until post crisis. It seems a bit late!

The Torah is teaching us something important here. When we are in crisis, when we have a goal to achieve, a mission to accomplish we often drive ourselves and supress any obstacle that might interfere with our agenda. We push aside the dangers, the risks, the threats, no matter how real. We are single minded in doing what we must.
To the world outside we look brave and courageous, entirely unafraid. Yet that is not quite so. We are in fact much afraid. But we do not let the fear enter our psyche. We can't afford to.

It is only once we reach the goal, when we accomplish that which we must, when the crisis is over, that we begin to let the feelings supressed during the ordeal come to the surface. True, the mission has been accomplished. By all accounts we should feel now safe and secure. Yet in the aftermath of the ordeal it is the exact opoposite we feel. It is then we feel the vulnerability that has been sitting there inside all the while, yet put out of mind until now. It is then that the nightmares and sweats begin, only once the crisis has past. It is then that we most need support, care and attention.

The classic manifestation of this phenomena in our day is the story of the Holocaust survivor. While in the Camps s/he was focused on survival. Fear,anger, and grief had no place. They had to be surpressed. When freed the expectation was that these survivors would in short order be able to function. After all they overcame so much.
Now should be the easy time for them. No one anticipated that survival did not mean psychic well-being. No one realized that while the danger was no longer present, until the feelings suprsessed were processed fear and dread would remain, particularly in the night dreams of these victims.

This is the story of Yitzchak. G-d waited to appear to him until after the crisis was past. During the confrontation with Avimelech he did not need G-d's reassurance.
He was in survival mode, too busy fighting to feel. Only after, now that Yitzchak's ordeal was done, did he need support. The personal problems for life's combatants only begin after they leave the battlefield!

We need to take this to heart when caring for others. We need to know that often the other needs us much more after an ordeal than during. We need to know that just because someone looks like they have it together and in fact tell us they are coping quite well it does not mean they have no struggle. It only means their struggle is delayed! To be sure they will need us, only not right now!

And we need to recognize this truth even for ourselves. We may find that we have incredible strength to meet the challenges of life that confront us. At times, in moments of crisis, we can feel almost invincible. Yet we should not be surprised when post-challenge we feel a whoosh and sense of depletedness, perhaps sadness, fear, or despair. Truth is we never were invincible. We carried the feelings of vulnerability. We just kept them hidden, even from ourselves.

Self care, care for others, demands we not take things at face value. We need to know that the love we show ourselves and other after a crisis can be far more important than that shown before or during.

In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, "Its not over til its over."

Shabbat Shalom

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