During Rosh Hashona, when it is customary to greet friend and stranger alike with good wishes for the upcoming year, I try to avoid uttering the phrase, “Have a happy and healthy New Year. The sentiments expressed are fine and sincere, but to me the words have lost their clout by overuse – the way, “have a nice day” has, or “I’m sorry,” uttered without thought as you move your way into a crowded train. It’s become an automatic , unthinking response.
Instead I say to everyone I care about that they should have a year in which they will have “peace of mind”. Having peace of mind means all is well in the major aspects of one’s life – there are no dire health, parnasah, (livelihood) shidduch, shalom bayit or child – related issues eating away at you, preoccupying your thoughts and your actions. It means restful sleep at night, and no stomach churning anxiety as you reluctantly face a new day in the morning.
This year I as I uttered these good wishes, I found myself wondering how does one achieve a state of being where true peace of mind/spirit envelopes you? The fact is, that there are very few people, if any, with perfect lives, where everyone they are connected to – parents, spouses, friends, children and themselves are in good health, have no social or educational issues, financial problems, or other significant concerns.
I realized that one can attain this state of well-being by simply having hakarat hatov – acknowledgement and therefore appreciation of the good in one’s life. There, might be room for improvement – the kids could get fewer colds and ear infections, or have better grades, your spouse could be a bit more complimentary, your boss a bit more generous, your 22 old year old daughter could have more suitable dates – but life is generally at a madraga (level) that is worth being grateful for. You have the job, the spouse, the children, the health – all you have to do is embrace your good mazel and be content. Contentment with your lot is the path to peace of mind, and the ability to say, “Modeh Ani” when you wake up ? and mean it.
But sadly, there are men and women and children who have experienced soul-shattering turmoil and horrific loss. Though there are aspects of their lives that are good and worthy of appreciation, they have gone through an excruciatingly painful, non-fixable catastrophe whose dark immensity overshadows that good and diminished it.
Living consists of emotional pain so intense and overwhelming that it consumes the person totally and he/she cannot escape it. Everyday objects and activities release bullets of emotional agony. A school bus that goes past your home that no longer stops, an empty bedroom full of belongings, a Shabbat table with unused chairs. There is no running away from the spirit-breaking confines of a new reality.
The sorrow that threatens to bend the core of one’s being to the breaking point, often is intensified by a gangreneous guilt that gnaws away at the soul, much like a woodpecker pecking away at a tree, constant and consistent and relentless.
How can these neshamas wrapped in grief find peace of mind – even a tiny modicum of it.
It is through Hashem’s ultimate gift to mankind – faith in Him.
But what does faith really mean and how to achieve it? I can only offer my feelings and thoughts on something that many greater than me throughout the ages have grappled with.
Faith is trust. Unwavering, undiluted, doubt-free trust, which can only be attained through love. Case in point. A baby getting a needle that causes it seconds of pain – which to the infant seems like forever – trusts the actions of its parents. It does not stop loving them because of this seemingly cruel act. It does not say to itself, “My parents are evil, they hurt me and let me down, I don’t want anything to do with them. I reject them.” Rather it trusts its parents so completely that every painful act perpetrated by them is accepted and received and internalized as being something that was to its benefit, even though it has no idea as to how the “torture” inflicted on it could possibly be a good thing.
The baby has total, unobstructed faith in its parents, it trusts them unequivocally – because it loves them with all its soul.
Hashem in his kindness has given us a blueprint for attaining trust in Him. It is contained in the Shema, which begins with Judaism’s ultimate declaration of faith – (one uttered by martyrs as they were murdered) “Hear Oh Israel – Hashem is Our G-d, Hashem is One.”
Immediately following this declaration is an admonishment: ” and you shall love your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources.”
We are not advised to fear G-d. Obviously, it takes no effort to be afraid of an Almighty G-d who can turn your life inside out with a blink. Nor is loving someone a challenge when life is wonderful.
But loving someone unconditionally despite the fact that He has brought pain and suffering – in spite of the pain and suffering – is the ultimate act of trust. Being able to say without hesitation yet without understanding it that, “this (the apparent tragedy) too is for the good” is the supreme achievement of faith and love for Hashem and the only path to consolation and the nechama crucial for peace of mind.
Although you may never be relieved of your sense of loss and your heart will always be bruised and there will be an emptiness in your soul, your pain can be soothed to the point of it being bearable, allowing you to take your first steps on the path to true peace of mind. If you can believe whole hardly, that Hashem controls every nuance of our lives – then guilt is a torture that is underserved – and one you wrongly inflict on yourself. Guilt is an unmitigated conceit – since you are saying you are in control and responsible and not Hashem. Faith in Hashem’s mastery of the universe will soothe your soul’s wounds and sleep will be attainable.
Attaining and maintaining love in Hashem and an acceptance of His unfathomable ways can be, and is the ultimate challenge even to those seeped in Yiddishkeit from the day they were born. But the reward is a life lived, if not b’simcha, at least with peace of mind.
During these Days of Awe – Yamai Noraim – I wish you and Klal Yisrael success in your davening and true peace of mind, all the days of your lives.
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