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I recently mentioned to a neighbor that I am returning to being a therapist in private practice, part-time. Instead of wishing me hatzlacha, he launched into an unsolicited lecture that included all his opinions and grievances about therapy and therapists. That included complaining that therapists are always asking how something makes you feel and what’s that like for you. (I asked him how it made him feel when therapists asked him that?)

I learned long ago that when people have an agenda it’s not worth arguing with them – But the question is a valid one. Why is therapy a process? Why can’t we just get some advice and live happily ever after?


Most people seek therapy at a time of personal crisis. Things have become unbearable, and the immediate goal is to navigate out of a crisis. But to do so, personal changes may be necessary. The challenge then is that embedded habits are not easily broken.

All our behaviors, even negative ones, serve some purpose. Someone who eats a pint of ice cream after a tough day may be aware that the behavior is unhealthy, yet does it anyway – desperate for a quick boost to assuage his angst and misery.

A parent may spend hours on the phone looking at social media or playing games while ignoring family and responsibilities, knowing the behavior is negative but continuing because he/she doesn’t know how else to deal with the stress of their day.

A person may also be in denial that he has a problem at all, subconsciously protecting himself from the shattering of his ego that would occur if he admitted it.

For such people, change is only possible when they find a better way to deal with stress.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, we are creatures of habit. We get used to doing things a certain way and it’s hard to change.

When Lot, along with his wife and daughters, were escaping Sodom, they were warned not to turn around. Lot’s wife didn’t adhere to the warning, and she became a pillar of salt. Turning back symbolized that she could not pull herself away from that life, thereby dooming herself to being stuck in that world.

When Hagar sought a wife for her son Yishmael, she returned to her native Egypt to choose an Egyptian woman. Rashi notes that this is a fulfillment of the idea, “throw a stick in the air and it will fall back on its root.” That quote reminds us that when we are under pressure, we revert to what we’ve always done because it’s always easiest to return to what feels familiar.

For all these reasons, creating new habits and routines takes time, conscientious effort, encouragement and the commitment to reflect on the inevitable failures along the way, recognize one’s weaknesses and get back on the bandwagon.

Every month on Rosh Chodesh, just before Shemone Esrei someone klapps on the bimah and announces “ya’aleh v’yavo,” a reminder to insert the special Rosh Chodesh prayer. Some shuls include even more reminders. (How does that make you feel?)

The meaning of the words ya’aleh v’yavo is “get up and come.” Rosh Chodesh is a time of renewal, the beginning of a new month. When I hear the klapp I try to think of it as a friendly slap on the back, to “get up and come” and renew my goals and commitments.

At the beginning of the year, we decide on certain resolutions and positive changes we want to implement. We feel that this year is going to be the year! But we forget that change is a process. Then, when we invariably resort to our old habits, we think we have failed, and throw in the towel completely.

Rosh Chodesh is a monthly renewal to “get up and come” back on track. We return to the starting line, invigorated and recommitted, knowing that it’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight.

(With such an opportunity, how does that make you feel?)

* * *

This week, 27 Cheshvan, marks the yahrzeit of my Zaydei, Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn, z”l, Rav Yaakov Meir ben Rav Yosef Yitzchak.

My Zaydei, like all my grandparents, was part of the “ya’aleh v’yavo generation” – those who were not given any option but to get up and come in order to survive.

I am unable to fathom how he endured all the pain and loss that he suffered in his life. But even more remarkable is how he was able to remain true to his upbringing and maintain his love for Torah and people throughout his life.

My Zaydei was a rav for almost three decades in the famous Slonimer Shul on the Lower East Side. He was beloved for his wit, warmth, and charisma. He was an excellent speaker and knew how to connect with people. He was a disciple of some of the great Torah giants of his time and was himself a talmid chochom of note.

But for me, he and my Bubby remain a link to a generation of heroes, of those who rebuilt from the ashes. They too could not afford to look back as they escaped destruction and had no prerogative but to get up and come. Yet somehow, they did and somehow, they renewed their lives and built families.

Our challenge to “arise and come” is far different, but for us it is a challenge nonetheless. In their example, we can find encouragement and confidence that we too can traverse our challenges and become greater because of them.

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Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author as well as a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ. He has recently begun seeing clients in private practice as part of the Rockland CBT group. For appointments and speaking engagements, contact 914-295-0115 or [email protected]. Archives of his writings can be found at