Monday, November 28, 2011

Self esteem, problem solving and Shabbos

I want to share with you a letter that I wrote to one of my patients who has been having problems with his self-esteem and resolving personal difficulties. It also so happens that he is attending graduate school and is so overwhelmed by his work load, that he has felt compelled to compromise on his Sabbath observance. (Significantly, in the 10 principles of Jewish Medicine that you will find on my website, principle #7 is Shabbos.) This letter clarifies how I view Shabbos as a healing tool and how it can deeply change us from the inside out. The gist of his arguments are that the approach I take oversimplifies complex problems. As you will soon see, I beg to differ:

Dear brother,

I believe that it was in one of our first conversations that we spoke of the myth of "self-esteem". If you recall, then, too, you were shocked that I considered self-esteem to actually be a cynical excuse for ego-gratification. But as I explained then, our priority in all cases needs to be to consider whether our actions please Ha-Shem or the opposite. As I have said on many occasions, the concept of neutrality, of "Switzerland" is a lie. There is no such thing as a neutral stance in any relationship. We either engage and exist in an environment of peace and harmony, or we are in conflict. So too with one's actions. Our actions either bring more G-dliness into the world, or create more emptiness and dissonance. This was the case in our previous discussion, and this is the case here. What I want you to think of is not what feels good or what hurts, but rather how your actions help you to connect or,
G-d forbid, do the opposite in your relationship with Ha-Shem. When faced with a difficult solution, you have 3 strategies to consider: 1. Talk to Ha-Shem and if you lay all of your options open on the table you will usually be able to get a sense of clarity as to how to proceed. 2. Speak to your wife. Respectfully, ask her for her feedback, expressing that you are having difficulty making the correct decision, and that you value her input.
3. Speak to those who are your mentors and role models and get their feedback, whenever possible.
I can assure you, that if you can follow the above when confronted with difficult situations, you will ALWAYS make wise decisions and Ha-Shem will bless you with peace of mind, clarity of thought, and abundance of blessing. I guarantee it !

Remember, it's always OK to make mistakes. But it's absolutely wrong to wallow in depression or consider oneself a sinner. Such a concept is completely incongruous with Judaism. The word "chet" usually translated as sin, really means that one missed the mark, and got off the main road. The key is to be aware of oneself and get back onto the King's highway. But no good ever comes from being stuck! The key to success in life is to recognize who your are, where you are and where you are going, making corrections when you need to.

(At this point, our discussion addressed a decision of his to turn on the heater on Shabbos because he felt that his children might get sick--but remember, this is Los Angeles, California, not a cold climate).

Now lets come full circle and discuss the issue of turning on the heater. I want you to consider the following:
1. your action was taken unilaterally, without discussing how your wife felt about it.
2. Why does one keep Shabbos? Because it is a time to be together as a family? Because we work 6 days and are tired on the seventh? I don't think so. Rather, The Holy One, Blessed Be He, gave us a prescription for healing and connecting our bodies and souls, and freeing us from the servitude that we are enslaved to the 6 days of the week. This wise Doctor knows much better than we do what is good for us and what is not, and He declares that keeping Shabbos meticulously is the potion of life extending our lifespan and enriching our eternal souls that seek to be attached to Ha-Shem. But keeping Shabbos can be very complicated and requires an extensive knowledge and review of its many laws. My point is that not being terribly knowledgeable, it is critically important that just as with issues relating to domestic tranquility, so too with issues relating to Shabbos, decisions should not be made cavalierly and without going through the three steps I listed above.

Furthermore, I must tell you, that from our conversations, I don't think that you really grasp just what Shabbos is and what it can do for you. If you did, what happened this past Shabbos wouldn't have happened, and you wouldn't ever even want to study on Shabbos--These things would be unthinkable, and not because they are forbidden, because that's just not the point! But rather from a complete lack of comprehension of what Shabbos is and what it can do for you , to enrich you and connect you to your neshama (soul). I hope the time comes sometime soon, we can spend Shabbos together. But tragically, you should know, that you are not alone. Many, many Sabbath observers are in the same boat as you are, and just don't get what Shabbos is. So why do they keep it? Well, first of all, many don't really, though they may contend that they do, for if they discuss weekday activities, or sports or entertainment or business, then they are not immersed in Shabbos, and for all intents and purposes are not really keeping Shabbos, radical as that may sound! Essentially, they are disconnected from their Neshamas, really no differently than one who puts a TV on a shabbos clock to watch a show or a sporting event. So, again, why do they keep it? Some keep it out of habit. Some out of fear of Divine punishment or retribution. Some do it because it's the Jewish thing to do. But they're all wrong, and what usually happens is that their children get fed up with their hypocracy, and stop keeping what they see their parents don't really believe in.

I want to conclude by having you ask yourself this question: Why do I keep Shabbos? Please consider all of the above carefully and answer honestly. I hope that your careful reflection is able to change your perception.

The bottom line is to always remember that Shabbos is for YOU, not for Ha-Shem, and if you are not able to comprehend that, then you need to really reconsider the quality and balance of your life.