Adjusting to Distressing “New Normals”

By Malky Bitton, Vancouver, BC
Essays 2017 / Finalists

MyLife Essay Contest 2017

This essay addresses the concern of how to pick oneself up and carry on when faced with a frightening new normal, a distressing shift in the status quo. Through developing the concepts of אין מזל לישראל and כבשה אחת בין שבעים זאבים as explained by the Rebbe, we will demonstrate the following:
Every Jew, due to the unique composition of the Jewish soul, has the potential to rise above circumstances, to live a supernatural-laced life. However, the activation of a Jew’s supernatural potential is dependant on a conscious choice whether to attempt to control one’s own life, or to relinquish control to G-d. Practicing this faith in placid times establishes a strong positive thought pattern to turn to in times of crisis, empowering one to go with the flow and emerge stronger despite a frightening new normal.

The goal of this essay is to produce a positive thought pattern for coping with distressing new normals based on ideas from Chassidic philosophy.

The Concern
How is it possible to maintain one’s equilibrium in turbulent times? Whether on a global scale, when the world seems turned on its head leaving you to wonder if things could possibly become more insane, or on a personal level, when unexpected events shake life up leaving you floundering to regain your footing?

Suddenly faced with single-parenthood; the recipient of a brand new diagnosis of chronic illness like diabetes; or something less drastic such as a flooded apartment and having to move in with one’s parents, or the temporary loss of a job: How to go with the flow, focused and with clarity, when the comfortable and familiar has been replaced with the foreign and alarming? How to adapt to frightening new normals?

There’s a Jewish secret, an ancient nugget of inside information that can be applied to create a positive thought pattern; to not only survive the situation but, ironically, thrive [1] despite all odds.

Spiritual Genetics
Just as families share certain genetic material, obviously within the circle of immediate family but even within the extended family, in the same way the wider family of the Jewish people shares certain spiritual genetic material in addition to our common roots and heritage.

Every Jewish soul is composed of the same spiritual DNA known as the ten Divine sefirot. There are even certain character traits that have always been especially [2] prevalent among Jews throughout the span of our history and across various geographical locations, such as kindness and compassion. [3]

However, there is one “Jewish gene” in particular that is relevant in the context of adapting to difficult new normals: the ‘supernatural gene’. The Jewish people as a whole share a complex, painful history of adapting to challenging new normals. Expulsions, ghetto-living, wandering and starting from scratch are bold threads woven through our story of survival.

And inexplicably, here we are, not just existing but flourishing as a nation! From the disproportionate amount of medical and technological advances coming out of Israel, [4] to the long lists of Jewish Nobel prize winners, and most significantly the exponential [5] growth of jewish communities and institutions world-wide – ours is simply a mind-boggling narrative. So many despotic super-powers have come and gone, powers intent on decimating the little Jewish nation, yet here we are while they are in museums. As Mark Twain famously questioned in his treatise concerning the Jews: “What is the secret of his [‘the Jews’] immortality?” [6]

Perhaps we can answer that part of the secret is the supernatural gene, and another part is a matter of activating it; facilitating its dominance versus leaving it recessive.

The ‘Supernatural Gene’
Talmudic sages state that unlike other nations, the Jewish people are not subject to [7] changing fortunes due to astrological fluctuations such as changes in the constellations. In the words of our sages: ״אין מזל לישראל״ – the destiny of the Jewish people is not dependant on the mazalot, the constellations. Chassidic philosophy interprets this Talmudic statement to mean that Jews are not limited by the laws of nature. Our life-force does not come from the same source as the rest of creation, rather it transcends the standard creation process. 8 A different twist to the Talmud’s wording teaches us this fact. First of all, if the Hebrew word “ֵאין – ain” is punctuated differently, it can be read as “ַאִין – ayin”. “Ain” means ”is not”, as in “our destiny is not determined by the constellations”. However “ayin” means “nothing”, as in “our destiny is determined by nothing” with ‘nothing’ being a reference to a level of G-dliness that so transcends the reality of created beings that creation simply doesn’t exist! “Ayin” is a reality of nothingness, nothing other than G-d. [9]

The second twist Chassidic philosophy applies to the talmudic statement is regarding the word “mazal”. While the common translation of “mazal” is as a reference to the celestial beings, the word “mazal” can also be etymologically associated with the word “nozel”, which means to flow. 10 Hence, a different angle to the Talmudic statement:
“Ayin”, a source of G-dliness so powerful that it completely transcends this world, is the source of the “mazal” – the flow – of a Jew’s life force (chassidic philosophy); versus “mazal” – constellations – “ain” are not, the life force of the Jews (classic interpretation). In other words, whereas the world receives its energy from the laws of nature, referred to as ‘constellations’, the life force of the Jewish people transcends the normal system of how things generally work within our world. The inexplicable survival of the Jews is not simply about experiencing miracles, rather it is a product of spiritual genetics, a Jewish soul whose life force flows from something supernatural, i.e. transcending the natural. This is what we may term the ‘supernatural gene’, an energy embedded deep in every Jew that defies nature. This is true not only on a global level, but on an individual level as well. Therefore, even when matters seem hopeless or the odds are frighteningly stacked against us, there is always hope for a turnaround. What we are used to seeing happen according to the laws of nature, is not necessarily the Jewish narrative.

Dominant or Recessive
Yet, it isn’t so simple. The application of this ‘supernatural gene’ begs some questions:
True, in a global sense we are still miraculously around, yet at the same time we have tragically lost many in an individual sense. How can one posit that survival against all odds is the default mode of every Jew? Can it truly be said that having a supernatural part to us guarantees a consistently miraculous life?

No, the miraculous is not a Jewish default mode and that’s not at all what the ‘supernatural gene’ is about; it doesn’t guarantee miracles. What it does provide, however, is the ability to facilitate opportunities for miracles, gives us a chance at keeping the door to miracles open. This depends, as mentioned previously, on its activation – whether we leave it recessive or allow it to be dominant. How does one activate it? This is the issue that will now be addressed.

Activating The ‘Supernatural Gene’ [11]
Our sages vividly portray the precariousness of the Jewish people with the metaphor of a vulnerable sheep surrounded by seventy vicious wolves. Thankfully, there’s a shepherd on duty. [12] Who’s in control of the sheep’s safety in this situation, the sheep or the shepherd? Obviously, the shepherd.

What about if the sheep is peacefully grazing in solitude, far from any danger; who would you say is in control now, the sheep or shepherd? Would it be such a far stretch to claim the sheep is in control? What does the sheep need at the moment to survive anyway – food, water? There’s grass, there’s a stream. The sheep knows how to eat and drink on its own. Can the shepherd leave?

Well if he does leave, the sheep may be temporarily safe, but if wolves show up and eat it that certainly shouldn’t be surprising; the sheep was left vulnerable.

What does this metaphor say to us? Having to adapt to an alarming new normal can leave us feeling quite vulnerable. However, our sages assure us that just as the sheep has a shepherd, every Jewish person has access to G-d’s devoted attention no matter how high the odds appear stacked against him or her. We can call that a benefit of our spiritual genetics – a product of the Jewish ‘supernatural gene’. That is our ancient secret. Our ‘supernatural gene’ is our inborn potential for miracles. Thanks to our ‘supernatural gene’, we have a shepherd ready to protect us when outnumbered by wolves, against all odds. Thanks to our ‘supernatural gene’, we have the chance to tap a source of help beyond what our own human abilities can provide.

Think of the difference between a VIP and a regular citizen. Much of life may seem the same, even to the extent of a similar social class and standard of living – yet one is limited to opportunities and advancement of his or her own making, while the other has additional opportunities for advancement thanks to special proteksia, or connections. In the same way, what G-d can do for us is beyond any possible human ability.

However, lest we confidently assume that our G-dly proteksia is a given, a Jew’s default mode, Maimonides cautions us that in fact, G-d’s protection depends on our desire to [13] have His protection. Do we choose to rely on perceptible human strengths and talents or on the often intangible, yet supernatural and unwavering might of G-d? Do we choose to control our own lives, or retain the security of the shepherd being in charge? In control but vulnerable, or placing our faith in the reality of G-d’s control and our super-human potential? Whatever the choice, we must live with the consequences. Deciding that we are in control of a particular situation, is essentially the same as saying, “thanks G-d but no thanks, it’s not You that we rely on.” So G-d humours us, allows us to play the big boss. But it should come as no surprise if we find ourselves vulnerable, like the sheep, riding the “ordinary” train when we indeed hoped for the miraculous, VIP one. If we want to activate our ‘supernatural gene’, we must let go of our need to be in control.

This is true of our existence on a global level – there is no way we would still be here if we as a nation haven’t consistently placed our trust in G-d, and this is certainly true on a personal level.

Living a miraculous life, or in other words, accessing G-d’s proteksia, means adjusting our way of thinking; acknowledging that we humans can not control everything, and replacing the negative thoughts of worry, frustration and hopelessness with a positive thought pattern.

A positive thought pattern based on this concept may look something like this: ‘I can get through this because I’m not going to rely on my limited abilities. Experiencing a loss of control need not be frightening, because if I let go and let G-d in, things will resolve beyond what I could ever have managed on our own.’ Working hand-in-hand with this cognitive approach is the building of a relationship with G-d. When we invest in a relationship, G-d reciprocates by providing us with a flow of supernatural energy. [14]

In summary, activating our ‘supernatural gene’ is a two part process. One is the cognitive aspect of accepting that G-d is in control, the other is the active building of a relationship with Him through living a Divinely inspired life.

The reality of human nature is such that the choice to relinquish control to G-d, and the inclination to implement spiritual resolutions, tends to come more naturally in times of crisis, when we can’t deny that circumstances have spiraled beyond human control. But like the strengthening of any muscle, be it physical, emotional, social, or spiritual – incorporating the exercise into one’s daily routine is incomparably more effective than being forced to confront exercise as damage control, when the injured muscle, relationship, or psyche leaves you with no other choice. When a relationship with G-d is part of your lifestyle, then your relinquishing-control muscle is strong enough to carry you through if the status quo of life suddenly tilts. The key to coping during turbulent times is to practice and hone the coping skills during placid times.

Faith During Placid Times
How does one surrender control to G-d as a way of life, if there are indeed times when a human being seems to be perfectly capable of running his or her life just fine? Should human abilities and talents be suppressed in favor of G-d taking over? G-d gives us the potential for a miraculous life, but most of the time it’s an undercover miraculous life. We are expected to maintain a balance between the natural and the supernatural, terms which seem inherently contradictory yet are in fact complementary. We are given two rules of thumb: The first is that prosperity is due to G-d’s blessings; [15] the second is that G-d blesses our efforts. The combination of the two creates the [16] balance between faith in G-d (the supernatural) and the reality of the abilities that G-d grants us humans (the natural). For example, having a job is natural and reflects our human skills and talents, however the result – the income – is supernatural, it is G-d’s blessing. Although G-d can easily just do a direct deposit into one’s bank account while the person takes a vacation, that’s not how He wants His world to run. We are supposed to do regular human things and G-d makes it look as if His beneficence is the natural result, when really, His blessings are anything but natural. In other words, life is constantly filled with undercover miracles – results which appear to be products of our hard work but in reality are due to G-d’s involvement and protection.

So yes, talents are valid; more than valid, they are gifts from G-d. We have a responsibility to use them. But it doesn’t end there. We have a responsibility to use them responsibly, meaning, in the framework that G-d intended. And one crucial aspect of that framework is remembering Who gave us talents and abilities and Who determines their effectiveness.

If human efforts lead to the belief that success is due to human abilities, then there is a risk of leaving yourself vulnerable to failure, because you are removing G-d from the picture and attempting to run the business of life independently. [17]

However, if along with acknowledging your very real talents and skills you believe that your success is due to G-d’s blessings, then you have created a thought pattern that can activate your miraculous potential; not only are you increasing the odds of receiving undercover, natural-looking blessings, but you are also leaving yourself open to being blessed beyond what humans can achieve on their own – both in regular times and in times of crisis when adaptation to a new normal is called for.
Take-away message: As ‘miraculous Jews’, bearers of the ‘supernatural gene’, we have a lot going for us. This knowledge can empower us to relinquish control when confronting unwanted change, knowing that G-d’s management can bring us places no human can ever help us reach.
To be most effective, this change in thinking should be implemented in ordinary, uncomplicated times – establishing a strong positive pattern of thought that acknowledges G-d as the one behind our efforts. And for optimum results, to receive the full supernatural experience, investing in a relationship with G-d will have G-d reciprocating with yet a stronger flow of supernatural energy.

Practical steps to implement:
• Identify an area in your life where you are feeling overwhelmed by circumstances.
• Compose a positive thought pattern focused on letting G-d take control and unleashing your supernatural potential. [18]
• Decide on:
1. A human, skill-driven step to initiate
2. A spiritual, faith-driven step to initiate. [19]

Knowing the secret of a Jew’s supernatural potential is empowering, and knowing how to actualize it by
1. relinquishing control to G-d and
2. building up an ongoing relationship with Him, can truly revolutionize our ability to go with the flow when the status quo shifts.

More than going with the flow, it is the secret to running with the new normal and achieving success despite, or perhaps because of, the new circumstances. Success that otherwise would never have been deemed possible.



Sources and Footnotes

  1. The creation of positive thought patterns is a tool used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The theory behind this form of therapy is that one’s thoughts directly affect one’s feelings and behaviors. An effective way of challenging negative emotions and the resulting behavior, is by tackling the point of origin — the thoughts — and replacing a pattern of negative thought with a pattern of positive thought. Regarding the context of this essay, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) would view the uncomfortable feelings and paralysis due to the new normal as products of one’s negative thoughts about the situation. The theory is, that if one changes the way they view the situation and replaces the negative thoughts with realistic positive thinking, one’s feelings towards the situation will change as well enabling one to better cope. For more on changing thought patterns and CBT see:
  2. Tanya, chapters 2-3
  3.   “ראה יבמות עט א “שלשה סימנים יש באומה זו הרחמנים והביישנין וגומלי חסדים
  4. For more on Israeli innovation, see:
  5. For a list of Jewish Nobel Prize winners, see:
  6. For the full treatise, see:
  7. ראה שבת קנו ,א :״רבי יוחנן אמר אין מזל לישראל״
  8. ראה חנוך לנער) לכ״ק אדמו״ר הרש״ב נ״ע ,עמ׳ 48(: ״ומה שאמרו מזלי׳ חזי ,הרי שיש מזל לישראל ,היינו בחינת המזלות שלמעלה מסדר השתלשלות ומקור הבריאה.״

ראה חנוך לנער) לכ״ק אדמו״ר הרש״ב נ״ע ,עמ’ 48: ״וכידוע דשרש ומקור העולם הוא מבחינת חכמה ,וכמו שכתוב .9

׳כולם  בחכמה עשית׳ . . וזהו ׳אין מזל לישראל׳ ,דבחינת אין שהוא מקור החכמה ,וכמו שכתוב ׳והחכמה מאין תמצא׳ ,הוא המזל לישראל.״

  1. ראה לקוטי תורה) האזינו ,עא ,ד :(״ומה שאמרו אין מזל לישראל היינו ענין מזלות השרים וכוכבים אשר חלק לכל העמים עובדי כוכבים ,אבל יש בחינת מזל מקור הנשמה ושרשה ,ונקרא מזל מלשון ׳נוזל׳ ,אלא שנוזל הוא לשון נפעל ומזל הוא לשון פועל . . שהוא המקור להיות נוזל ממנו ההשפעה ורוח חיים להחיות רוח שפלים״.
  2. This section through the end of the essay is based on Likkutei Sichot, vol. 31 Sicha Purim I
  3. ראה תנחומא) תולדות ה ;(אסתר רבה) פ׳׳י ,יא : ׳׳כבשה העומדת בין שבעים זאבים . . גדול הרועה שמצילה ושומרה׳׳
  4. ראה מורה נבוכים ) ג ,נא :(״אבל בהסיר מחשבתו מהשם ,אשר הוא אז נבדל מהשם ,השם נבדל ממנו ,והוא אז מזומן לכל רע שאפשר שימצאהו . . הנה התבאר לך כי הסבה בהיות איש מבני אדם מופקר למקרה ויהיה מזומן ליאכל כבהמות ,הוא היותו נבדל מהשם״.
  5. .ראה חנוך לנער) לכ״ק אדמו״ר הרש״ב נ״ע ,עמ׳ 48(: ״וזהו שאמרו ׳בני חיי ומזונא לאו בזכותא תליא׳ ,דזכות שייך בסדר השתלשלות ,שמגיע מעשה התחתונים. . ואם ש לו זכות משפיעים לו טוב ,ובני חיי ומזונא לאו בזכותא תליא בסדר השתלשלות, רוצה לומר, כי אם במזלא תליא , דשרש המשכתם הוא מבחינת אור אין סוף שלמעלה מסדר השתלשלות ,והם המזלות הנ”ל .ואיתא בתוס ‘בשבת שם ד”ה אין מזל ,דעל ידי זכות גדול משתנה המזל. . דיש לומר הכוונה על העבודה בתשובה. . ותורה . . ותפלה ,שעל ידי זה נמשך תוספת ברכה מבחינת אור אין סוף שלמעלה מסדר השתלשלות״.

ראה משלי) י ,כב :(״ברכת ה׳ היא תעשיר  15

ראה דברים) טו ,יח :(״וברכך ה׳ אלוקיך בכל אשר תעשה 16

  1. Again, like the sheep peacefully grazing under the illusion that it can manage just fine without the shepherd’s protection.
  2. For a sample, see page 7.
  3. What the implementation might look like when applied to a couple of the examples from the beginning of the essay: Regarding the loss of a job, a human-based initiative might be sending off a minimum number of resumes daily, while the spiritual-based initiative might be reciting a chapter of Psalms before sending them off, asking G-d that your efforts bear fruit. Regarding the diagnosis of diabetes, a human-based initiative might be healthy meal-planning, while the spiritual-based initiative might be cutting out one non-kosher item from the diet such as shellfish.