Mind, Heart and Action: a Path to Calm in the Face of the Unknown
Belief in G-d / Essays 2019
I have chosen to write about a topic that isn’t very often addressed in such a form. I’m writing about a struggle the majority of us have never, thank G-d, and will never, G-d willing, encounter.
I’m writing about the struggle of dealing with a lifetime illness or condition, that seems it can disrupt ones plans for the future.
For the purpose of this essay, I have placed myself into the shoes of a young seminary girl writing of her experience through such a struggle. In her case, the illness is one that may affect her ability to build a family. The essay describes her challenges and the answers she has found in the teachings of Chassidus.
It was exactly one year ago, to the date, that I was diagnosed with a rare heart condition with a name so long it took me an entire week to memorize. I was 17, a busy twelfth grader immersed in high school learning, lots of extra curricular programs, seminary planning, family events, etc. Young and ready to take on the world. That was me.
That day was a pretty normal one, up until the diagnosis, and to tell you the truth, it continued to be pretty normal after, too. I don’t think I really understood what had happened or what I have been told. I just gathered my things, smiled at my doctor, said a polite ‘thank you’, and walked right out the door, ready to head back home. I continued smiling the whole way home, my head bobbing up and down as my mother talked about the amazing Hashgacha Protis that this condition was discovered and at how it all could have been much worse. She was right, of course. She always is.
But that didn’t quite comfort me enough. It took some time for reality to sink in, but when it did, boy was I sad. A mess. But a really silent one. I looked great on the outside. I continued attending high school classes as normally as possible, with only occasional absences and lates due to one too many appointments, I kept up my extra curricular contributions, and at home I acted as I always had.
But inside, things were a little different. My perfect image of the future I had planned for myself no longer looked quite as perfect as it had looked till then, in fact, there was almost no image left as I had absolutely no idea of where the future would take me now that I would forever be dealing with this special condition.
My head began wandering to places I have never visited before as I started seriously fearing my very own future.
Even my very near future looked almost pointless next to a bigger future that looked like it just wouldn’t work out the way I always dreamed.
Things were so unclear, I started to doubt things that were relevant immediately, things I had to make decisions about then and there. I no longer knew whether traveling to study in seminary was the right thing to do, if it was worth it. I wasn’t even sure if finishing high school was worth it.
Everything just seemed so pointless and empty and I was confused.
I had no answers. I didn’t even know if my fears were justified and in place. I was standing in front of an empty hole, void of both good and bad. Just nothing.
And nothing is what is most frightening.
Unknown is scary.
Walking in the dark, not knowing to where.
I didn’t know what to hope for, what to expect, what to dream, and what to even pray for. I might’ve just been able to forget it all and pretend nothing ever happened, and I did that for a while. I immersed myself in my studies, then summer camp, and later, seminary. Days, and sometimes maybe even weeks passed that I haven’t been disturbed by the issue. But it didn’t work for long. Denial doesn’t last, I needed a real answer to a real question I didn’t have.
Mind: The Mindset: Now Matters
I searched hard, and eventually I found one.
I found it in myself.
I found it in the purpose I began to find in my life right then. In the happiness, accomplishment and contribution that filled every day on its own.
I began living each day for the day that it is. The future bothered me less, it was now that counted.
If today I felt good, and I did well, then today was a good day that was definitely worth it.
In a talk to children during a Lag BaOmer parade (5740/1980)(1), the Rebbe explains a lesson to be learned from the Mitzvah of counting the Omer. One counts things that are precious to him, like money, precious stones etc. And Jews, we count time. We count every day, because every day is precious. Every day we receive is a priceless gift, and we must treasure it. We must value each and every day and permeate it with joy and happiness.
Routine is often a struggle for many. It’s difficult to find the treasure and the gift in every day, when our actions become all too familiar and sometimes even automatic.
Each morning we say the words “Baruch ata… nosen hatorah”, “blessed are you… the giver of the Torah”. In Hebrew, the word nosen, giver, is in the present tense. G-d is giving the Torah now.(2)
That is the mindset to have while learning the Torah and doing its Mitzvos. We are told: every day they shall be as new in your eyes. Chassidus explains that to mean Chadashim Mamash, actually, truly new. We must approach Torah and Mitzvos every day as though they are brand new(3), with the same excitement we would had we been hearing and doing them for the first time.
But how do we do that? How do we keep up a passion for daily tasks, spiritual and holy as they may be? How do we find meaning in a day that seems no different than the one before?
When we understand the value, the gift, and priceless worth of every day, every moment, we begin to appreciate and notice the little things, and the beauty in them. When we realize that every single moment of every single day is being recreated with G-dliness of Atzmus that is being drawn down anew as never before(4), we begin to appreciate what G-d so much appreciates.(5)
And so that’s what I began focusing on. The moment, and what I can do to make the most of it.
Heart: The Belief: For Good
As much as this tactic worked wonders for me and my mind was at ease most of the time, I couldn’t help but pause and every once in a while allow my head to wander off into once hopefully blissful images of a perfect future, and into the doubt and unclarity that followed.
There had to be something I can hold onto and rely on, and again, I found it in myself. It was always there, subconsciously maybe. Emunah, faith, every Jew is born with.(6) I have never contemplated the very large role faith plays in my life until I have learned and discovered what it really means. I had faith, of course I did. But I’m not sure I knew what that actually meant I believed.
And so I began to learn. I started with the first level of faith:
• Emunah, the belief in Hashgacha Protis, divine providence.(7) Knowing and believing that everything is coordinated above, and is therefore for the good. Trusting that G-d knows just what’s good for me and whatever will happen will really be for my benefit, whether I see it or not. If there’s a struggle, I will accept it with love because I know it’s ultimately for my good. I began thinking that maybe G-d wants something else from me, even though it seems like nothing I would want. I convinced myself again and again that it’s for good, and though it’s challenging, challenges are there to strengthen us.
But this faith alone still left some space for doubt, concern and even hopelessness.
I understood that it was for the good. But that’s not what I wanted. I didn’t just want it to be for the good, I wanted it to be good.
And so, I moved on to the next level of faith, one that allowed to me forget the problem altogether, without denying it for a moment:
• Bitachon, the belief and trust that only good will befall me, and only a good I understand.(8) This is the belief that not only G-d can make everything work out well for me, but that He will. There therefore is no place for any concern or worry whatsoever, and I can continue dreaming away. Because nothing is stopping my dreams from coming true. Not even my heart condition. And to tell you the truth, not only can I dream of good, but I should and I must dream of good. Because the thoughts I entertain can actually create the reality. The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Rebbe, once told a Chossid of his a statement that later became one of the mottos of Chabad Chassidim. Responding to the man’s request for a blessing for a sick child the Tzemach Tzedek said: “Tracht gut, vet zein gut” (-think good, it will be good). If I think positive, I can turn a situation into a positive one.(9) And so I continued planning, hoping and picturing the future I always dreamed of.
A factor that very much helped me apply this trust, is the fact that I am a Chossid, a follower, of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe spoke countless times, in fact, a large portion of the Rebbe’s very first Chassidic discourse discusses the love and care the Rebbes of Lubavitch poured over their disciples, and all Jews for that matter. And this care was not at one bit limited to the spiritual state and needs of the Jew, rather it was very much directed at the physical need. The Rebbe cares for each and every detail of a Jew’s physical life, including health, sustenance etc.(10)
Knowing that I am under the wing of such care, and being able to completely rely on it is a gift I am blessed to have. I can be for certain that the Rebbe will not rest assured unless I’m taken care of. And that is a feeling every Jew deserves to feel.
Action: The Contribution: Spiritual
Alongside this unwavering faith and trust that I had that G-d would do His part, I knew it was only fair that I do mine as well. The Rebbe writes in countless letters addressed to many individuals that the health of the body is greatly affected and even dependent on the health of the soul.(11) I began thinking about this idea seriously, and little ‘soul-purification-actions’ such as prayer, modesty, proper music and books took on a whole new meaning. My soul had to be healthy, and I was responsible for that.
While reading many of the Rebbe’s letters written in response to various issues, I noticed that along with practical advice on how to deal with the situation, the Rebbe always suggested the recipient do something spiritual as well.
In many or even most cases of health issues or complications, the Rebbe suggested that Mezuzos and/or Tefillin be checked for mistakes. Often time problems found in these were directly related to the issue at hand. Needless to say, the Mezuzos in my home were all checked immediately following my diagnosis which calmed me, as I was sure we had taken the proper measures a Jew takes when faced with a problem.
The last factor I’m writing about may seem obvious and self understood. Nevertheless I feel and I know for certain that I must include it because I need to remember that I cannot for a moment underestimate its importance. G-d chose to create a world that runs based on nature.(12) He created a system, and quite an incredible one at that.
G-d created a system of opposites.(13) Day, is parallel to night. Water, to fire. Male to female. And illness to medicine.
G-d created illness. But He didn’t leave us alone with just that. G-d created the mind boggling science of medicine, and He gave hundreds of humans the power to use it in order to cure those illnesses. So G-d chose the way the world should run, and we must follow the rules. We must do our part the natural way, by taking the measures necessary the way our doctors instruct, and the way the books show.
We must take our physical health seriously, and make sure we are doing everything possible to remain in good health at all times.(14) Things like proper nutrition and good exercise are things not to be taken lightly, and in my case, constant follow-ups, and consultations are necessary as well.
G-d commanded that we keep our bodies healthy. They are a gift to us and we must take care of them.
In a talk said on 20 Av 5732/1972,(15) the Rebbe explains that during the giving of the Torah at Sinai, G-d actually chose the bodies of the Jewish nation, as our souls have been chosen way back.
Our bodies are holy, and treasured by G-d, and so we must care for them.
But we must always remember, that these measures are only a vessel, a keili, for the blessing of health that G-d will surely grant us from above.(16) I don’t believe in what the doctors predict, I believe in what G-d told me to believe, that G-d has given doctors only the power to heal,(17) and not G-d forbid, the opposite.(18)
May it be G-d’s will, that because of our faith, positive thoughts, ‘soul health’, and physical hishtadlus, every Jew will be granted complete physical health, and spiritual health too, while we’re at it.
1 Living Torah, Disc 22: Program 85, Jewish Time Management
2 Sefer Hamaamorim Melukat 3:186
3 Sefer Hamaamorim Melukat 3:231
4 Sefer Hamaamorim Melukat 3:176
5 Talk of Purim 5716/1956 (Tanya chapter 25)
6 Tanya, Chapter 18
7 Likkutie Sichos 36 Shmos 1-5
8 Likkutie Sichos 36 Shmos 1-5
9 Igros Kodesh of the previous Rebbe 7:197, 2:537
10 Toras Menachem 7:335 (Yud Shvat 5713/1953)
11 Igros Kodesh 17:242, 14:463, 11:319
12 Likkutie Sichos 35 Vayechi 3
13 Sicha Parshas Chyei Sarah (Mugah) footnote 1
14 A Letter from the Rebbe 15th of Tammuz 5746/1986 (therebbe.org)
15 Living Torah, Disc 133, Program 530 A Matter of Choice
16 Likkutie Sichos 36 Shmos
17 Brachos, 60:1
18 Igros Kodesh 15:187 (quoted from the Tzemach Tzedek)