Strengthening Ourselves

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Art by Helaine Sawilowsky

Shortly before Pesach, I found myself nursing family members who were struck with Coronavirus. Their condition got much worse before it got better. In addition to the physical toll of preparing for the holiday and caring for my relatives’ needs, the psychological toll from the fear of the unknown and the worry that I too would be hit with the illness threatened to disrupt my emotional and spiritual health. And dealing with the illness was even more stressful because of all the horrible stories of how it could rapidly get worse; the unknown was more of a challenge than the disease itself.

I fortified myself with prayers, meditation, and Torah learning. Two teachings in particular helped me stay strong:

1. (Proverbs 31:18): “Lo yich’beh balailah neira—Her light does not go out at night” can teach us that although it is “dark”, a woman’s light is still shining; she still finds the strength to go on for her family.

2. (Psalms 92:3): “Lehaggid baboker chasdecha ve’emunascha baleilos—To relate Your kindness in the morning and Your faithfulness at night” tells us that it’s not only that we have faith in Hashem during the dark periods, but that Hashem has faith in us that we will get through them.

In my community, and around the world, people are trying their best to cope in these unprecedented circumstances. So many people are in total shock, feeling “punished”; so many guilty feelings, so many unknowns eating away at them!

Finally, the weeks passed, and my relatives’ health improved. Now that I knew this challenge was behind us, I felt capable of sharing my experience. I was strengthened by remembering previous seemingly disastrous occurrences which were revealed, a short time later, to have actually been lifesavers. 

Here is one such story: On the day of my sister’s wedding, a heavy object fell on my foot. My foot wasn’t broken, but it swelled up and made it hard for me to move around. I had been looking forward to dancing the night away, to express my gratitude and happiness. But now, I would only be able to stand on the sidelines in pain, and clap as I watched others dance joyously around my sister, the bride.

Three months later, though, I understood why that object had fallen on my foot. After eight years of marriage with no child of our own, we discovered that I was in my second trimester. Had I danced in my usual fashion at the wedding, chances are that my son would not have been born. 

Now, as a counselor during this difficult time, I have been hearing ever more disastrous stories, and it can be overwhelming. In my community, and around the world, people are trying their best to cope in these unprecedented circumstances. So many people are in total shock, feeling “punished”; so many guilty feelings, so many unknowns eating away at them! I decided to make more of an effort to inspire others to hold strong to their faith. 

I want to remind them that we are so beloved and cherished by Hashem for all that we, as a people, have collectively done. So many communities around the world have hosted great numbers of unannounced guests on a moment’s notice, for days, weeks, or months; so many have set up gemachs for everything from money to mothers’ milk; so many have  organized charity campaigns; so many have spread Torah teachings throughout the world through a variety of media. So many have gone beyond the call of duty! 

I believe that we, as individuals, as women, as a nation, have the strength and character to cope with this, as we have coped through the centuries. 

Now, this new challenge has arisen, trying to steal away our confidence as a people and undo all our great accomplishments. All the good we have been used to doing has been snatched away. Keeping strictly to ourselves is something we have never had to do to this extent. It is a major mental and spiritual adjustment.

I was recently asked to present online classes to give chizuk to others. Our sages teach us that the best self-care is caring for others. I realized this anew while I was preparing these classes. This process we are undergoing is as necessary as it is bewildering. I believe that we, as individuals, as women, as a nation, have the strength and character to cope with this, as we have coped through the centuries. 

Just as it is crucial to our physical wellbeing to exercise the body, it is now more critical than ever to guard and strengthen our minds. A chief tactic of the yetzer hara is to shoot arrows of doubt and negativity into our minds, trying to puncture our clarity and calm. The systematic expression of positivity is our best defense. It will reveal the truth of our inner strengths and capabilities, as we try our best to lead our loved ones in unity, with faith and trust in G-d’s plan. 

Developing this faith and trust in Hashem, and our belief in the ultimate good of G-d’s plan, which is unfolding before our very eyes, will create peace of mind within us. The effect of our positivity will be contagious, like a beneficent Coronavirus. Our efforts will bear fruit, and the benefits will be manifold.

Women are on the front lines of this pandemic. But G-d has given us the strength to handle this challenge. He has endowed us with the leadership qualities and the undaunted perseverance to not only get through this experience, but to grow from it—and to help others grow as well. It is up to us to set an example and set the standard of faith in G-d’s plans for humanity. It is up to us to keep the peace as the situation unfolds.

We can remind ourselves, over and over again, that our best self-care is caring for others. But we cannot care for others if we neglect essential elements of our own self-care. Praying and learning and maintaining our spiritual practices enable us to have the devotion and love to give to others.

Imagine that you, and you alone, have been charged with a mission: to bring peace to the planet, and maintain it. How will you do it?

Take a deep breath. Envision yourself with the capacity to reach the greatest level of serenity. Feel the peace suffusing your entire being. That is the feeling you are about to spread to the world. You have it, and you can share it. Set out on your task with that conviction. With devotion and diligence, with energy and enthusiasm, you can guide others to find that serenity.

Our most important goal right now is to safeguard the family relationship. The current circumstances are breeding grounds for tension, misunderstandings, and disputes, G-d forbid. But we can prevent these from developing. The most effective means of persuasion is to model the desired behaviors. Demonstrate self-regulation, and others will learn from you with little effort, from example rather than coercion. Try, as much as possible, to respond with compassion to outbursts from those who may be overly-stressed.  Try, as much as possible, to refrain from disputes with, or in the presence of, our loved ones. Try, as much as possible, to speak with gentleness. And, if we can’t speak kindly, try, as much as possible, to be quiet until the storm within passes. 

The slightest positive shift in our mindset will produce maximum benefits. We can utilize the inherent powers of our neshama to radiate positivity across the globe. Our positive outlook will spread to our immediate family and beyond, to all our connections. We can find new ways to cope with our new circumstances. We can realize new inner strengths, develop new solutions, create new possibilities. Unnerving situations don’t have to unnerve us. We can raise ourselves and our loved ones out of the chaos and confusion around us. Our love can prevail!

One day, we will more clearly understand the trials and difficulties we currently face. But until that day, let us try to stay strong, as we can recognize that the long-term positive effect of our efforts can be perpetuated beyond our wildest imaginings.

Yes, everything is at a halt; yes, all our plans have been scrambled; yes, all our routines have been upended. We have a new duty to embrace. We can remind ourselves, over and over again, that our best self-care is caring for others. But we cannot care for others if we neglect essential elements of our own self-care. Praying and learning and maintaining our spiritual practices enable us to have the devotion and love to give to others. Our dedication will accrue dividends for eternity. We are planting seedlings that will forever blossom. Through the renewal and reaffirmation of our commitment to strengthening the bonding agent, we impress emunah into the psyche of those around us. The love and respect we have cultivated will transmute into the DNA of the next generation, and the next, and the next. 

One day, we will more clearly understand the trials and difficulties we currently face. But until that day, let us try to stay strong, as we can recognize that the long-term positive effect of our efforts can be perpetuated beyond our wildest imaginings.

During this time of change, we can cultivate new perspectives and reach new levels of unity. Let us ride this wave with dignity and pride, knowing that we have properly fulfilled the delicate mission with which we were entrusted. Let our homes be permeated with absolute love and dedication. We cannot create our circumstances, but we can create positive attitudes about our circumstances. Let us not allow things to return to the way they were—let us try to build a better world. Let us make history!

May Hashem comfort us, and may we all be reunited with our loved ones in Yerushalayim! 

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In addition to her work as a marriage and family counselor, Miriam Yerushalmi is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit mental-health support organization, SANE (Save A Neshamah Endowment), which provides free mental-health support and related social services to those in difficult circumstances. Soon after the onset of the pandemic, Mrs. Yerushalmi realized that SANE would have to expand and adapt rapidly to respond appropriately to the unprecedented crisis.

She called upon her colleagues to join her in offering their services gratis to those in need—and an amazing number quickly answered that call.

If you feel overwhelmed, uncertain, or in need of emotional support or advice, please reach out to one of our counselors at https://www.saveaneshama.org/coronavirus-support. We have representatives of a variety of healing capacities ready to offer their support at no cost during the Coronavirus pandemic (subject to change with the circumstances). They are here for you, so, please, reach out! You can spread the word by sharing this link: http://youtu.be/HT1izDw5UM0.

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