“I write to seek the Rebbe’s help. My life is in disarray. I pray, yet my prayers seem not to help me. I don’t know where else to turn. I eagerly await the Rebbe’s advice.” Many years ago the Lubavitcher Rebbe did respond to this letter. But he did so without writing a single word. Instead he circled the first word of every sentence. The message was clear. Self-encased living would not enable healing.
Studies show that post-war mental health among Veterans is determined less by the atrocities they witnessed than by the supportive communities that welcome them home. Compassion can prove more healing than the passage of time.
Raw feelings like sadness and fear are prominent in this week’s portion of Torah. The bestowing of covenantal blessing from Isaac to Jacob is fraught with trembling and trepidation. Jacob deceptively impersonates his elder brother Esau, inciting anguish. Why the Torah associates this transmission with such trauma is unclear. That is does, can help school us in coping with emotional rawness.
Rebecca sends Jacob away to keep him at a safe distance from his brother’s wrath. “Until your brother’s fury will turn back, until your brother’s anger turns back” (Gen. 27:44,45). Curiously, the verb (tashuv) used to depict the quieting of aroused emotion is related to the word for repentance (teshuva). Like the journey to fulfilling penitent promises, emotions have directionality. They flow to and fro, readily reawakened by reminders of past wrongs. The text’s distinction between fury (cheima) and anger (af), suggests that while time helps fury reverse course, still residual anger may not subside. Reversing course may not guarantee a reversal of coarseness.
Deference and healing actions will enable sibling reconciliation decades later. The path toward healing will require reassuring gestures and restorative gifts (Gen. 32-33). It is less about closure and more about disclosure.
May we recognize that just as delight is deepened when it is shared, so too distress dissipates in the company of caregivers.