Feeling Stressed Out? 3 Ways To Reduce Panic

In my weekly Friday call with my dear father yesterday, he shared with me a powerful anecdote, that resonates profoundly during these uncertain times.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once advised a man, who felt sick, to seek the advice of two distinquished doctors.

The first doctor diagnosed the man with a disease, and he recommended that he undergo a thorough medical treatment. The second doctor asserted, with great confidence, that the man was completely healthy and he need not worry.

The man, now confused, returned to the Rebbe to ask whose advice he should follow. The Rebbe’s response was poignant: “Your body should follow the advice of the first doctor. Go ahead and treat yourself, as he suggested. But your mind should follow the advice of the second doctor. And instead of filling your mind with anxieties, think positively, as if you were completely healthy.”

How brilliant. And how relevant to our turbulent times.

Without a doubt, we too should take all necessary precautions to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, we should keep good hygiene at all times. We ought to refrain from attending public events if we are exhibiting any signs of illness. And we must ensure that our homes, offices, and organizations, are held to the highest standards of sanitization as recommended by our local health experts.

“Be very careful about your lives,” the Bible warns us (Deuteronomy 14:5). Indeed, we must treat the health of our bodies, with utmost vigilance and care. Yet, the health of our minds ought to be treated in the same way too.

But how can we maintain a healthy mindset when panic threatens to destabilize our world? How can we not succumb to fears when facing the unknown?

The answer, I believe, is rooted in Judaism’s revolutionary approach to fear, conveyed in the following three ideas:

1. What matters most is now:

My dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz once shared with me that, “we are often so preoccupied with our plans for the unknown future, that we no longer have time to experience life itself, as it is evolving in the known present. And sadly, we then forget that what matters most is what is now.”

As we together face the many unknowns of our future, we too ought to heed the wise words of Rabbi Steinsaltz and remember that what matters most is “what is now.”

Will we be infected by the coronavirus, in spite of all of the necessary steps we are undertaking? Will the governments of our world take any additional measures? Will the stock market continue to fluctuate so frantically? No one really knows.

Yet, there is one truth that remains forever certain: Every day is filled with infinite treasures that will never return. Every moment is filled with opportunities that beg to be actualized. Every hour holds within it blessings that impatiently wait to be unleashed. Every one of us has family members and loved ones that deserve our unreserved love.

So, let us throw away our fears and infuse our every moment, every encounter, and every opportunity, with undivided attention, purpose, and joy.

2. “Trust in God with all your heart” – A suggested prayer:

A few weeks ago, I had the immense privilege of meeting a Holocaust survivor who reminded me of the stirring line that was found on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where Jews were hiding from the Nazis. It read as follows: “I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining. I believe in love, even when I am alone. I believe in G-d, even when He is silent.”

With a trembling voice, the survivor then said: “Although nothing will compare to the evil I faced during the holocaust, the silence of G-d is, once again, heard today. Why is this pandemic happening? I don’t know. But in spite of G-d’s silence, I still believe in Him, and my trust in Him is unwavering.”

This brave hero is correct. Notwithstanding the many questions we may have, G-d is still in charge. There is very little we can control. But He, remains the “Master of the Universe,” as Jewish liturgy states time and time again, who “controls all aspects of His creations.”

So, at this fateful moment of our history, it would behoove us to internalize this idea, and meditate on the saintly words of King Solomon (Proverbs 3:5-6): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

And as we do so, let us pray to Him, the following prayer:

Master of the universe, may you be overcome with mercy upon us and all the world’s inhabitants, and protect us from all harm, and rescue us from every sickness, disease, plague, and pandemic. May all patients infected with the Coronavirus be completely cured. May it be Your Will O Compassionate G-d, Healer of all to abolish all harsh and evil decrees. and may You help us and redeem us for the sake of Your Kindness. Hear now please the voice of our plea, for You hear the prayers of all; Blessed is He Who hears prayer.

3. Ask not ‘What will be?’; Ask “what will we do?” 

“What will become of our world?” someone asked me just yesterday.

After gathering my thoughts, I shared with my friend the story about a meeting in 1974 between the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and Israel’s Chief Rabbi Lau.

During the course of their conversation, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Lau what was the mood “in the streets of Israel,” as our nation was recovering from the devastating Yom Kippur War. Rabbi Lau responded that people are asking, “Ma i-ye, what will be?” Upon hearing these words, the Rebbe grabbed Rabbi Lau’s arm and passionately replied, “Jew’s don’t ask: ‘What will be?’ Jews ask: ‘What are we going to do?”

How true. Asking, ‘what will be,’ has never been the Jewish approach. If Moses had asked ‘what will be’ instead of confronting Pharaoh, and imploring upon him to “let my people go and serve G-d,” our nation may have endured many more years of slavery.

If Rabbi Akiva had asked ‘what will be’ in lieu of dedicating his life to his people, our leaderless ancestors may have succumbed to the evil decrees of the Romans, and our people may have been reduced to the relics of history.

And if the Lubavitcher Rebbe had asked ‘what will be,’ and not revolutionized our generation with the call of ‘what we are going to do,’ our parents may have buried ourselves in the sorrows of the holocaust and the unfathomable pains of its aftermath.”It is our choice,” I answered my friend. We can join the sad choir of our world’s prophets of doom, and perpetually ask, “what will be?” Or we can choose to march to the empowering and cheerful tune of “what we are going to do?”

Therefore, may I suggest that we substitute every emotion of anxiety with an act of goodness. Every physical hug not given for the fear of spreading germs, ought to be traded with a mental hug of unconditional love and care. Every hand not shaken for the same reason, ought to be replaced with a hand that is extended with a kind deed that shakes and lifts up souls. And every empty space that is created between us with a distance of suspicion, should be filled with our relentless commitment to forging heart-to-heart relationships that will unite our world, instead of dividing it.

Let us fight evil with goodness, apathy with love, passivity with positive action, and become ourselves the answer to the question of “what will be?”

About the Author
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he resides with his wife, Esther, and nine children. He is a respected rabbinic figure, a renowned lecturer, and a prominent author of many essays on the Jewish faith, mysticism, and social-criticism. Besides his academic pedigree, Rabbi Allouche is richly-cultural, having lived in France, where he was born, South Africa and Israel. He is also fluent in English, Hebrew, French and Italian. Rabbi Allouche is a member of AIPAC's National Council, and a member of the Vaad Harabanim, the Orthodox Rabbinic Council of Arizona. Rabbi Allouche's wise, profound, and sensitive perspective on the world and its people, on life and living, is highly regarded and sought-after by communities and individuals of all backgrounds. Rabbi Allouche is also tremendously involved in the Jewish community of Greater Phoenix, and he teaches middle-school Judaics at the local Jewish Day School. Rabbi Allouche is also a blogger for many online publications including the Huffington Post, and The Times of Israel. Rabbi Allouche was listed in the Jewish Daily Forward as one of America's 36 Most Inspiring Rabbis, who are "shaping 21st Century Judaism." Rabbi Allouche can be reached at: Rabbi@BethTefillahAZ.org
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