A good therapist spots when the client is stuck when s/he sounds rigid. It’s not the strangeness of a thought that perfectly indicates trauma but a lack of flexibility surrounding it. Jewish Law tries to keep us on our flexible feet. And the exception confirms the rule. Here are a couple of examples.
● It is always wrong to murder. Except, we have an obligation to kill if that would be the only way to stop an imminent murder. And a close family member under very strict rules could have a right to avenge an accidental murder. A large Rabbinic Court used to be obligated to execute violators of certain Laws if they found no way out — for which they must search hard.
● Lying is always wrong. Except when it would lead to needless pain. Then you may bend the truth (as little as needed) to save someone’s face. And you don’t need to be honest with liars out to get you–if you can get away with it. But it should pain you having to lie. It’s better to be silent.
● It is always wrong to steal. But if someone is about to make your money disappear and you would never see it back if you don’t steal it back right now, you’re allowed to take it away.
● It’s inexcusable to deny G^d’s existence even for one second. Except when someone asks for charity. Then you don’t say: G^d will take care of you. They come to you, G^d sent them to you, you take care of them.
● One first takes care of oneself before attending to the needs of others. One needs to have enough to give and give without becoming destitute oneself, a burden to others. But proper spouses give to each other first. That way, everyone receives. And when we pray, we first pray for others.
● Jews are absolutely not allowed to pray to anyone and anything but G^d. (Gentiles may pray to angels, etc.) But we are allowed to stand in the presence of a righteous person (or their grave) and hope that our prayers to G^d will be received more favorably in honor of the righteous person.
● You cannot oppress the powerless. However, when being a judge, you can’t rule against the rich from pity. True is true and false is false. But you can plead with a rich winner to have mercy and even help the other party.
● On Shabbat, we are not allowed to write. But we’re allowed on Shabbat to sign that we buy (back) a piece of land in Israel. That’s how important it is for each Jew to live in the Land.
● On Shabbat, you cannot light a fire and there are many other Injunctions. But, in the Temple, as part of the service there, you can.
● Shabbat you must keep into the smallest details. Unless a human life or limb could be in danger. That nullifies the Shabbat for you at that moment.
● Saving human life, including your own, goes above any religious rule or principle. Unless, to get there, you need to murder someone as innocent as you, to violate someone sexually, to declare/show yourself an idolater, to violate your life’s work, or endanger the survival of the Jewish People.
● You must honor your parents, in front of them, behind their backs, and when they are deceased. But if they tell you to violate the Shabbat or (don’t) marry such-and-such against your will, you don’t listen to them. The Command to honor them comes from G^d. So by asking you to disrespect G^d, they undo this Divine obligation for that moment.
● A Jewish man must learn Torah every waking moment unless he has another Commandment to take care of right now. But in the bathroom, you’re not allowed to speak, read, or even think of holy things. (The trick is not to think of this Commandment. Rather, you think of mundane things leaving no room for holy thoughts. Cities beginning with an R are ….)
● We should satisfy physical pleasures only in kosher ways, at kosher times, in kosher amounts. Our rational mind should be in charge, not our lusts. But when someone entices us, we acknowledge our feelings: “I’d love to eat that but what can I do? The Creator has forbidden it to me.”
● One should always be happy. But not at a funeral. But then, one should be happy in one’s heart. For what? That, one gets an opportunity to honor the deceased, comfort the survivors, pray for them, live another day, etc.
Life is too complicated to be governed intelligently by a limited number of black-and-white rules. But where they intersect, a lot of grays are created.