Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

No Water in Your Desert? Look Again!

Vayera

One of the great causes of both anxiety and depression is to find yourself in a desperate situation without seeing a way out.

Imagine, for example, the following scenario: A mother and her child are lost in the desert, the child is dying of thirst and there is no water source nearby.

In this week’s reading, Vayera (1) , the Torah (2) describes precisely this situation:

Hagar, sent away from Abraham’s house, went out into the desert with her son Ishmael. When the water in their canteen ran out, she left her dying son under one of the bushes. She then went a few bow casts away so as not to see the death of his son and raised his voice in tears. An angel calls out to Hagar and tells her not to worry, that G-d had heard her son’s voice. “Arise, lift up the boy and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” G-d opened her eyes and she saw a fountain of water. She replenished the canteen and gave her son water to drink. G-d was with the young man, he grew up, lived in the desert and became an archer.

It is difficult to imagine a more desperate situation than that experienced by Hagar in this scenario. Her reaction is understandable. Faced with the impending death of her son, she gives up and walks away so as not to witness the realization of a mother’s worst nightmare. She prefers to imagine rather than actually witness it.

Every detail of that episode is relevant and contains many teachings. Let’s look at some that can be applied to our weekly goal of finding tools to help deal with anxiety and depression:

The Torah does not say that a fountain of water appeared miraculously, but that from a certain moment on Hagar saw a well of water that she had not seen before. What happened to cause her to see that which she did not see before?

A change of attitude.

As soon as the water in the canteen was finished, Hagar felt that her son’s death was imminent. There was no more water in the canteen! But why did she limit herself to the water in the canteen and consider the possibility that there could be water outside the canteen; that she should look for water until she found it, come what may?

Perhaps it is because, as a newly freed slave, she was accustomed to administering resources given to her; she had never generated her own resources and it did not even occur to her that she could do so.

When the water of the canteen that Abraham had given her ran out, could only see one logical conclusion: the death of her son.

“Arise,” said the angel. “Raise the boy.” “Take him by the hand, for I will make him a great nation.” In other words: raise your sight. Redefine the situation you are seeing. Reverse the roles of cause and consequence: Do not look at your son as a vulnerable child whose life depends on you and will die because of your inability to supply him with water.  It works the other way around: your success depends on your child’s need. If you don’t make peace with the possibility that your child will die of thirst, you will be compelled to search until you find the necessary resources. You’ll discover the water that was really always there.

G-d does not work miracles in vain. G-d will not do for you that which you can and should do for yourself. That’s what he gave you the resources you have for. After you exhausts your resources and efforts, if necessary and appropriate, the miracle will happen, but there is much one can accomplish without resorting to G-d’s miracles.

Here is the weekly tool to help deal with anxiety: never give up. If the goal is noble, strive to the very end; never give up. Success depends on G-d; effort depends on you. You will not be blamed for not succeeding; you will be held accountable for giving up on yourself and not testing the limits of all the potential G-d blessed you with.

  1.  Genesis 18:1 – 22:24
  2.  Ibid, 15-21
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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