To continue and follow up just briefly on what I posted above.
Your joy before Hashem is your strength.
There is something to that. I talked to the son of my neighbor about his decisions to announce his engagement at this time. He said he had discussed it with his girlfriend and they had decided that now is the right time. Hamas has said that they love death. We believe we are stronger because we love life. Couples are getting married at their army bases. It is known that after WWII, the highest birthrate in the Western world was in the DP camps for Jewish survivors of the Shoah. We choose life, both because it is a mitzvah to do so, but because of the ingrained optimism that Jews have for the world.
But it is also perhaps a “feel-good” message to take home and forget about the rest, so it is important to, if you will forgive the word, contextualize.
I said above that the only way to experience joy in a holy way is to first internalize the nightmare. I believe that this is so. What does that mean?
It means more than being sad for the dead or wearing a dog-tag for the captives, laudable acts though they are. But that’s not what I mean.
How To Change Your Mind is the title of a book by Michael Pollan that explores the renewed interest in psychedelic drugs. Research and experience have shown that psychedelics can be useful tools in the treatment of depression, PTSD, fear or panic the face of mortality and other destructive emotional states. He also describes how some people use these drugs in a controlled setting with a guide to effect what is essentially a life reset.
If I remember correctly, Pollan also recorded his experiences on cannabis (he is not a druggie, but he does believe in immersive journalism: when he wrote about the cattle industry, he bought a steer). He reported that being high loosens the filters that restrict the amount of stimulus that our brains can handle, and that can bring on a renewed sense of wonderment with the world. But conversely, all that stimulus can cause a tightening of perception, leading to an ability or tendency to over-focus on detail that had escaped our consciousness til then.
Psychedelics have a different effect. Neurologically, they seem to quiet the part the brain that is reflective, parts that are active when we are day dreaming or worrying or thinking about the past. Pollen says that this part of the brain is also responsible for our understanding of our inner narrative, the image that we have of ourselves. Quieting this part of the brain can lead to a sensation that the ego is dissolving, leaving no barrier between life and existence and our experience of life and existence. Rather than over-focussing on pieces and details, the psychedelic experience can move a person beyond the specific into the general, into larger contexts where transcendent meaning can be found. Such an experience can be truly transformative.
There are events in our lives that do the same thing. The result of a sudden worrying diagnosis or the death of a family member or friend, the loss of a job or a spouse can induce us to step back from mundane life to find a different perspective. Sometimes there are world events’ political events, reality events that can or should require one to re-evaluate life and its meaning and values. October 7 was an event of this nature. Not simply the event itself, which was shocking enough, but the reaction of the Western world in general and America specifically should bring all of us, Israeli Jews and American Jews alike, to re-evaluate assumptions and views long held – and to act on our revised understanding of reality. We need the internal strength to make a reset in our lives.
A student from last year and her mother arrived in Israel last Thursday, only to stay for Friday and Shabbat and to fly out again on Sunday. What was the purpose of this short trip? The mother told me that she was just not interested in paying tens of thousands of dollars for her daughter to go to a school that teaches antisemitism. They were checking out schools in Israel instead.
Since October 7, they realized they were living in a world different than what they had thought. They are re-evaluating. They may change course – radically – from the direction they had intended. Reset.
Are you hiding signs of your Judaism? Putting that star inside your neckline? Keeping the Hannukiah out of your window? Thinking of taking down your mezuzah? Realizing that people who you thought were understanding and allies are either silent in the face of Jew-hatred or perhaps even sympathetic to it? Does America suddenly look different to you than it did two months ago?
I am not issuing a call for massive aliya. Of course, that might cross your mind and if so, my own experience as an oleh would bring me to encourage it. Israel, even post 7/10, is a wonderful place to live, to raise a family, to build a meaningful life. But I am saying that the events of the past two months should induce you to look again with fresh eyes and chart a new course. Perhaps that new course is finding more intensive ways of engaging with Judaism, or of fighting antisemitism. It might lead to you to a more vociferous political activism, or a political reorientation.
Life is trying to tell you something. Think it out. Step back and think it out. Have a psychedelic moment, a Macabee moment, when you realize that if you are not going to drown, then you by God need to learn how to swim. It’s time to reset.