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Bechukosai: Regaining Control

Miriam Aflalo

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

 “If you are indifferent to Me ... (Vayikra 26:21).

Rashi explains: Coincidentally. Chalking up punishments to coincidence and hardening hearts to avoid coming close to Me.

Our lives don’t always go according to schedule; many times plans are disrupted by circumstances beyond our control. But we must also prepare for those deviations in our plans. (Alei Shur, Vol. 2, pg. 323, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe)

There are days in which it seems like logic has taken a vacation. When the rice for supper burns, and no one is in the mood for soup, and even the chicken “tastes funny.”

So I bring out bread and ketchup to try to save the day, but things seem to be going downhill fast. My six-year-old has a meltdown: she doesn’t like anything; she wants a different plate (hers had a microscopic speck of dirt on it); her sister is bothering her; and all this at a decibel level that woke the baby. Help.

And then? Then of course, the eight-year-old’s cup of juice is hurled to the floor, spraying its sticky contents everywhere.

At this point I’m holding my breath, fervently hoping no one was on the other side of the door, while I vent my frustration.

I’m always sorry afterward. It’s not really me. And it’s not who I want to be. But when everything around me is going crazy, I quickly find myself going down that same road …

“It’s specifically in these instances that we need to make a kiddush Hashem with our behavior. We can plan our reactions. There’s no way of knowing ahead of time what every day will bring. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each of us to constantly anticipate those situations and learn how to deal with them. This demands our full attention, literally throughout our lives.” (ibid.).

Are our values simply stored in a big sack, which we allow to spill out in one fell swoop every time we reach a frenzied moment?

Are all our standards, that we’ve worked so hard to attain, through so many hours of self-introspection and yearning, so ephemeral that they can simply disappear in a moment, leaving us with nothing but childish instincts and a slew of regretful actions?

No. It’s not possible! It’s not possible that every time we become angry, insulted, enticed, or simply confused, we lose our heads, become someone even we don’t recognize. And it’s ridiculous that it’s only after we calm down that our “regular selves” reappear and we regret our behavior.

There is no situation in the world in which a person can’t remain in control of himself, and he is obligated to do so, even when faced with death. We cannot “lose our heads,” no matter what the situation.

The Torah shows us how to behave even when our desires attack us, teaching us that even if one eats meat from a neveilah (dead animal), it’s preferable that the neveilah be shechted.

Rabbi Itzele Peterburger teaches further, that there’s a big difference in Heaven between one who commits a sin while sighing, and one who commits a sin without a sigh. Even this small difference has a huge impact on his (Heavenly) judgment.

That first moment of darkness that suddenly falls on a person is impossible to prevent. But the next moment? Isn’t it possible to grope for the switch in the darkness and throw some light on the situation?

I’m not an angel. A kid who scribbles on the freshly painted wall angers me. I’ve learned all the calm, carefully weighed lines that we should say to children at this moment, but I still always find myself angrily yelling: “What did you do?!” I know what I’m “supposed” to feel, but in that first moment, I’m just hurt and feeling sorry for myself.

But what about that next moment?

It truly is possible at that next moment to make the effort to pull ourselves together, and throw the switch to get the errant train back on the right track.

We are obligated to be aware of this so that every time this happens, we will instantly adjust our behavior — so that we are not “indifferent to Me.” (ibid.)

So, we messed up. Now what? We get up. That first moment has come and gone. But the next moment is still within our grasp. We are all human. We all make mistakes, falling into those potholes that suddenly yawn before us. But why then do we waste further valuable time sitting in the pothole, when we can simply climb out and go on?

This is why even our moments of confusion need advance preparation.

It’s not possible that every time we become angry, insulted, enticed, or simply confused, we lose our heads

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