Jewish Thought

My Therapist

Almost half a century ago, the world of psychotherapy was shaken by a study comparing outcomes for one group of subjects who had taken their problems to a psychotherapist with those of another group who had consulted close friends.

The startling result was that an equal percentage of people in each group were able to resolve their difficulties. The study concluded that most people are able to work out their problems themselves, providing they have an empathic, supportive listener.

Perhaps it’s my imagination, but it seems to me that the incidence of individuals with serious emotional challenges has risen dramatically with time, and the demand for therapeutic intervention has increased commensurately. No one is granted exemption from adversity and emotional pain. Ever since mankind’s exile from Eden, it is our common lot to struggle with hardship and tribulation, and we can all benefit from a sympathetic ear and heart.

In this sense, everyone needs a therapist to whom he can unburden his soul and from whom he can gain clarity and perspective. The efficacy of such an approach is underscored by David Hamelech, who advises in Tehillim, “Daagah b’lev ish yasichenah” – if someone has worry or anxiety in his heart, he should speak about it with another person.

I would like to tell you about my therapist.

I touch base with my therapist first thing in the morning, sometimes in the predawn hours. An appointment isn’t necessary since there is always availability.

This morning, for example, my heart was filled with fear about the condition of a dear friend who was undergoing a procedure to determine the nature of a potentially life-threatening illness. I desperately needed my therapist. So I opened up my Tehillim, my faithful therapist, and poured out my heart. Once I had turned my worries over to Hashem, I felt reassured and at peace.

I fully grant that there are times when the complexity of our struggles requires professional attention. We must not disdain the opportunity to avail ourselves of such assistance out of pride or a conviction that we can cope with something that is bigger than we are. Yet all too often we ignore the means that Hashem has put at our disposal to invite Him into the picture.

Tefillah in general and Tehillim in particular are powerful, ever-present vessels into which we can pour our innermost thoughts, hopes, dreams, aspirations and petitions to the Ribbono Shel Olam. Many have questioned the efficacy of a fixed text; how is it, they ask, that the same words repeated over and over again can address the needs of all people at all times?

For me, the answer is very clear. The words are never the same. There are instances when I fill these magnificent vessels with tears of joy and gratitude, and other times when my heart bleeds with pain. My “therapist” is always there with a palpable embrace. He wipes away my tears and gives me the strength to engage the day.

There is an anecdote about a laborer whose car broke down one day, and since he lived a considerable distance from his workplace, he was compelled to ask his boss for a ride home. The boss gladly agreed, and when they arrived at the worker’s home, he invited his employer in to meet his family. On the way in, the worker stopped at a bush in front of the door, going through the motions of suspending an invisible object on its branches.

On the way out, his boss inquired about the meaning of this strange act. The worker responded that it was a daily ritual for him; he said he did not want the problems and vexations of the workday to accompany him into his house and compromise his time with his wife and family, so before going inside, he symbolically hung his concerns on his “trouble tree.” In the morning, he continued, when he went to retrieve his bundle of worries, he was surprised to find that there weren’t nearly as many as he had left there the previous evening, nor did they seem quite as heavy.

How fortunate we are that we have resources that go far beyond a “trouble tree.” We have the gift of tefillah and Tehillim, and the treasure of a mezuzah at the entrance of our home. All are designed so that the Ribbono Shel Olam is always available to us – no appointment needed.

Miriam suffered a huge loss in her life. She told me that at the height of her grief, she could not find it within herself to continue her daily recitation of Tehillim; she simply could not get her bearings. She was feeling too hurt to engage with Hashem. For an extended period of time, Miriam lost touch and did not avail herself of the embrace of Hashem, Who could best have facilitated her healing. She related that one night she had a dream in which she was gently exhorted to return to the “Therapist’s office” and rekindle the relationship. She did so and has since found greater acceptance and tranquility in her life.

When our granddaughter, Chana Malka, suffered the passing of her beloved grandmother, Rebbetzin Geldzhaler, she asked for the Rebbetzin’s sefer Tehillim. Chana Malka commented that when she recites the same words from the same pages that served to comfort her grandmother for so many years, she feels warmed by her grandmother’s presence and strongly senses the connection, building a bridge to immortality.

One can only imagine the majesty that would emerge if all the siddurim and sifrei Tehillim of history could speak. What a glorious tribute to the Jewish heart that would be, a moving symphony of faith and trust in the Ribbono Shel Olam! We are grateful to Him for providing us with these invaluable tools, the words that can carry our heartfelt pleas and concerns straight to His throne.

May Hashem accept the fervent tefillos His children have poured out over these many years, at long last gracing us with the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu speedily in our time.

Rebbetzin Feige Twerski is the mother of 11 children and many grandchildren, bli ayin hara. Alongside her husband, Rabbi Michel Twerski, she serves asrebbetzin to her community in Milwaukee and counsels people all over the globe. The rebbetzin is a popular lecturer, speaking on a wide variety of topics to audiences in America and overseas. She is the author of Ask Rebbetzin Feige, and more recently of Rebbetzin Feige Responds.

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