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Dealing with Stress on Shabbat Shuva: Friday night's sermon

As we come to the last Shabbat of the year, we start thinking about our New Year’s resolutions. We look into the next year and wonder not just if we’ll be inscribed into the life (some of us take that for granted), but how will this year lead us. Death is easy, in a bizarre way, because everything done, no worries, right?

But we are looking at meeting the challenges of life. Many of us have struggled and are still struggling with day-to-day issues. We have concerns about finances, health, family and social interactions.

Sometimes the challenge is not just doing what we need to do, but it’s the stress involved. Our car breaks down, or the dishwasher needs repairs, we have to get the money to fix it. It may be a matter of just taking money out of savings, or not taking the vacation we really wanted because of the added expense.

It’s actually black-and-white, really. We have a problem, find the solution and just take care of it. Simple.

Not really. Because there’s the emotions that inevitably accompany the decisions. It’s not just a matter of fixing the car. It’s worrying over whether it would be better to buy a new one, but now we are taking on car payments and our kids our really enjoy that karate or soccer or gymnastics class, and that’s really more of a priority. So we make the decision to fix the car. But now we’re feeling a little resentment, maybe? Having to spend that money and wondering what next is going to go wrong, and just how good is that mechanic anyway?

The logical thing is to ask the mechanic to look over the rest of the car. As long as they have it apart, why not see if there’s something else looming on the horizon and if so, while the car’s apart, save ourselves some future labor dollars and grief worrying and take care of it now. Again, very logical.

But again, there’s that stress. Now we’re angry—at our car! Why did it have to break down now? Why couldn’t it wait until after we won the lottery?

And so on. We handle our problems in life not just dealing with the problems but also getting upset because we have to deal with the problem to begin with. Life has become stressful dealing with these problems.

The stress starts to affect us. We want to get healthy and enjoy life but we’re real upset and don’t want to take that walk to go to the gym because we’ve tired ourselves worrying. This now starts to affect our health.

Statistics tell us that one out of three Americans will have to deal with cancer in their life. Add to that diabetes and heart disease. Could it be that modern life has gotten a lot more stressful these last years?

The stress affects our mood. We’re not as understanding as we should be. When the mechanic calls us to discuss the car, we snap at him—or her. We order coffee from someone who’s taking too long; we’re on hold with a doctor or Amazon way too long. We can feel our blood pressure rise to pre-stroke levels.

Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, and yes, Shabbat Shuva, are there for us to take a break. It’s there for a respite from the ugliness that we never imagined part of our lives would be. It’s there to find spiritual, and thus emotional solace. It’s there to connect with Hashem.

Yes, we’re angry at Hashem, aren’t we? I’ve been good, I’m taking care of my family, where’s my reward for that? What did I do to deserve my car breaking down, just to have to shell out money to repair at the time when my taxes are due?

As HaShem puts these challenges in front of us, he also gives us clues to their solutions. And He knows, better than us, that we are capable of handling these. Isn’t it easier to focus on the solution to a challenge in a good frame of mind than a bad one? Doesn’t a level head help us find solutions.

And maybe it’s a good thing that the car needed to be looked at because the mechanic just found another potential problem that would have been a whole lot worse. But because we had to bring our car in, it got looked at beforehand and yes, it may be more money, but as much if it had broken down.

2500 years ago, King Solomon said, “Who is mighty? One who controls their passions”. We can learn from this. It’s not easy. But if we keep calm, and work at handling our problems more dispassionately, we’ll be able to handle them more effectively and perhaps avoid some dangerous potentially life-threatening diseases that will affect our lives more severely.

And that is how we’ll get written in the book of life for a more successful year.

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