Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dealing with Interpersonal Challenges during the Month of Cheshvan

It seems that we are prone to experience interpersonal challenges during the month of Cheshvan. That happens often to me during this time of year. I always try my hardest to learn from every challenge I experience. Otherwise Hashem will send a similar challenge again another time, until we learn the lesson. Several years ago I went through a personal challenge during the month of Cheshvan with someone whom I had helped and supported very much over the years. Let’s call her Minna. I was quite upset at first but then decided that instead of wasting too much energy in being upset with her, I would use the challenge to work on myself. In the process I realized that interpersonal challenges are connected to the energy of the month of Cheshvan because the kingdom of Israel was split during this month when Yerovam ben Navat from the tribe of Efrayim enticed the ten tribes to separate from the Kingdom of Yehuda headed by King Salomon’s son Rechavam. On the other hand, King Shlomo completed building the first Temple during the month of Cheshvan, and our longed for future Temple will be dedicated during this month of Cheshvan. This teaches us that especially during Cheshvan, working on ourselves and overcoming our ego during personal conflicts can accomplish tremendous tikunim (rectifications). I am sharing some very personal feelings and dealings below and hope that when you read on you will be able to relate and find my experience meaningful for your lives as well.

Distrust and Rejection
So it happened that Minna completely misunderstood something I said to her over the phone. When I called to clear out the misunderstanding, she refused to believe me. In addition she had fabricated a whole spin web of misinterpretations of my actions towards her, thinking that I was against her and harbored negative emotions towards her. I can’t tell you how disconcerting it is for me to be distrusted. I have always been an honest person, never afraid to speak up for truth or express my feelings. I’m aware that I’m not a flawless person, yet since early childhood I never could say a lie. During my more than half century in this world I never experienced anyone distrusting me to this degree So what happened all of a sudden? Why did this person not believe my words to be true?

Humble Acceptance
When Minna made me feel unappreciated for whom I am, my initial reaction was to fight back. How could she have the nerve to be so disrespectful and shower me with accusations? I, who had done so much for her and who was her senior by probably a whole generation. I could easily just stop supporting her. But I decided instead to follow the example of Rachel, our Mother and humbly accept the situation, trusting that it is all for the best. Tomer Devorah teaches that Hashem bears insults while simultaneous supporting and enabling people to continue to insult Him. Likewise, we should be patient and allow ourselves to be insulted even to this extent without refusing to support the recipients in any way.[1]

Staying Away from Arguments and Disunity
Reacting to the unjust accusations would only amplify the negative energy. So it would be preferable to restore unity, especially since the challenge and tikun of the month of Cheshvan is to avoid splits between people, as originally the kingdom of David was split during this month.

וַיַּרְא כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי לֹא שָׁמַע הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲלֵיהֶם וַיָּשִׁבוּ הָעָם אֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ דָּבָר לֵאמֹר מַה לָּנוּ חֵלֶק בְּדָוִד וְלֹא נַחֲלָה בְּבֶן יִשַׁי לְאֹהָלֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עַתָּה רְאֵה בֵיתְךָ דָּוִד וַיֵּלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְאֹהָלָיו: ספר מלכים א פרק יב:טז
“So when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king saying, what portion do we have in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Yishai: to your tents, Yisrael, now see your own house David…(I Kings 12:16).

Therefore, this month of Cheshvan is prone to discord between people, and we need to make special effort at this time by all means to avoid disputes.

Cheshvan, the Month of both Building and Ruin
Yet, Hashem always prepares the healing before the wound.[2] Originally, in this same month of Cheshvan just a few decades before the kingdom was split, King Shlomo completed the building of the Temple, which brought unity and peace to the Jewish people.[3] Therefore, King Shlomo who built the Temple is called “The king to whom Peace belongs.”[4] Remembering this, I told myself, that I would respond to the challenges I am facing at this time in the way that would best engender tikun and restore shalom (peace). I would not react from the place of my wounded ego as Yerovam did when he contrived a new festival on the fifteenth of Cheshvan, in order to cause a rift between the ten tribes and the tribe of Yehuda and Binyamin on whose land the Temple stood, by alluring the tribes away from uniting at the Temple.

Cheshvan, the Month of Own Heart
וַיַּעַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה בְּבֵית אֵל בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁמִינִי בַּחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר בָּדָא מִלִּבֹּד \{מִלִּבּוֹ\} וַיַּעַשׂ חָג לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּעַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לְהַקְטִיר: ספר מלכים א פרק יב:לג
“And Yarovam ordained a holiday in the eight month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like the holiday that is in Yehuda, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bet-el, sacrificing to the calves that he had made, and in Bet-El he placed the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon the alter which he had made in Bet-El on the fifteenth day of the eight month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast to the children of Yisrael: and he went up to the altar to burn incense” (I Kings 12:32-33).

The Hebrew word for “of his own heart” in the expression “which he had devised of his own heart” מִלִּבּוֹ/milibo can be unscrambled to spell out בּוּל/bul the biblical name for the month of Cheshvan.[5] This name is related to the Hebrew word בִּלבּוּל/bilbul which means confusion. Therefore, perhaps the month of Cheshvan is inclined towards confusion and misunderstanding, yet great rectifications can take place when we overcome our ego – the hurt in our own heart – and reach out towards the other person who may have her own pain that she is dealing with.

Showing Sensitivity to People with Emotional Sunburns
My good friend and mentor once told me how sensitive we need to be when we deal with certain people who easily get hurt, overreact and take things out of context. Usually these people suffer from low self-esteem and therefore even a small thing you may say or do could make them feel that you are against them. It’s like rubbing oil on a person with a terrible sunburn, she may break into a scream if you rub too hard on her sore aching back. With these kinds of people we need to be so super gentle and walk on eggshells in order to make them feel appreciated and avoid being misunderstood.

Is Anything too Broken to be Fixed?
I tried to learn from the situation to be gentler and kinder towards others, to avoid any possible hurt and misunderstanding. It wasn’t easy but after about a week I was ready to reach out and forget about the apology that I certainly deserved. I spoke with a Rabbi about the matter and he advised me just to forget about the whole issue, “some things are just too broken to be fixed” were his words to me. So I surrendered some more and tried to accept that some people may be unjustifiably upset with me, and that too is Hashem’s will. Yet, something still didn’t feel right. How can I sleep at night when there is something so unpeaceful between another person and myself? So I decided to stop licking my own wounds inflicted by all the harsh accusations that Minna fired at me, such as that I spoke to her in a condescending way, that I ignored her and gave her a cold shoulder in public etc. That I showed hatred and what not…..I told myself, so what if she didn’t apologize, I could lower myself and try to give Minna the feeling of self-worth and appreciation that she needed. Even if I felt that I was in the right and she was in the wrong. It’s not about being “right.” Peace overrides truth, as we learn from how Hashem changed Sarah’s words for the sake of shalom in last week’s parasha.[6]

Soiling My Heart and Hands with Temple Clay
We must go into great efforts for the sake of shalom, and although I usually conduct all my meetings via phone so I can organize my home and garden simultaneously, and use every free moment to write – as I always have urgent projects that needs my time on the computer – I decided to show Minna that I really cared and that she was important enough to me that I would give her my time to actually meet in person. Anyone who knows me a bit will know that to for me to meet in person is a huge effort on my part, but for the sake of shalom no effort is too great. The same day that I reached out, relinquished my right to an apology, and asked to meet in person to work out any negative emotions, that day I all of a sudden discovered Minna’s email of apology sent to a different email address which I rarely use, the day after the unfortunate outburst. Wow, what unbelievable Divine hashgacha (providence) to make it happen that I didn’t see this email until then. All the inner work I had gone through that week would not had happened, had I seen this email apology right away. I would not have had the chance to work through the issue of how to deal with inappropriate accusations in a non-defensive kind and caring way. I would also not have internalized the lesson that some people have emotional sunburns and must be treated delicately. We must not take it personally when they get upset. Hashem’s providence shines forth in amazing ways. I am thankful for this opportunity to get my heart and hands soiled with the clay that may one day become a brick for the final Temple which B”H will be re-dedicated in this month of Cheshvan.[7]

[1] Rav Moshe Cordevero, Tomer Devorah, Chapter I: Attributes 1.
[2] Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 13b.
[3] I Melachim 6:38.
[4] Rashi, Shir HaShirim 1:1.
[5] See the description of the completion of the Temple, (I Melachim 6:38).
[6] Rashi, Bereishit 18:3.
[7] B’nei Yessaschar, Chodesh Cheshvan, Ma’mar 2.

1 comment:

  1. Rebbetzin, I am so blessed to read this commentary on interpersonal difficulties/opportunities today. It helps me see that the ones I'm facing at present are perfectly timed and orchestrated for my growth. I love knowing that it's a good time to recognize and respect these challenges as a gift. Thank you so much!