It’s All In The Mind | By Rabbi Y R Rubin Shlita

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It’s All In The Mind

By Harav Y Reuven Rubin Shlita

The phone rings. I pick it up with my usual jaunty “Sholom.” After a slight hesitation the caller stammers a few words that I decipher as a plea for a meeting. So begins another saga of real lives confronting real pain. I become a helpful bystander whose purpose in this drama is to hopefully be a facilitator of sorts.

The mind is a complicated place, no matter how clever we think we are. Nothing is as simple as it seems. In the realm of social interactions, getting on with others can bring mountains of difficulties, basically because we are complex beings.

Into this bewildering forest of emotions steps in those distressing moments when others can seem hurtful. It doesn’t take much: a misspoken word, a forgotten invitation, perhaps just a half-hearted greeting, all can become the recipe for upset.

The perpetrator takes on another form; he is a now a hurtful enemy, someone to be wary of. Time passes and things get worse. The longer things fester, the more anger builds up.


“The off the cuff remark made by a new father in law slowly becomes untold slander if left unchecked”


The case behind that phone call was just such a scenario. The vexed caller has been invited to a friend’s simcha, the problem being that one of the mechutonim is someone with whom my caller had dealings with decades ago, yet he still harbours ill feelings. Seemingly, this particular fellow acted in a manner that was hurtful to my friend and it cost him some measure of disgrace. The events involved weren’t the main problem; it was the sense of betrayal that caused the most anguish.

Allow me for illustrational purposes to give these two players in our drama names: the caller will henceforth be known as Chaim, and the “bad guy” as Yerachmiel.

So Chaim sits across from me stirring his tea, “That Yerachmiel is a rosha. Totally wicked. I can’t believe my friend is allowing his child to marry into this family. There is nothing this guy won’t do to get ahead; he has no scruples. How can I go to his simcha and even have to smile at him?”

I see I have my work cut out, “What exactly have you had with this fellow?” “He did the dirty on me in a deal and hasn’t stopped talking about me ever since. In fact I bet he will nail my friend with the catering bill as well.”

Ok, I know, there is a lot of lashon hora going on here, but Chaim- and this is indicative of what such animosity can lead to- has lost all reason. Not wanting to have to hear all the rest, I looked into Chaim’s eyes and asked “this happened decades ago, and you have never spoken to Yerachmiel since?”

“No and I don’t want to now!”

Now Chaim is a precious Yied and obviously disturbed, so I open a Chumash and invite him to learn with me.

Then Yaakov sent Angels ahead of him to Eisav, his brother… “Thus shall you say, To my master, to Eisav: So says your servant, Yaakov: I have dwelled with Lavan, and have lingered until now. I have oxen, and donkeys, sheep, servants and maidservants; I have sent(this message) to inform my master …to find favour in your eyes.” (Bereishis 32:4-6)

With these words Yaakov hoped to find favour in his brother’s eyes. It is his opening gambit to what he hoped would be a positive discussion with someone from whom he had fled from thirty four years earlier. This a direct result of his getting the cherished blessings from their father Yitzchok. He seems to have been hoping that in the passage of time his brother would have cooled down. Instead the angels return to tell him, “We came to your brother-to Eisav- and, moreover, he is headed towards you, and four hundred men accompany him!” as Rashi says, “You think he’s your brother-well he’s still Eisav; and he hates you.”

Learning these words one could ask a simple question: Yaakov probably expected that his brother harboured anger towards him, After all, to his thinking Yaakov tricked his way into receiving his father’s blessings. So how can we explain his opening words? They don’t seem to be carrying any conciliatory words, just a record of his material goods. Rashi explains that with this statement Yaakov is telling his brother that their father’s blessings didn’t become fulfilled in him. Still, it seems that just saying “sorry” would have gone down better.

Here though we see a very important psychological point. When someone insults us, or hurts us in some way, we often can’t let it go. It grows in our heart, and in time, the perpetrator takes on a different persona. He is no longer just a human who did me wrong. In our imagination he has become an ogre who is a danger to all that crosses his path.

Throughout history we have seen this in our own lives. To those who hate us, the Jews are no longer humans; they are ugly horned creatures of the night who manipulate and connive to overpower the world around them. In this way, it is no longer unkind to hate them. Rather, we deserve to be thrown into the sea, (or burned in the ovens of Hitler’s final solution).

Yaakov therefor wants to show Eisav that he is no threat. Just the opposite. He is a family man with responsibilities just like the rest of the world around him. He doesn’t carry any nuclear weapons, nor does he have any real fire power. He is just that kid Yaakov, the yeshiva bochur who only wants to tend to his livestock and live in peace.

I turned to Reb Chaim, “That fellow Yerachmiel, he was just a young fellow then, the same as you. He may have messed up, but he has not grown horns nor is he a master criminal out to get you. He struggled with his family much as you have, and is no threat.” Forgiving just some other guy is easier than forgiving a master criminal seeking to destroy you.

I find that even in family squabbles much is left to the imagination. The off the cuff remark made by a new father in law slowly becomes untold slander if left unchecked. How many times when I have unpeeled the layers of an old faribel –grievance -I found just a simple misunderstanding between two good-hearted but perhaps nervous people. Marriages can often go on for years with smoldering hurt over silly words spoken when young and foolish. This is human nature; we are all insecure at times, and get hurt. If we can just look at those who may have misspoken we will often find them to be also in turmoil with their own insecurities.

Yaakov wanted to show his brother that despite the passage of thirty four years, he was still just Yaakov, nothing more and not worthy of such hate.

We are all just humans, prone to mishap every so often. The trick is not to allow our imaginations get hold of us and make things worse. Sure, there were mistakes made, but we all make them, so let’s not spend precious time filled with delusional anger.





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