A trauma is when you are overwhelmed by something you’ve never faced before.
A catastrophic trauma is when it does not stop, and you don’t know what to expect next.
Among the horrifying realities of the pandemic — beyond the magnitude, the numbers, the constancy — is the unknown, and the uncertainty of what may be yet to come. The worry, fear, apprehension and even anticipation of new and different outcomes has brought many into a mind frame of despair, chronic shock and the challenge of how to maintain hopefulness.
Hope is an enigmatic state of mind. It is more than optimism and different from denial. Hope is when the mind draws on its imaginative capacity, its ability to think in the abstract about what has not yet happened, and to transcend into a zone which is as much a feeling as a thought. Hope is one of the kochos hanefesh — the energy of the soul — as it draws one forward into a sense that there will be a future and it will be a better one. Hopefulness is, in a way, the operationalizing of bitachon, faith.
Dovid Hamelech composed Tehillim chapter 126 — the Shir Hamaalos about shivas Tzion — the return to Eretz Yisrael. In a historical context, one view is that this was written well before, yet in anticipation of, the exile to Bavel and it preemptively prompts us to proclaim our hopefulness for the eventual return to the Holy Land and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. What that means is that it was authored long before there was an exile and long before redemption from exile. That exemplifies hope. Hope in the positive outcome long before the troubles begin, and long before they end. The expression “hayinu k’cholmim” — we will be like dreamers when we return, is quite intriguing. The Meiri understands it as a retrospective — we will look back at the suffering and losses of a long exile and one day it will feel like it must have been a dream. It will be over. Ibn Ezra understands it prospectively — the redemption will astound us. We will feel as if we are living a glorious dream. Life is good again. We are safe. We are secure. The bleak times are over.
We have been living in dread, with solid reason. This has been traumatizing. Our familiar routines are gone. Our assumptive reality has been invalidated. We have sustained more losses than we can process. We are grieving, yet our mourning practices are not doable. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. And we experience the image (Devarim 32:25) of “mi’chutz teshakel cherev ume’chadarim eimah” — while destruction fills the streets, the terror lurks behind closed doors.
Many cannot think clearly. Some can only feel a limited range of emotions, and those are painful ones. Others are numb and in shock. But we may need a change. This may be the time for a new form of infusion. Can we find room now for some hope? Remember, it is an energy of the soul, which is activated when we draw on other parts of our brain to envision better times. Hope is within us, however dormant it may have been for a long while. But we must activate it, transforming conceptual faith into activated hope.
In fact, the Midrash says, in explaining the brachah, “l’yeshuashcha kivisi Hashem,” which Yaakov gave Shevet Dan, “hakol b’kivui” — everything hinges on hopefulness. Getting over suffering hinges on hopefulness. Forgiveness depends on hopefulness. Divine compassion depends on hopefulness. A lot does hinge on our redirecting our internal focus toward that powerful energy, the healing dynamic of hope. Moreover, it actualizes our bitachon, our faith in Hashem. It is part of the tzipisa le’yeshuah which one day will be demanded of us (Shabbos 31a).
Some can activate hope through music or song. Some can tap its dreamy resource through inspirational words. Some can find it by projecting their thoughts forward — how do I want to be when this dream is over? How do I dream of being? Many can tap into the hope dynamic through contemplation about their davening, investing themselves in Mikveh Yisrael, the One Source Who will respond to those turning to Him. But most definitely, hope belongs in our repertoire, the quiver in which we store our spiritual arrows when aiming high and beyond the present. The Navi Zechariah (9:12) foretells that as the suffering in this final exile intensifies, we will be asirei ha’tikvah — enveloped in our hope.
We have hope that we will be redeemed from this. But we have to allow ourselves the time and space to immerse ourselves in this inner work. Set aside the heaviness, for a while. Get past the cynicism. Salvage your hopefulness. This is the inner work: Work at envisioning your dream image of security and tranquil times. Imagine “safe,” “healthy,” “joyous,” and trust that it will materialize. Picture your own self in your future, your ideals, your anticipated renewed values, and your action plan for devotion to serving Hashem. Allow the mind to process those thoughts and images so that the emotions, the mood energy, the spiritual pulsation, emerges from that hopefulness process.
The verse I use in my title, which proclaims that Hashem is the Mikveh Yisrael (Yirmiyahu 17:13) is followed by the words refa’eini Hashem v’eirafei hoshi’eini v’ivashei’a — from which our brachah for healing is derived. Hope is our catalyst for healing. Hope is for our mental health. It is for our spiritual composure. It is for now and forever. Hope is for always and for all ways. The time has arrived.
Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox is a forensic and clinical psychologist, Rav and Dayan, who directs the Crisis Intervention, Trauma and Bereavement department of Chai Lifeline. He is a board member of Nefesh International, the Orthodox Mental Health organization, and is also a founding member.