Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dr. David Pelkowitz on Tisha Be’Av

Turning Passive Memory into Active Memory - Memory alone is a dry soul-less history book. One of the lessons of Tisha Be’Av is that we need to bring memory to life, by infusing it with emotion, we need to make it part of us.Dr. Bessel van der Kolk and Dr. Pelkovitz were once working on a paper together. One day van der Kolk showed Pelkovitz a pictue of the brain of a patient of his. It was a picture at a moment that the man was looking back to being stuck in the World Trade Center as it fell. The language center of the brain was shut down, he was literally rendered speechless. He gave the man words for the pain and he became healthier. Healing came from putting words to pain. (This fits one one of my favorite quotes of Fred Rogers, "If it's mention-able, it's manageable.")

Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop says that slavery is defined primarily by the inability to put words to our emotions. Our antidote to this, our symbol of freedom on the Seder night, is that we talk our way out of our trauma.

This is true on Tisha be’Av, as we look back on our suffering and actively connect to the events; we integrate memory with our emotional and active real life.

A study looked at orphans of the Yom kippur war, followed them into adulthood. Their results showed that if the memories of their fathers were actively kept alive via pictures and permission to shed tears, as they moved forward, the kids were most resilient, most able to move on.

He trteated a depressed H.S. student who was mourning his grandfather well past the expected point of normal grief. It was because his grandfather, unlike his parents, was always there for him. He was stuck in working with the kid. One day the boy had a breakthrough. He realized that as a basketball team starter only his grandfather came to every basket ball game. He dedicated – and wrote on his sneakers in permanent ink the name of his grandfather – his basketball shoes to the memory of his grandfather. He started to do great in basketball and life.

Embedding the Lesson of the Suffering Into The Time of Freedom - Acryptic verse in Parshat Mishpatim states that G-d’s footstool was sapphire and embedded on the sapphire was a brick to remind us our slavery in Egypt. Rav Yeruchum Levovotz asks why there’s a need for a reminder of suffering after redemption. Often when things get better we forget the hard times. He says that the suffering needs to be integrated in the time when we’ve moved on.

The Medrash speaks of Lechem Oni in connection with eating Chametz on Pesach. Rabbi Norman Lamm explains that the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash was a reaction to the fact that the Jews did not integrate the experience of Yetziat Mitzrayim into their lives.

Connection - We mourn on this day as a community, that’s the essence of Tish Be’Av.

Research shows that the essence of resilience rests in the answer to this question – “Do you have one person in your life that you can wake at 3 in the morning to tell that something is bothering you?” If the answer to that question is yes then predictors are high that you can get through the hardest things that come your way in life. (The night after he discovered that study Dr. Pelkovitz woke his wife at 3 in the morning just to confirm that she was the one person there for him.)

We need to deal with loss together. In one study a person is taken to the bottom of a steep hill. The estimation of how steep the hill is changes based on the situation: If a person is alone the hill looks steeper than if they are standing next to someone else. The closer they feel to the person next to them the less steep the hill seems. It is actually easier to walk up the hill in proportion to how close one feels to the person next to them.

He likes to ask people going through hard times about their experience in the following way, “The Rabbis say that a bit of light pushes away a lot of darkness: What is the light that helped you push away the darkness of the hard times?” He posed that question to a Holocaust survivor. The man said that when he was young his father would bless him on Friday night. In difficult times he’d remember that and feel the warm breath of his father as he blessed him. That was his source of light.

May we be blessed to move forward as we integrate these lessons of Tisha Be'Av.


Post a Comment

<< Home