Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Part I

The Rambam, in his commentary on the Torah, repeatedly references the well-known truism, “Ma’aseh avot siman lebanim—The actions of our forefathers are signposts for their children to follow.” Indeed, the lessons I learned from our Avot and Imahot, trailblazers in charting a pathway for transcending all the challenges life throws one’s way, are invaluable. Yet, it was raising our family and growing to maturity in Fair Lawn, exposed to the passion, love, simcha and kindness with which our dear Rabbi and Shevi Yudin serve Hashem and mankind, that also had a very significant impact on my life.

In the last article we discussed the notion of a “Holding Environment; a therapeutic, healing tool, used when the ordinary vicissitudes of life are overwhelming, or when pain, suffering and trauma makes life too hard to bear. Under these conditions, one’s life can come to a complete standstill; and it’s within the safe haven of the “holding environment” that allows the healing process to begin. This need for meaningful connections and non-traumatic, reciprocal and supportive relationships as prerequisite for growth and development, is first found in the Bereishit stories; and each year, as I read about the well-lived lives of Avraham and Sara, I am always reminded of the Rabbi and Shevi. From the day they moved into town the two have been busy 24/7, looking for ways to make the world a better place. Since they are so passionate about their mission, it appears that Hashem has, baruch Hashem, blessed them with the energy to do what they love best, within the heimish walls of the “Yud-Inn,” on Morlot Avenue. There are no limits to the gifts they bestow because there are no set “check-in” or “check-out” times at the Yud-Inn; all are welcomed and no one is ever made to feel they have overstayed their visit. Like Avraham and Sara, the Rabbi and Shevi continue to prioritize the needs of others over their own.

There are many ways in which the life of the Yudins parallels that of Avraham and Sara, but it is the rich lessons offered in Parshat Chayei Sara that resonate most strongly for me. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, among other commentators, notes the serenity reflected in the wording of the pesukim, which sum up the story of this first couple; almost immediately, the striking resemblance between both couples in their ability to sustain the passion and energy of their youth throughout their lives is visible. As a result, each segment of their lives is significant, productive and meaningful. Moreover, the peace of mind and serenity they experience has nothing to do with the anticipation many have for spending their “Golden Years,” in “leisure”-oriented retirement villages, popularly known as “camp for adults.” Just as we cannot imagine Avraham and Sara living a dream retirement within the confines of a “Century Village,” so, too, is the word “retirement” absent in the dictionary of the Rabbi and Shevi. Moreover, through all the challenges Sara and Avraham faced, they continued to step out of themselves and remained present with God and their shared mission; that is why their lives are summed up in such a positive way: “And Sara’s lifetime was a hundred years, twenty years and seven years; the years of Sara’s life (Bereishit: 23:1). And Avraham was old, advanced in days, and the Lord had blessed Abraham [and Sara] with everything (Ibid, 24: 1-12); “Now these are the days of the years of Avraham’s life which he lived: “A hundred years, and seventy years and five years; “…. “a good old age,” an old man and full of years….”(Ibid, 25:7- 8).

There are many explanations offered by Rashi and other commentators for the unusual breakdown in the digits and the redundancy in the wording used to relate the number of years the couple lived on this earth; and many focus on the idea that each day and each stage was significant, meaningful and productive, qualitatively and quantitatively. Thus, they enjoyed the wealth they accumulated, but also used their gifts for the noble purposes of serving God, spreading the message of monotheism and showering their loving kindness, even onto strangers; moreover, as Chazal explains, their actions reflected a remarkable degree of consistency. Neither the passage of time, nor the physical alterations reflected in the aging process, resulted in the typical changes we experience over time. In the case of Sara, her innocence and beauty of youth, inside and out, remained stable throughout her life; she was not bothered by age because she valued and used the wisdom that accompanied it over the beauty that may have diminished. A novel twist, offered by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the insights of the Rebbe, resonates most strongly for me, not only because it also crops up in a modern-day theory of psychosocial development, but also because it speaks to the similarities between our own Rabbi and Shevi, and the Patriarchal couple.

Typically, as a child moves through each psychosocial stage of development, he or she achieves the character traits or milestones intrinsic to that stage. Thus, in the early phases of life, an infant and young child begins to place his faith in the adults around him; if life goes well for him, his personality is formed with a strong sense of trust that his needs will be met by the significant others in his life. Still, as the child matures, and life happens, he realizes that trust can be compromised and his initial confidence in others is diminished. In a similar fashion, young adults enter a stage whereby they develop a sense of idealism and zealousness to make things better and change the world. Once again, this level of idealism is often compromised and diminishes as they become jaded through experiences of disappointment or betrayal. Finally, even though adults develop a greater degree of cognitive awareness and intellectual growth as they mature, this growth is frequently gained at the expense of losing even more of the innocence, idealism and trust of past stages. According to the Rav, the loss of innocence, idealism and trust of youth did not occur for Avraham and Sara. Even as the years accrued, they managed to hold on to their youthful passion and drive to change the world for the better; no doubt, this was facilitated by their commitment to keep Hashem at the center of their lives and to defer their own needs to those of others. This consistency of character, in good times and bad, through peace and chaos, joy and sadness, empowered them to stay the course. In remaining true servants of God and an eizer k’negdo, to one another, they always knew that someone had their back. There are so many examples of how they helped each other, or stepped out of their respective comfort zones in order to advance the destiny of our nation; this was the true measure of their shared greatness.

Indeed, understanding and incorporating the ideals portrayed in the lives of Avraham and Sara, and the true-to-life examples of the Rabbi and Shevi, empower us to believe that we, too, can reach for these same ideals.

This past year, Shevi revealed an impressive show of courage in staying the course in the face of acute pain and the prospect of double knee surgery. She delayed the surgery because she felt she had obligations to complete before she could allow herself the luxury of taking care of her own needs. As I sat next to Shevi in shul, the Shabbat prior to her surgery, she was near tears; her concern and sadness, however, was not prompted by the anticipation of the pain she knew she would experience, or the “fun” activities or even day-to-day routines she would have to temporarily defer, nor did she look forward to the long-needed rest period that she could come to enjoy during her convalescence. Rather, her distress was brought on by the time she would miss in shul during her recovery period and the fact that she would now be a recipient of chesed, rather than the one to shower others with her generous measures of love and kindness. While I share the concern over the prospect of Shevi prematurely jumping back into her role as busy matriarch of her household and community, I am also comforted by the certainty that Hakadosh Baruch Hu knows Shevi’s heart longs to be home, within the walls of the beautiful “Yud-Inn” and, as a result, He will bless her with a refuah shleimah—a swift and complete recovery, so that she can resume not only walking, but running, to shower us with her generous measures of chesed, love and simcha once again.

Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with special training in Imago Relational Therapy. She can be reached at: doctorreneenussbaum @gmail.com.

By Renee Nussbaum

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