July 24, 2024
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July 24, 2024
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Donkey Kong, Secret Agent Man, and Reframing

Have you ever had days (weeks? months?) when you felt like your life had become a wearing, stumbling cha-cha of “two steps forward and one step back”?  (Or worse yet, one step forward and two steps back?)

When you felt like your every moment was a furious but futile attempt to scramble up the down escalator, in hope of arriving at a sustained position on higher ground?  When somehow it felt as though every careful, diligent effort you made was rewarded with unexpected and daunting setbacks and tribulations?

At times like these, perceiving and internalizing that Hashem loves us can be a great challenge.  If He loves me, how come it feels like nothing I do . . . works?  is supported?  How come my best efforts have been rewarded with loss, crisis, and what seems like a bed of hot coals?

Simply put, Why have You (seemingly) abandoned me??  

“Keli, Keli, lamah azavtani?  Rachok mishuati, divrei sha’agati”

 “ קלי קלי, למה עזבתני; רחוק מישועתי, דברי שאגתי”

— Tehillim 22:1

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There’s much said about how Elul is a time when Hashem is in the field, and we have a singular opportunity to get closer to Him — which is, in essence, what defines teshuva — coming closer to Hashem.  

Klal Yisrael and Hakadosh Boruch Hu (HKBH).  We’re a “couple” — but there’s been some indiscretions over the past 12 months, and the relationship has gotten a little shaky.  We feel our spouse has been unduly hard on us this past year — laying some really onerous challenges on us.  Now He’s inviting us to renew, reset and reinvigorate our relationship — He’s offering us an opportunity for a fresh start with a clean slate . . .

“Well come on down!  I’m right here, waiting for you in the field with open arms.  Just step right up (and we can reconcile)!”

Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.  I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me.

All peaches and cream.  Sounds great.  But . . . what if we’re not feeling the love?

If, at the moment, G-d’s not quite so beloved by us?

What do we do when instead of being able to close the gap between ourselves and Hashem, we’ve fallen into it?

What do we do when we have emotional blocks barring our rapprochement with HKBH? What if we have “fallen out of love”, with our Beloved? What if He’s there, waiting for us in the field, inviting arms outstretched, but because we are in so much pain — feeling hurt and forsaken by Him as of late — we have trouble approaching?

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In my better moments, at times when I’ve experienced this challenge, I have found that reframing can be one helpful way to bridge the gap between my feelings of wounded pique and alienation, and my deep desire to warmly reconcile in spite of it all.

Reframing is about shifting our perspective so that we can see and relate to events differently, and more beneficially, than we did previously.

A good first step in resolving alienation is in candidly allowing that while you are distanced due to pain, you are also pained by the distance.

And next is to realize that still, even beneath the darkest shadows of our pained relationship with HKBH, our  teshuva — reconciliation — can take flight.  (Yes, we may, at first, alight only in a small, rickety propeller plane . . . but we can raise ourselves up off the ground nonetheless.)

“פתחו לי פתח כחודו של מחט ואפתח לך פתח כפתחו של אולם”

“Open for me an entrance as tiny as a needlepoint, and (then) I will open for you an entrance as wide as the opening of a hall.

In a similar vein, in the world of psychotherapy, sometimes when people are hurting, it’s not about choosing the definitive intervention, it’s about choosing any that will allow the person in distress a foot-in-the-door to a better place — even if only slightly better than their current place — and so too, with that small inroad made, a journey of return can commence.  

Here then are offered some modest reframes that might help to take that first step forward for those who may occasionally find themselves feeling that the chasm between themselves and HKBH has become insurmountable — four approaches that might help us, in times of spiritual rupture, take that first tottering step toward meeting G-d in the field:

  1. Donkey Kong & Secret Agent Man

There have been times in my life when I have felt like setbacks and trials were arriving at such a pronounced volume, pace, or magnitude (or all of the above!) — that it felt both overwhelming, and frankly, incomprehensible.  I’d no sooner get past one obstacle and pause to catch my breath and regroup, only to glance ahead and discover that there was another threat or crisis fast hurtling my way.  “Really?!” I would importune, questioning G-d’s agenda in all this.  “Can’t a person catch a break?”

I felt like I had been catapulted into a real-life version of Donkey Kong, and there I was, Rivka “Mario” Starck, doggedly dodging an unending succession of flying barrels and fiendish fireballs, with no letup in sight.  Desperate to layer a positive spin and meaning onto events that left me feeling besieged, and without any sense of its purpose, I tried conjuring up a scenario in which this type of predicament could possibly be viewed favorably.

Well, I reasoned, who else sometimes has to endure and navigate hardship, threats and struggle — and, to boot, doesn’t necessarily even know the specific end purpose?

Why, “Secret Agent Man”, of course!  (Or CIA man.  Or Mossad man.  Or woman.)

There he, or she, is — engaged in derring-do — at great risk to life and limb, and all in service of his (or her) country or the greater good of humanity.  Sure it’s tough-going.  But he’s Secret Agent Man! — and proud of it.  This is what he signed up for.  And he’s secure in the knowledge that it’s worth all the risk and angst — because it’s for “the greater good.”  Need more be said?

I’d tell myself, “Rivka, you’d have to be one pretty cool dudette if you were a secret agent working for, say, the Mossad.”  So — kal v’chomer, how much more so — if G-d’s elected to run me through a bunch of perturbations in service of His universe-wide mission, then surely I’m up to the task and ought take some satisfaction in the challenge.

[Does this reframe always work for me?  No.  But there are times it has helped get me by in the moment.]

  1. Relapse Happens — Have Realistic Expectations

Rav Wolbe notes that there are moadim of closeness (Rosh Hashana) and those of distance (Tisha B’av).  In most all relationships, there is an ebb and flow in our emotional connection.  At those times when we have grown more distant due to the challenges G-d has sent our way, if we can muster the clarity and discipline to remember that today’s emotions may well give way, with time, to warmer and more receptive ones, then we might be able to prevail on ourselves to approach G-d “on credit”.  We come into the field, find Him there, and make a small downpayment, a good-faith demonstration that though we don’t have a lot to give right now, our heart is in the right place, and we are sure that more will follow as we become better situated.  

  1. Use Your Resources!

Sometimes, when we are in the throes of a debilitating situation and are overtaken with dark emotion or disillusionment and confusion directed at HKBH we forget that we actually have access to resources which can serve as a lifesaver to reel ourselves back onto stable ground. Available resources may include family, friends, neighbors, support groups, social services, trusted advisors (teachers, rabbis, rebbetzins, etc.), shiurim, soothing or centering activities, etc.  If we can right ourselves long enough to take full and considered stock of what’s available to us, we might discover that G-d has supplied us with paths for return (the refuah before the makah, so to speak — the cure before the malady).

  1. Remember, we sometimes get locked into one perspective, when there’s an equally viable alternative; Choose Carefully between Foreground vs. Background (and vice versa) 

 And finally, one of my favorite antidotes to clouded perspective, this famous ambiguous image

What do you see when you look at it?  

Look again.  Is that still what you see?  [I’ll just bide my time over here while you finish carefully eyeballing it.]

Did you see the old woman?  Or, did you see the young woman?  

If you only saw one or the other, look again.  

Maybe you saw both.  But, were you able to see them both at the same time??


I love this drawing because it’s a great reminder that our perspective is limited, and that often when we are locked into one viewpoint, alternative viewpoints — alternative ways of understanding or making sense of things — may be temporarily closed off to us.

We think we see all that there is to see.  But we don’t.  And in large part, what we see, and the meaning we make, is a reflection of what part of the picture we choose to focus on, foreground or background — or which we consider as which.  (Yes, sometimes it really does come down to, do we choose to see the cup as half-empty or half-full?  And other times, we are encumbered by not seeing the cup at all!)

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[Excerpted from Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, in http://www.jpost.com/Not-Just-News/An-opening-the-size-of-the-eye-of-a-needle-Rosh-Hashana-469032 ]

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, writes:

The sages of the Midrash guided us on how we should deal with our personal advancement and how we should implement it and succeed at it. They chose a figurative and unique way to express a great and significant idea. According to the sages, God says: “Open for Me an opening the size of the eye of a needle, and I will open for you an opening the size of a hall.”

Usually, man expects to achieve his advancement on his own with each accomplishment his own doing.

But our sages taught us that it is difficult to advance as we should, based on our own expectations of ourselves as well as those from heaven, with the meager resources available to us. Therefore, the right way to look at our personal advancement is to open a small opening, to take one step powerfully, and God will worry about advancing us forward and opening openings the size of a hall.

But the phrasing of this saying deserves further examination.

Why did our sages compare that same small opening to the eye of a needle? In comparison to a wide opening – the size of a hall – it would have been more appropriate to refer to a narrow opening such as a crack or hole in the wall. What connection is there to a needle? The hint our sages gave us with these few words carries a very important message. A needle is not used for entering or exiting. It is for sewing, for connecting things. If so, the opening God is asking for is an opening of connection, connection to tradition, connection to the chain of generations, connection to the people of Israel. When we forge this connection, God will open for us a wide opening, the size of a hall.”

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May we all be gifted these Days of Awe to connect with HKBH in full measure, and enjoy a new year in which we each feel the warm embrace of His love upon us.

Ktiva v’Chatima Tova, Shana Tova u’Metuka

(Readers can share additional tools or “reframes” they’ve used with Dr. Starck at [email protected])

About the Author

Dr. Rivka Starck is a clinical psychologist, strategic planning consultant, and social entrepreneur.

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