Resilience is a popular word in American culture now.
Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and Naval Officer, wrote a book with that title outlining how he helped another veteran bounce back from PTSD.
After the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg (z"l), Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, wrote Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.
So what exactly is resilience? According to the American Psychological Association website, "Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress - such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences...
And what is it not? The APA continues, “Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn't experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives... "
Is resilience a character trait that you are born with or is it learned? Again the APA asserts, “Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone."
In this week's Parashat Shlach Lecha (B'Midbar/Numbers 13:1-15:41), The Holy One tells Moshe/Moses to send a representative from each of the 12 tribes to scout the Land of Israel in advance of conquering it. Unfortunately, after so many years of slavery, the Israelites had not yet adapted to freedom and most of them were not able to demonstrate much resilience when faced with challenges.
The land they encountered was clearly good and productive, because they brought back as evidence of its bounty a huge cluster of grapes, which today serves as the symbol of Israel's Ministry of Tourism.
Nevertheless, despite G!D's promise that the Israelites would inherit this land, which would normally inspire confidence, ten of the tribal representatives reported: "The people who inhabit the country are powerful... we cannot attack that people, for they are stronger than we are...we saw giants there and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them." (13:28, 31, 33)
Not very resilient language. Especially their leap of logic that because they perceived themselves to be small as grasshoppers-- "so we must have looked to them." OY!
How often do we sadly make that leap?
It’s similar to “The Imposter Syndrome”-- i.e., the idea that not only am I really not qualified for whatever I’m doing, everyone probably knows that I am an Imposter as well. In point of fact, the rest of us know nothing of the sort... until you tell us!
And isn't it an irony in life that the most competent, resilient people are the ones who tend to second-guess themselves so often (are you listening fellow women?) and the very people who are truly incompetent imposters often don't have any self-doubts or deeper self-perception. ARG!
What does the Jewish tradition offers us on this topic?
The Piasetzner Rebbe, a Hasidic rabbi imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto, wrote a number of hidden manuscripts that were found after he was murdered. One of them addressed the issue of education-- specifically educating boys and young men in yeshivot, but his perspective is something that applies to us all.
The Piasetzner Rebbe maintained that the job of teachers/ mentors is to encourage their students to know their true potential, to remind them that each one is created in the Image of G!D.
He wrote that it was a "sin" for the teachers and the students to think that they are inadequate to live up to their G!Dly-selves.
This viewpoint gibes with contemporary psychology---it's all about changing your perception of what happens to you. Yet, IMHO, it goes further.
You-- yes YOU! - no matter who you are, what you've achieved (or not), how you feel about yourself - YOU ARE MADE IN THE IMAGE OF G!D.
That means no matter how low you fall, how much you screw up, how tiny like a grasshopper you think you are in comparison to others...YOU ARE ESSENTIALLY NOT THAT.
That means your perceptions of self are wrong, no matter how "right" they may feel because there is a super-reality that is embedded into each of us.
Each one of us on earth is made “B’tzelem Elohim” – in the image of G!D.
You and I are reflections of Divinity. We each have built-in purpose.
And that state of being can never be lost. Even if we can't perceive it in any given moment, it's still there.
Allow yourself to really hold that thought and feel it. Does it make you emotional? Then it's likely something you "know" deep down but don't allow your conscious self to embrace.
You and I have been endowed with something bigger than we can even grasp.
My colleague, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, has written a poetic translation of Ahavat Olam, the prayer which is traditionally said each evening as an introduction to Shema Yisrael, Hear O Israel. Here are excerpts:
We are loved by an unending love.
We are embraced by arms that find us,
Even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us,
Even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us,
Even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.
You and I can be as gigantic and powerful as we allow ourselves to be... and maybe that's what scares us so much... just like those former slaves, our Israelite ancestors, wandering in the wilderness.
Our task in this world is to truly internalize our G!Dliness and then bring that into the world in every way we can.
May we have the courage of Joshua and Caleb to believe in ourselves and be resilient in the face of the obstacles on our path.