Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC Director of Programming,
Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
Thursday, February 10, Adar Rishon 9, 5782
DO NOT DESPAIR
H IS WITH YOU
I AM HERE FOR YOU
I TRULY FEEL FOR YOU
THOUGHTS SHARED WITH,
RABBI’S- REBBITZEN’S AND OF COURSE- CHAPLAIN’S
What I wanted to be when I grow up? Who am I now? Am I satisfied with my life?
Am I filled with emunah, hope, positivity, or negativity?
Am I a happy person who is thankful to H or always finding fault with others or with myself?
Do I want to be like someone else?
I am past 50 or 60 or 70 am I satisfied with my life’s accomplishments
or do I still want to be something else?
Am I still trying to prove to myself that I am a worthy, valuable person or am I worthless?
Why am I so ill, so much in pain, going through a rough time in life?
having so many concerns to worry about?
I need to share my concerns with you. I need to get it off my chest.
Plus Personal Reflections and
Additional insights into Clinical Pastoral Education
Through my years in chaplaincy, as a rabbi in my community and my various positions I have held, have in one way or another engaged with individuals who shared with me many of the above thoughts as well as those I presented in my article two weeks ago. When appropriate and necessary I would diplomatically advise an individual to seek the professional advise of professionals in the field of expertise a person might need. I was truly fortunate to have had two marvelous supervisors for my Clinical Pastoral Education. Reverend Bonnie Conners and Rabbi Jeff Silberman. Their encouragement on every aspect of CPE including delving into the various psychologists, their methodology and how to weave what was learnt into applying them to our verbatims was superb. They incorporated and infused many aspects of human nature, of kindness, of sincerity of professionalism with empathy and with one’s heart. I was also fortunate to have had peers who were so respectful of each other. They brought to the table their own thoughts of caring for each other, our patients, and staff. Some even came from other countries speaking multiple languages. At times, it was like a mini-UN and with peaceful coexistence. This was just one of many aspects of our CPE, how to engage our patients and care givers, as well as staff. CPE was intense and very serious-minded units. Every aspect of our patient visits, what we discussed, our relationships, what did, what we accomplished and so much more. As I mentioned previously, CPE is the gold standard for chaplains. I was assigned in my three years of extended CPE at Beth Israel Medical Center in NYC to psychiatry, family practice and health, emergency room, pediatrics, cancer, geriatric, orthopedic, cardiology, Intensive Care Unit, hospice, to name some. I would learn the importance of the patient charts, collaborate with diverse medical and nonmedical staff, visit with patients, family members and care givers. In the psychiatric unit, I would also participate in group meetings and lead a group as well. I chose a CPE tract that would include learning and working with patients and staff from diverse cultural, ethnic, religious backgrounds and lifestyles. The importance of empathy, feeling for the person. I was fortunate to have peers and supervisors who were sensitive to my own background and did not include performing rituals from other religions. However, there was sensitivity awareness which included understanding the diverse backgrounds, the various concerns, and issues of those who came from those diverse backgrounds. One of the comments in my evaluations to paraphrase by my supervisors was my ability, willingness and respect working, collaborating, and caring for men, women and children of all ages crossing many different borders, yet retaining my own Jewish identity, not compromising my Jewish religion, lifestyle, and beliefs. My CPE well rounded and complimented my work at the skilled nursing facility, the UJC social service agency, with police and others following 9/11. I collaborated with mental health professionals and other professionals as well. I have only shared a small part of my CPE experiences and the importance of CPE. As a CPE intern at the Beth Israel Medical Center which eventually became Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center, I was expected to meet high standards. Being conferred Board Certification by the Neshama National Association of Jewish Chaplains, one of several chaplaincy associations who can confer BCC also expected high standards and to retain those standards of professionalism ever since. One does not have to be a rabbi to be a chaplain belonging to NAJC. It is not an association of rabbis. It is not a board of rabbis. It is an association of Jewish chaplains who devote themselves caring for others and being respectful of each other. Throughout my professional life, I have taken pride in collaborating with professionals of many disciplines and professions. I am tremendously grateful to the Ribono shel Olam for giving me the opportunities in the diverse programs, and positions I have been involved in.
I have held major positions, gained so many acquaintances and had one of my best friends I ever had. who passed away and her second yartzeit will be just a few months from now. Being a widower has added another aspect to my life, but am I satisfied with my accomplishments? Do I seek new horizons, positions, and opportunities of growth? I could and do say I have been there and have done this and that, but I continuously seek new opportunities to learn, to do chesed, to find happiness, to use whatever the Ribono shel Olam give opportunities and to find meaning of life. There were two Roshei Yeshivos Rav David Feinstein ztkl and Rav Avraham Pam ztkl who were so modest, never thinking of themselves as gedolim, nor did they seek that path. Yet, they were and still are wonderful role models and an inspirstion. Neither of them wore the typical Rosh Yeshiva type clothing or hats. They were known for their kindness and care for Klal Yisrael. They were caring and loving husbands. They were admired for who and for what they were. There are many who have low self- esteem, are not satisfied in life, feel they are worthless, have a negative disposition, always finding fault in others and in themselves, their own lives. Many question G why they are being treated the way they are, so little hope in life, so unhappy with themselves. So much physical and emotional pain and discomfort. A mental health professional can find many issues, concerns, and diagnosis for any of the above. For many, the rabbi, the rebbitzen and surely the chaplain is the person who they can share their many concerns in life with and who can be empathetic.
H is always with us. There are no easy solutions, meaning or answers to any of the above. With patience, with determination, using the appropriate words, it is possible to reach the depths of one’s heart, mind, and soul. It is important to listen and to offer words with sincerity and to feel for that person, not with pity, but with empathy. I have been asked many times, how I have managed to overcome grief, guilt, sadness, feelings of unhappiness, loss of interest in certain things, and missing the one person on this earth who meant the most to me aside from my Brady Bunch plus one and entire family. Followed by the loss of a dear, close mentor who I could ask almost any question in the world, my rebbe Rav David. I was not ashamed to be in touch with Dr. Blumenthal a few times. Also, with my rebbe until his demise. My close and wonderful family and friends were amazing. Most of all my determination to continue with life. It was a roller coaster of emotions, but it was possible to eventually zoom back and continue doing those things that have been important to me. Yes, I searched my heart, my mind, my soul and the various books and sources on grief and bereavement. Also, the heartfelt tefilos and Tehillim of Dovid Hamelech. My love for the Ribono shel Olam was so important as it is now. There was a period when I attended a wedding, bar mitzva or other simchas even my own grandchildren and other family and friends going alone was challenging. [Fast forward]. Now I can attend, participate, and look forward to enjoying simchas and other happy events. I look forward to new friendships, and new relationships. Aside from having wonderful, caring, and supportive family and friends, attending shirurim -the warmth and glowing of Torah learning has been magnificent. To be in a seviva amongst Benei Torah, and my Rebbe’s son, Rav Berel Feinstein who gives gemara and halacha shiurim has truly been uplifting. Very recently, even after close to two years, I have been asked again how am doing. Those question still are active. How did I overcome challenging times these past five and a half years? Almost two years since my wife was nifteres and three and half years since the beginning of her diagnosis and treatments. Every person has their own challenges, difficulties to deal with. There are so many meaningful ways, rabbis, rebbetzins and chaplains can bring life and zest to another person’s life. Often it takes, others to join incorporating a person in holiday, shul, and community events. Inviting someone for a simcha or family Shabbos or Yom Tov meal. It is also not unusual for a rabbi to collaborate with a person’s mental health professional as deemed appropriate and with the request of the person under therapy. Life is so precious. It is disheartening when a person is going through days, months or even years being unhappy and often so negative in life. Rabbis, rebbetzins and chaplains are blessed with tremendous gifts from the Aisbershta to help others when possible. Unfortunately, for many, lifting one’s self- esteem, finding value and worth in one’s life, finding joy and happiness is not an easy task. For some, therapy is important and nothing to feel embarrassed nor ashamed to pursue, as necessary. As, I have mentioned in prior articles rabbi’s, rebbetzin’s and chaplains are not therapists in their role as rabbis, rebbetzin’s and chaplains, but can be of immense comfort, solace, uplifting and inspiring with hope. Sharing tefilo’s, Tehillim and other spiritual sources can and is often greatly beneficial. Being a professional chaplain, having been board certified after having taken CPE has been a source of pride. In addition to creating webinars and programs, my own continuing education is important and keeping up to BCC standards and requirements is a statement of professional affiliation.
I would like to share additional the following quotes from Rabbi Dr Abraham Twersky.
“If we took the effort to realize, what we really are, the strength and the capacity that we have, the wonderful traits that we have, and develop them to the fullest, then we will be happy.” – Abraham Twerksi
Interpretation: According to Twerski, self awareness is the key to happiness. When you get to know and understand yourself in the deepest sense, you will realize what your true strengths and desires are which will help you attract the right people, the right circumstances and the right opportunities into your life leading to fulfillment and happiness.
“Low self-esteem means that a person is unaware, of one’s strengths and abilities and hence underestimates oneself.” – Abraham Twerski
“The majority of psychological problems that people have (adjustment problems, family problems etc.), can be traced to one basic problem and that is – a low self-esteem.” – Abraham Twerski
“Low self-esteem is a delusion, and it can cause people to have many maladjustments in life.” – Abraham Twerski
Interpretation: Twerski himself suffered from low self esteem which he says made him extremely sensitive to criticism. Even minor criticism would reinforce in him feelings of inadequacy and inferiority and send him into a depressive streak that lasted for many weeks. He would do anything and everything he could to avoid criticism and, in the process, became a people pleaser. This is because of his belief that there was no reason for people to like him and that if people actually knew him, they would reject him. All of these beliefs and feelings were operating in him without his conscious knowledge. Once Twerski become aware of these limiting beliefs, he went on a life transforming self awareness journey that helped him let go of low self esteem.
“Sit in a quiet room, close your eyes and breath. See how long it is before you have to get up and do something. If you got a good self esteem, you should be able to sit comfortably, doing nothing (not falling asleep) and relaxed for 10 minutes.” – Abraham Twerski
Interpretation: Even though he was extremely successful, Twerski suffered from extreme self esteem issues which he was actually unaware of till the age of thirty-eight. The problem showed itself when he was vacationing in Hot Springs, Arkansas and was asked to spend 25 minutes alone in a hot tub as part of a health program. Even though it was a deeply relaxing experience, Twerski soon started to feel uncomfortable after the first five minutes. The remaining minutes as he recalls were agonizing. Upon returning from the vacation, Twerski tried to figure out why he felt this way. He consulted with a psychologist friend who helped him figure out the real issue. The problem was that being in that hot tub with absolutely no diversions (no T.V., no one to talk to or listen to) meant that one comes into an immediate intimate company of oneself. And if you don’t like yourself very much, you will start feeling uncomfortable. This came as a revelation to Twerski that there was something about himself that he did not like (as he was not comfortable being with himself) and he started to investigate this further by asking questions like ‘What is it that I think about myself?‘, ‘Is my self concept true?‘, ‘Why don’t I like myself?‘, which further took into a life transforming self awareness journey.
So, take this test and find out for yourself if you have a healthy self esteem.
“Building self esteem is necessary for happiness, you can’t really be happy in life, if you are delusional about yourself and you don’t think well of yourself.” – Abraham Twerski
“Self esteem means having an accurate, true, concept of oneself.” – Abraham Twerski
“Self esteem is tied into sense of responsibility. The more we are aware of our strengths and abilities, the greater we have the obligation to fulfill them.” – Abraham Twerski
Interpretation: Twerski believes that a healthy self esteem is absolutely essential for a happy life. This is because, you don’t know yourself and your concept of yourself is flawed, you will automatically attract things into your reality that are not in alignment with your true nature.
Instead, when you start to become aware of yourself, know what your real strengths and abilities are, you can then let go of all the limiting beliefs and ideologies that you accumulated over the years and start to bring your life in alignment with your true desires. This is the beginning of a fulfilling life which leads to being happy.
“Feeling for somebody else is sympathy but empathy means to be able to see things from the other person’s perspective.” – Abraham Twerski
Interpretation: There is a lot of difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is simply feeling sorry for someone, and anyone can do that. Sympathy does not solve anything. In most cases, people don’t even want your sympathy. But empathy is a notch above. Empathy is the ability put yourself in the other person’s place and then look at life or a situation from their perspective.
Twersky explains empathy using a beautiful story. There was once a Rabbi who used to listen to people’s problems and give them advice. One morning when he was listening to his supplicants, the Rabbi’s aid noticed that he was sweating profusely. Upon asking the reason, the Rabbi told the aid that when someone comes and tells him their problems, in order for him to help them, he has to feel their problem. He has to take off his clothes and put on their clothes. Now that he understands their problem, he has to take off their clothes and wear his clothes again so he can look at the problem objectively and give them advice. The reason he was sweating so profusely was because he had been doing that (taking off and wearing clothes over and over again) all morning! So that’s what empathy is. The ability to deeply understand the other person (or put on his clothes as in the story). And this is why, empathy is an extremely powerful trait to possess. It is also the key to successful relationships.
(20 Eye-Opening Abraham Twerski Quotes on Self Esteem, True Love, Happiness and More by Mukesh Mani February 25, 2019) (Updated: January 31, 2021 and available online)
H is a forgiving G. There is always hope and there is always forgiveness. There are many prayers for forgiveness. Opportunities to open one’s heart to Him. Another tefilah is the first part of Tachanun. (Translation Artscroll Series Siddur Mesorah Publications Ltd)
“And David said to Gad, distressed am I exceedingly. Let us fall now into the hand of H for abundant are His mercies, but into human hands let me not fall. O merciful and Gracious One, I have sinned before You. H Who is full of mercy, have mercy on me and accept my supplications.”
“Tehillim/ Psalms 34 (Translation Artscroll Series Tehillim Mesorah Publications Ltd.) “David conquered despair by composing this alphabetic hymn, to show that our every faculty, from aleph to tav, should be dedicated to G”. (Only parts of this chapter are quoted here)
“By David when he disguised his sanity before Abimelech, who drove him out, and he left. I shall bless H at all times, always shall His praise be in my mouth. In H does glory, may the humble ones hear and be glad. Declare the greatness of H with me and let us exalt His name in unison. I sought out H and He answered me, and from all my terrors He delivered me. Those looked to Him became radiant, and their faces will not be disgraced. This poor man calls, and H hears, and from all his troubles He saves him. Encamp does the angel of H around His reverent ones and he releases them. Contemplate and see that H is good; praiseworthy is the man who takes refuge in Him. (continued) The righteous cried out and H heeds, and from all their troubles He rescues them. H is close to the brokenhearted; and those crushed in spirit, He saves Many are the mishaps of the righteous, but from all H rescues him. He guards all his bones, even one of them was not broken.”
If we could bring even moments of relief, of kindness, of inspiration of uplifting spirit what a blessing it would be. What a chesed it would be. For the person(s) we offer our care and who we minister to, for him/her to feel H is with you and I am here for you. I truly feel for you is so important especially filled with support, encouragement, and hope. It is not easy when one is feeling downtrodden with low self- esteem. Being empathetic is important, as it is meant to be with sincerity and truthful. A person needs to feel respected, honored and listened to. How special it could be if we could for even a little bit raise his/her self- esteem and self- worth. To share the value and the essence of emunah, faith and hope. We could say what a mitzva it was.
Thank you. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank
Rabbi Simcha Silverman Director of Spiritual Services for Lenox Hill Hospital and member of RAA Chaplaincy Commission is announcing “Active Shooter Training for the Jewish Community” Please see the informational flyer below and for registration.