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Alleviating Anguish Caused by Death

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A significant component of the distress that is experienced when one loses a loved one is the feeling of outrage over the perceived injustice of this death.
An important component in the Jewish response to death is the appreciation that death is not the absolute, all annihilating force we perceive it to be.
We are physical beings and therefore tend to think of everything in purely physical terms.  In physical terms, death indeed seems absolute and all annihilating.  According to Judaism, however, the physical reality is just one aspect of a far greater reality.  We are not just physical bodies.  We are also - and primarily - souls, whose existence precedes and supersedes the physical state.
In Biblical times it was customary in certain pagan societies to cut and wound oneself and to tear out the hair in front of one’s head as signs of mourning. However the Torah tells us in Deuteronomy 14:1 “You are children of G-d; you shall not gash yourselves, nor shall you make any baldness between your eyes for the dead”.

Rabbi Yosef Albo, the author of ‘Ikarim’ (a major work of Jewish philosophy) explains this verse as follows:
“Because you are children of G-d and a holy and treasured people, it is not fitting that you mourn death excessively.  For that would indicate that you believe that the deceased is hopelessly gone, and you are therefore mourning them as you would an earthen pot that is shattered beyond repair….” 
Our souls which are spiritual are immune to the forces that determinate the physical.  Death might spell the end of our physical existence, but our spiritual self - our soul - lives on and is not diminished by death.  On the contrary, death frees the soul from the limitations and constraints of the physical state, allowing for a deeper and infinitely more gratifying spiritual life. If we can learn to integrate this belief, our perception of the loss of a loved one is radically changed.

Coping with the Pain of Loss

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Perhaps the greatest challenge to our happiness is suffering the loss of a loved one.

For many, it is a devastating experience.  Some people are never the same again.  Others recover only after years of melancholy and depression.

Before we discuss the unique Jewish framework and tools that the Torah provides to aid us in coping with loss, we will first look at some commonly reported human responses to traumatic loss.
The Five Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, PhD, On Death and Dying.

1.       Denial
Because the reality of loss is hard to face, one of the first reactions is the attempt to shut it out and to develop a false, preferable reality.
2.       Anger
The person is overcome by a sense of anger.  They are plagued by questions such as “Why me?” and “How could G-d allow this to happen?”
3.       Bargaining
The person makes all sorts of “bargains’ with themselves or with a Higher Power, in the hope that this can somehow undo the cause of grief.
4.       Depression
As the reality of what has occurred sinks in, depression takes hold.  ‘My life is over,” “There is no point of going on; why bother with anything”. The person withdraws into a lonely, paralyzing grief.
5.       Acceptance
The person comes to terms with the tragedy, accepts the new reality, and regains emotional equilibrium.
Kubler-Ross emphasizes that these stages are not a strictly linear process.  Not everyone experiences all five stages or experiences them in the same way.  Nor does everyone experience them in this particular order.  But on a whole, these are the common emotional responses to a devastating loss.
Be sure to join us next week as we examine the faith based approach to dealing with the death of a loved one.

For an under 2 minute audio version click here  

Anger Management in significant Relationships

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The following post pertains particularly to spouse relationships.

The Talmud states: “People do not see their own faults.”

The simple understanding of this reading is that people tend to justify and excuse their own bad behavior. 

To this, the Tzemach Tzedek (the third leader of the Chabad movement) adds a deeper layer of understanding:
“People do not see their own faults” does not mean that people are literally unaware of their own faults. Rather, the intent of the statement is that one’s own fault is not consequential enough to upset one’s equanimity.  It is as if the faults are invisible, for they are covered with a layer of self-love.  Though intellectually aware of the deficiencies, the knowledge does not evoke an emotional response, nor does it cause undue concern.

When we fail in a certain area, we do not define ourselves based on that fault or character flaw.  This is due to the self-love that every person harbors for his or her self. 

This self-love is so strong that many of us, aware of certain things that we did, accept these faults of our own with relative equanimity. Yet if we knew that others did the same thing we’d be repulsed, judge them harshly and possibly terminate our relationship with them.

Husband and wife’s attitudes toward each other’s flaws should mirror the attitude one has when dealing with personal difficulties and flaws.  If we view our spouses as ourselves, then faults of the spouse and problems in the marriage become one’s own problem.

Practically this means that when ones spouse messes up – whether inadvertently or intentionally – we don’t judge.  We understand that this is simply a personal challenge that must be addressed and overcome.
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