By Dr. Bernie Kastner
The month of Nissan and the wonderfully inspiring Chag HaPesach is upon us, and so this is a natural opportunity to reinforce the concept of geulah as it relates to our personal freedom.
Human beings are complex. Predicting behavior is practically impossible given the myriad of variables in any one given situation. Leaning on history is also not totally reliable; we are all constantly changing. And if we are not, then those around us are.
How many times have you murmured to yourself, “I can’t figure that guy out.” Is it any wonder? Consistency at a rate of 100% is very difficult to achieve for us humans. Davening in a minyan three times a day for 365 days a year is certainly attainable, but many cannot keep pace due to a temporary illness or for reasons beyond one’s control. It doesn’t always take much to preclude maintaining such a high level of consistency.
I was recently asked if it is possible to predict dishonesty via an analysis of a handwriting sample. While it is possible to identify those whose characteristics portray dishonesty, an airtight case cannot be made. There are dishonest people who will also do acts of kindness and will be honest from time to time. Likewise, generally honest people, when faced with a particular challenge, may fall into a pit and act with dishonesty. We cannot know what will propel a human toward making a last-minute decision one way or the other.
In other words, we each carry with us a mixed bag of positive and negative traits. One’s propensity for good or evil will become evident based on how he or she acts. One may have a mean streak in him, but overall may be a nice guy. Similarly, someone could be generous with his charitable contributions, but it may only be extended to a few favorites.
What, then, should our approach be in our interpersonal relationships? How does dependability and reliability factor into the equation?
As a general rule, it is better to lower our expectations of others so that we do not become disappointed and overly critical. Recognizing a person’s abilities and limitations is another important factor. It is also true that we can control only ourselves. If we are able to accept that we each have our own destinies in this world, we would intervene into the lives of others much less. Moreover, and this is not easy to do for many, we must understand that not everyone can be a CEO of a company and earn the big bucks. In a previous 5TJT article, entitled “G‑d’s Orchard,” I mentioned that it is necessary for there to be all kinds of trees planted in G‑d’s beautiful mosaic garden down here on Earth. The effort and reward one gets for planting different kinds of trees vary by a wide margin. It does no good for one to be jealous of his neighbor who is earning more than him, because ultimately we each have our own (small) part to accomplish, and without those smaller parts, the bigger picture will not be complete.
True happiness comes with the recognition of taking pride in perfecting our own issues in our little corner of the world. Some of us will have more influence on others, some less. It is a noble undertaking to reach out to others to assist them with their challenges and vicissitudes. However, we have our own house to tend to. Just as an airline flight attendant will instruct the adult passengers to place their oxygen masks on first, and only then tend to their children, so too this should be our outlook with respect to preparing ourselves first and foremost.
My father, o.b.m., always encouraged me to enter a profession where you are in control of your own destiny; i.e., a job that you can do with your own hands. A storeowner with perishable goods will be at the mercy of his customers. Working for someone else comes with a risk of being fired for no good reason. I know that we can’t all be independent; the vast majority reading this may well be employed by somebody. We are not always in a position of power or control. But here’s the point: While this world goes round with certain levels of cooperation between people, and while we do in fact depend on others for many things, the bottom line in sustaining a healthy balance in life is putting oneself in a position to be as self-sufficient and non-judgmental of others as possible. Self-sufficient in the mental-health sense—in our attitude. As I mentioned earlier, this means to lower expectations, take things in stride, and have the ability to see the lighter side of life. Then there won’t likely be as much anxiety about what unpredictable steps someone else may next take. That, my dear friends, adds up to the purest form of personal freedom.
Our reaction to external stimuli can certainly dictate our state of mind. However, maintaining a sense of proportion in all that we do is a recipe for much smoother sailing in a world where the waves can often get quite choppy. v
Dr. Bernie Kastner is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Jerusalem. He is also the author of “Understanding the Afterlife in This Life” and “Masa El Haor.” His latest sefer, entitled “HaOlam She’acharei,” was published in Hebrew by Dani Sefarim and is available in major bookstore chains in Israel. Feel free to visit his website at drbkastner.com. Dr. Kastner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.