Three times this week, I’ve heard the mis-association of Jews and worrying, all meant more or less jokingly.

      I’m not sure when this idea began. My guess is that it was with Woody Allen’s humor (if I’m wrong, please correct me). At the time (late ‘50’s or early ‘60’s), just admitting publicly that you’re Jewish was somewhat radical. It took courage for him to do that, although perhaps Lenny Bruce had opened the door for this before him. Even years later, it was still one of Woody’s themes: Remember the dinner-table scene in “Annie Hall,” when he humorously depicts his paranoia that everyone is looking at him as a “Jew” – and a particularly Hasidic one, at that?

     I like a good laugh as much as anyone.

     But when someone says, “I’m Jewish, so I must be anxious” – it’s time to question whether we might have mistaken Woody’s paranoia for an actual fact about ourselves as Jews.

     Do we, as human beings, have a tendency to worry? Yes – some even more than others. We shouldn’t condemn the feeling, nor condemn ourselves for having it. It can be a difficult problem; one that should be handled delicately and compassionately.

     But should we understand it as a condition that Judaism teaches – even encourages?  No.

     Far from encouraging “worry,” Judaism teaches just the opposite: our goal is peace of mind, especially the kind of peace that emunah/faith can give us.

     Someone could write a doctoral thesis on this. For now, I offer a small sampling of quotations from traditional teachers, books, and commentaries:

     “Worry [Heb: דאגה] in the heart bows it down…” [1

     Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush b. Michel Weiser) commented on this verse:

     “Anxiety is one of the most destructive feelings a man [or woman] can experience.” [2] 

     “Don’t worry about what might possibly go wrong tomorrow…” [3]

     “Fear of misfortune [worrying] is worse than misfortune [alone].” [4]
     ** The original Yiddish might have been: דער עינוי־הדין איז ערגער װי דער דין אַלײן     

       “It is not in accordance with the spirit of the Torah to worry and feel anguish throughout one’s life…Judaism never considered pain, sorrow, self-affliction or sadness to be valid goals. The opposite is true: One should pursue happiness, bliss, cheer, joy, and delight…” [5]

     “…what is most important is that you do not worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow will take care of itself. Today is the day — the only day!” [6]

     This mere sampling of “negative” statements on “worry” — “negative,” because they state what not to do; this is not a goal; it’s not to be accepted as a “normal” state — gives a more accurate picture of the “Jewish” attitude towards “worry,” than an assumption, however humorous, that “it’s normal for a Jew to worry.” 

      Positive statements about how we can handle worry — physical relaxation, musar, cognitive changes, meditation, emunah/faith, etc. — will be the subject of future posts. 

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[1] Mishley/Proverbs 12:25
[2] Wengrov, Rabbi Charles; Malbim on Mishley [Proverbs]; Feldheim; p. 127
[3] Talmud; Sanhedrin 100b
[4] quoted in: Pliskin, Rabbi Zelig; Gateway to Happiness; p. 155
(The section on “Worry” in this book contains many quotations on the theme of “worrying.” I highly recommend it.) Yiddish translation from: Kumove, Shirley; Words Like Arrows: A Treasury of Yiddish Folk Sayings; Warner Books, 1986; p. 91 
[5] http://ohr.edu/this_week/ask_the_rabbi/1149
[6] Gelberman, Rabbi Joseph; Physician of the Soul; p. 21