Faith is supposed to give us peace of mind.

These times of “natural” disasters and man-made violence challenge our emunah — our faith — to be sure.

To have faith means to maintain some degree of inner peace and joy in the midst of it all.

We have a choice, of course: We can choose worry or anger or bitterness or sadness. But if we do, we should remember that these are choices. They’re not absolutely mandated by circumstances.

It comes back to that “Torah” of psychotherapy: We can’t always choose the event, but we can always choose our reaction(s) to it.  That’s a law — both psychological and spiritual.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” [1]

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, a writer and counselor, says the same thing about “happiness”:

“We ourselves choose to think those thoughts which promote our happiness or those with which we make our lives miserable.” [2]

Much of the teaching of Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, z”l, is based on the same idea:

“First comes our decision to say ‘Yes’ to life and ‘No’ to strife. Then, ‘choice’ is ‘freedom’. We decide in our thoughts and feelings which way we walk. It is the one area where we are in total command.” [3]

He quotes George Eliot [4] on the same page:

“The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.”

An endless number of similar comments are easily found.

Yet — Is “choosing” really so simple?

Not at all.

To “choose” peacefulness means to be willing to counteract the habitual “voices” that cry out in our minds for expression and a redress of grievances.

Can we blame those who, more than two months after Hurricane Sandy, are angered at still not being helped sufficiently by the very governments (city, state and federal) who are supposed to protect and support them (and who never fail to collect taxes to do so)?

Their frustration and sense of injustice have a clearly rational basis.

Human nature — the “voices” in us — demand satisfaction. The longer the delay, the louder the voices.

The spiritual question for them — and us — is: Do worry and rage serve any useful function? Do they help make a bad situation better?

The answer, of course, is “No.”

Although expressing the angry feeling may give some momentary relief, the overall effect of the anger is to intensify the profound upset that’s already there because of the circumstances.

Do grief or fury soften the emotions after the shootings of small children and adults in Newtown, CT, less than a month ago?

No.

We can’t expect people, so soon after it happened, to “take it in stride.” Really, we can’t expect them ever to do so.

But we have choices, even in grief:

“What is the difference between ‘mourning’ and ‘sadness’? Mourning takes hold of one’s heart, but not one’s mind, while sadness takes hold of the mind. Mourning leads to thinking, while sadness stops one’s thoughts. Mourning stems from the light of one’s soul, while sadness comes from the darkness of the soul. Mourning arouses one to life, while sadness brings [one] to the opposite. ” [5]

So, regardless of the outer circumstances, we have at least some degree of choice over our reaction.

The question is always: What response is best for us?
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[1] Frankl, Victor; Man’s Search for Meaning

[2] Pliskin, Rabbi Zelig; Gateway to Happiness; ch. 3, sec. 1, par. B

[3] Gelberman, Rabbi Joseph and Dorothy Kobak, Ph.D.; Spiritual Truths; p. 29

[4] Mary Anne (alternatively Mary Ann or Marian) Evans (November 22, 1819 – December 22, 1880)

[5] Pliskin, Rabbi Zelig; Gateway to Happiness; p. 364; ch. 19, sec. 1 (quoting Ahavas Maishorim, p. 185)