Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Parshat Shoftim, 5770

Let us speak in praise of anxiety.
It’s practically its own Jewish value, considering how prevalent it is in the psychology of most Jews, and we’ve devised a thousand stratagems, pharmacological or otherwise, to manage it so that it does not overwhelm our lives. The paralysis it can bring is real and not to be underestimated.

But for a moment, let us talk about its worth: for the pure root of anxiety is concern, and the ability to be concerned is the root of a mature morality. According to the psychologist Eric Fromm, the ability to be concerned for the needs of others and the needs of one’s own self is the very definition of psychological health. When one adds God’s needs into the equation, we call such a person a tzaddik – a righteous one; we have no greater praise.

In the midst of a completely tangential issue, the Talmud teaches an extraordinary phrase, “Our rabbis were anxious for the requirement of the daughters of Israel…” (Ketubot 2b) In this instance, our teachers chose to make law based on the needs of others – they gave in to holy anxiety.

May the Holy One bless us to direct our sometimes overflowing anxiety. May it find its home in concern for real needs: our needs; others’ needs; the needs of this world; what God needs of us.  And may pharmacology, not excepting that it is rather helpful at times of true exasperation, never replace for us the gift of concern.

1 comment:

  1. I am going to start thinking of my anxiety as "holy anxiety." Maybe that will help...