Who can’t remember where they were on September 11th, 2001? The unprecedented terrorist attacks on American soil changed the psyche of the American people forever. Whether or not we officially meet the diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, many of us may feel a heightened sense of anxiety while flying, or attending large public gatherings that we may think to be ideal targets for a terrorist attack. In some ways the terrorists have won, because they have accomplished part of their mission of having us live in constant terror.

While we are at war with a physical enemy out to destroy Western civilization and we should not ignore the threat, we must not let them win the battle against our souls. Failure to heal from this or any other trauma is devastating, not only personally, but to all of our relationships. While on the surface level there may be real sources of conflict in our relationships, I have found that most of the underlying issues are past traumas. Whether it be childhood experiences or previous marriages, if these past issues are not dealt with effectively, they unconsciously lead us to self-destructive behavior in our relationships.

The Talmud (Yoma 75a) records a debate about the meaning of the verse in Proverbs (12:25), “If there is a worry in one’s heart, let him cast it down.” The dispute centers around the correct interpretation of “let him cast it down,” or yashchenah in Hebrew. While we are at war with a physical enemy out to destroy Western civilization and we should not ignore the threat, we must not let them win the battle against our souls. Rav Ami says that one who is worried should remove the worry from his mind, yaschenah mida’ato; Rav Ashi differs and says he should share his concerns with others, yesichenah l’acher. The chassidic master Rabbi Asher of Stolin added another layer to this discussion. He said that if one has a worry in his heart, he should remove it through prayer, as yashchenah is related to the Hebrew word sichah, which is also synonymous with prayer. While there are many ways to clinically deal with anxiety, here are three approaches of dealing with trauma.


The first approach is to distract oneself by not thinking about it. While in the long run this is probably not the most productive approach, it can help deal with the constant overwhelm. Sometimes we need to stop focusing on the traumatic experience and live life, otherwise we will be paralyzed. The brutal murder this summer of the young boy in Borough Park, Leiby Kletsky, horrified so many of us. I remember spending days, if not weeks, reading the latest updates about the story. It got to a point where I realized I was re-exposing myself to the trauma. While I am not suggesting we ignore this horrible tragedy, I do think it is unnecessary and unproductive to bombard ourselves with up-to-the-minute updates of horrifying negative stimuli. This is one of the blessings of being able to forget, at least on a conscious level. If we would remember every negative experience we had, we would have a difficult time moving forward.


The second approach is to discuss one’s worries or the traumatic experience. Those who choose not to talk about such matters often do themselves and their loved ones a disservice. History has not always been so kind to the Jewish people. Even those of us whose parents or grandparents did not experience the Holocaust, need go back a few more generations to find immigrants escaping pogroms, forced service in the Russian army, etc. Many of them did not share a word about their experiences. While many thrived, others left a legacy of unspoken pain, depression, and anger. We cannot fault them, nor possibly fathom what they went through. What we can learn is that without the ability to process our feelings, we often live a life of inner turmoil. These unprocessed feelings, which sometimes manifest themselves in unhealthy behaviors, create an unwanted legacy. Couples whose parents were Holocaust survivors may carry with them the baggage of their parents’ trauma that was never dealt with. I have witnessed the effect that it has had on these marriages, and it gets passed on throughout the generations until one couple decides to break the chain and become conscious.

There is something very healing about sharing our story. In fact, the Passover Seder shows the importance of sharing our experiences, even the bitter ones. When we tell our story in a way in which we truly feel heard and validated, it can have a tremendously healing effect. Sometimes all we need is to be heard.


The power of prayer enables us to realize that we are ultimately not in control. If we put our faith in G‑d, it can be a pleasant relief. Prayer gives us an opportunity to verbalize our pain. King David writes in Psalms (55:23), “Cast your burden on G‑d and He will provide for you.” Dr Viktor Frankl’s experience of and survival in concentration camps led him to observe in his book Man's Search for Meaning that spirituality actually improved the chance of survival. Spirituality allows one’s thought to transcend the ills of this world. It enables us to sanctify the mundane and find meaning in everything we do. Finally, it allows us to move forward through life even when things do not make sense. Prayer is an expression of our dependence on G‑d, and consequently our faith in Him. Even if we have no other outlet for our hurt, He is always available to listen.

When we tell our story in a way in which we truly feel heard and validated, it can have a tremendously healing effect.

These three approaches are not mutually exclusive, and can be integrated to help us cope with the anxiety and worry we may be experiencing from past traumas. While it is extremely important to discuss our feelings, there may be times when we want to distract ourselves so that we can function. Prayer can complement these tactics, as it can provide comfort that G‑d is ultimately in control and will help us get through these hard times. As we are encountered with the various stressors of our lives, may we learn how to empower ourselves, so that we can effectively deal with them and not let them harm ourselves and our relationships.