Torah Musings: Snap or Stretch? Dealing With Life’s Challenges


Snap or Stretch? Dealing With Life’s Challenges

Sarah Pachter

After a recent lecture of mine, a woman in her early sixties approached me. She was in great shape, so I was quite caught off-guard by her statement. “You know, Sarah, I feel like the older I get, the less resilient I become. It’s not just that my body isn’t capable of what it once was. I look back on my life and think, how did I manage to do that? I don’t want to take the same risks because I can’t bounce back the way I used to.”

I realized at that moment that resilience is not exclusive to a certain age bracket, and can present a challenge at any point in one’s life. I’ll never forget when a young professional shared the following sentiment with me: “Things are so chaotic right now. I feel like my string is being pulled in so many different directions, I’m just going to break.”

We all get overwhelmed at times and feel as though we may snap. If only we could visualize ourselves as a rubber band instead of a string, able to stretch instead of snap when life challenges present themselves!

Resilience is something we often view as a specific trait that we were either born with or not. As in, “Oh well, I didn’t get blue eyes,” or “Darn, I didn’t get the bouncing back trait; it must be recessive…” However, a study performed by the American Psychological Association in 2006 actually showed that resilience is not something that you either have or don’t. It can be developed within anyone.

Within my own research, I have discovered a fascinating insight. No matter what country, or what year the study was performed, I found a pattern that kept resurfacing. The same four tools to acquire resilience kept popping up.

I developed an acronym to help remember these techniques: BAND (yes, as in a rubber band). We don’t want to view ourselves as a string with limited flexibility, but rather a rubber band that can stretch itself when faced with stress.

  1. Bouncing back. This is about never giving up. It is having the tenacity to get up and keep pushing through, even when things get tough.
  2. Allowing the Almighty into one’s life. Of course, this tool is repeatedly mentioned in the Torah, but I was surprised to find that almost all of the secular literature on the matter wrote that recognizing a higher power was a huge part of developing resilience in everyday life.
  3. Nimbleness – the ability to be flexible. This is the willingness to go with the flow and change ourselves and our plans when curve balls come our way.
  4. Drive, determination, and desire. Perhaps this is the glue that keeps everything together. Ratzon, desire, is the fuel to it all, for nothing can stand in the way one’s desire.

I had an experience that opened my eyes to the comfort of bringing Hashem into the picture. I was expecting a child, and anxiously waiting as the doctor was performing the very first ultrasound. She discovered a healthy heartbeat, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But my feelings were short-lived, as she discovered a blood clot close to the baby. My heart fell as I asked her what all this meant.

She said, “Well, yours is small. I once saw a patient with a huge clot, and I thought, ‘This baby isn’t going to live.’ But sure enough, she had a full-term, healthy baby, so anything is possible.”

It doesn’t matter how small the risk is, when dealing with pregnancy, statements like my doctor’s are bound to create some uncertainty. I thought about Miriam in the Torah, who epitomized resilience when she sang out to G-d, despite her suffering. Additionally, I remembered seeing a teacher of mine, Mrs. Aviva Finer, singing Hashem’s praises despite discovering her child had a rare congenital disease. In that moment, I gathered my strength and prayed, “G-d, I’m no Aviva Finer, and I’m certainly no Miriam. But I’m going to try this thing called resilience. I will turn to you, despite my fear. Right now, I’m uncertain, but this is my song to you because I know, deep in my heart, that you know what’s best.” After turning towards G-d in that way, I was able to continue my day with a calmness I didn’t previously feel.

Faith is a tool to achieve resilience, but it also helps us simply become more flexible. The more faith we have, the more we are willing to bend ourselves to whatever life brings us.

Desire is similar, in that it is the fuel to achieve tenacity.

“The way in which a person wants to go, that is the way Hashem leads him (Maseches Makkos 10a).” My friend’s parents are from Iran, and they escaped the Revolution in 1982. They allowed me to interview them to uncover their chilling story. Her father was a prestigious surgeon living a very comfortable lifestyle. Then the Revolution began, and Jews were disappearing left and right. (Even today, people still do not know where their loved ones are.) Interestingly, her family had a last name that was not recognizably Jewish. Her father’s close friend, who was Muslim, warned him, “They discovered you are Jewish, and plan to come after you. You must leave immediately.”

Pretending they had no exit plan, the family escaped, in the middle of the night, via a motorcycle through the desert – each parent with a small child on their lap. They left everything behind. They walked 11 days at a time between checkpoints, going days without food. The water they were given was brown and mucky. At first they couldn’t let themselves touch it, but eventually succumbed, as they were dying of thirst. They endured experiences we cannot even fathom, yet they survived. I asked the family, “What gave you the courage to leave? How did you have the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other?”

They answered quite simply, “Because we wanted, more than anything else, for our children to have a better life.” We see this element of desire and determination as the story continues.

Her father arrived in America only to discover that his prestigious surgeon title in Iran was worthless here. He had to retake his exams several times, as he barely understood English. Finally, he passed and landed an interview for a medical residency. Although it was pouring rain, he walked 45 minutes in order to make it. He arrived at the hospital completely drenched. The interviewer asked, “What happened to you? Did you walk here or something?”

With a fire in his eyes, he responded, “I am desperate. I don’t have a car or even an umbrella, but I didn’t care. I walked. I need this position. Please don’t turn me away.”

The man saw the look of desire in his eyes, felt compassion for him, and sent him back in a cab. “Go home,” he said. “Get warm. I’ll let you know when you start.”

With every such story that I heard, the common thread among them was desire. Determination gives people the ability to keep pushing, but desire is the fuel to keep the spark of tenacity alive. The goals may always different, but drive is the common link between them all.

My friend’s family is the prime example of BAND. They were bound to succeed when they fled Iran and they put their trust in the Almighty when they left all of their possessions behind. The nimbleness they applied to their travels while being flexible with the uncomfortable and foreign circumstances they were put through is what kept them alive in their journey! And the drive and determination my friend’s father possessed to succeed is what got this family a steady income and their eventual U.S. residency.

This family’s circumstances were not ideal by any means, and they had every opportunity to give up, but with desire, tenacity, flexibility, and faith, they were able to bounce back from the nearly impossible.

Resilience is achievable for anyone. All you have to do it stretch.