From Victim to Victor – Parshat Emor
There are certain truths that people generally agree to. "Suffering and death are inescapable realities of life," writes Dr. Teria Shantall in her book on Holocaust survivors.1 Or as Ben Franklin famously said, "in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."2 That seems to be the accepted fact that bad news and suffering are an inevitable part of our lives. I mention this not in order to put people in a dark mood but rather to look at this and figure out together how we live with this information. After all, it is not pre-determined how people will react to suffering.
We may be very understanding of people who went through a difficult period and then fall into depression, passive-aggressive or antisocial behavior, or a general sense of victimhood. It is legitimate, to a degree. We can understand all of that. But is that how we strive to deal with strife? Is that where we would want to be? How have we handled stress in our own lives? Successfully? Perhaps less than successfully?
This week's parsha, Parshat Emor describes a situation in which an individual who, when dealt with some bad news, lashed out to an extreme.3 There are many different opinions as to what caused this outburst. I will just quote the opinion of Rashi who explains that this individual received a judgment against him and then felt justified in this public display of anger and uncontrolled rage. His behavior may be understandable. Would we say it is exemplary? Is this behavior we would want people to emulate?
We have all experienced bad news. As we say, stuff happens. Is this the person we wish to hold up as a guide to dealing positively with frustration, sickness or death? We have all been victims of fate at some point in our lives. What gave us the strength to move on?
Different people have different strengths that they rely on. In the aforementioned book by Dr. Shantall, she discusses the paths that a number of Holocaust survivors took in rebuilding their lives after the Holocaust. For each it was different. Dr. Viktor Frankl, himself a Holocaust survivor, discusses his own dreams as the motivation that helped him through his struggles after the war to rebuild his life. He could have been filled with anger, bitterness and rage and would have been understood. He chose a different path. He speaks of all humans as having a defiant power of the human spirit which gives us the power to fight for our future. I don’t know where he found the strength to move on and rebuild his life. But he did. Thankfully. He wrote the book Man's Search for Meaning, a perennial bestseller and on the list of the Library of Congress as one the 100 most influential books in the 20th century. He went on to teach and spread the study of logotherapy, the third Viennese school of psychotherapy. He became, as his name suggests, a victor in his struggle to rebuild his life which was destroyed during the Holocaust.5
We all have that ability to move from victim to victor. Some more than others. Which would we prefer to be? Would we want to remain chronic victims, lamenting our difficulties, bathing in being victims of fate and wallowing in self-pity? Or would we want to learn to move forward from our suffering and victimhood towards what our destiny is, possibly even using what we've learned from our difficulties? Victim or victor? Though it sounds simple, it is not an easy choice. But it can be done.
We can move from victim to victor. It is an empowering choice that we can make.
Have A Great Shabbat!