OVERWHELMED – Parshat Vaeira
Being overwhelmed is not pleasant. I have experienced it - even recently. This feeling of something being too big for me to handle is, among other things, scary, full of anxiety, fear of the unknown, and feeling crushed by the weight of the situation while simultaneously wanting to explode. It can even feel threatening.
It was with surprise though that this year I finally began to understand the following episode. Moshe came to Bnei Yisrael, as is told at the beginning of Parshat Vaeira, and told them about the Exodus. Yet they were unable to listen to him due to "a shortness of spirit and hard work."1 Excuse me? This was the most exciting news they could have heard! Hellooo! But they were unable to hear the message. They were too overwhelmed. To make it even worse, this was already the second time they heard this message. At the end of last week's parsha, Moshe and Aharon pronounced the forthcoming Exodus and the whole nation got excited…and then what happened? The situation got worse. The people have heard this message of Moshe before and don’t have patience for this. Note, that it doesn’t say the people didn’t believe him, rather that they didn’t listen. And it wasn’t just because of the difficult workload – it was also "shortness of spirit".2 It was simply too much for them at that point to pay attention to Moshe or his message.
I have been trying to figure out what to do with this topic, even feeling slightly overwhelmed by the task at hand. What can I say to one who is presently overwhelmed? I don’t wish to be one who hands out simple cliché-filled advice – 'get over it', 'what are you so worked up about' and 'don't worry'. While writing this blog, I have asked myself questions like: What does one do with this? How does one overcome being overwhelmed? Should we even try? After all, we are not truly in control of the situation. In addition to being overwhelmed and the accompanying stress and the enormity of the situation, it also derails us from our path. We then recognize that in addition to feeling overwhelmed we may experience a sense of being lost, not quite where we should be.
It is a tricky thing and there is no single formula that will be appropriate for every single situation. I cannot even promise that things will improve. No one can.
General advice such as: Being patient, listening to your voice, getting some perspective and talking with a friend may help. Ignoring it is another option though that is just a temporary, and sometimes irresponsible method. The solution may depend on many things – the urgency of the matter, the support system in place, the ability to actually perform these tasks and of course the intensity of the feeling.
Trying to change the situation is a natural reaction as well and may have positive results. Together with that, there is not always the option of controlling it or making a change in the situation. In some ways a new reality has been created and we don’t know when it will end.
Many professionals have noted that when we give up the need for control of our situations, we are able to see other options more clearly. There is always, says Dr. Viktor Frankl, a range of free choice that we have in every situation.3 He and others have even described surrendering to the situation as being an available and even advised path and after having done so you will be able to function within the situation.
In short, it is not pleasant, it is not under control and it isn’t known how long it will last. Interestingly, the Torah never tells us when Bnei Yisrael came around to appreciate the positive change in their servitude. Perhaps everyone had his own path and pace at which he learned how to deal with this reality. And maybe we too each have our own special way of functioning in a reality that can feel overwhelming. Whatever path you choose, let it be one that is right for you.
L'ilui nishmat Michael ben Binyamin, z"l
L'ilui nishmat imi morati Hentcha Leah bat Yitzchak Lipa, hk"m
Have A Great Shabbat!