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We cannot allow ourselves to be defined by feelings, or by medical matters. We may have them, but we are not them. So next time someone asks you, "how do you feel?" say not "I am so and so." Rather, say, "I have so and so."

Rabbi Allouche

“I am bipolar.”

“I am hyperactive.”

I am meshuga.”

These are sentences that are usually said by people who suffer from psychological disorders to explain to the world who they are. But do psychological disorders really define who we are? If a person is mentally sick, does it make his entire being sick? 

What is even more astonishing is that when we speak of bodily diseases we use the words, “I have.” For example, “I have a cold.” Or, “I have a toothache.” Or, “I have a broken ankle.” But when it comes to psychological evaluations, we employ the words, “I am,” as if they define us much more than our bodily issues!

When G-d asks Moses, in this week’s portion, to assume the mantle of leadership and redeem his people from slavery, Moses objects, by responding to G-d: “How can I expect Pharaoh to listen to me, as I am a stutterer (- in Hebrew, “Va-ani Aral Sefatayim”.) Yet, surprisingly, G-d ignores Moses’ claim. G-d does not say a word about Moses being a “stutterer.” Instead, “G-d commanded Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.”

The lesson is powerful: we can’t allow ourselves to be defined by any of our sicknesses, including mental ones. G-d ignored Moses’ claim that “I am a stutterer,” because G-d does not believe in claims that aim to limit our “I am,” our┬ásoul and its endless potential, into self-made, mental prisons. We may stutter, but we are not stutterers. We might possess a disease, but we are not the disease. A part of our body or mind may have been diagnosed as feeble or unhealthy, but our deepest core remains good, pure, Divine, and yes, limitless.

A few years ago, our community, Congregation Beth Tefillah, had the great privilege of hosting Rachelle Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali Fraenkel of blessed memory, who was kidnapped and murdered in Israel in the summer of 2014, along with two of his friends, Gilad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach.

During my interview with Rachelle, I asked her: “Rachelli, how do you deal with the unfathomable pain of losing a child? How can you still smile?” Her answer will forever stay with me: “I won’t sit here and lie to you that I do not feel pain and sadness. But although I feel pain, I refuse to become my pain, and although I feel sadness, I refuse to become my sadness.”

It is thus time for a drastic shift of perspective and a linguistic revolution. We cannot allow ourselves to be defined by feelings, or by medical matters. We may have them, but we are not them. So next time someone asks you, “how do you feel?” say not “I am so and so.” Rather, say, “I have so and so.”

For deep within us, there is a heavenly soul that is not limited by that which we feel or possess. In the words of the morning prayer that we recite every day shortly after we wake up: “My G-d, the soul that You have given me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me…”