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Between the Straits: Accepting Our Pain

We have just entered the period in the Jewish calendar known as ‘Bein Hametzarim’ (“Between the Straits”), a time of intense mourning which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, as well as a series of other catastrophic events that afflicted the Jewish people during this time in previous generations. This three-week period of mourning begins with the fast of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz and culminates with the fast of Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish year. Over the course of the three weeks, we reinforce our cultivate an environment of sadness by refraining from partaking in joy-inducing behaviors such as eating meat, wearing freshly laundered clothing, and bathing in warm water.


When considering the theme of this period, one might wonder, what exactly are we accomplishing? Each Jewish holiday typically represents a unique theme. For example, Pesach embodies the theme of freedom and Sukkos is a time of joy. What place does the sadness of Bein Hametzarim have in the wheelhouse of the Jewish calendar?

Clinical psychologist Steven Hayes is perhaps most famous for his development of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which has become a widely researched and accepted psychological intervention. Hayes differentiates his ACT from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in that CBT focuses on being able to distance oneself from their thoughts and beliefs, while the goal of ACT is for one to accept their thoughts and beliefs.[1]

Through acceptance and the appropriate channeling of seemingly negative thought patterns, we can turn painful experiences into valuable life skills.

In the words of Hayes himself, “the gift we receive when we choose to accept our experience, pain and all, is the wisdom of being able to feel and remember fully in the present, without disappearing into a negative thought network about the past.”[2] This acceptance breeds a vital tool for thriving in life that Hayes calls psychological flexibility.


Rabbi Leib Mitzberg[3] develops a similar thesis based upon the Zohar, “since all words and matters of the worlds are found in the Torah, therefore God looked into the Torah and created the world.”[4] Since the Torah serves as the blueprint for all of creation, everything that is found in creation is informed and instructed by the Torah. The yearly cycle of Jewish holidays is essentially an instruction manual for how to accept and express the spectrum of emotions that we experience as humans, ranging from pure joy all the way to the ultimate sadness.

Bein Hametzarim is the time when we are instructed not to distance ourselves from pain and suffering, but rather to accept it. By embracing the national suffering of the Jewish people, we learn how to grow as a community and work towards our ultimate destiny.

We can also use this time to embrace our personal struggles and suffering to propel forward as individuals. The sad months of Bein Hametzarim can serve as an impactful time for introspection on how we can foster psychological flexibility. It might be time to embrace the painful experiences of addiction and channel them towards more meaningful relationships, a deeper understanding of self, and eventually the willingness to help others who are struggling with the same pain. The practices of mourning that we exhibit during Bein Hametzarim are more than just centuries old customs; they are powerful reminders that the pain we feel is real, and if expressed in the appropriate way, it can be a tool for us to reach new heights and goals.


As someone who lived with a sibling suffering from addiction, there have been plenty of painful experiences in my life. It took time to come to terms with them (and it is important to note that sometimes we re-process emotions at different points in our lives), but I have made it a goal of accepting those painful memories.

Instead of ruminating about the past, I strive to use these experiences as a springboard into my future. The pain of my sister’s disease has gifted me with the tools to be a more effective therapist, a more empathic friend, and a more loving sibling.

Over the course of Bein Hameitzarim, let us each try to take just one painful experience from our lives and approach it with a new degree of acceptance. Through this exercise, we can cultivate greater psychological flexibility and healthily integrate sadness into our lives.

 

[1] Zettle, R. D., & Hayes, S. C. (2015). Rule-governed Behavior: A Potential Theoretical Framework for Cognitive-behavioral Therapy. In The Act in Context (pp. 33-63). Routledge.

[2] Hayes, S. C. (2020). A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters. Avery.

[3] Introduction to Ben Melech on Bein Hametzarim

[4] Zohar, Part II 161a

 

Gavriel Forman earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Lander College for Men in Queens, NY. Subsequently, he stayed for three years of learning in their Beis Medrash program, concurrently pursuing Semicha and his master’s degree in social work from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He has two years experience as a high school social worker and interned at Archstone Behavioral Health addiction treatment center. He is currently living in Boca Raton, pursuing an LCSW.

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