“I’m so scared! I can’t go back there. The yetzer hara will get me!”
Rabbi Efraim Stauber
Acclaimed lecturer and educator, passionate about making spirituality relevant, maintains a counseling practice.
Dumbstruck? Not often. I like to talk too much for that. Silence isn’t my thing. But I remember a moment so powerful it felt as if the air had become too thick to breathe and goosebumps ran up my spine.
I was counseling Chaim and Shira*, a couple in their early 30s. Shira came from a difficult background, and her brother, who’d been through far too many schools and was now treating life as one long party, was coming to one of the alternative yeshivos in Yerushalyim. Shira was eager to open up their home to him, to let him come whenever, and bring whomever he wanted.
But Chaim was adamantly opposed. He didn’t want Shira’s brother in their house at all, claiming it would be a bad influence on the kids. His wife was aghast and deeply hurt.
The couple came for multiple sessions about this issue, and we attempted a variety of approaches to broker some sort of meeting of the minds, but Chaim seemed resistant and unmovable.
Then, during one session, something about the way his wife’s pain and sense of abandonment unfolded in front of him shook Chaim. A wall suddenly fell down. In this flash of a moment, his affect changed drastically, and a scared, almost childlike voice escaped from inside him. “I’m so scared! I can’t go back there. The yetzer hara will get me!” he said.
Shira and I exchanged shocked looks. Neither of us had seen this coming, nor had the slightest idea what he was referring to.
It was clear to me that he’d been triggered by some past experience. “When did you learn of this danger?” I asked Chaim gently. “How old do you feel right now?”
Sure enough, Chaim was having a flashback to his teenage years, a dramatic moment when he was faced with an existential threat from his yetzer hara.
Back when he was a teen, Chaim had had a brief period of rebellion, so brief that most people didn’t even know it happened. Bad friends, parties, the fast life. Fortunately, he was shaken by what he saw there, and late one night, decided that he’d bury himself in learning and stay far, far away from anyone who may tempt him to do the things he never wanted to do again.
Now, he was terrified that this brother-in-law — who is very charismatic and funny — would pull either him or his children back into that world, and he wanted to lock him out of their lives entirely.
I watched in amazement as this courageous man faced his deepest fears in front of his wife and therapist. He was simultaneously braving the shame of admitting his weakness and risking losing his only proven line of defense.
But the best was yet to come.
“Why now?” I asked Chaim. “What happened right now that brought you to this place?”
Chaim’s answer was simple yet deeply moving. Seeing his wife’s pain, he explained, brought him to realize that his fear was causing him to reject not only his brother-in-law, but also his own wife.
He wiped his face and announced, “I’m ready. I’m ready to do whatever it takes, even face the scariest part of myself, the part that was once that party guy — and, in some distant way, still longs for it — for Shira. I’m ready to open my home and my heart to my brother-in-law.”
As I witnessed his raw struggle and authentic courage, time slowed down. I knew I was in the presence of greatness. Moments of genuine struggle, stretching, and growth are of the most rare and beautiful experiences that life has to offer.
It was too much for me; I felt the temperature rising in my face, and the tears coming. Overcome with awe and emotion, I mutely put my hand on his in silent salute.
*Names and details have been changed
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 760)
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