Today’s daf (Yoma 75a) contains timeless advice for those with worries – as derived from a somewhat cryptic verse in Sefer Mishlei (Proverbs).
The verse, from Mishlei 12:25, states: “Worry in the heart of man ‘ישחנה – yashchena’, and a good word ‘ישמחנה – yesamchena” – and in terms of the second word ‘ישמחנה’, this clearly means ‘will bring joy to it’. However, as evident from a discussion between Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi in today’s daf, they were less sure about the meaning of ‘ישחנה’.
According to one opinion, it means to quash, and ideally, to ‘uproot the worry from the heart’ (based on the word יסח, meaning ‘uproot’), while another opinion is that it means to ‘discuss those worries with others’ (based on the word שיח, meaning ‘conversation’).
While there are times when rabbinic debates conclude with alternative answers to a question, many commentaries explains that these two interpretations are not mutually exclusive, and that if one is unsuccessful in the former, one should then adopt the latter. As Rabbi Zelig Pliskin explains, a person with worry should initially try and see if they can overcome their worries, and if they cannot, they should talk with someone. And even if that person is unable to make any practical suggestions, ‘the very fact someone is willing to listen to you can help alleviate painful feelings’ (Gateway to Happiness p. 167). Consequently, ‘a person who tends to worry should make every effort to find a trustworthy person in whom he or she can confide’ (ibid.).
In a similar spirit, Rav Avraham Pam would explain how, ‘every human being needs someone to listen to them sometimes, and some more often than others. The ability to listen can be a great chessed, and at times even a lifesaver’ (Rav Pam on Chumash pp. 213-314, based on Atara Lamelech pp. 23-24).
Yet notwithstanding the fact that communication has never been easier, there are still many people with many worries who don’t have someone in their life who is willing to listen to them and with whom they can discuss their worries with them. In fact, just yesterday I had a heartbreaking conversation with someone who lives in a large Jewish community outside of Israel who uses my spiritual coaching services and who is experiencing a number of challenges in their life. Yet as they proceeded to share their woes with me, they said – with great sadness in their voice – that they really don’t have anyone in their life with whom they are able to talk.
Personally, I often feel that we overemphasize marginal Jewish practices and underemphasize central Jewish teachings, and the fact that – today – a Jew with worries needs to connect with someone else thousands of miles away just to talk through their challenges highlights the fact that there is something seriously wrong in our communities.
Baruch Hashem, in many Jewish communities around the world we have trained Hatzalah volunteers who race to help those in physical need and who are able to help them receive further and more sophisticated services. But what is also needed in every community are Hatzalah volunteers who also race to listen to people in need and who can then help them access more sophisticated services. And why? Because, as Rav Pam says, ‘the ability to listen can be a great chessed, and at times even a lifesaver’.