Escape Yesterday

God spare us from these things, but have you ever wondered how someone who apparently had everything to live for, took his or her own life?  A young woman recently qualified as a physician, with grueling years of training behind her and on the threshold of a promising career, throws herself off her hospital roof.  A father parks his car on the George Washington Bridge, races to the guardrail and leaps over it to drop two hundred feet into the Hudson River. It took three days to recover his body.

Neither of these two sad victims had exhibited any mental instability.  It goes without saying that both were dealing with what must have appeared to be insurmountable problems. As a result, each made a perfectly calm and rational decision to end it. Permanently.  These are just two of the cases that came across my radar screen recently.  Both these tragedies involved individuals who felt that their predicaments were beyond help.

Yet, I can’t help wondering, if overwhelming problems push one to such an extreme that this life is simply no longer worth living, why do so few people take the alternative of walking away and starting life all over again in a different place with different people, doing something different?  I am not advocating running away from life and its problems, but as the only alternative to taking your life, why not?   Something dramatic to be sure.  But not as dramatic as deliberately ending your life.

People do continue taking their lives because they are utterly incapable of envisaging some alternative for which it might be worth living.  The reason is similar to the reason for why so few of us manage to adhere to our New Year’s resolutions.

Ancient Jewish wisdom illustrates the point in this fashion.  In the year 135, the Roman emperor Hadrian determined to crush all Jewish independence, sent his armies to Israel. One of the last remaining Jewish outposts was the Betar fortress a few miles southwest of Jerusalem.  Every last defender was slaughtered and in a carefully crafted policy of demoralization, the remaining Jews in Israel were prohibited from burying the tens of thousands of bodies murdered in Betar.  I say carefully crafted because Roman tacticians knew of the tremendous importance Jews place on rapid burial.

The reason we bury as soon as possible after death, even if not all relatives have arrived, is because the most important two things are that the dead be returned to the earth with all haste just as God directed, and that the survivors return to living their normal productive and joyful lives as quickly as possible.  As long as the dead lie before them, survivors cannot even commence the process of mourning and returning to their lives.  The Romans were determined that the trauma of Betar would continue to inflict its damage for as long as possible. To this end, they refused to grant access to the bodies.  Naturally, as long as there was no burial at Betar, there was no way to move on and rebuild life.

Similarly, God directed that every Israelite who had known slavery in Egypt was to die in the desert prior to the arrival in Israel.  Individuals who had known slavery would never possess the ability to move on and help build a free and independent people.  It took forty years but by then, all of the two million or so male Israelites alive under Joshua had been born in the desert and not in Egypt.  They proved to be a formidable people.

Putting the past behind us and recognizing that the bad scripts playing on the subconscious tapes in our heads belong to yesterday is terribly difficult but indispensable to moving forward.

Perhaps we have come to believe that the way we behave with our family members, friends, or co-workers is somehow engraved into our DNA.  It isn’t!  It’s part of yesterday and we need to obliterate its tape running silently in our subconscious so it loses its ability to program our tomorrows.

Every fresh start depends upon obliterating yesterday’s anchor that prevents us moving on.  Someone so desperate that ending life seems like the only choice could move on if only he were able to push yesterday out of mind into utter irrelevance.  My January New Year resolution stands a chance of being observed if I can successfully obliterate my mental video-tape reminding me of the old me.

This is the point of Judaism’s Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, which ended for me here in Jerusalem a few hours ago.  We examined, in painful detail, our flaws and failures of the past year. Then finally after twenty five hours of fasting and excruciating self-evaluation, we joyfully exclaimed, “Next year in Jerusalem.”  The man standing next to me in synagogue exclaimed to me, “Well, we are in Jerusalem already, I don’t get it.”

I explained to him what I have just told you finishing off by revealing that Jerusalem doesn’t just mean a stone and mortar city.  It also means a bright, incandescent tomorrow.  And the only way to get there is to get rid of yesterday’s mental and spiritual impediments.

8 thoughts on “Escape Yesterday”

  1. I value your comments highly. They are always timely and relevant. Today is the sixth anniversary of my saintly mother’s death and I had to make a firm decision to move past grief and the memories of her final three months spent in the hospital. My mother was a Christian bible teacher and she had a genuine love for Israel and the Jewish culture. She has an extensive library of books, tapes, and replicas of Jewish artifacts here at home. One visiting nurse stated upon entering the home “I can see you have a real love for the Jewish people.” She did and I do. Please continue to share your insight with others.
    she did and I do.

  2. So True!!! This is inspiring, I needed to wipe a few tears. As long as there is air in your lungs, there is hope. Eleven years ago I suffered a terrible stroke that stole my ability to walk, use my left arm and think clearly. It seemed a gruesome life lay before me, similar to the way my dad died. I did not want to live, I begged God to slay me, in fact I was mad at Him for not letting me die. I railed at Him for two years until I had my “Job” moment. Now I want to see my grandchildren, of which we learned on Rosh Hoshanah that mission will begin on May 31st, 2017, WOOOOHOOOO. I walk again, my arm is much improved and I attend the University at Buffalo full time. I hunt and fish to my hearts content. I lived to see my Children grown. There is always hope. Thanks Rabbi and Rebitzen for this and all you do. I thank God for your soothing memorable voice that I hear when pondering “what would Rabbi Lapin say?”. I will share this.

  3. I Had a buddy in college who’s brother in his early 20s jumped of the second floor of the library at college, officials made it seem like he fell. The strangest thing the family was religious and he was training to be a dentist with perfect grades the nicest kid you could imagine. Thanks for the share rabbi i ate two gluten free pizzas yesterday so I wish to become more halakhically orthadox in my behavior this year. I made it until 10 o’clock am terrible I know. It seems I would get dizzy and pass out since I have no fat left on my body yet that could just be an excuse. We did study Torah and some nice teachings all day and we did not work. It seems like you must be accustom to fasting like this. You must have great control of the body with the mind I am still working on this part its been a life long battle as I’m sure you can imagine. I have many questions yet perhaps you can answer this slightly off topic one.

    1. I am interested in new reading material and that book “sayings of the fathers” seems quite interesting. A link to that would be great. 2. I have the digital babylonian Talmud yet I need to order a hard copy it seems as I dont trust digital content. Artscroll seems really nice. Really there are so many books perhaps you can just link me to another good one. Currently in Vayikra. I would love to get your opinions on different Torah portions regaurding the burnt offerings and hidden meanings.

    For all the readers here I highly recomend the spectacular bargain on the library pack I read them peicemeal over the course of 8 years. It would be wise for you to read them one hour perday, asap. And be done in 7 months This is hands down the best self improvement series of all time so far and I have read the very best in class yet, by utilizing ancient wisdom and making sence of it the rabbi has captured biblical “essence” within the pages.
    Do yourself a favor, Head on over to the library pack today this wisdom is ancient and compressed into a wonderful series that will unfold in your mind as you read. Start your new year off with the RDL library pack today, I did, and it made me a better thinker and business man. You need the ancient tools, get this phenominal library pack today before it goes off sale. Great Bargain Rabbi thanks.

  4. I wish I had been born of the Jewish faith. Judaism is the science and/ or art of proper living. The utilization of our abilities to reason and use self-discipline to become better people. This takes traditions, the cultivation of wisdom, high expectations (personal and social), love and a never ending effort to understand God.

  5. Patricia Campbell

    You gave an answer that I can share with my grand-daughter that will help her understand why, at 78, I “ran away” from my home in CA and settled in her state, CO. Thank you.

  6. I always enjoy your command of written language, and your unique ability to covey mental imagery to your audience. The ancient wisdom brought about by the Hebrew school of thought is invaluable to me. I am a follower of the Way of Yeshua, and I prefer to use His Hebrew name, not out of necessity, but as a preference to the latinized corruption of transliteration. I love it that Yeshua is interpreted as Yahweh’s Salvation, using His given name is inspirational, and constantly reminds me of the Heh-sed of our Father of grace and tender mercy. Thank you for enrichening my life Rabbi Daniel, and Susan Lapin.

  7. I pray every day for the peace of Jerusalem as I know that is the prayer of peace for our world in Messiah. Thank you.

  8. Wow! Inspiring! I recently decided to start over and began doubting my decision because I had to leave so much behind. However, after reading the Rabbi’s thoughts, I’m so glad that is the choice I made.

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