Monday, April 30, 2012


As the Omer period marches on, we enter Week 4 and focus on the attribute of netzach, or "victory."  But, "victory" alone might not be the most complete translation...I've also heard netzach interpreted as "endurance" or "eternity."  My understanding of this sefira combines all of these concepts.  Simply put, netzach is the effort and hard work that we put into reaching our goals.  It is what helps us find the strength to keep pursuing what we want, even when the obstacles are great, and even when the fight seems to be taking forever. 

Tapping into our netzach reservoirs is critical for staying on the path to recovery.  As I'm sure most of us can attest, there is very little that is glamorous about this process.  There are moments of inspiration and excitement as we catch glimpses of what life has to offer us in recovery, but most of our time is spent doing the work:  the appointments and therapy sessions, the meals and snacks, the concrete acts of breaking old patterns, the positive self-talk...the list goes on.  For me, this process has not been linear, and I actually can't think of anyone I know who can say that his or her path to recovery has been a straight shot.  There are ups and downs, potholes and detours.  So, what keeps us on course?  Netzach--our determination, and our understanding that although the journey is long, it is leading us where we want to go.

I recently learned that netzach is also sometimes likened to "tough love"...on the surface, what we have to go through seems harsh and perhaps unfair, but in the end it is for our greater good.  Sometimes, Hashem gives us blessings disguised in unappealing packages, but if we can get past the wrapping, we can see the true benefit of what is underneath.  I remember one low point during my illness; I was studying abroad and unhappily agreed to submit to weekly visits with a local doctor.  He couldn't have been more pleasant, but he was an elderly man, and I was convinced that he couldn't possibly understand what I was going through.  But, at the end of one visit he looked at me wisely and said, "I think it will be a good experience for your life, this."  Even then, as miserable as I was, part of my core self believed him.  Somehow I knew that if I stuck with the recovery process, eventually I would end up a more complete, well developed individual than I would have if I had not struggled and persevered.

I believe that I have had a lot to learn, and Hashem has chosen to teach me through the process of recovery. It has not been a smooth ride, but through my endurance and drive I have discovered the victory that comes from perseverance.  It is my wish that this week, we find the energy to recommit to staying the course--that we have faith in our ability to overcome obstacles, keep our eyes on the prize, and emerge victorious in the end.     

Monday, April 23, 2012


Welcome to Week 3 of the Omer!  This week is dedicated to refining the sefira of tiferet, which translates as "compassion."  I find it a bit ironic that I am sitting here, writing about compassion...for years, whenever anyone even so much as suggested that I try practicing compassion for myself, I would cringe and roll my eyeballs in disgust.  A huge piece of recovery for me has been learning that compassion is not, in fact, a dirty word...and the Kabbalistic concept of tiferet exemplifies the best of what I believe compassion has to offer.

Tiferet sits in the Central Column of the sefirot, with chesed (loving-kindness) to its right and gevurah (boundaries, or restraint) on its left.  The word, tiferet, comes from the Hebrew word for beauty.  Why does beauty reside in the middle between loving-kindness and boundaries?  Because, true beauty emerges from genuine harmony between tenderness and strength.  Why is tiferet also commonly understood as "compassion"?  Because, it represents the perfect balance between kindness and restraint.  Too much hardness yields negativity, but too much softness is also not positive.  Compassion comes from being able to look a situation or person through both lenses and find a point of connection in between. 

I may be a former compassion skeptic, but this concept resonates with me deeply.  Recovery requires a constant balance between gentleness and toughness.  Let's take the example of behavioral "slips" back into eating disorder behaviors.  Anyone who has worked on recovery has probably experienced a slip or two (or many!) in his or her is usually part of the territory.  The question then becomes, how do we hold that?  Do we comfort ourselves by saying, "Oh, everyone knows slips happen, it's no big deal, don't worry about it" (the "kindness" approach)?  Or, do we berate ourselves with, "How could I let this happen?!  I am such a recovery failure, I will never get better" (the "harshness" approach)?  I would argue, neither is particularly effective.  What I would encourage us all to do is to take the tiferet acknowledge and validate the pain of whatever uncomfortable feeling or situation led us to engage in behaviors, while simultaneously giving ourselves the needed "kick in the pants" to get back on track.  In other words, "Yes, I was feeling anxious/sad/whatever for a totally valid reason and I did this eating disorder behavior...and now I will go do this specific recovery behavior to get back in the groove." 

It is compassionate to comfort ourselves but also to not allow ourselves to self-destruct.  In order to keep this balance, we need both chesed and gevurah to be in harmony.  Hashem shows us His loving-kindness every day, but He also sets limits with us and does not grant our every wish.  This is how He shows us the most compassion--by loving us completely, but also setting the boundaries that are in our best interests.  This week, I wish for us the ability to emulate Hashem by channeling our energy of tiferet--by showing ourselves (and others) compassion that is both tender and firm.

Monday, April 16, 2012


As I previously explained, we are currently in the middle of counting the Omer, an opportunity for self-refinement that is simply too good to pass up. Since this is the second week of the Omer period, I am going to begin this blog series by focusing on the sefirah (Divine attribute) of Week Two: Gevurah.

I've seen gevurah translated as both "discipline" and "restraint," and either way, it is a concept with which I'm intimately familiar. Anorexia was gevurah run amok: the positive discipline associated with healthy eating and regular exercise snowballed into a painfully restrictive diet and grueling daily workout sessions; the wisdom of establishing boundaries in relationships gave way to the impenetrable wall I erected between myself and anyone who tried to come near; the prudence of not allowing myself to buy everything I wanted evolved into denying myself even the smallest purchases, such as a cup of coffee or a movie ticket. My eating disorder was all about gevurah in its most punishing form. Recovery has become an exercise in taking my affinity for gevurah and turning it into an tool for positive growth.

What does mean for me? Well, for one thing, it means being less of a people-pleaser and being more honest with my praise and criticism. It means understanding that I do not need to earn people's friendship by giving them whatever they want. At various times, it has meant adhering to a meal plan and treating food as medicine in order to get my body to a place where it is healthy. It means being honest about when I make mistakes and doing whatever clean-up is necessary, without letting that turn into an excuse to punish myself mercilessly.

I would imagine that all of us in recovery can relate to needing to figure out how to keep gevurah in balance. Whether our eating disorders were about having too much restraint or too little, recovery is about discovering how to set limits in a way that is self-protective but not self-stifling. As we work our way through this week of the Omer, I hope we can all find ways of experiencing the positive power of gevurah in our relationships with ourselves, and with others.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Count is On

With the conclusion of Passover last night, my life shifted neatly into its post-Pesach routines: switching back the dishes, grocery shopping once again for "regular" food, feeding leftover matzah to the neighborhood waterfowl, etc. I'm also back to writing, which means I can now begin to share my thoughts on another great post-Pesach tradition: counting the Omer.

Brief overview: beginning on the second night of Pesach, Jews traditionally begin counting the days until Shavuot. Pesach marks the Exodus and the Jews' emergence into freedom; Shavuot is the day that the Jewish people received Torah at Mount Sinai. Because freedom without Torah would be incomplete, we "count the Omer" as a way to show how much we yearn to fulfill the word of Torah. The annual 49-day counting period is considered a time of introspection and self-improvement, during which we prepare ourselves once again to receive Torah. (For a much more in-depth explanation, visit or

Each of the seven weeks of the Omer corresponds to one of seven sefirot (the forms of Divine energy through which Hashem makes manifest different attributes and qualities). Because the concept of gradual self-refinement seems so in line with recovery, I've decided that during the Omer period, I will focus my blog entries on each week's respective sefirah. Hopefully, this exercise will help us all use this time period to examine our own lives and to reach for higher ground.

Stay tuned!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Splitting Our Seas

It's here...Erev Pesach. For the past week, I've been a ball of anxiety: heightened demands of work plus the added stress of cleaning for Pesach rendered me a frazzled, short-tempered mess. Now, though, the work week is over; the cooking and cleaning are done. None of it is perfect, but I've decided it's good enough. And now, in the time remaining before Shabbat and Pesach begin, I have some thoughts that I want to share with you.

Last week, I got a surprise phone call from one of my beautiful friends all the way in Israel(!), and she shared with me a teaching she had read about regarding the Splitting of the Sea. The Chassidic masters teach that we each reside in two worlds: the land world and the sea world. The land world is our revealed life--our social and professional selves, our conscious thoughts, our family lives. In contrast, the sea world is hidden, full of our deepest desires and innately known truths which, though essential to our core beings, rarely get expressed in our day-to-day existences.

I often have felt a stark contrast between my land and sea realities. Because of the concrete, immediate demands of my daily life, I sometimes need to act in ways that do not directly support my innermost values and convictions. Depending on my surroundings, I may or may not feel comfortable admitting to my true feelings or deepest yearnings. Sometimes, it is hard for me to decipher what I really this a quick fix, or something that will make me genuinely happy? I think the struggle to blend my revealed life with my hidden core has been a major theme of my recovery.

The Chassidic masters recognize this conflict, and they teach that this is the meaning of the Splitting of the Sea. When Hashem split the Red Sea, He also split the seas within every human being. The Israelites were able to walk across what had been submerged underwater moments before; we as individuals are able to see clearly our innermost selves that ordinarily seem inaccessible. This is an opportunity for us to engage with our cores and to bring to light our deepest hungers and our concealed selves. We can bring out into the open whatever it is about ourselves that we ordinarily keep hidden from view.

Of course, after the People of Israel crossed the sea on dry land, Hashem closed up the waters, and what had been passable was once again closed off. Similarly, we can expect that we will not always be able to connect so clearly with our inner selves. However, the potential for such a crossing, such a connection, will never be lost.

I hope that each of us allows ourselves the opportunity this Pesach to get in touch with our "sea realities." Listen to the voice at your core: what is it telling you? How might you use these eight days to bring some of your inner world to light?

!!חג כשר ושמח