Dr Judith Guedalia

Setting Sail on the Sea of Life
Dr. Judith Guedalia and Chaim K.© 2009
Chaim K. rolls into the office with a very focused look this week.  After close to three and a half years of almost weekly sessions we "read" each other quite well!  
"Okay", I say.  I have my computer open, my fingers poised almost as a concert pianist.  "Let's get down to business, you look pregnant with thought."  He winks and looks at me with a peevish grin: "I thought you wouldn't notice the few pounds I put on, what with all the summer mangelim (BBQs), it is hard to keep my boyish figure".  And then he begins:
"It is told of one of the magidim, who presents lectures through stories, that when he was a boy he lived in a small port city.  He used to love watching the boats set sail and come in.  Once he noticed something odd at sea.  He saw a large boat, unloading a lot of merchandise.  Before it left again the sailors filled the containers with sand and rocks.  That looked very odd to him, so he gathered his courage and asked the captain what they were doing. 
"The captain explained that when the boat is empty it can't sail properly in the rough ocean seas.  There has to be a third of the ship weighted down in the water so that it will sail with stability.  Usually when the boat comes to a big city they empty their load and replace it with new and different merchandise to sell in their homeport.  But this particular port was one of the smaller ones and they didn't have enough of a load to fill the necessary third of the hold.
"As the Magid grew up, he understood this story to be an important lesson in life.  As Hashem allows us to 'set sail' --go forth out into His world, our proverbial Sea-of-Life, we can't sail smoothly if our boat is empty.  So we have two options: One, to fill our lives with Torah and mitzvoth or two, to fill our lives with unimportant information and silliness.  It is our choice how to go through life and sail smoothly, for completely empty would lead to instability or bobbing on the sea as a vacuous cork."
As Chaim speaks many flags, or to continue the sea metaphor, buoys, pop up in my mind.  Here is a young man, of almost 23, who since being injured in a car/pedestrian accident eight years ago, has been a quadriplegic living on a respirator.  His face can "feel" and move at his volition, but the rest of his body moves unexpectedly due to neurological and muscular spasms over which he has no control.  It is he that is "bobbing about" and yet Chaim is, for the most part, one of the most positive thinking individuals I have ever met.
From his perspective he has the benefit of viewing us from the "crow's nest" on top of the high mast.  No one would fault him for not wishing to look out at the world passing him by, and remaining in his daled amot of personal space, yet he has chosen to transform his motorized wheelchair into a vehicle to soar in time and space.  Through his relationship with The Jewish Press, he has had the opportunity to share his perceptions with readers across the amazing divide of borders and seas.  Though it is difficult for him to answer letters (he "types" letter by letter with his chin on a joy-stick), he is thrilled with the email he does receive, proving that there are people out there who do read his ideas.

When I tell him how amazed I always am at his perspective, he gets upset.  "Enough, about me personally" he admonishes me, "I have something to say from Pirkei Avot-The Sayings of the Fathers (3:4).  Hananiah ben Hakinai, a disciple of R. Akiba and R. Joshua, said: "He who awakens by night and gives his heart to idle thoughts, or he who walks alone and gives his heart to idle (vain) thoughts, endangers his life."


Looking into this mishnah, I notice that Rav Ovadiah Bartenura, (a celebrated rabbi and commentator on the Mishnah who lived in the second half of the fifteenth century in Italy), explains it as follows:
 "Nighttime is a dangerous time because of the Mazikim--harmful destructive Spirits.  Someone who walks by himself is in danger from marauders and these harmful spirits.  Thinking of Torah while walking alone at night can save one from danger - physically, morally and spiritually." 
These thoughts underline the fear and panic of those with sleep disorders. "People with two or more sleep symptoms were 2.6 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than those without any insomnia complaints," (M. Wojnar; Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical University of Warsaw in Poland).
The most consistent link was seen in early morning awakenings, which was related to all suicidal behaviors. People with this problem were twice as likely as those with no sleep problems to have had suicidal thoughts.  Also, those who had trouble sleeping through the night - waking up nearly every night and taking an hour or more to get back to sleep - were twice as likely to have thought of suicide in the last year and were three times more likely to have attempted it, than those who had no sleep problems.
Can we posit that an antidote for such fears is the Torah?  Idle thoughts will only lead to more fear.  Maimonides actually teaches that the best time to learn, the time when a person is most likely to remember his studies, is at night. 
"When you walk they [the Torah] will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake they will talk with you. When you walk it shall lead you--in this world; when you sleep, it shall watch over you in you the grave; and when you awake, it shall talk with you--in the world to come." (Proverbs 6:22)
"Very lumdish (learned) of you", Chaim adds, "just to prove that I am not totally without knowledge myself, did you know that physicists and philosophers have been studying for years whether or not there is such a think as vacuum, nothingness." 
"No question about it," I answer, "you definitely give me a run for my money.  Now you force me to look up Quantum Physics!" (Yippee for Google!)
He grins from ear to ear!
            "If you take water out of a bottle, something else will come in, air.  Nothing remains empty forever.  So too our soul; if we take the Torah out of our souls then something else will enter.  Batalah -wasting time- and boredom are dangerous forms of matter that fill empty space.
            Our wise men have taught that wasting time leads to boredom and boredom brings sin in its wake.  Our minds are the ships which can sail smoothly forever if we fill them with Hashem's words."
Amen, is all that is left to say.

Tags: Chaim K. | Jewish Press | Torah