What is a better temperament to cope with stress: living in the moment without worrying about the future or planning for the future?
A study published in March and summarized in Harvard’s Men’s Health Watch suggests that both are required. They asked participants questions that gauge mindfulness or living in the moment. They then asked questions about whether they engage in proactive coping like planning for the future or tackling minor problems before becoming big problems. The study found that people who engage in both are less likely to experience stress than those who engage in just one of the two.
We find both of these themes in this week’s Parsha.
When Bilam praises Bnei Yisrael before blessing them, he says:
א-ל מוציאם ממצרים כתועפת ראם לו – It is G-d who brought them out of Egypt according to the power of his loftiness (Numbers 23:22).
Bilam refers to Yetziat Mitzrayim in the present tense. As opposed to Balak, who states at the beginning of the Parsha (22:5) הנה עם יצא ממצרים – Behold a people has come out of Egypt – in the past tense.
R. Yisachar Dov Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe, suggests that Balak hoped that Yetziat Mitzrayim was a one time event in the distant past. G-d took us out of Mitzrayim, and that was it. Bilam however, provided a different perspective. When G-d took us out of Egypt, He did so by looking towards the future at our potential. So too, He constantly looks out for us and redeems us even before we deserve it.
Balancing the present and the future can be a way of emulating G-d. Hashem knows the future, yet places a strong emphasis on the present. Concurrently, He looks towards the future. In proactive coping, how we manage the present situation if things don’t change, is planning with the future in mind. There are many mitzvot that require us to be in the present, to be mindful of what we are doing. We also should plan for the future proactively. Balancing these two ideals not only helps reduce stress but also helps us live a life of fulfillment.
As we enter the 3-week period of mourning for the destruction of the Beth Hamikdash beginning this Sunday with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and culminating on Tisha B’Av, we relive the past and engage in the present by working on the causes of the destruction to have unconditional love to one another, in order to pave a path for the future rebuilding of the third Temple may it be built speedily in our days.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay