The Psychiatric Crisis

FreePsychArticles #4:   Pinchas: The Ultimate in Crisis Intervention

In the story of Pinchas, in the Biblical book of Numbers (Bamidbar), that traverses two parshiot, we see a snapshot of crisis intervention and resolution.   To review, we are witness to the malevolent scheming of Balak, the Moabite king to bring about a ‘pre-emptive metaphysical strike’ on B’nai Yisrael as they camp in the desert.    He attempts to enlist the master sorcerer Balaam to utilize his world class ‘magical powers’ and divination to invoke curses on the Jewish nation.   With this, he attempts to

drive it away from the land,” and ‘diminish their number…’ per Rashi.

Meanwhile B’nai Yisrael goes on with it’s activities and approach to the promised land, assumedly unaware or unconcerned about their neighbor’s  (enemies in this case) business.  Here we find the brewing of a significant crisis in the spiritual wellbeing of the burgeoning nation.    In truth, it is the failure of Balak’s scheme that presents another unexpected attack on Israel.    Balaam, riding the prophetic heights finds himself unable to utter narry a curse.

This leaves the intrepid Balak to devise a new approach to undo the feared and powerful “priests of the nations.”

In come the daughters of Moab, to use their “powers” of persuasion to coax the young Jewish men to forget The True G-d, diminish their enumah by submission to the charms

of female beauty through the act of bowing to the avodah zorah of small gods.   This proves to be more effective than Balaam, if not more labor intensive.

The wrath of G-d is invoked and as the crisis rages, plague begins to wipe out the Holy nation.   Moshe called out for a solution.   Weeping spread through the camp yet all were frozen in shock and disbelief.   Out of the chaos emerges one clear and decisive act though

the deft and righteous figure of Pinchas, son of Elazar son of Aharon who “saw” through the crisis, and ‘remembered the law.’  In this one act of true devotion and courage, Pinchas brings about the cessation of the plague thus ending the first parsha of the two part story.

Part two: Our hero is rewarded as we are taught the gravity and ultimate honor he deserves.

Moshe receives order to make take a census, as the first order of business in reorganization following the passing crisis.   Much of the rest of the parsha delineates the korbanos of all the Yom Tovim (Festival Days) as a further rebuilding of the national spiritual life.

The Psycho-Spiritual Crisis model:

In my work as an interim psychiatrist I encounter people who bring their experience to expression during our meetings.    Frequently they are distraught, upset, emotionally labile and even desperate.    Often, suddenly, as they find themselves in company of someone with a trained and empathic ear they frame the moment in extreme and tragic terms.   All the calamity of their day-to-day life can take on an epic quality as their difficulties bubble to the surface of their consciousness.    The present problems merge with emotionally charged fragments of memory bringing the overwhelming impression they are trapped in an insurmountable and tragic sea with no hope, peace or survival.

Just as frequently an objective eye can see there is more crisis than tragedy and therefore more action and intervention than bereavement and grief required.   As often happens, we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and our emunah starts to wane.   The crisis compounds as we forget our purpose and experience the pain our own or others actions have brought.

Each of us can “fall” into this downward spiral during our lives, sometimes when least expected.    We can be riding the crest of the wave, while oblivious to an undercurrent of trouble in the making.    Suddenly the wave crashes on the shore, the surfboard shatters and we’re left wondering how it came about?    What did I do wrong?   Why didn’t I see it coming?   Is it because of prior lapses in judgment?    Is it my fault or someone elses?

With the human mind’s inclination to contain and encase experience, we have a natural tendency to view our current dilemma as the conclusion of the story.   This is the tragedy of our imagination.   True enough, there are tragedies, losses, and damages without the chance of reversal.   These events demand another topic and approach.   The issue here rests in the fallen enumah and the discomfort it engenders.   This is the psycho-spiritual crisis.

One of the results of this type of crisis is viewing it as a tragedy and viewing ourselves as powerless victims in it’s stead.    Hence we freeze up, stand by, fill with remorse and cry.

Often this fuels our imagination to further complicate (read fragment) our emunah in ourselves and Hashem, Ha Kodesh Barchu.

In our story, even Moshe Rabenu stood by.  As Rashi states, the law…was concealed from Moshe.   Pinchas, who’s been observing the unfolding events, gathering the information while maintaining his emunah, remembering his ancestral lineage and natural dedication to B’nai Yisrael unites with Divine Inspiration to fulfill the Holy dictates of G-d’s Law at the perfect moment, thus quelling the harsh decree.

Thus Pinchas personifies the man of faith who navigates the course of events through the psycho-spiritual crisis to arrive at this ultimate “crisis resolution.”    As each of us sees or experiences times of trouble in our own lives we should remember “from whom we come”

and be able to see our way though thought, speech and action as needed to reach higher levels of emunah.    We can do this by realizing our current difficulties, rather than tragedies, are indeed crises and relish the emes (dynamic truth) they contain as pathways to greater levels of achievement.

Finally,  we see the division in the Torah story between two parshiot as the two stages of crisis and resolution.   In Pashas Pinchas, we see the rewards of maintaining enumah and action in spite of the calamitous events, to elevate us to greater and greater spiritual heights.

Gershon Freedman, M.D.

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