Not to Worry: Jewish Wisdom and Folklore

Not to Worry: Jewish Wisdom and Folklore

Not to Worry: Jewish Wisdom and Folklore

Not to Worry: Jewish Wisdom and Folklore


What Jewish history and wisdom teach us about coping with worry.

Michele Klein brings her training in psychology and love of all things Jewish to the notion of worry-the normal, everyday angst that we all feel to varying degrees. She explores the ways in which Jews have experienced, expressed, and coped with it since biblical times right up to the post-9/11 present.

Written while her children served in the Israel Defense Forces, the book addresses such questions as: What is worry? Why, when, and how do all of us do it? Is it a "Jewish thing?" Is it avoidable, and is it all bad? How can we turn our tendency to worry into a positive force in our lives? Klein explains that our Jewish tradition can teach us about psychological strength, creative thinking, and peace of mind. Further, she shows how Jewish wisdom and centuries-old, fine-honed coping skills-including prayer, wisdom from the Sages, meditation, mysticism and dream interpretation, music, and humor-can give us the courage to face a world that often appears uncertain and threatening.


“We must not worry. Only one worry is permissible: a person should worry because he is worrying,” said the rabbi of Lekhivitz (Lachowicze, in Polish) in the early twentieth century. Should we do our best not to worry, as the Hasidic rabbi of Lekhivitz taught, or are there situations when worrying is helpful? I sometimes tell myself that the Hasid was correct; I should not be worrying and I try to stop worrying. My children often accuse me of being an irrational worrier, although they themselves fret over anxieties that I am convinced are the products of their imaginations. Their worries often appear unnecessary to me; they worry over situations that I would never worry about. Their grandmothers are often apprehensive and their father, too, has his own worries. All my friends worry too, about one thing or another. Worrying is not specifically a Jewish trait—most of humanity would admit to worrying every now and then. Would the rabbi say that we should all try to control our thoughts and not worry?

Perhaps the Hasid’s advice is incorrect, however. Perhaps worry is a healthy, adaptive behavior. By alerting a person to danger, worry can help us to preserve lives, take protective action, or solve a problem. in our worry we may be expressing love and care. Perhaps the Hasid did not think of these aspects of worry.

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