Gary Sorock: A Therapeutic Torah Story

Elie Wiesel wrote in The Gates of the Forest, "God created man because he loved stories." Stories have considerable power to comfort and to change people. One such story follows from our Torah. Perhaps you have a favorite Torah story that you identify with?

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I am a retired home-care psychiatric nurse. I once worked with a 71-year-old Vietnam veteran. He suffered for years from insomnia, nightmares, panic attacks and alcohol abuse. He is one of about 250,000 Vietnam veterans who have a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder more than 40 years after Vietnam.

On one visit, he was visibly shaking and crying and said he wanted forgiveness for what he did in Vietnam. How could I possibly help him? I knew he read the Bible. I remembered the stories in Balak and Pinchas. I opened to Chapter 25 of the Book of Numbers and read aloud what God did for Pinchas.

In that story, some Israelite men, while worshipping a false god, had sexual relations with Moabite women, which led to a plague. One Israelite man named Pinchas murdered one such couple in the midst of the community of Israel, and the plague was stopped. God granted a covenant of peace to Pinchas for his deed. Some commentators point out that one letter in Pinchas' name is written smaller than usual after the murder and that one letter in the word shalom, for the peace that is granted to Pinchas, is also diminished. The peace that my patient asked for and received, I think, and the one granted by God to Pinchas may be a flawed, incomplete peace. Nonetheless, the patient was grateful for the story.

He listened and he draped his arm around me and wept. I think he got what he wanted: A brit shalom: "a covenant of peace." One week later, he asked me to drive him to his first therapist appointment.

-Gary Sorock, Congregant

Rodef Shalom