I used to like scary movies as a kid. The heart-pounding, palm-sweating, breath-holding, nightmare-inducing (wait, why did I like them again?) kind. Whenever the movie became too much to bear – which was basically every time I’d watch one – I had a trick I’d employ to calm myself down. I would simply look away from the screen, and repeat over and over again, “This isn’t really happening. This isn’t really happening.”
After several repetitions of this mantra, I was able to pull my mind out of the reality it had been sucked into. Whatever else unfolded on the screen became easier to deal with because I was reminded that it was nothing more than a temporary, illusory phenomenon.
Sometimes real life can be far worse than a scary movie. The murder of Borough Park boy, Leiby Kletzky (may his memory be a blessing), is a recent example. A random, senseless, gruesome killing of a child is literally the stuff that horror movies are made of, but real-life tragedies offer no screen to look away from. Or do they?
Jewish philosophy teaches that this world is not the ultimate reality. The word for “world” in Hebrew,“olam,” is connected to the word “neelam,” which means hidden. Though our experience on earth is more real than a movie or a dream, this is not the world of truth.
That doesn’t mean that we can just give up and passively let the story of life happen around us. On the contrary, while we’re here, we have a job to do. We are required to fight the evil and injustice that confronts us and comfort and pray for those who suffer from it. But all the while, we must be cognizant of the fact that this world is just one stop on a longer journey. A place where our soul is stationed for a finite time in order to be completed according to its specific needs.
Having this knowledge doesn’t eliminate the pain and loss that nearly everyone experiences at one point on another – but it should help us get past the fear and despair that could otherwise paralyze a person living in such an uncertain world. Because no matter how bad things get here, unlike in the movies, we believe that there will always be a happy ending for the good guys.