Rabbi Tuvia Teldon: “Don’t fall into a victim mode!”

…Secondly, don’t fall into a victim mode! As hard as it may be, try to see this event as part of your bio. You didn’t ask for it, but how you deal with it will determine what kind of person you are. Muster all the energy you have to rise to the occasion and take […]

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…Secondly, don’t fall into a victim mode! As hard as it may be, try to see this event as part of your bio. You didn’t ask for it, but how you deal with it will determine what kind of person you are. Muster all the energy you have to rise to the occasion and take ownership of it as a new challenge in life, which you can transform into something that will make you a better person. I know people who have gone to prison with this attitude and it helped them survive.

The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.

Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.

How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?

In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, author of Eight Paths of Purpose.

As a Chabad Rabbi for more than 40 years, Tuvia Teldon was compelled to take his spiritual learning to a new level after his son’s death from Cystic Fibrosis in 1991. Thus began a 28-year journey that culminated with the publication of Eight Paths of Purpose, which seeks to help others understand the variety of ways we can fulfill our purpose, and how central this is to our core being. Now the executive director of 34 Chabad Centers on Long Island (New York), Rabbi Teldon regularly shares insights on his weekly Cablevision Long Island talk show, The Jewish Spotlight, on social media, and through his many classes and speaking engagements. He also presented a four-part course on Chabad.org (Your Path to Purpose) which had over 3,000 students, and has contributed to Long Island Business News. He and his wife Chaya, a global speaker who appeared on Oprah, live in Commack, Long Island near their five adult children and a growing family tree of grandchildren.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Staten Island, the least populated borough of NYC, where my parents both worked. I was not spiritually inclined at all, although I was happy to ‘graduate’ at my bar mitzvah. That changed when I turned 20, when I took a year off from college to travel around Europe and Asia on $10 per day. During that time, I spent a month in Greece and 2 months in Israel. That was enough to get me interested in checking out what being Jewish really means. A year later, I visited a yeshiva and it was love at first sight. I realized I didn’t even know the basics about being Jewish. The rest is history.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My Rabbi and teacher, Rabbi M. Schneerson, once told someone who came to him to discuss personal issues that ‘you don’t have problems — you have challenges’. I find this simple statement to be so inspiring because it reboots every problem we face in life and creates a new paradigm moving forward. I find this quote especially helpful when I start to feel overwhelmed about work or life. As I remember that there are only challenges, not problems, stress decreases and motivation increases. It truly is about mind over matter.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I decided in my early 20’s that I cannot be someone who I am not. I have to be real and take ownership of who I am; the challenges I face; the qualities and blemishes I have; and the full reality I find myself in. This helped me through many situations when my heart felt it was tempted to jump into something that was not for me.

We all know that hard work is important for success, but I once learned that fulfilling your purpose requires choosing the most difficult path and not settling for easy ways out, I was able to give up great opportunities that were actually just a quick escape from something I actually had to do.

I like people and I like helping people. I also have learned to celebrate other people’s success, and that success cannot come at someone else’s expense. In addition, don’t let success get to your head. It can disappear in a minute; and always give credit to others for any success you experience. I thank G-d all the time for any success I have achieved.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?

When my wife and I had our first child, we thought we had our purpose in life all mapped out, until he was 5 hours old and required life-saving surgery. This sent us on a 13-year odyssey until he died. My sense of purpose, and of life, got a solid punch in the stomach.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

The scariest part was on the day he was born. We were told what to expect in the future, and I thought my whole world — my family, my marriage, and my job — would all fall apart.

How did you react in the short term?

It took me at least a year to come to terms with having a very sick child. I never thought it could happen to me, and I was angry at G-d for this seemingly ‘random, undeserved punishment’.

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?

With time, I realized that life did not fall apart and my son had a great personality and we were meeting many special people because of him. I needed to ‘stretch my bungee cord’ and learn to broaden my scope of reality to see this new dimension in a positive light. It took lots of time and effort, but it changed me when I was able to take full ownership of my life as it really was. It was very difficult and I had never done that before, but it was very liberating.

Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?

After our son died, I went through many of the stages of mourning, but I wanted to do more than heal. I wanted some answers as to why this happened to my son and my family. As a rabbi, I had studied kabala and much Jewish wisdom, so I resolved to dig deeper to find the answers I wanted. This time it was not for my intellectual growth — it was for my emotional and spiritual survival. This journey with discoveries provided tremendous meaning and solace.

Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?

I accepted life’s ups and downs as custom-made challenges that I need to face head on.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

My wife, Chaya, is a very grounded, kind and loving person. She is a rock for me and is always there to bounce ideas and emotions off of.

Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?

There is no way to reframe the loss of a child to be positive, but the next best thing was that after 28 years, I was able to publish a book to help people connect to their individual purpose in life, and take ownership of every detail of life — the good, bad and the ugly. I hope that the ripple effect of our son’s life will continue through the readers who benefit from this book and its message. That gives me much comfort and helps me feel connected to my son’s memory.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?

I learned that I did have the ability to go through tremendous change in life, and that I should not fear where that will lead me. It was not easy, because most of us try to control life and resist change. I learned that these very difficult, and often irreversible experiences, in life are the soul’s way of nudging us on to the next purpose we need to fulfill in life. And with that, we should be open to the new knowledge, feelings and emotions that will come with some experiences. It can be very hard, and even painful, but that’s how we grow. We should not strive to return to the old normal, but rather to grow into the new normal. For instance, with the post-pandemic transition, I advise people to make sure they learned important lessons from it before they try to put it in their past.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.

A ‘difficult life challenge’ often requires us to connect to life in a different way than the knee-jerk reactions we are so used to. The first advice I would give is to connect to our core values, the rock inside that is not easily shaken, and hold on tight for a rough ride. For me this was my belief in G-d and my conviction that there was some purpose why I was meant to go through my son’s death.

Secondly, don’t fall into a victim mode! As hard as it may be, try to see this event as part of your bio. You didn’t ask for it, but how you deal with it will determine what kind of person you are. Muster all the energy you have to rise to the occasion and take ownership of it as a new challenge in life, which you can transform into something that will make you a better person. I know people who have gone to prison with this attitude and it helped them survive.

Thirdly, realize that you are a unique individual with untapped talents that can help you deal with challenging events. Keep your mind busy with positive things. It may mean reading a lot or speaking to a friend/confidant/therapist, but stay determined to do whatever it takes to get through this challenge with your head held high. Don’t be too proud or private to shy away from asking for help. I have seen too many people go into their shell when life gets tough and they tend to stay there for a long time.

My fourth piece of advice is to accept that you may never heal fully from this event. It may well become part of your new identity, and that is OK. Don’t expect perfection from yourself, but rather see a purpose in the healing process, the lessons you are learning, and the changes you are going through. The new person who emerges will probably be wiser, more sensitive, humbler, and more in touch with what’s really important in life. The Talmud asks “who is wise?” and answers, “one who passes a test.”

Last but not least, I advise everybody to realize that life is bound to have disappointments, even tragedies. I urge you to find inner sources of happiness that will not be vulnerable to the winds of change around us. These can be family, values, a relationship with G-d, and other long-term sources of meaning and fulfillment. For me, in addition to all the above, aligning my life with a strong sense of purpose helps me to face many challenges that come my way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would create a movement that teaches humanity how to better fulfill their individual purpose in life. When we align ourselves with our inner purpose, we are able to connect to life, and each other, on a much more meaningful level while bringing great strides to heal a hurting world.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

I can’t think of anybody. I’m very happy eating with my family.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can follow me and my work at Facebook.com/eightpathsofpurpose; Facebook.com/rabbiteldon; or ChabadLI.org.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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