Dear Emuna,

My husband and I got married very young and had a baby right away. We met when we were both at school in Israel and he was a heavy smoker. This was a definite no for me but because he wanted to continue dating he committed to trying his best to quit. And he did - for three years.

Two years ago he started smoking again. He was in-between jobs, my baby got meningitis and life was stressful. This was upsetting to me but because I understood how stressed he was I didn’t want to put more pressure on him. Now two years later my baby is a beautiful healthy child, my husband has a great job, and he smokes two packs a week. I know it’s not the end of the world but my grandfather suffered tremendously at the end of his life because he was a heavy smoker and got lung cancer at 78 years old and his last four years of his life he was coughing up blood.

Smoking scares me. I know it’s not in my control to make my husband’s choices for him and he never smokes near or in front of our boys but I’m not coping well. Any advice to make me feel better?

--Up in Smoke

Dear Up in Smoke,

I certainly understand your concerns and fears. It is to your credit that, notwithstanding your anxiety, you recognize that it is not in your control. It is a choice that only your husband can make.

It is possible that through continued expressions of love (as opposed to nagging) and discussions of how much your husband means to you and your family (as we like to tell our kids, “I only have one of you.”), he will decide to stop on his own. It is also possible that, as your children get older, their desire for him to desist and his embarrassment about his bad habit may lead to his quitting. A colleague recommended to me a book by Allen Carr called Stop Smoking Now which I haven’t read but is supposed to be excellent.  You can do what I do to try to get my non-readers to pick up a book: leave it in a strategic spot and, hopefully, he’ll open it up and peruse it on his own. But none of this is a guarantee and, again, only he can decide.

So how do you deal with your anxiety?

1. Focus on the positive – your husband has many wonderful qualities. Fill your mind with those instead.

2. Recognize that everyone engages in destructive behaviors – some of them physical, some of them spiritual. Some people eat too much fat (that old nursery rhyme about Jack Sprat and his wife springs to mind) or too much sugar or not enough vegetables. Some people exercise too little while others can actually work out too much. Some people are too aggressive and some are too passive. Some spend too much time at home and others not enough. We need to make peace with the unique challenges of our own personal situation and relationships and find the best way to grown under these circumstances.

3. The ultimate comfort and anxiety-reducing drug is the recognition that the Almighty runs the world. Of course we have to make our efforts and try to watch our healthy but ultimately the end result is in His hands. One of my favorite midrashim is the story of the man whose servant comes running home from the marketplace completely terrified. “What happened?” his master asks. “I saw the angel of death in the marketplace. Please lend me your horse so I can ride to Shechem and get far away from him.”

The master complies. Later that afternoon, the master also runs into the angel of death in the marketplace. “Why did you frighten my servant?” he asks, angrily. “I didn’t mean to scare him” replies the angel of death. “I was just surprised to see him since I have an appointment with him tonight in Shechem.”

4. Don’t forget the power of prayer. Rosh Hashanah is coming, the Day of Judgment. It’s a time when the gates of prayer are open wide. Pray that your husband quit smoking, pray for anything and everything you want – but mostly pray that the Almighty continues to grant him and those you love (heck, all of the Jewish people!) long life – in this world and in the world to come.

Wounded Child/ Wounded Adult

Dear Emuna,

How does one overcome bad upbringing i.e. parents who fought constantly in front of their children, who were verbally and physically abusive? Years later I still feel the sadness from it all and I would like some spiritual advice how to overcome this and how to be better in my marriage.

-- Wounded Child

Dear Wounded Child,

I commend you for trying to overcome your past. It is a struggle that many of us have and it is frequently of the “two steps forward, one step backward” variety.

You raise two issues – your continued sadness and your own marriage. As far as the former goes, you may always carry a little sadness with you but I think it can be improved with a healthy dose of compassion and acceptance.

Compassion: Perhaps you can find within yourself the ability to feel sorry for your parents who had such a hard time and didn’t seem to have the tools to make it better. As an adult now, you can see yourself not as the victim of their inadequacies but as an empathic observer. Try to imagine what advice you would give a friend in a similar situation in order to gain some objectivity.

Acceptance: It is what it is. These are the cards you were dealt. This is the script the Almighty wrote. Platitudes possibly – but true nonetheless. Your parents aren’t going to change and you can’t rewrite the past. For whatever reason, this was the environment best suited to your growth and closeness to the Almighty. Make the most of the opportunity.

With respect to your marriage, you are unclear. If it’s the sadness affecting your marriage, reread the preceding paragraphs. If your behaviors, God forbid, resemble the inappropriate ones you saw modeled in your family of origin, then you need more professional help – parenting classes, books – and probably a good therapist.

Some people think that “spiritual” advice should be some kid of mystical, kabbalistic idea that will help them soar above and beyond their problems. I strongly disagree.

“Spiritual” refers to activities that engender greater closeness to our Creator. This is accomplished through observing His commandments, through sweat and effort. Doing whatever it takes to improve your marriage, constantly giving to your spouse, perhaps seeing a therapist, taking the practical steps necessary to make a sea change is the most spiritual thing you can do. Additionally, giving to others takes us out of ourselves and our problems so it works on all levels. The past can be overcome – you just need to be very committed to working on it and not expect quick and easy solutions.

Friend with Cancer

Dear Emuna,

I am 15 years old. I have a friend who is battling cancer. I'm so scared. How do I deal with it? How do I show her and her family that I care? Is there anything I can do spiritually, or physically to help her of me cope with this huge challenge?

--Worried Friend

Dear Worried and Caring Friend,

It’s okay to be scared. It’s normal and appropriate to be scared. Cancer is a scary disease. So certainly don’t feel badly about it. Find an adult – parent, teacher, therapist – and a safe place where you can share these feelings.

Don’t’ be afraid to tell your friend that you’re scared. It’s on her mind too (in fact, it’s probably the only thing on her mind!) and she would likely welcome the chance to speak freely about her fears instead of having to pretend that everything is fine or endure the false cheeriness around her. It’s okay to cry together (not every time you go of course!) and express genuine emotion. It may be cathartic for both of you.

Other things to do physically: whatever needs taking care of at her home so that her parents can be with her – babysitting, grocery shopping, meal prep, cleaning. Don’t offer or ask “What do you need?” Just do – “I’m taking the kids out for pizza today.” “I went to Walmart and replenished your toilet paper and paper towels.” “I dropped off dinner.” No one likes to ask for help. No one wants to be perceived as needy or burdensome. So just go and do.

Spiritually, there are a few options. You should pray. The Almighty is the true physician. Pray for His healing hand. Do a mitzvah in her merit like lighting Shabbos candles or not gossiping. Organize others to learn and do mitzvos in her merit. And that’s just a start…

Friendship is precious and rare. Appreciate that you someone in your life who means so much to you and try to enjoy the opportunity that each day brings.