Dear Emuna,

My husband and I and our two young children just moved to a new town, a few hundred miles from where we lived previously. We moved because of job opportunities and because of the community, but I have to confess I had another motive that I’m not so proud of. There was someone in our old town that just really bothered me. We didn’t get along, she wasn’t particularly friendly to me and yet I found myself running into her at many school and community functions and we frequently operated in the same social circles. I felt a bit like an adolescent but I was really relieved to get away from her and start all over again without her suffocating presence.

I have just begun to start to make relationships and find a place for myself in this new town. I just heard that she moved here! I am beside myself and I don’t know what to do. I feel robbed of my new beginning and I need some advice on how to cope.

Beside Myself

Dear Beside Yourself

I totally understand. We all had that girl in high school (or maybe even later) who made us crazy, who perhaps interfered in our relationships, who brought a feeling of discomfort to many social situations and about whom we frequently prayed that she would leave town! I totally get it.

But God has a sense of humor and He seems to think that instead of running away from her, there is some growth to be had by being in her presence. We can rarely avoid life’s messy situations, much as we would like to. And if we're able to move through them and look back, we usually find that we became a better person through the challenge. Or at least we had the opportunity to!

You are entitled to your first reaction of frustration, but then you need to move on. This is the situation God has put you in so it must be for the good. Is there something you can learn from this woman’s character, even if it’s how not to behave? Is there some humility available when you realize you are forced to see her and even be polite? Can you be a bigger person? (Is it even possible that away from your old residence, she too will be changed?)

I think these situations, as uncomfortable as they are, are good for our ego. We need to focus on inner strength instead of outward appearances. We need to turn to the Almighty instead of our neighbors.

We can never start totally afresh. Who we are is an accumulation of all of our wisdom and life experiences. I can understand that you were a little disconcerted (to say the least) when you discovered that your nemesis (perhaps I’m putting it too strongly!) had, so to speak, followed you to your new destination. But perhaps that’s a metaphor for life. She is in your world for a reason (to paraphrase Wicked) and there is clearly a lesson to be learned.

Perhaps when you learn it, she will go away. Perhaps when you learn it, you will see her in a new light and become if not friends, at least friendly acquaintances. Perhaps none of the above. But whatever happens, your job is not to rail against it but to try to figure out how to grow from it.

Judaism teaches us that when we don’t like someone, we should give to them. Try it; it may upend your whole experience of her.