Safek can also be translated as “doubt.” It’s most often a doubt over whether something is certain or not, that then leads to a question that needs answered. It’s the kind of doubt that can’t just sit, that can’t be ignored. The term is most often used when there’s a doubt about whether or not something was done or should be done under Jewish law, which creates a situation that is tricky to untangle, like forgetting if you’ve said a specific blessing or not. On the one hand, it’s bad not to say the blessing. On the other, it’s bad to say a blessing in vain.
It’s the kind of doubt that creates that uneasy feeling of uncertainty, that antsy, “This needs resolution!” kind of feeling that compels action of some kind.
In the time I’ve lived and loved a Safek, an uncertainty wrapped in the form of a man, I’ve learned to also lived with doubt in on an intimate level. Doubt is a part of our daily lives and each day is lived with some sort of doubt. I used to react to that feeling the way I always had, trying to push it away, trying to find a resolution that I alone didn’t have the power to find. I had to learn, slowly, and over time, to embrace the doubt and to understand that the emotion that accompanies it comes and goes just like any emotion. In the moment, it may feel like it demands action or an answer. It may feel urgent and pressing and weighty, but, if I wait with it just a little while, it eases. The doubt is something that can be separated from the visceral emotional experience and then you can live with doubt.
I think, maybe, it’s one of the lessons that I needed to learn. I’ve never been a particularly patient person. I grew up swimming against the current, determined, my head and shouldered lowered toward any obstacle in my way and I would push and strain and scramble my way through life. I lived with an illusion of control that only something sudden and enormous could shatter.
Like my brother dying of cancer. Or my husband becoming a question, a doubt.
Both events had an element of non-reality to them. They were both moments where the logical mind is aware of a fact, but the emotional portion of the mind is simply unable to comprehend it. In both cases, I was sitting down, one on the end of a telephone, the other in an office chair. In both cases, my ears heard and yet I struggled to completely process what I had heard. My mind doubted that what my ears had told it was actually true and it began the process of testing that reality. Was I asleep and dreaming? Had I misheard some important piece of this conversation? My mind feebly attempted to find some reason to justify its doubt, some way in which this new reality wasn’t actually real. In both cases, it took patience and time for my mind to expand itself to encompass this new world it found itself in and to feel at home in it and until that happened, everything felt alien for a while.
Doubt can really knock the mind for a loop, making up seem like down.
But, like anything else, doubt settles and becomes something manageable. You can sift it into piles and push them aside and live with doubt, piling it up in the unused corners of life so that you can live around it. You can, in some small ways, chip away at it and cart pieces of it off. Often, though, you have to just wait for the wind to come through and sweep it away, no matter how long that wind takes to come.
Dealing with this bigger doubt has taught me a lot about handling smaller doubts. I’ve grown more comfortable admitting that I don’t know something or even being ok with the idea that I might never fully know something. Much as the way my mind had to grow larger to fit the new information of my brother’s passing, my faith had to grow to fit this doubt within it. The process felt very much the same, like someone important in my husband’s life had died and we needed to go through all the stages of mourning until we’d reached acceptance. Denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance are listed as the 5 stages of grief and I think each had their time with us.
And then, finally and only recently, I made friends with the doubt. I began to be thankful for it. The doubt that we have lived with and through has shaped us and our family in ways even we may never comprehend. It’s sent us on amazing adventures and brought us closer together. It’s caused our faith to be shaken and tested and grown and it’s still the bitter medicine that we breathe in.
Without befriending doubt and learning to love it I would not be who I am.