Taking On the Pain of Others
This is an unbelievably insightful and powerful Shabbat for many reasons; the most important being that Shabbat Vayechi is the one Shabbat of the year where all the Light of Mashiach and of the Gemar HaTikun, The Final Correction, is revealed.
Jacob wanted to share with his children what will happen at the End of Days, but he knew that he could not do it in a way that was obvious, so he concealed it within the story of Vayechi. Therefore, all of Jacob’s blessings that we read about in Vayechi have, of course, their literal meaning, but more importantly, the true Light of these words is the revelation of what will occur at the time of the Final Redemption. Every one of us has the opportunity this week to connect to the end of pain, suffering, and death—and we do that through this portion, through the totality of Light that Jacob revealed on this Shabbat.
The first word of the story is “Vayechi,” which means “and he lived;” the Torah says that Jacob lived in Egypt for seventeen years, not that he was in Egypt for seventeen years. We know that nothing in the Torah is an accident, so what does this mean? The Zohar explains that the first word, “and he lived,” indicates that before this point, Jacob’s life was not truly being lived. While he lived in the land of Israel, Jacob’s life was filled with pain and sadness. It was only once he went down into Egypt for the last seventeen years of his life and saw that his son Joseph was second-in-command to Pharaoh, and saw his children and grandchildren — all seventy members of his family - that he actually experienced joy.
Jacob was constantly connected to the Light of the Creator and was purer than almost anyone who had ever lived, so why was he in pain for all those years of his life? Rav Isaac Luria, the Ari, says that the first hundred and thirty years Jacob lived in Israel were the years that Jacob was correcting the sin of Adam. One of the physical manifestations of the process of this correction is that it brings heaviness, sadness, and lack of what we call “chiut” – excitement or life, and since Jacob took it upon himself to correct the damage of Adam, he had to take on the manifestation of this damage as well. Every morning Jacob woke up, he had a choice to make, and he chose pain. He chose to continue the correction of Adam. Until he completed this correction, he knew that he could not experience the joy that was destined to be his. This is why the Zohar says that during those first hundred and thirty years, Jacob did not have life. Only when he went down into Egypt, after he had finished the correction of Adam, did he have life.
For Jacob, everything he had experienced until the time of entering Egypt was not his. None of the pain, none of the darkness, none of the correction was for himself. It was not his own; none of his pain was related to the work he was doing personally. For the first hundred and thirty years of his life, he was in pain because of Adam, and he was in pain for us. We have to understand that all of the difficulties in Jacob’s life — Esau wanting to kill him, Laban cheating him, Joseph being sold as slave and being separated from him all those years — didn’t happen because of Jacob. These events occurred because Jacob woke up each morning and took upon himself the pain of Adam. Once Jacob had finished the correction, the Creator said, “That is it, Jacob, you have done it. There is no more pain that you need to take upon yourself,” and then Jacob could live the next seventeen years for himself.
The pain and suffering we experience today are probably not even a tenth of one percent of what they could have been, had Jacob not made Adam’s correction. For one hundred and thirty years, tremendous pain and darkness was foisted on Jacob so that he could accomplish this correction. We look at ourselves and sometimes, in our ignorance, do not understand why certain things occur. We think, “I’m doing so much good work. How could this happen?” We need to understand that what we do and the actions we carry out do not come close to the spiritual achievements of Jacob, and that whatever our pain is, it is nowhere near the enormous amount of pain that Jacob experienced.
Part of our spiritual work needs to involve taking upon ourselves the pain of others. We should ask ourselves, “How much pain am I willing to take upon myself to help another person?” To the degree that we are willing to take upon that pain and help them with their correction, is the degree that we achieve our own correction. To sit and meditate on another person’s pain and internalize it is not what we are speaking about here. When we sit comfortably giving advice and assistance to others, we may achieve something, but we cannot truly correct ourselves or help others to correct themselves... not unless we are willing to actually take on some degree of their pain.
When we open up this door, it can be frightening because we do not know where the pain will come from, yet we still have to be willing to take it on in order to assist in the correction of others. Because this is the one Shabbat of the year where all the Light of Mashiach and the Final Redemption is revealed, every one of us, when we hear the reading of this Torah portion, can connect to the Final Correction. We can also access this great revelation by awakening within ourselves the willingness to take on another’s pain and help them finish their correction. When we are connecting to the Light of Jacob from this portion, when we have this consciousness, we can all, with God’s help, bring a tremendous revelation of the Gemar HaTikun and the Light of Mashiach into this world.
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