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Before we reach this week’s portion of Vayeshev, we read about Jacob going through a long list of transformations and spiritual achievements. He wrestled with and overcame the negative angel (which represented his evil inclination). He was protected from his brother Esau, who had wanted to kill him. He went through a long journey of trials and tribulations in the process of finding his two soul mates, Rachel and Leah. And, on top of everything, he diffused the negative energy of his father-in-law, Laban, through years of hard work.
When we reach the Vayeshev portion, we find Jacob finally rested. In fact, the title of this portion actually translates to “and he sat”.
Now, given all that that he had been through, we may ask ourselves if it is such a bad thing that Jacob took a rest. Hadn’t he earned some down time after all his struggles? After all, isn’t that what life is about? We grow, we accomplish, we share, and then it’s time to settle down? The answer, according to this story, is a clear no. Because right after Jacob “sat”, we find him facing the saddest 17 years of his life—the 17 years that he believed his beloved son Joseph was dead.
The first lesson for this week is this: the moment we think we have “arrived” at a certain destination – that we have accomplished something, or even that we have succeeded in helping people – at the moment we settle into complacency, we will be pushed by the universe in a painful way to go to our next level. The Rav always said that as long as we are in this world our task is always to go to our next spiritual level.
Complacency makes our vessel small and blocks the Light from being able to give us our next level of growth as well as the gifts and blessings that are meant for us.
Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean we need to be in constant suffering. It is certainly possible for us to reach the level of appreciating ourselves, the Light, and the gift of doing what we do, and at the same time being able to consistently strive to go to our next level. In this case, our transitions from one level to the next will be filled with joy, and even the challenges will be manageable. But when we have the consciousness of already having arrived, and are getting ready to settle down, a painful challenge needs to break our vessel and open it again.
The second lesson this week has to do with what exactly happened to Joseph that brought such sadness upon his father. It sounds ridiculous and illogical that his brothers, who were actually righteous people representing the 12 tribes, could actually sell their brother into slavery, much less consider killing him.
How could it be?
The secret here is that even though in the 1% reality – the physical, logical world – the brothers did make a mistake, a mistake that they eventually needed to pay for through a process of correction, we need to understand that the Light of the Creator was part of the big picture. On the 99% level, the spiritual level, what happened was not a mistake at all. Everything that happened had to happen in order for Joseph to arrive in Egypt and be able to plant the seed for the redemption of the Israelites.
For all of us, the lesson here is to understand that, in the midst of our difficulties, the Light is in the business – everything happens for a reason because the Light is always guiding us. If we can open our hearts in the midst of unfair situations, in the midst of the negative behavior of others towards us, in the illogical situations in our lives, then even if we have to do something in the physical world to take care of the issue, on the spiritual level, the Creator will always bring us closer to our mission.
The faster we embrace our circumstances with trust and acceptance, the easier that journey will be. Fighting our reality and feeling like a victim about the unfair, the difficult, or the unexpected will only cause us unnecessary pain and suffering.
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