Ya’akov’s grief in Parshat Vayigash, and throughout the previous two parshot, is tangible. When Ya’akov is informed of the loss of his son, Yosef, the Torah writes that he responds, “I will go down to the grave mourning over my son.”1 It is only 22 years later, when Ya’akov discovers that Yosef is still living, that his spirit returns, “then the spirit of their father Ya’akov was revived.”2 Rashi tells us that Ya’akov could not be consoled because the memory of Yosef never dimmed from his mind. Rashi cites a Midrash that writes that Hashem causes the memory of the dead to fade in the hearts of the living.3 Thus, time heals all wounds. Yosef however, was not dead and his memory did not fade from Ya’akov. Instead, Ya’akov lived each of these 22 years under the crushing grief of his lost son.
Contained within this tragic situation is an important lesson. True peace comes when we align ourselves with reality – with Hashem. Pain, sadness, and grief come from living as human beings in a world we don’t control. Loss, disappointment, and injury are inescapable realities. However, suffering is our own creation. It is the reaction of our mind to the pain we are experiencing. It manifests out of our yearning for things to be different; we suffer when we are in a situation and feel that it somehow isn’t as it should be. It is a state of denial and it is agony. We can only heal when we engage with the moment for what it is. This is the Jewish concept of bitachon -– that all is as it should be. The buddhists call it acceptance or equanimity.
Ya’akov suffers so greatly, not because his son was killed, but because he believed his son was dead when he wasn’t. It is this fundamental break between his perceptions and reality that causes him such anguish. When we align ourselves with reality, Hashem brings healing down upon us. He eases our pain. In Pirkei Avot, the Mishne writes, “Make His [Hashem’s] will like your will, so that He will make your will like His will.”4 The parallel between reality and Hashem’s will is clear. Hashem’s will is reality for reality cannot exist without Hashem willing it into existence at each moment. On a side note, this is why, in the blessings over grains, fruit, and vegetables, we use the present form of the word “בּוֹרֵא” – i.e. Hashem did not create the world and set it in motion but rather, He is actively creating it in each moment, actively creating even the food we are about to eat. If Hashem wanted the moment to be different, it would be different. By engaging with what is, we are aligning ourselves with Hashem’s will. The most beautiful achievement is when our will truly aligns with the will of Hashem – at that point we are truly desiring exactly what is in every moment. It is harmony. In Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes, “The present moment is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our enemy [Gd] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.” We can only be alive when we are fully aligned with reality, which is to say, fully engaged with whatever is true in the moment. The Torah tells us that Ya’akov is essentially dead until that point where he realigns with reality.
It is not Ya’akov’s fault that he disconnected from reality. It obviously results from the lie his sons tell him. Perhaps this is why lying is considered to be so atrocious, for it not only misaligns the liar from reality but the recipient of the lie as well. This might also be why adultery is one of the 15 transgressions punishable by death under Halachic law. For the victim of adultery, the sin represents an enormous blow against their faith. They must come to terms with the fact that, for however long the adultery lasted, they had been living disjointed from reality. They believed they had a faithful, loving spouse. They made decisions based on this, aligned their life around this fact. When that fact dissolves, they are left only to pick up the shattered pieces. Implicit in this prohibition, the Torah tells us that intentionally corrupting another person’s honest relationship with reality is punishable by death.
We see this truth exemplified too in our own emotional worlds. We suffer not from emotional pain, although it can be difficult, but rather from fighting what is alive inside of us. Suffering comes when we tell ourselves that it’s not ok to feel the way we are feeling, that we should feel something different. We tell ourselves that the pain would go away if only we were better, more successful, different than we are in reality. The emotions are there whether we like them or not. As long as our mindset is focused on pushing away what we are experiencing, we will only ever repress. We can only process through our emotions when we gain the courage to give space to the truth of what we are experiencing.
The present moment is life. It is our point of connection to Hashem. It is where we heal, it is where we grieve, it is where we love and laugh and cry. To disconnect from the reality of the present is to disconnect from Hashem Himself for reality is an expression of Hashem’s will. We overcome suffering when we align ourselves with reality, when we accept what is, and when we align our will with Hashem’s will. May we all merit to experience the peace and trust that results when we harmonize with Hashem’s will.
- Bereishit 37:35
- Bereishit 45:27
- Rashi: Bereishit 37:35
- Pirkei Avot: 2:4