Jacob's Distress - ויגש

Friday, 14 December, 2018 - 9:45 am

p.jpgJacob's Distress

After twenty two years of mourning the loss of his beloved son, Jacob received the news that Joseph was alive and well, and was the ruler of Egypt. Jacob wasted no time and together with his family, he began the journey to Egypt. Jacob was filled with conflicting emotions. On one hand he was about to spend the best years of life, in peace and tranquility, reunited with his beloved son, Joseph. On the other hand, the journey to Egypt was the beginning of what, decades later, would become the terrible enslavement of the Jews in Egypt.

The Torah relates:

And God said to Israel in visions of the night, and He said, "Jacob, Jacob!" And he said, "Here I am."

And He said, "I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.

Rashi explains that G-d’s reassuring words to Jacob were in response to Jacob’s concern about traveling to Egypt:

Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt: [God encouraged him] because he was distressed at being compelled to leave the Holy Land.

A careful read of Rashi reveals a discrepancy in the emotion described; while the Torah describes the emotion as fear (“do not be afraid to go down to Egypt”) Rashi describes the feeling as one of distress (“he was distressed”). According to Rashi, then, Jacob was feeling distress and G-d told him  not to fear. Yet G-d did not tell Jacob not to be distressed.

Rashi teaches a powerful lesson on how Jacob was to approach the onset of the exile, as well as how we should approach our own exile; we must not fear the exile and it’s difficulties, we must, however, be distressed about it. We must never make peace with the exile and it’s spiritual and physical challenges. We must always remember that the exile and it’s challenges are not our natural state of being.. In fact, these two components, not fearing the exile and experiencing distress from exile, are interdependent: the only way we can immunize ourselves against the negative effect of exile and its challenges (“do not fear”), is if we understand that our true identity is at home only in our own homeland.

The same is true when we experience a figurative “exile”, when we feel trapped by internal or external challenge, when we are frightened by our current state of being and wish we could improve ourselves. We must remember that the challenge and difficulty are but temporary.  The negativity we are experiencing does not define us. The most important tool of spiritual survival is to remember that we will overcome and return to our true selves, to our soul, to our homeland.

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos vol. 30 Vayigash 3)


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