001 Torah Portion of the Week – Vayeshev – Why is Life so Difficult -The spiritual way to handling a bad day
The Torah Podcast Transcript
001 The Torah Podcast – Why is Life so Difficult? – The Spiritual Way to handling a Bad Day
Torah Portion – Vayeshev
Did you ever notice that life doesn’t go exactly the way you want it to go? And sometimes your bank account is not exactly as full as it should be? And maybe the kids are not behaving the way you want them to behave? Anybody notice that? The question is, why is life just so difficult? What’s the Jewish answer to why life is so difficult?
If we look in the Parsha, Vayeshev, take a look over here. It says, “Vayeshev Yaakov b’Eretz megurei aviv, b’eretz Canaan.” Yaakov dwelt in the land where his father lived in the land of Canaan. Then the next verse goes on to say, “These are the generations of Yaakov.” Then it goes on to speak about Yosef. The question is, what’s going on here? We started with a verse, chapter 27 in Bereishis, and we talked about where Yaakov dwelt – vayeshev Yaakov. Then we go on to talk about Yosef. Not only that but it says, “V’eleh toldos Yaakov, Yosef ben sheva.” These are the toldos, these are the generations of Yaakov, and we go on to talk about Yosef. What about Reuven, Shimon and Levi? What about the rest of the tribes? Rashi actually brings a Midrash Rabba. He brings a couple of explanations, but the third explanation he brings is a Midrash Rabba that says like this. I will read you the Rashi. “It is further expounded upon as follows. When it says Vayeshev, what does it mean, Vayeshev? It means when he wanted to dwell in tranquility. When Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility, the troubles of Yosef sprang upon him. It was the dwelling in the land which caused the beginning of the problem with Yosef. Rashi goes on to explain, the Midrash Rabba says, “The righteous seek to dwell in tranquility said the Holy One, Blessed be He. What is prepared for the righteous in the World to Come is not sufficient for them? But they seek also to dwell in tranquility in this world? In other words, God says to Yaakov, “Yaakov, what is going on with you? You want to rest? What, it’s not sufficient for you the reward you’re going to have in the next world, that’s not enough? You also want tranquility in this world?”
Rav Yerucham of Mir, the mashgiach from the last generation explains,“Wait a second. What’s going on with this Midrash?” He says, “Madua b’emes lo?” Lama lo,, why not? Mi soneh le tzaddikim d’ochlei trei olam?” Does God hate us that the righteous people shouldn’t have two worlds? What, God is jealous or something? A person can’t have good in this world and also have good in the next world? He has to really have it bad in this world, he has to have problems in order to have it good in the next world? Don’t think that the shalva that we’re talking about that Yaakov wanted was a shalva like ours. He says, “Chas vehalila” God-forbid. We’re talking about the Yaakov who didn’t sleep for 14 years. We’re talking about somebody who is mesirus nefesh,self sacrificing to sit and learning Torah all day. He was willing to give over his life in order to sit and learn. He is pushing himself to the limit. That’s the rest that he’s talking about. We’re talking about that he is not asking for a life of luxury. He just didn’t want to have this problem with his son Yosef who disappeared for 22 years. He thought he was dead. Can you imagine the agmas nefesh, the aggravation that such a thing could cause a person? If he doesn’t have peace inside of himself, how is he going to possibly serve God?
Don’t forget, we’re talking about Yaakov who just finished this whole story with his brother Esav who was about to kill him. He also just finished the story with Lavan who he suffered with. So, Rav Yerucham wants to explain, there is a verse in Chapter 32 in Bereishis, verse number 5 when Yaakov sent his entourage to go to Esav he wanted to tell him, “You know what? I lived with Lavan and I have till now, I have survived.” We’ll read that in Hebrew. It says, “V’im Lavan garti,” exactly. “Im Lavan garti,” I lived with Lavan, “V’acher ata,” until now. Rashi explains, what was he trying to tell Esav? You’d better watch out because the word garti, gimmel, reish, tuf, yud, has a numerical value of 613. That is to say, “I lived with the wicked Lavan but I still kept the 613 commandments. I didn’t learn from his evil deeds, so you’d better be careful Esav, because I’m still righteous. Even though I was with Lavan, which is a big feat in itself, I did not fall into wickedness. I kept the Torah.” Rav Yerucham wants to explain, “What’s going on here? Why is he mentioned this garti to him?” He says, “It’s much deeper. Lavan was like the furnace, basically living with Lavan was an unbelievable difficulty. He changed his wages 10 times.” It even says it was 100 times he kept changing his wages, and that he worked for one daughter, he worked for seven years. In the end he got Leah instead of getting Rochel, and he works for another seven years. He didn’t steal anything, he kept his righteousness and he kept being straight and doing the right thing, even under unbelievable circumstances. So, that’s what it means, garti.
Rav Yerucham wants to learn from here an unbelievable chiddush, an unbelievable, novel idea which is it? He wants to say, “Im Lavan garti, taryag mitzvos shomati,” with Lavan I lived and I kept the 613 mitzvos, “ki biladi,” without this “im Lavan garti, biladi kol elah kol kashim,” without all these difficult times and all of these things that stopped me from doing the mitzvos, “Ain hem kiyum shel mitzvos.” He wants to say, if you don’t have difficult times, when you try to do the mitzvos, when you try to serve God, if everything is equal that’s not called a mitzvah that’s going to give you the next world. It’s only a mitzvah under a difficult time, that’s the mitzvah that’s going to give you the next world. It’s only by doing the mitzvos under a stressful situation that a person is going to get the next world. You know, a lot of secular Jews ask me, “Do Jews believe in the next world?” It’s such a basic question, and it’s such a basic understanding. Of course we believe in the next world. I’m going to talk about it a little bit more, but the only way that a person will really get the next world is if he’s really had a stressful situation and he does the mitzvah anyway. The truth is that it is the same thing in this world. Who gets rich nowadays, just hanging around in the living room, watching TV? Nobody. Anybody who is an entrepreneur, they’re doing something serious and trying to get rich, he is working 18 hours a day. He’s hooked up on his email, late at night, early in the morning. Even in this world we understand the concept that you don’t get something, there’s no free lunch, but also in the next world. So, why should we think when it comes to spirituality it’s a free lunch? It’s a funny thing. People think when it comes to spirituality that’s easy. You just did this because you can’t see it, you can’t taste it. You don’t know what it is. So, you assume that when I do a little, I get a lot. It’s not true. Did you ever see anybody put a dime into a coke machine…I guess a coke in America probably costs a dollar now. Let’s say you put a dollar into a coke machine, and get out 10 cokes. No, it doesn’t happen like that. Nothing happens like that. It’s only if you put in a lot of effort that there’s cause and effect.
There is a rule in logic that says the result cannot be any greater than the cause. It’s impossible to produce something by doing something small, but do something big by doing something small. Ah, it looks like a person just pushed a little button and a big explosion happened. No, the answer is, in that little button there was the power to produce that explosion. It might have a siba rechok, a distant type of a cause, and it caused another thing. But at the end of the day, there had to be in the causes all put together, the things needed to produce the result. It’s also true in spirituality. Rav Yerucham concludes therefore at the end of the day, the whole thing that happened, all the difficulties that a person has in his life, he should look at them and he should say, “Well, how did I come out from that difficulty? Did I come out okay or not okay?” But it’s not a negative view of life. It’s just a different switch in the mind as to what life is about.
That’s what I want to speak about here. There’s a sefer called Chovas Levavos, Duties of the Heart. He says there a beautiful thing. In this part of the book he’s talking about the mind speaking to the soul. And the mind says like this. “The secret of your being is that the Creator created you out of nothing. In common with all spiritual beings that He created, really thats how we started before we came into this world, our soul was created out of nothing. And God created us. We’re not equal to God. God created us.” He continues and says, “He wanted to exalt you and elevate you to the high degree of His treasured ones. The chosen and pure, who were among those close to the light of His glory. He wanted to really make man like an angel, to bestow his favor and grace upon us. But you will be only be worthy of these three things.” In other words, why were we created? Really, if we have souls and our souls are eternal, they were close to God. What happened? God pushed us away? No. God pushed us away in order that we should grow, that we should become elevated beings. How do we do that? It says there’s three ways. The first is the removal of the veil of folly that hangs over you, so you may be enlightened in knowledge by Him. The first thing is to gain wisdom, I would call it that. The second is that you’ll be tried and tested whether you choose to serve God or go against Him. The second thing is, you’re going to have difficult times and you’re going to see how you behave. Listen to the third thing. The third is that you’ll be disciplined in this world by bearing patiently the burden of His service, in order that He shall raise you to the degree of the higher beings, the patient ones, to whom it is said, “Blessed God His angels. Mighty ones who do His bidding.” If you look in the Hebrew you’ll see he’s talking about haelyonim hasovlanim, haelyonim v’hasovlim. You’re talking about angels with sovel, patience…patience. We were created to grow to be like angels. We were created to have good character. Now, how do we get that? We’re not going to get it just sitting in front of the TV. Maybe, if somebody gets in front of a TV and we don’t react, so we might get it sitting in front of the TV. But really, we get it by being in this life, and having things that are coming our way, and we grow from them.
Now, I’m going to bring another book called the Path of the Just that was written by the Ramchal. This is the classic mussar sefer, the classic in Jewish philosophy. He says…you see, it’s a change in the mind of what is the purpose of life? It’s not a downer, it’s not a bummer. It’s just a switch in the mind which in the end really comes out sweet and beautiful, and even a higher elevated life. It’s not depressing at all. It’s the opposite, which I’ll show you at the end. He brings another part of Mesillas Yesharim, it is actually exciting. I want to tell you what he says here.
“In summation, a person was not created for his position in this world. We were not created to be here, but rather his position in the world to come. We are created in order for the next world. However, through his position in this world, in this world he acquires his place in the world to come, this being the ultimate goal. It’s only through this world that we get to the next world. Therefore, you will find many passages from our Sages of Blessed Memory, that speak of the same comparison, that this world is a place for time of preparation, and the world to come is a place where one rests and consumes what he has already prepared. This world resembles a corridor as I have written about. And you should do them today, and receive them tomorrow. And he who toils erev, preceding, Shabbos will eat like Shabbos. And the world’s like dry land, and the world to come is like an ocean. And you find many different possukim talking about this kind of thing.” Now, here’s the point I want to say.
“Therefore, you will surely understand that no intelligent person could believe that the purpose of man’s creation relates to his position in this world.” If you think about it, you’ll see in a minute that we’re not created for this world, because look what he says. “For what significance is there to man’s life in this world? Is there anybody who’s truly happy or at peace in this world? The days of our years among them are seven years, and with strength 80 years. And they’re filled with toil and anguish. How many different forms of anguish and sickness and pains and burdens there are. And you experience them and then a person finally dies. One in a thousand cannot be found whom the world abounds pleasure and true peacefulness. One in a thousand can’t be found. Even if such one lives to be 100, and then he passes away, then he’s gone from the world. How is it possible that the purpose of a man is for this world? This world is filled with all kinds of problems. So, what’s the point? What are we doing here?”
If you look in the book Even Sheleima of the Vilna Gaon he says at the very beginning, “The prime purpose of man’s life is to constantly strive to break his bad habits. Otherwise, what is life for?” I’ll read that in Hebrew. It says, “Iker chiyus ha’adam hi lehithazek tamid beshemiros hamiddos. Im lo, lama li chaim?” Why is he alive? If a person is not growing, he is missing the purpose of life. He’s missing the purpose of life. He thinks life is just purely about pleasure? I’ll tell you a joke.
One time a new rabbi came to the shul. The president of the shul was there, he was going to speak on the Shabbos he’d speak. He starts to speak to the kehillah, community about kashrus, and how important it is not to eat this kind of thing, and that kind of thing. You have to make sure that you have good rabbis, good mashgichim which means people that come in and check to make sure that everything is kosher. They have to come into the store. He goes on and on. Fine, everybody goes home. The president of the shul comes to the rabbi and says, “Listen, this kehillah, this group of people, it’s not for them. It’s a little bit difficult, kashrus. Maybe next week you could speak of something else?” The next week he comes and he speaks about Shabbos, how important it is to keep Shabbos, and the seventh day you have to rest and you can’t drive, and you can’t turn on lights. You have to fix the lights before, and you can’t cook on Shabbos, and all those different things that you can’t do on Shabbos. He explains to them about the beauty of Shabbos, but still. Everybody goes home. The president of the shul comes to the rabbi. He says, “Listen, this group of people, it’s not for them. You’ve got to think of a different subject.”
“Okay,” he says. Next week he comes in again. He talks about nidda. What’s nidda? A woman has her period, a man is not allowed to live with his wife. He has to wait seven days, or five days and then seven days, and he has to count. You have to make sure, then she has to go to the mikvah, ritual immersion. Fine. Then the president says, “Listen, you’re not getting it. These people, you can’t tell them these things. You can’t tell them, it’s too hard for them – Shabbos, and nidda, and kashrus. It’s too hard.” The rabbi says, “Well, what do you want me to talk about?” He says, “Why don’t you talk about Judaism?
The joke is, anything that takes a little bit of effort, anything that’s a little bit hard, people are not interested. That’s our nature. You have to know, that this is why we are here. We are here to grow. And as a matter of fact, if you’re not growing, you’re not going to be happy. A person is only happy when he’s growing. I want to show you, there’s a Gemara in Archin that says like this, on 16b. “Whoever goes 40 days without suffering has received his reward from the world to come.” In other words in Israel they say, “The calamity is waiting for him.” There is an idea that the things that you get in this world, you can actually take away from your next world. And if you haven’t suffered for 40 days at all, just like life was just perfect for 40 days, that’s a sign that you’ve lost your next world. God-forbid that should happen to us.
And the Gemara in Menachos says, 53b, “Why are the Jews compared to olive trees? It’s to tell you, just as the olive only produces its oil after being pounded, so the Jews only return to proper conduct because of suffering.” I don’t want to talk about suffering. The point is not suffering. The point is getting the purpose straight. Once you start to understand what the goal is, everything else lines up. For example, you have a yeshiva guy – a person who dedicates himself to sitting and learning Torah, which is actually the greatest mitzvah that exists. So, he sits there and learns and he has money problems. How’s he going to sit and learn all day, because he doesn’t have any money? Not only that but he tends to have a lot of kids. The Torah tells us to have a lot of kids, you can have a lot of kids, 10 or 12 kids. Thank God, I have 12 kids, thank God, and money can be hard, and kids can be difficult. You’re living in Eretz Yisroel, that’s also a mitzvah to come to live in Israel. Then you’ve got Arabs on every side. You’ve got all these things happening, and you’ve got all these pressures. And the religious life, in a certain sense, is pushing the envelope of what a person could handle. That’s on one side.
The benefit of that is a person becomes much more pure. It said that Lavan was like a furnace. What does it mean, he was like a furnace? It means that if you’re in situations where you have to control yourself, you have to have proper character, so it’s like a furnace. It’s burning inside. But what starts to happen is, a person starts to live this life. He starts to feel sweetness. He starts to feel beauty. The life actually starts to become sweet and you start to feel successful as a human being, which is the greatest thing that a person could feel. Let me just read this last piece in the Mesillas Yesharim. It’s talking about righteous people that are entirely unmotivated by selfish interest, their sole aspiration to magnify the honor of God and give Him pleasure. The more turns that cross their path making it difficult for them to give more of themselves, to counteract them, the more their hearts will fortify themselves and rejoice to show the strength of their faith. Just a general famed for his strength will always thrust himself into the heart of the battle, where the victory will serve all the more to reveal his prowess. The joy that comes with every opportunity to express the intensity of one’s love is well-known to every lover of flesh and blood. In other words, once you get into this kav, in this line, life changes because you realize that every move you make can either bring God into the world or take God out of the world.
It becomes pleasurable to do the right thing. I always tell my kids, “The greatest pleasure in life is to do the right thing,” because in the end when you do the right thing, the right thing happens. Good things happen. And you don’t always feel things in the moment, you know? It’s like a ship. If a ship is off one inch here it’s going to wind up on the other side of the world over a long span, as it goes across the ocean. Same thing with life. A person says, “Where’s God?” “What do you mean, where’s God?” “I do sins, and I do this. Nothing’s happening. Nothing happened to me, I’m okay.” Nothing happened yet, but wait. Wait as life goes on. Wait as your kids grow up. Do you have blessings in your life, you have all the good things? Maybe yes, maybe no. But here it comes out that even the opposite – even the righteous person may not be having the best things as you would call it. Really, everything that happens is good. Everything that God does is the right thing, it’s the good thing. He may not be feeling it, but if he understands that this person is to grow in his character, so then he is happy about that, and he’s happy about everything.
I’ll tell you, I’ll end with one last story. It says, one time there were two Jews…it’s a true story. Two Jews in Ben Gurion airport. They were about to sit next to each other. The one guy, he was looking through his bag and he was getting a bit confused, because he couldn’t find his ticket and this and that. He sits down, okay. The other guy sits down next to him. He takes a sandwich, he took out his cookies and started to eat his cookies. All of a sudden he sees that his cookies are over there, sitting between them. He sees that the other guy takes a cookie. Okay, maybe the guy’s hungry? The other guy smiles at him, the guy smiles at him and he takes the cookie. So, he also takes a cookie. It’s his, he can take his own cookies. He takes a cookie, he eats the cookie. The other guy looks at him and smiles back to him. Then the other guy takes another cookie. Basically, it’s half-half, they each finish the box of cookies. Then what happens when the guy gets into the plane, he looks through his bag and he sees that the box of cookies that he thought were his were really the other guy’s. The whole box of cookies were still in his bag.
What’s the point? The point is, good character. When things happen to a person now there’s road rage, and there’s upset about this and that. No, good character – good character. You have to be a mentsch, it’s the purpose of Judaism. A person has to be a mentsch which means not only to be a mentsch, but the more you grow in spirituality, the more pressure that will be increased that you should be a mentsch even under those circumstances. And those, according to Rav Yerucham, are the circumstances that are really going to give you the next world. Because nobody puts a dollar into a coke machine and gets out 10 cokes. It’s only when you work hard and produce just like in this world when you work hard and you produce, that it comes out that you are going to become rich as they say, for example, also in the next world, and also in spirituality. It’s only when a person works hard. I think even though you may think there’s a negative view of life, but really when you start to live it and you start to have faith and you believe in it, then you start to see it’s a beautiful way of life and it’s the right way to go.
That’s the end of this episode, I hope you enjoyed it. I hope to put on another episode next week, and continue these podcasts.