We are living in a time when raising a family is, sadly more difficult than ever before. True, we don’t have the financial hardship of our parents generation, or the need to run for our lives as our grandparents generations but we have our unique set of challenges that can only be ascribed to the birth pangs of Moshiach.
I am talking about challenges of raising a healthy well balance family, where the the values are ones of Torah observance, while combatting the growing epidemic of mental health challenges, large and small, (anxiety, depression, bipolar and even more serious) and now the introduction of mind altering substances from alcohol to “lower level” drugs and more serious substances.
The question is why? How much can we handle? Why is God doing this to us? Most of us have been through the ringer – as Dennis Prager says, the only people I know who are truly happy, are people I don’t know very well – most of us feel like we can’t handle what we have on our plates already, not to mention what God seems to be piling on beyond our capabilities, it often feels like it is just all too much.
Add to that, that we’ve been taught that we are the generation about whom Moses himself was humbled about, that we would be the ones that usher in the Moshiach, since we have certain challenges that seem to be “first world challenges” or having the luxury to worry about what might seem like trivial things, yet it was enough that even Moses was in awe of our generation. What do have that is so special when things are often so terrible?
Surprisingly, we, in our times are not the first to ask this question. Our great patriarch, Jacob asked this question in his time. It went something like this.
(FOOTNOTE – I am taking some liberties in how I paraphrase the Rebbe’s words – this is based on Lekkutei Sichos – volume 30, parshas Vayeishev)
Jacob didn’t have an easy life right out the gate. Twin brother to a rough and tumble womb-mate who was always manipulating and abusing him (complex trauma) and an uncle who tricked him many times both in wages and causing him marry the wrong spouse on and on (abused by those in a portions of power), war with his brother (family dischord), his only daughter was kidnapped and raped (extreme guilt) suffice it to say he was exausted.
The Torah tells, that Yaakov wanted to rest, he was over 100 years old at this point and he just wanted to live in tranquility. The Midrash tell us, that “he wanted to live in tranquility, so the crisis of Joseph is brother leapt onto him” and he was forced live nearly the rest of his life (minus the last 17 years) mourning and grieving the loss of his favorite child.
The question that you must ask is REALLY??? What was his great crime that he deserved to not be able to have tranquility? They way the Midrash phrases it, it is appears, that Jacob’s crime is that he wanted to have rest, and therefore God tells, him “sorry buddy, not happening. No rest for you. You want to rest, I’ll show you rest, boom, here, your sons will sell off one of their siblings and you will think he is dead, there is your rest for you!”
What was his crime? He wasn’t looking to run from Judaism and drink cocktails in the Bahamas, all he wanted was to be able pray and learn in tranquility without the challenging distractions of life?
Many commentary discuss this, but the Rebbe has a most novel interpretation.
The Rebbe explains, that you need to read the Midrash in a more nuanced way. “Jacob wanted to dwell in tranquility, so God showed him the truest definition of tranquility. That is the crisis of Joseph.” Meaning, true tranquility is not when nothing is bothering you, true tranquility is when you have managed to perfect your own character, rise to the highest levels of what you are capable of accomplishing, reaching your personal max, that is tranquility.
In the language of Chassidic thought, it is when you can take the world-to-come reality, where truth and Divinity is visible in everything that goes on, and there is no mystery or pain in what we endure because we know the deepest truth in it, and how it is not only good for us, but it is good in a visible way to us, an bring that reality to this world reality.
The fact is that we don’t operate at that level and we are not Jacob, but if he wanted relatively earthly tranquility it isn’t heresy for us to want the same. The fact that he had to learn the painful way, that true tranquility isn’t restful, but working to reach your personal potential, is just as true for us.
Now, I know you are thinking to yourself that, well, that isn’t very comforting to me and my problems today. I want to relax and let someone else reach their potential, I want live in my comfortable little shallow bubble and not have to deal with the challenges that I am dealing with? Don’t I get to choose?
Sadly, and happily, the answer is no! You don’t get to choose. The Rebbe expands in his talk that even Jacob was not asking for that higher level of revelation and connection, yet he too was told that God has more in store for him that even he thought possible or desirable.
That said, it might be akin to a child who might tell a parent, no thanks, I’d rather not be vaccinated against smallpox or measles, and I’d rather not be pricked by the needle. To which any responsible parent says, “sorry, you don’t get to make that choice, I am going to help you do what you don’t yet know is what is best for you.”
We can take one final step deeper. In fact, if we can alter our perspective and view this as not simply something that God wants us to figure out how to endure, but rather that we hand chosen by God, cherry picked for this mission that ONLY WE can accomplish. No one else on earth can deal with the specific struggles that we are grappling with. Be it raising challenging children, financial strains, emotional or mental health struggles and the list goes on.
God in His parental and infinite wisdom see’s that we, me and you, are special and unique and ONLY WE can rise to the occasion being presented before us, and if we can step up instead of collapsing, not only have we reached our personal max, but then we have actually connected with God on the deepest level. We made His dream come true. We have brought a little piece of Moshiach and the world-to-come, down here on this earth.
He hand picked us, and we got it done.
When we can see this, then we truly can live with tranquility. This is what God was teaching to Jacob and to us. When you can realize that this task, while beyond belief and other-worldly in how difficult it is, if we can let go and let God, and realize that this challenge, the most difficult thing on earth is actually the entire purpose of our existence we can end up with two positive results.
A) We can find meaning and strength in our struggle
B) We can finally attain not only spiritual and conceptual tranquility but we can attain physical and earthly tranquility in the here and now.
As we see, Jacob did in the end find peace here on earth. He told Paarogh, my life has been long and difficult until now, but later he concedes that the last 17 years of his life, in the ugliest and morally bankrupt places on the planet were 17 = Tov = Good.
This is what tranquility looks like. It is the most un-tranquil thing ever, but it is our calling it is what brings us peace.