How Do We Redeem Ourselves?

I woke up this morning after another restless night. With an achy back, stuffy nose and aggressive cough, I wished I could stay in bed under the warm covers. After getting dressed and finally getting all the kids on their way, I opened the front door and was besieged by the freezing cold wind. I got into my frost-covered car and waited patiently as it heated up. Couldn’t I live in a nice, warm climate, or at least be able to take some time off to relax in one? Why does life always have to be so difficult?

The Torah tells us, “Jacob lived in the Land of Egypt for 17 years” (Genesis 47:28). The Zohar asks, “Why does the Torah bother to single out the 17 years of Jacob dwelling in Egypt? Rabbi Shimon answered that Jacob had to deal with trouble all his life, and his days were troubled right from the beginning. When he saw Joseph standing before him, Jacob looked at Joseph and his soul was made whole as if he saw Joseph’s mother. For the beauty of Joseph resembled that of Rachel, and it seemed to him [Jacob] as if he had never known any sorrow at all.”

Could it be that these were the only 17 years that Jacob dwelled in happiness and satisfaction? Jacob had lived in the Holy Land – the place that was to be his eternal inheritance – and yet it was only in Egypt, an indecent land of future bondage and exile, that he found peace and harmony?

Sadness, depression, worries, anxiety – all these negative feelings originate from a spiritual blockage of sorts. It all started when Adam ate from the Tree. “The Lord God called to man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He replied, ‘I heard Your Voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I am naked, so I hid” (ibid., 3:9-10). By Adam’s eating, something holy and elevated had become contaminated; it was now exiled and would have to be elevated and redeemed. This is true for us as well. Whether or not we are aware, we sometimes make certain decisions and head in a direction that is counterproductive to our spiritual potential. Our precious soul is now in a state of exile; it is crying out and we feel this cry. But how do we redeem ourselves?

Joseph was the quintessential Tzaddik. The Torah calls him, “a man in whom there is the ruach (wind or spirit) of God” (ibid., 41:38). The Tzaddik blows away the ash covering the souls of the Jewish people, thereby dispelling their depression and inflaming their formerly smothered essence.

When Joseph was sold to Egypt, to the lowest pit on earth, our very essence, Jewish spirit and joy were completely exiled. But now that Jacob saw Joseph alive, it all made sense. Joseph had not been sold in vain, but in order to save his family by providing sustenance during the years of famine. Although the national exile of his descendants was only beginning, Jacob’s exile had effectively ended. True, there would be times of great darkness and despair ahead, but by finding Joseph – the goodness and small joys in the darkness – one could begin to find a way out.

Yes, we all have difficult times, sadness and worries. But when we look for the goodness and experience joy even in troubled times, we begin to elevate our perceived purposeless issues and redeem them for the incredible opportunities of growth hidden beneath. We then restore our souls to their awesome purpose of unifying us with the greatest Source. Amen!

Based on Likutey Halakhot, Hodaah 6

Author: Yossi Katz

Yossi Katz currently lives in Lakewood, NJ where he runs the BRI American Office. He studied in Beth Medrash Gevoha, as well as the former Breslov Kollel of Lakewood headed by Rabbi Shlomo Goldman.

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