Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When to Hold and When to Fold

When is it time to move on? Have you ever wanted something very much, prayed for it, waited for it, longed for it, but yet it did not come? When is it time to let go and accept that, sad as it may be, what we much hoped for will will not happen.

I suspect most of us have asked ourselves that question and more than once. We longed for something in our lives maybe a certain job, or something in our marriage, or a shidduch, and no matter how much we davened or how hard we tried, it simply did not happen. We were left with a dilemma. Should we hang on to the dream, after all it could still happen. Hashem may yet answer our prayers and we don't want to lose a gift that may be so near and could mean so much? Or should we let go. To continue to wait may come at too high a price especially when other opportunities beckon and the desired may never occur.

I suspect many a life has been wasted waiting and praying for that which never came. And similarly, I suspect many a person after years of waiting has abandoned a deep and powerful yearning only a short time before there aspirations would have been realized had they remained committed.

Knowing when to hold and when to fold is hard indeed.

I look at two episodes in this week's parsha that seems to speak to the theme. The first is the more simple. Yaacov spends 20 years working for his father-in-law Lavan. He is cheated and taken advantage of time and time again. By the reading's end he is ready to move on. He doesn't even say goodbye. He simply gathers his family and possessions and takes 0ff. Yaacov realizes there is nothing between him and his father-in-law. Despite his best efforts to create a cordial, if not warm, family relationship all he experiences in return is mistrust and envy. Yaacov, in accord with G-d's charge, moves on. He and his wives' family will never see each other again. What might have been is no longer anticipated. No goodbyes necessary. Its over !

The second story is a bit more subtle. We read of Rachel and her desire to have children. She was so pained that she was childless that she said to Yaakov " Give me children else I am going to die". Desperate, she gave her maid-servant Bilha to Yaakov in order to have children through her. After 7 years, while Leah, her sister, and Yaacov's other wife had 7 children and the maid-servants 4, Rachel conceives. The Torah tells us " And Elokim remembered Rachel and Elokim listened to her and opened her womb".

The Torah explicitly states that Rachel conceived not only because G-d remembered her but because he heard her . After 7 years and seeing all the births around her Rachel was still praying for a child. She had not given up. We might wonder about that. She knew her husband was not sterile. He was a virtual baby-maker, having had 11 children. She, on the other hand, had gone 7 years infertile.

Might she not have thought, "its time to move on. Its just not going to happen for me. Let me find another direction for my life." Who would have blamed Rachel if she had stopped praying to have a child and instead invested in other meaningful life endeavours. Some times one needs to move on.

When to move on and when to hold fast? Can we learn anything from the consideration of both stories?

I think there is a lesson here. And the lesson is gleaned more from the Rachel story than from the Yaakov-Laban saga. Little doubt their are times to move on. And they are not easy to discern. Yaacov himself may not have recognized the time to leave had G-d not come to him in a dream and mandated his exodus. I suspect most of us wait too long before letting go rather than leave too soon. How many a woman has stayed in an abusive marriage way too long, hoping it would get better, before finally giving up and leaving.

Yes, giving up on people and on dreams no matter how important has its time. We cannot wait forever. And their are other life investments to be made. But its different when what we are yearning for is not about someone or something else, but about our own becoming and about the realization of our truest self. Sometimes what we are praying for and yearning to realize is so personal as to be core to our self concept, having to do with who we feel ourselves to be.

Such was the case with Rachel. Rachel knew she was meant to be a mother. It was her essence.

That's why she told Yaakov "Give me children else I will die". She could not imagine being at all without being a mother. While its true, in some cases, that which we most believe to be core to our identity does not happen in our lives, no matter how hard we pray or how many tears we shed. Yet as long as their is any possibility at all, we do not give up. We cannot give up. Giving up is to die. And until that death is inevitable we will rightfully remain committed to our personal calling.

Rachel is the mother of the Jewish people. She is the only one of the matriarchs who is always called Imeinu. To be a mother was not a work of her life, it was her very essence, inseparable from her identity. 7 years or 70 years, it would not have mattered, until or unless she would have been physically unable, Rachel would have been praying and petitioning to have a child, to be a mother. When its your self you are waiting to bring to life, there is no folding up.

I remember the story of a Rav who went to a particularly wicked town and made every effort to get the people to do teshuva but to no avail. Year after year he preached. coaxed and pleaded to get the people to change with no results. Finally someone asked him "Rav why do you continue to make these heroic efforts. Can't you see its useless?". The Rav answered, "Originally I preached and pleaded to change them. Now I preach and plead so that they shouldn't change me".

When we are talking about that which we believe to be vital to our sense of self, no matter how long we wait, we need to continue to pray and anticipate, never giving up. Our opportunity may not yet have come, but we cannot abandon our personal call. In those cases we need to plead petition and daven, even if we feel unheard, so that time and circumstance does not change us nor dim our resolve to become who we were meant to become.

When to hold and when to fold....One thing is sure in every life there is call for both. And we need to be steadfast when necessary and have courage enough to let go and move on when that is clearly our work. Most of all, like Rachel Imeinu, we need to be resolute and persist, no matter the challenge, to become our truest selves.


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