Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Surrender to Prevail

The story of Yosef, which we begin this week in the Parsha of Vayeshev can be much better understood at the macro level than at the micro level. I mean, we know that the family that was to become the People of Israel needed to be in Egypt. That was part of the Divine plan. According to our sages all the drama and intrigue between Yosef and his brothers was the vehicle to make that happen and in the best way possible. But at the micro level, looking at the individuals involved, we still have to wonder why did Yosef need to suffer so much. Why did he have to endure all the pain of his early years.

Its hard to imagine a more tragic series of circumstances than that which happened to Yosef.
His mother died when he was 7. True he had another brother from his mother, but that brother, Binyamin, was much younger. He craved the attention and acceptance of his older brothers and yet his way of trying to get it only served to antagonize them. He was painfully alone. He endured the horrific experience of being almost killed by his brothers and, in the end, instead, sold into oblivion as a slave to a caravan of merchants . In Egypt he finds unlikely success only to be brought down again and imprisoned on charges of rape when he was entirely innocent. He languished in jail. Even when he got the unique opportunity of access to the Pharaoh and a pardon with his kindness to the butler, the butler promptly forgot him. He was left with no hope and no prospects.

Why? Why did Yosef have to endure so much suffering?

I believe the answer is one that is vital to me and maybe to you. Yosef was a gifted young man. He was beautiful of appearance and talented. He had the graces of his mother Rachel. And whats more he knew it. While clearly a good boy and the favorite of his father, he also was full of himself. The Sages tell us he liked to comb his hair to enhance his already good looks. As the Torah tells us, he talked badly of his brothers to their father. And he not only dreamed the dreams of personal grandeur in which the whole family bowed to him, he needed to tell those n dreams to his father and brothers.

Yosef had all the ingredients of greatness. He was clearly the most gifted of Yaakov's children. The problem was that he knew it. He had a large ego. And that ego served to foil all the good that was possible for him to achieve. The whole experience of Yosef's life was meant to humble him. He needed to be made smaller. Only after he realized his limitations would it be possible for him to turn his talents and gifts over to G-d and become who he was meant to be.

Gifted people don't surrender their self-reliance easily. If one looks at the story in this way s/he can see that each time after being knocked down, rather than surrender to Hashem, Yosef relied on his talents to prevail. Even after all he suffered, when he is in jail, and interprets the dreams of the baker and the butler of the Pharaoh, he asked the butler to remember him to the Pharaoh. The Sages taught that even here Yosef did not sufficiently rely in Hashem to liberate him. His request of the butler cost him an additional two years in prison.

Only the total despair of the prison with no chance of parole leads Yosef to surrender to Hashem.
Completely without hope, after time and time again coming close but not succeeding to lift his life out of its hell,Yosef finally gives up and turns himself over to the ratzon, the will of G-d.

Why do I say this story speaks so loudly to me and maybe to you? Think about it. Its so easy to live one's life doing mitzvot and learning Torah and yet never surrender to Hashem. We may keep everything and maybe even we are machmir in our observance , but yet we never give up ourselves and our personal self-focused agenda. On the surface we look so good and committed but on the inside we are still living our life on our terms rather than pursuing the ratzon Hashem.

And why? Why do we not turn ourselves over? Why do we resist? In simple terms because we are afraid. To turn our lives over means to trust Hashem, to trust that whatever He wants from us will be the good. Bitachon, trust, is a very rare commodity indeed. In its truest form it usually comes only when ein breira, we have no other alternative.

I am reminded of the story of a mountain climber who fell from a cliff and was dangling over the precipice. He was barely able to hold on to the ledge and avoid a fall into oblivion. He turned his eyes heavenward and said "If there is a G-d up there please save me. I promise I will always be faithful to you. I will devote my life to doing kindness and improving the situation of others".
To his surprise he heard a voice responding to his plea. " I heard you my son and I will save you. Let go of your hands hanging on to the ledge and I will catch you and bring you to safety".
To that the mountain climber responded "Is there anyone else up there?".

It is one thing to believe in G-d. It is another to trust in Him and to surrender our life to His will. Even Yosef who is referred to as hatzadik, the righteous one, over his ability to resist the seduction of the wife of Potiphar, struggled with bitachon. It is not an easy madreiga, level to come to.

We read in Pirke Avot, "Make your will as His will so that He will make His will as your will".
Indeed if we truly make our will His we will know a bliss and a serenity currently impossible for us to experience. If our will is His than His will becomes ours, there is no conflict, and we are doing what we want to do . There can be no greater sense of peace.

Channuka is the holiday of bitachon. The Maccabees had no reason to believe they would prevail. They were fewer in number and less in strength than their adversaries. It was G-d's will they were doing, not their own. They trusted and miraculously triumphed. It is this we celebrate. We too are each called in our own way to surrender in order to prevail.
It would be so much better if we did not have to be, like Yosef, totally defeated before we turned our will over to Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Samayach!

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