What the caterpillar calls the end of life, the master calls a butterfly.
These are tough times. Rising antisemitism and Israel’s War on Terror are getting us down and we’re desperate for some good news! I feel like I have this constant impulse to check the news in the hope of finding something uplifting in these dark times.
As mindful Jews infused with over 3300 years of Torah wisdom, we have tools to employ to lift our spirits. The key lies in an enigmatic encounter in the recent Torah portion, when our Patriarch, Jacob, spends all night wrestling with a mysterious stranger. Clearly, it was an unpleasant experience for Jacob—he emerges wounded and limping. Yet curiously, as the dawn rises and the stranger prepares to leave, Jacob refuses to let him go until he blesses him (Genesis 32: 27)! Any normal person whose assailant asks to leave would surely send him off as quickly as possible. Why would Jacob insist that his attacker bless him? Blessings are sought from holy men, not hooligans!
It is here that we are introduced to a magnificent truth—a veritable secret of the Universe. In Judaism, night always comes before day. Shabbos and Jewish holidays always begin at sunset, reflecting the sequence of creation: “And there was evening followed by morning, completing one day.” The reason is that every light must be preceded by darkness.
Like a seed must decompose before sprouting, our successes are born of failure. Instead of giving up hope when we first encounter defeat, the awareness that success isn’t instantaneous, but rather born through night, fills us with the courage of conviction and the purpose of our passion. Just like night is always followed by day, our lonely struggles are strategically placed in our lives as a precursor to the dawn that inevitably follows.
This profound truth is spelled out clearly in a Chassidic discourse by Rabbi Dovber, the Second Rebbe of Chabad in his classic work, Imrei Bina (chapter 9):
We observe the pattern reflected in the affairs of the world, whereby individuals do not achieve growth—in wealth, leadership, building a family, study, or any other accomplishment—without first experiencing humiliation, pain, loss, and the like… For example, individuals engaged in study will not arrive at a complete understanding of the subject without much toil and stress, feeling distant from understanding and tempted to despair from mastering the subject… Indeed, the Talmud states (Gittin 43a), “One does not understand statements of Torah without first being mistaken.”
We observe the same in earning a livelihood, whereby we succeed only after putting forth great effort and enduring much pain, even feeling despair. Only thereafter do we find profit and great blessing…
This is the way that G-d’s blessings flow in the upper worlds and travel down to the lowest realm…. There is no light without the darkness that precedes it… As it is stated, “According to the pain is the reward” (Ethics of the Fathers 5:21).
Jacob understood that every negative experience is a precursor to something positive. His insistence that the stranger blesses him, represents his refusal to accept his struggle at face value, opting instead to discover its positive outcome.
Jacob’s amazing attitude to struggle manifests itself also in the way he reacts to his wicked employer, Lavan. Though he deceived Jacob endlessly over twenty years of his employment, Jacob used his time to compose fifteen of the most famous songs of all time—the “Songs of Ascent” that have been immortalized as part of the Biblical Book of Psalms (Psalms 120-134). Jacob’s extraordinary ability to sing his way through his suffering is rooted in this consciousness of this truth—that after every darkness comes the dawn. He intuitively understood that as deep as his suffering is now, so will be the subsequent rise of his joy to follow soon. Instead of focusing on his current deficiency, he set his eye on his ultimate destiny.
Every time we experience a setback, we have a profound choice to make: Will we stress over the immediate problem or will we choose to see the bigger picture and find comfort in the loving embrace of G-d, knowing with certainty that good will come of this, even though we can’t see it yet.
Drop the worry and choose the glory. Stop stressing about what you don’t have and start thinking about what you do have. G-d is guiding your steps. He controls the entire universe. Don’t allow your struggles to define you. Why define yourself by your deficiencies and not by your destiny? Your destiny is so much greater than your problems!
You’re going to go through tough times—that’s life. But remember that nothing happens to you. It happens for you. Like Jacob, train yourself to see the positive in the negative events.
The world today can sometimes seem to have completely lost its way: If you want to feel lousy, read a newspaper. But if you want to cheer up, read a history book. Because it’s only in hindsight that we’re able to see how the dawn follows the darkness.
Not all storms come to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path. “Everything will be alright” does not mean everything will stay the same. Perhaps the purpose of the night is to cloud our vision so that we can let go of how we think things ought to be and embrace the will of a higher power, who knows exactly how they should be.
We don’t yet know how this war will end. But what we do know for sure, is that everything will be good in the end—if it’s not good, then it’s simply not the end!
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
JewishGardens.com | 561.624.2223