David Harbater
Author, educator and scholar

When our hearts stop beating…

On most mornings, under ordinary circumstances, we wake up looking forward to the day ahead and we wish one another a cheerful “good morning”. These days, however, we wake up each morning with anxiety and fear as the names of soldiers who have just fallen in the war against Hamas are made public. It is as though every morning we experience a loss of breath, a sudden paralysis, and our hearts stop beating for a moment. While for most of us that moment soon passes, for the families of the fallen that moment can turn into years and even a lifetime.

A few days ago, families of several hostages experienced a heart-stopping moment of joy when they saw pictures of their loved ones indicating that they are still alive. Unfortunately, that moment was quickly replaced by heart-stopping anxiety and anguish when family members soon realized the significant decline in the health of the hostages and that unless they are released soon they might not survive. It appears that subjecting the families to this kind of heartache and pain is the method of psychological and emotional warfare that Hamas employs in order to weaken our resolve to continue in our military campaign.

There are times when our heart stops because of a sudden tragedy and other times because we are overwhelmed with joy and our lives are about to take a dramatic turn for the better. The Torah portions that we read during this time tell the story of Joseph and his family. Jacob loved Joseph, his youngest son, and made him a special ornamented coat. The brothers resented this preferential treatment and, when Joseph shared his dreams of grandeur with them suggesting that, one day, they would all bow down to him, they determined that Joseph had to go. After some deliberation, they decided to sell him as a slave to the Ishmaelites, to dip his coat in the blood of a goat and then hope that Jacob would conclude that a wild animal had tragically killed him. Their devious plot worked to perfection and when Jacob was convinced that Joseph was dead, he grieved inconsolably.

More than 20 years later, there was a famine in Canaan. In an effort to procure food, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt where they approached the vizier in charge of all the food. The brothers did not realize that the vizier was their long-lost brother Joseph, and only after subjecting them to a series of tests did he reveal his identity. Joseph then instructed his brothers to return to Canaan, to inform their father Jacob that he was alive, and to bring him to Egypt where he would take care of the entire family.

Upon hearing the remarkable news, the Torah tells us that Jacob’s “heart stopped (ויפג ליבו ) for he did not believe them.” What exactly caused this momentary stoppage of his heart? Was he stunned by the possibility that after all he had been through his sons were now trying to perpetrate a cruel hoax, or was he overwhelmed with joy at the prospect that the news he had just heard was simply too good to be true? Whatever the case may be, he soon realized that his sons were telling the truth and that his life was about to take a dramatic turn for the better. Now, instead of the sadness and grief that had accompanied him for so long, he could embrace his beloved son and enjoy life once again.

Since October 7th we have been through so much heartache and pain. Let us hope and pray that the next time our hearts stop it will be because, like Joseph, our sadness will be replaced with joy and our darkness with light, and that we will soon be reunited with our loved ones, defeat the forces of evil, and look ahead to a brighter future.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. David Harbater's recently published book "In the Beginnings: Discovering the Two Worldviews Hidden within Genesis 1-11" is available on Amazon and at book stores around Israel and the US. He teaches Bible and Jewish thought at Midreshet Torah V'Avodah, at the Amudim Seminary, and at the Women's Beit Midrash of Efrat. Make sure to follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn for more interesting content.
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