Your Tormentor is your Mentor
As a rabbi, I spend a lot of my time counseling people on their relationships. A highly popular emerging form of therapy is called “Imago Therapy,” in which the problems of the relationship are reframed as the keys to its healing. Like the pieces of a puzzle, the differences between the spouses are precisely what they need to heal themselves and achieve personal growth.
In his brilliant book on psychological trauma—”The Body Keeps the Score”—author Bessel Van der Kolk MD explains that his breakthrough began when he stopped telling the trauma patients what to do and started listening to them. Instead of fearing the trauma, he carefully approached it to learn from it.
If this is true of relationships and personal trauma, we have to be able to connect the dots and apply it to our other problems as well. Indeed, the Torah reveals this truth to us, long before modern psychology, in its longest narrative—the story of Joseph and his brothers—which concludes this Shabbos.
Joseph suffered through so much abuse: As a teenager, he was hated by his own siblings, who eventually sold him as a slave instead of killing him. Upon arrival, he was sexually molested by his master’s wife only to be thrown into the dungeon when he refused to submit to her advances. There he languished in prison, never seeing the light of day for over a decade, but never once Joseph complaining. When he rises to become the Prime Minister of Egypt, he eventually faces his brothers—his tormentors. After he dramatically discloses his identity to them as their long-lost brother, he tells them not to feel badly about what they did to him since “I am Joseph because you sold me as a slave to Egypt (Genesis 45:4).” In these few words, Joseph was preparing us for a lifetime of therapy, as he shares his weltanschauung. Never once did Joseph view himself as a victim. He always knew that he was the master of his own destiny. His challenges were never his problem—they were his assignment.
Joseph’s perception was born out of the conviction that G-d is always in control of every detail in our lives. To believe otherwise is a rejection of monotheism—nothing short of modern-day idolatry. The Torah is thus teaching us that G-d always has a plan. The troubles he sends our way are supposed to serve as our teachers.
Indeed, when Joseph’s elderly father Jacob heard that his long-lost son was still alive, the Torah tells us that he was in a state of shock. Surprisingly, the Torah tells us that only when he saw the “wagons” that Joseph had sent was his spirit calmed and he was able to proceed to unite with his precious son (Genesis 45: 26-27). Wagons are vehicles of transportation. They represent movement and progression. When he first learned of his son’s traumas, he was in shock. But when he recalled that life is a journey and that everything that happens to us is part of a greater plan, he mustered the courage to plow forward in search of the ultimate purpose behind it all.
Just like you’d never protest a movie in the middle because of the sad scene, in life too we can’t get stuck in the crisis of the current moment. It’s vital that we recall that it’s all from Hashem and we have to wait until the end of the movie for everything to make sense. Joseph teaches us that we are never displaced—we are always dispatched. Hence we must face our problems without fear, as we seek to uncover the deeper purpose for which we encounter them.
The Jewish People today are feeling more alienated now than ever before. We are being accused by the international community of being the aggressors in this war, though it was Hamas that attacked us on October 7! In a shocking statement today, Israel’s leadership cautioned the world to prevent Hezbollah from their endless rocket attacks on Israel’s north now and refrain from criticizing Israel’s decisive response in the coming days. It seems like Israel is the only country in the world that is not allowed to win a war and needs to defend itself for defending itself.
Instead of lamenting the absurdity and the irrationality of the world’s reaction, let us delve deeper to sense the unprecedented arousal of the Jewish spirit that has flourished during this war across the Jewish world. Having no one else to turn to, Jews of all backgrounds are turning to their Father in Heaven in fulfillment of the Talmud’s prophecy (end of Sotah) of what will happen immediately before the coming of the Moshiach.
Indeed, throughout the Torah, G-d warns the Jews that if He is left with no other way to get our attention, He will send us vicious anti-Semites that will bring us back to our senses. It’s incredibly painful for us to realize that this war is a wake-up call for world Jewry. We aren’t happy about it. But instead of running away from the problem, let’s embrace its lessons as we rise to become proud, practicing, and unapologetic Jews, loyal to the mission which we were chosen to fulfill.
Sometimes you have a give your kids a potch on the tuchas if they run into the road, but it’s an act of love, even though your child doesn’t appreciate that at the time! Being the Chosen People is tough (as Tevye points out) because sometimes we are singled out for what seems like punishment—though it really isn’t. G-d isn’t all carrot and no stick!
Once the student graduates, the teacher is dismissed. Let us fearlessly face our problems, having the courage to learn the lessons that they are trying to teach us so that we can finally reach the destinations that we were destined to arrive at!
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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