The Healing Before the Trouble
As some of you know, I am in the midst of a job search as I navigate career paths away from the pulpit and potentially outside the Jewish world. Anyone who’s ever been in a search knows the tumultuous nature of it. There are myriad highs and lows. You have to ride the waves of them as best as you can.
But try as I might, there are times when the crash feels overwhelming. While I am still early on in my search, I didn’t advance past the initial stage of interviews for a particular job, which was a pretty big bummer. Before I interview anywhere, I always repeat a quasi-mantra to myself: I can do it. They want me. Don’t let your self-worth be defined by this. It’s my way of arming myself emotionally. This rejection was one where that positive self-talk was defeated quickly.
It took me awhile to right the ship. I relied on Lauren and close friends; certainly, having a puppy and a 14 month old unconditionally love me up also helped. The truth is, that positive voice is still there. It just gets mucked up and drowned out by the louder voices of self-doubt, regret, and disappointment. We all need the guardrails in our lives that can protect us from that toxicity of those voices.
We have it within us. This is a notion that is ancient as well. The Rabbis in the Babylonia Talmud establish an important principle when discussing the Jewish people:
דְּאָמַר רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ: אֵין הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַכֶּה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן בּוֹרֵא לָהֶם רְפוּאָה תְּחִילָּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כְּרׇפְאִי לְיִשְׂרָאֵל וְנִגְלָה עֲוֹן אֶפְרַיִם״. אֲבָל אוּמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם אֵינוֹ כֵּן — מַכֶּה אוֹתָן וְאַחַר כָּךְ בּוֹרֵא לָהֶם רְפוּאָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְנָגַף ה׳ אֶת מִצְרַיִם נָגוֹף וְרָפוֹא״.
Rava explains: As Reish Lakish said: The Holy One does not strike at the Jewish people unless God has already created a remedy for them beforehand, as it is stated: “When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was uncovered” (Hosea 7:1).
Setting aside the theological implications of this statement for this piece, I find the idea resonant. Namely, spiritually speaking, that which heals us exists long before we find ourselves plagued by its nemesis. This could take any number of forms that are specific to each of us: in our occupations, relationships, or our own personal health. But you have to remember, you have it in you.
This piece from the Talmud comes up in a discourse on the portion this week from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev on the perceived mix up that Jacob has when he blesses Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe. As you might remember, Menashe is the oldest but Jacob gives the primary blessing to Ephraim. When corrected by his son, Jacob pushes back and says, no, I know what I am doing.
It is here that the Kedushat Levi says the following:
At the end of the whole exchange, we already know he switched his hands so why does the text need to state “Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh?” We know well that salvation and healing precede the pain for Israel. The name of Menashe and Ephraim hint this to us. Menashe (connected to the word forgetting) alludes to Joseph’s desires to want to forget his troubles whereas Ephraim is a name that speaks to abundance. This is why it repeats that he placed his hands on Ephraim to hammer home the point that we always, as a people, must remember that we are born with salvation and healing within us before any trouble comes.
It’s a fitting framing, for a fitting ritual moment, for a fitting time. At the end of all the infighting, jealousy, and backstabbing of the book of Genesis, here we are at the tail end getting a powerful reminder embedded in what seems to be a mistake. No, Jacob reminds Joseph, I am teaching you a lesson here. Perhaps you knew this, my son, because you too have had it in you throughout all of your sorrows.
That is the lesson I am working on inculcating within myself. At the end of the year, as we all take stock of what happened and what is to come, it also feels like a fitting intention with which to start the new year. The healing power exists even before the sorrow begins. We have it within us.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year