Friday, November 30, 2012

VaYishlach 5633 Third Ma'amar

"ויבא יעקב שלם עיר שכם .../Ya'akov safely arrived (lit. arrived complete) in the city of Shechem …" (Breishis 33:18)  Chazal and the commentaries discuss the significance of this statement.  What is the pasuk teaching us when it tells us that Ya'akov arrived "complete"?  The Sfas Emes as well discusses this. 

Ya'akov experienced many hardships in his lifetime.  In fact, from the time he fled to Lavan until he came to Egypt, a period of fifty three years, he knew many hardships.  Fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esav, he arrived penniless at the house of his uncle Lavan.  Lavan allowed him no peace.  For twenty years he slaved for Lavan.  If not for the grace of God he would have left Lavan as penniless as he arrived.

Not in spite of his suffering but rather as a direct result of it, he arrived "complete".  Shlomo HaMelech teaches us, "כי שבע יפול צדיק וקם .../For the righteous may fall seven times and then arise …" (Mishlei 24:16)  Conventionally, we understand this to mean that if the righteous fall even seven times, he will still arise.  However, the Sfas Emes understands that arising is a direct result of falling.  The righteous rise specifically because they suffer.

We find this concept in a Zohar[1] explaining the pasuk, "רבות רעות צדיק ומכולם יצילנו ה'/The afflictions of the righteous are many, but God rescues him from them all." (Tehillim 34:20)  Literally, the pasuk says, "There are many afflictions – the righteous."  The Zohar asks that it would be more proper for the pasuk to say, "רבות רעות לצדיק/There are many afflictions for the righteous."  The Zohar answers, according the Sfas Emes, that pasuk is teaching us that afflictions are not the lot of the righteous.  Rather, the hardships and evils that the righteous experience actualize their righteousness. 

Evils and hardships are a powerful test.  How can we cope with suffering that we experience?  The natural tendency is to be angry with God.  Why has this evil been wrought upon me?  The Sfas Emes explains that God uses affliction in order to bring out our righteousness.  He helps us to become complete through our experience.  

This is the meaning of the end of the pasuk, "... ומכולם יצילנו ה'/… and God rescues him from them all."  The Sfas Emes explains the word, יצילנו/He rescues them, as He separates them.  We find this understanding in the following pasuk, "ויצל ה' מקנה אביכם ויתן לי/God took away your father's livestock and gave it to me." (Breishis 31:9)  Here the word, ויצל certainly does not mean to save.  Rather it means to separate.  God separated the livestock from their father Lavan and gave it to Ya'akov.  Here too, the Sfas Emes understands the word יצילנו to mean that God separates the righteous from incompleteness through the affliction.  The result is and addition of shleimus/completeness that did not exist before.

May we merit understanding our suffering experiencing its positive benefits.      

[1] Zohar 1:179b