Until Yosef was taken from him, we don’t find Yaakov thinking negatively of any of the challenges he had endured thus far — and he went through quite a number of exceptionally difficult ones. But when Yosef was taken from him, and when he thought he was no longer alive, Yaakov couldn’t seem to fully come to terms with it, and he — in fact — complained, blaming his sons for the situation he found himself in: “Why did you treat me badly?” The midrash (Bereishit Rabbah, 91:10) says that to this comment, Hashem responded, “I am working to coronate his son in Egypt, and he says, ‘Why did you treat me badly?’” Hashem took Yaakov to task for viewing and expressing the situation in a negative light. As if Hashem was saying, “Don’t you realize the amazing thing I’m doing by putting things together to, eventually, make Yosef the authority in Egypt? Why do you complain?”
To me, Hashem’s response to Yaakov stood out: How was Yaakov supposed to know that Yosef was in the long, but eventual process, of being the ruler of Egypt? If Yaakov knew that — then, presumably — he, surely, wouldn’t have felt negatively and expressed himself the way he did! But he didn’t know that, and yet, Hashem’s response to Yaakov’s expression sounds like Yaakov should have known better! Why didn’t Hashem simply respond instead, “Don’t you know everything I do is for the best?”
We can suggest that really, Hashem didn’t expect Yaakov to know His mysterious plans of bringing Yosef to rulership, and — instead — perhaps, Hashem’s response is in order to teach us certain perspectives as to how to view and approach challenges:
1. By Hashem responding in imagery — “I am working to coronate his son in Egypt” — painting a picture of what’s going on behind the scenes, can be offering us a technique that when facing a given difficulty or challenge, to believe that right now something is cooking — something good is in the making — even though, one may not be able to see it yet. In other words, to reflect that something at this very moment is in the making for the better, and believe that despite this state one is in, Hashem is “busily working” to make something greater.
2. Hashem responding that He is in the middle of working to make Yosef ruler of Egypt, is — perhaps — essentially imparting that, although, it may look terrible that Yosef is “gone,” truthfully, however, Yosef’s “goneness” is exactly what is producing the great salvation — that he will become the ruler! This can teach us that when facing a challenge, the challenge — itself — may be the beginning, or part of, the actual salvation itself. It’s an essential element of the recipe for a greater good to come. Its part and parcel of the actual salvation. It is (sometimes, perhaps completely) therefore, the salvation itself, although it may take time to see the whole picture. Hence, the challenge may not necessarily be a gateway and a distinct entity from the salvation, but rather can be looked at as one unit — intrinsically connected and part of the greater good.
The midrash (Eicha Rabbah, 3) brings a rebbe, who says that Bnei Yisrael are children of complainers: Adam Harishon — after all the good Hashem did for him — complained, “the woman whom You gave to be with me.” With Yaakov as well: when Hashem said He was working to coronate his sons in Egypt, yet, he complained and said, “... my way is hidden from Hashem.”
Yaakov’s descendants were like this as well, for Hashem said: “I am working to create for them a light (i.e., easily digestible) food (manna), and yet, they complain and say ‘our soul is disgusted with the insubstantial food.’” Tziyon also complained, as they said, “Hashem has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” (And the Etz Yosef quotes another midrash, where Hashem responded to Tziyon: “I am working to remove the (four) kingdoms from the world — I already removed Babylonia, Media and Greece, and I am about to remove the fourth (Edom) — and yet they complain and say, ‘Hashem has forsaken me … etc.’”).
The question is, how can Yaakov and Tziyon’s complaints be compared to Adam and Bnei Yisrael complaints in the desert? Adam was given a wife and Bnei Yisrael were given nourishment — so, we can understand the critique on their complaining. That’s an apparent lack of appreciation for a rather obvious good that was received. However, Yaakov and Tziyon’s complaints — at first glance — are seemingly not comparable! What “good” did they receive that they are being ungrateful for? If anything, they have an incredible challenge to deal with!
Based on the above, we can suggest that when a person sees his challenge not just as a catalyst, but as part and parcel of a blossoming salvation — then, this difficulty is itself considered “salvation,” because it’s part of the ultimate salvation. Much like with Yaakov, where when Yosef was taken from him was, perhaps, part and parcel of the ultimate salvation.
The same may be true of Bnei Yisrael in galut (“Tziyon”) — the many challenges and sufferings endured are building blocks of a great structure that will soon be revealed. Accordingly, for Yaakov and Tziyon, something good is being made right now, and hence, their challenges are the “good” that they have received, since it is, literally, part of the greater growing salvation.
Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rebbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work.