Parashat Vayese- God Always Knows Best
The Hid"a (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806), in one of his books, cites a tradition describing Yaakob Abinu’s experiences when he fled from home out of fear of his brother, Esav, who sought to kill his brother. The Midrash relates that Esav sent his son, Elifaz, to pursue Yaakob and kill him. But when Elifaz caught up to Yaakob and planned to murder him, Yaakob persuaded him that it would be immoral and he should desist. Elifaz insisted that he was bound to obey his father’s command, and Yaakob told him that he should instead take all his money and belongings. A poor person is considered as though he is dead, and thus by seizing all of Yaakob’s possessions, and leaving him penniless, Elifaz would be considered to have fulfilled his father’s command without committing actual murder.
Elifaz agreed, and he took everything Yaakob had with him, including the clothing he was wearing.
Yaakov was left there without anything at all, not even with clothes. He had no choice but to go to a nearby river and go into the water, so he would at least be covered. As he was in the water, a wealthy nobleman passed by in his carriage and decided he would stop to swim in the river. He took off his clothes, went into the water, and drowned. Yaakob realized that a miracle had occurred. He left the water, put on the nobleman’s clothing, and went to the yeshiva of Shem and Eber where he would learn for the next fourteen years.
Let us consider Yaakob Abinu’s situation in those moments he spent in the river. He has just lost absolutely everything. Not only was he forced to flee for his life, and leave his family behind as he heads toward an uncertain future, but he had nothing at all, not even clothing to wear. The situation seemed hopeless, but he did not despair, and sure enough, God sent a miracle to save him.
The key for enduring difficult situations and problems is to remember that God only does what is good for us. If we can imagine this, God loves us even more than we love ourselves. As much as we want our lives to be good, God wants it even more. But He also knows far better than we do what is best for us. And this is why He will place us in situations that seem unfair and harsh. It is because somehow, for reasons that we do not and often cannot know, this is what is best for us. If we approach our lives with this perspective, we will never be broken by any crisis that we face. Once we realize that God put us in that situation, and that He only wants the very best for us, we will remain strong and optimistic throughout the ordeal.
Yaakob’s experiences also remind us that God has ways of extricating us from our problems that we cannot even imagine. When Yaakob contemplated his situation as he stood unclothed in the river, he could not have considered the likelihood that a wealthy nobleman would come along and drown in the river. But God has countless options at His disposal, far more than we can see when we assess the situation. When Beneh Yisrael found themselves trapped against the Sea of Reeds, they saw only two possibilities: proceeding into the water and drowning, and turning around and being killed by the Egyptians. They certainly did not consider the possibility that the sea would split into twelve lanes so they could cross through, and then the water would fall back on the Egyptian soldiers and kill them. But of course, as we know, this is precisely what happened.
We have much to learn from Yaakob about keeping our spirits up during difficult times. No situation is as hopeless as Yaakob’s situation appeared to have been. But just as God intervened to help Yaakob, so is He capable of intervening to help all of us, no matter how unsolvable the problem might seem to be.