Don't ask why, Ask what for - Another way of looking at suffering

Thursday, 5 January, 2023 - 4:10 pm

There is a phenomenal portion of the Torah where Joseph just revealed to his brothers that he is in fact their brother. As a quick tutorial, the brothers sold their own brother into slavery 22 years earlier out of extreme jealousy. They literally could not stand him. So much so, at one point they were thinking of assassinating him. Instead, they opted not to be murderers and they sold him instead.

Fast forward 22 years later, Joseph had risen miraculously from slave to prince of Egypt. He was placed in charge of the Egyptian economy, which was in the midst of a severe recession that affected much of the region. The brothers went south from Israel to Egypt in the hopes of procuring food and rations. It is at that moment their long-lost brother Joseph recognized them. To make a long story short, at some point Joseph stopped the façade and told them that he was their brother.  

After Joseph shared with his brothers that indeed he is very much alive and is now the viceroy of the country, the brothers were taken aback. They were embarrassed, mortified, and humiliated. It was at this moment Joseph said the following magical words, “You did not sell me to Egypt, but rather God sent me here.”

Powerful words.

He basically told his brothers that all his hardships and pain was because God needed him to be in Egypt.  A student of psychology would argue that Joseph was numb and had lost all his feelings and common sense due to his trauma and he therefore adopted this attitude of denial. The Torah debunks this by showing us that Joseph was very much not numb and lists eight times where Joseph cried bitterly. I have not cried that many times in my whole adult life, while Joseph sobbed eight recorded times in a matter of a week. He was very much in touch with what happened and yet, he still mouthed that he was not sold, but rather sent.

You see the difference between being sold vs. sent is huge. Sold means that you were taken against your will, treated worse than an animal and placed in captivity to serve a master who may or may not mistreat you. Just think of the shameful African slavery and the pain and trauma that is still viable.

Sent, on the other hand, means that you are completely and respectfully trusted by individuals or communities to perform certain tasks. In fact, you were chosen to be sent because in my/our estimation, you are the BEST person for the job. We send a representative to congress to fight for us as an example. Joseph was stating that he was sent by the ultimate being, master of the world, creator of the universe, Almighty God on a most sacred mission. Joseph was awestruck that God chose him as opposed to anyone else to fulfill His wants and needs. It is for this reason I say it is powerful.

In Hebrew, we have a word called “Lamah,” which literally means WHY. Lamah, did you marry him? Lamah, do you never take out the garbage? This word is spelled with just three Hebrew letters L M H, which are combined with vowels in the guise of dots and dashes so that we pronounce it correctly.
Now if we take these same three letters L M H and change just one vowel, the word changes from Lamah to L’mah. While this does not change the way this word is written, as the three letters are static, it does drastically change its meaning. Lamah means WHY but L’mah means FOR WHAT. Understand the difference?

When one is trying to ponder life’s obstacles one could take either of these two approaches. Why (LAMAH) is this happening to me, or one can say For What (L’mah) is this happening. Why is a good question but often there are no answers. For what on the other hand is seeking meaning in something that is bothering us and causing us aggravation. For what purpose am I stuck in my own personal Egypt? For what purpose was I created? For what purpose was I sent to Dix Hills?

While we may not have all the answers to life’s suffering, we still need to find meaning and purpose of the pain and misery.  
As a Jew and student of the Torah and Kabbalah, it is very clear that whatever happens to any one of us is not random or happenstance. There is a purpose to everything we see and hear. In fact, CNN once asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the spot for a quick message to the world. The Rebbe responded without missing a beat, “Whenever two people meet, it should benefit a third.” What the Rebbe is saying is that when two people meet, it is not a random encounter but rather there is a much deeper meaning to this union of two seemingly random humans. Powerful.

The bottom line is this. Every person reading these few paragraphs were meant to read it, and likewise, I was meant to write it. You know this morning when I woke up, I had no idea what my weekly article would be about. It was only when I turned on the computer and opened Word that this idea began to form. I believe it was not random.
As we are all here to fulfill a purpose, let me not take up any more of your time as the point has been made.

Go take on the day.

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