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Parashat Vayigash

Self-help that the Torah offers is always more effective and genuine than the self-help ideas of the Gentiles. It is always an octave above. That is the idea of eight nights of Chanukkah, and it is the concept that we fought the Greeks about. We fought for being on a different octave, a different level of a person, a ישרא-ל.

The only way we can actualize this new octave, this spiritual level, is through the key element called happiness. In the Jewish religion, one is punished for not serving G-d with joy (see Devarim 28; 47), for not being cognizant that it is an honor, a precious gift, to have a relationship with the Almighty G-d. If your religion is down, not vibrant, not full of excitement, it is not authentic Judaism. Because when you are down, you’re connection is down. Even a man as great as Yaakov Avinu, who was on the level of an angel, when he was down about losing Yosef, he lost his Ruach Hakodesh, his high-level connection.

למנצח מזמור לדוד בבא אליו נתן הנביא (Psalm 51) When David Hamelech was reprimanded by Natan Hanavi for his act with Bat Sheva, he composed a Mizmor for his own Teshuvah and for all those who will repent in future generations. Why does David call it a Mizmor? Why isn’t it a קינה, a lamentation? The answer is that even to do Teshuva, you need to get into a positive state.  King David knew that you can’t change if you are down.

R’ Wolbe writes that the challenge of learning mussar is that when you realize how wrong you were, how you lied to yourself for so long, and in such a bad way, it is hard not to feel guilty, down and depressed (Alei Shur 2 161). And when someone takes Mussar as a “guilt trip”, instead of using it to bring him to awareness, he can’t change. One of the greatest challenges for the coach is to help the client see his shortcomings while keeping him positive. A big enough, strong enough person, faces his biggest mistakes, his biggest lies and says “I am happy I realize how wrong I was, because I am big enough to take responsibility, to leave the past, and make a new beginning.” This mindset is fundamental to learning Mussar.

The Baal Shem Tov (צוואת הריב”ש) would teach that sometimes the Yetzer Hara dresses up as your Rebbe, Mashgiach, Yetzer Tov, etc., and makes you feel bad –  that you could be greater, holier, more religious. And that you should be on a higher level than you are. Why does the Y. Hara do this? Because when he gets you down about your spiritual level, he can get you to give up much more than you are willing to bargain for, otherwise. The Yetzer Hara knows that although depression is not a sin, it can bring you to the worst sins. So, how do I know if the spiritual drive to do “extra” inside me is a Yetzer Tov or a Yetzer Hara? It depends where it is taking you. If it brings you to serving G-d with more happiness and love, with more motivation and alacrity, it is your Yetzer Tov. If it prevents you from serving with love, with passion, from keeping the Shulchan Aruch, it is your Yetzer Hara. And he is pushing you, so that you fall flat on your face.

How do we stay happy serving G-d, no matter what? How do we turn on that fire, and reignite the soul? Let us step back for a moment, and take a drone’s-eye view. So many people in the world are depressed  – more than 350 million people (World Health Organization).  David Burns, author of Feeling Good, talks about depression and how to cure it. “Depression has been called the world’s number one public health problem. In fact, depression is so widespread it is considered the common cold of psychiatric disturbances. But there is a grim difference between depression and a cold. Depression can kill you.” A quick Google search will tell you what that the world offers to fight depression.

But what I found amazing is that the Torah is giving us another octave, a new dimension of self- help that is way ahead of everything the gentiles offer. And that is the Power of N. A. G. It is the secret the Yosef shared with his brothers. וְעַתָּ֣ה׀ אַל־תֵּעָ֣צְב֗וּ וְאַל־יִ֙חַר֙ בְּעֵ֣ינֵיכֶ֔ם כִּֽי־מְכַרְתֶּ֥ם אֹתִ֖י הֵ֑נָּה כִּ֣י לְמִֽחְיָ֔ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֱלֹהִ֖ים לִפְנֵיכֶֽם: And now, be not depressed and do not be angry in your eyes for selling me here, for I was sent by G-d, before you, to be a sustenance (a provider).ח) וְעַתָּ֗ה לֹֽא־אַתֶּ֞ם שְׁלַחְתֶּ֤ם אֹתִי֙ הֵ֔נָּה כִּ֖י הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים..   And now, you did not send me here, for it was G-d…”

What type of solution was this? How could it prevent them from feeling down about the biggest and only mistake of their lives, about the lie they lived for 22 years?  How did the fact that Yosef would be the sustainer of the family help them not to be down about their terrible mistake, that caused their father so much pain? And, why “Now”?

In these words, Yosef revealed to his brothers the three powers of staying positive. The first answer is the Power of Now. Yosef kept saying the word עתה, now. Most people get down and suffer from stress, worries, guilt, etc., because they are not in the Now. They are living in the past or the future. My favorite question as coach is, what are your options? Because that is the best question to take them out of past/future thinking and bring them back into the now. Anything that is actionable, is in the now. G-d’s present to you is the present, and only the present. Only He is in the past/present/future at the same time. You have no control over the past or future, so let go of it. The word ועתה is usually referring to Teshuva (Breshit Rabbah 21; 6), because Teshuva it is not about living in the past, living in regret. Teshuva is about living in the Now, recognizing the sin as something that you find disgusting, despise, and disconnect from, so that in the Now you will learn new habits and behaviors. Teshuva is not about feeling bad about “you”. It is realizing how bad the action, decision, or behavior was.

The second power is the Power of Anyway. Yosef told his brothers, I was, anyway, going to come down to Egypt. G-d sent me here before you sent me here. לפניכם. Had I known how things were going to turn out, I would have paid to go to Egypt. You sold me, but I would have gone anyway. The power of Anyway is the power that keeps people positive. It gives us the power to deal with the past.

And the third power is the Power of Give. Yosef told his brothers not to get down, because he is in this to be a giver,  כי למחיה שלחני for I am a sustainer. The Baal Shem Tov taught that depression and being down comes from wanting, valuing, and according too much importance to this World and its desires. When a person becomes a Giver, and despises taking from this world, from the honor, fame, and desires, the Baal Shem Tov promises, he will not get down. (צוואת הריב”ש)

These three Powers, that the gentiles don’t list, are most powerful in helping a person stay clear of negative thoughts. And with them we can self-actualize and reach the next octave, because these lead us to serving G-d with joy.

About the author, Yosef

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