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THE ART OF RESILIENCE

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THE ART OF RESILIENCE

Parashat Vayishlach

People that can keep their calm have what psychologists call resilience, or an ability to cope with problems and setbacks. A loss of a job, a breakup of a relationship, health issues, difficulties raising children… We can’t prevent such things from happening, but we can improve the way we react to them. When facing adversity, there are only two options: grow or suffer. You can fall into depression, or come out much stronger. It is all a question of attitude. Successful people, with their positive attitude, choose to grow. They choose to bounce back, find calm in crisis and chaos, and reinvent hope, options and solutions. Resilience is a trait clearly found in our Patriarchs, Avraham and Yaakov.

After Rachel died and was buried in Beth Lechem, the passuk tells us, וַיִּסַּ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיֵּ֣ט אָֽהֳלֹ֔ה מֵהָ֖לְאָה לְמִגְדַּל־עֵֽדֶר: (Bereshit 35, 21) And Yisrael traveled, and he pitched his tent passed Migdal Eder. Yaakov did not sulk in sorrow after losing his dearest wife Rachel, the woman he gave up so much for. He did not consider his mourning a long or a last “stop”, but continued traveling on in life.

The Alshich asks, what is the importance in mentioning that after Rachel’s death, Yaakov moved his tent passed Migdal Eder? And what is special about Migdal Eder that the Torah finds it important to mention the place by name, especially if Yaakov did not pitch his tent there, but just passed there?

The Mei Shiloach learns from this that when faced by adversity, Yaakov took it as an opportunity to grow. “Migdal” is a tower fortress; Yaakov grew on a personal level by making an emotional fortress of acceptance and faith. The Torah praised Yaakov for this superhuman feat of having overcome his emotions by according him here the angelic title of “Yisrael”, and not Yaakov.

Yaakov emerged strong from the depths of his sorrow: Rachel was only 36 when she passed away!  For seven years, Yaakov had worked for her deceitful father in order to marry her – from the time she was fourteen until their marriage, when she was twenty-one.  Rachel was barren for seven years. Then, tragically, when Yosef was only eight years old, Rachel died in childbirth, with Binyamin.

What makes people great is not how they deal with success, but how they deal with difficulties. Yaakov’s life did not get better after losing Rachel. Before Yaakov got back home, his mother Rivka died. Rivka was buried at night, with no one from the family there to be at her burial. Yitzchak was blind, Yaakov was forced to leave home at the age 63, and 40 years later, he had not yet returned home. Rivka’s passing is not mentioned in the Torah for her burial was done in secrecy. They buried Rivka at night to prevent Esav from knowing about it and attending the funeral, so that people would not curse the wicked man’s mother. How sad! Yaakov did not even have a chance to see his mother before she died. He was still on his way back home. And then, within a short time after Rivka died, Leah died, at the age 45. All this did not break Yaakov. Instead, it made Yaakov more resilient.

How does one become more resilient? How do people go through hard times? Viktor Frankl wrote, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning“Man can be taken away from everything except one: the last of the human liberties, the choice of the personal attitude he must adopt towards his destiny in order to develop his own path.” No one can take your choice of attitude away from you. Choice of attitude was the only thing Holocaust survivors had to hold onto to go through the Holocaust.

Choosing a positive attitude when everything else is taken away is no easy task. Yaakov needed to travel passed Midgad Eder, he needed to meditate on accepting G-d’s Will with love, and to pass this hard time by becoming a fortress against frustration, and towering above it all. This is the power of Migdal Eder. And in the merit of Yaakov’s faith while in this place, something amazing will happen there. Migdal Eder, which is near Beth Lechem and Efrat, will be the place where Mashiach will reveal himself!!! (See Targum Yonatan) Because salvation always comes from the place of resilience.

The path to greatness is paved with resilience. Resilience made Yaakov great, winning him the title Yisrael. And only resilience is what won Avraham the title of Chief,נְשִׂ֨יא אֱלֹקים אַתָּה֙ בְּתוֹכֵ֔נוּ  (Breshit 23;6). The last of the ten tests of Avraham Avinu was that he bought a grave at a high price for his wife Sarah from Efron. (Ramban; Rabenu Yonah) What exactly was this test? And how can this test even be classified a test, after Avraham had proven himself by a much greater test, the Akedat Yitzhak?

The passuk says, וַיָּקָם אַבְרָהָם מֵעַל פְּנֵי מֵתוֹ וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי חֵת לֵאמֹר: Avraham got up from upon his dead, and talked to the sons of Chet, saying. What is the purpose in the Passuk telling us that Avraham “got up” from his dead wife Sarah? What else? Did he speak to the Bney Chet while he was still on the floor, crying?

R Yerucham from Mir answered that the purpose of this passuk is to stress that Avraham did not get stuck on this sad time, but got up. He wiped his tears away, and he spoke to them as he would speak if nothing had happened. This moment, was one of the most emotionally intense moments in Avraham’s life. He just aced the test of Akedat Yitzhak, and now, he faced the sudden, tragic death of his Eshet Chayil! And to top all this, Avraham needs to purchase land to bury his wife, land that was promised him by G-d to begin with! But after Avraham eulogizes Sarah with the Eshet Chayil and weeps over her death, he gets up and goes on. ויקם אברהם.

Avraham’s tenth test was not to see if he would buy a grave or not. The test was not to see if Avraham could purchase a Land that was promised to him by G-d, without questioning G-d’s promise. Avraham was being tested on his choice of attitude, to see if he could stay positive despite the loss he had suffered. Avraham’s final test, the only test after Akeidat Yitzhak, was the test of resilience. Read the pesukim of how Avraham talked to the people of Chet. You will be surprised to notice how he addresses them in a very respectful, thoughtful and calm manner! Avraham does not say, Look at what I am going through; have pity on me! This land is promised to me, so stop being so difficult about it!

Why was this test of Avraham’s resilience such an important test?  How can this be a test after Avraham had passed the unthinkable challenge of Akedat Yitzhak? Because the way you deal with life under duress, the way you deal with people when you are under stress, is the biggest test of who you really are! Our Rabbis teach that there are three things that reveal who a person really is.  אדם ניכר בכיסו  the real person is revealed when one gets a trial concerning money.  אדם ניכר בכעסו, the real person is revealed by the type of response he gives when being slighted. And אדם ניכר בכוסו, a person is revealed through his “cup”, when he is going through a hard time, through mourning כוס של תנחומים.  The Man you really are, is revealed via three Mediums. When you are Mad, when you are in Mourning, and when you are going through Monetary stress. )Eruvin 65b) This last test of Avraham, was the test that would reveal who he really was, by testing his resilience. After all, a man is not judged by his successes, but by how many times he falls and gets up again.

One of the greatest skills you can learn in life is how to survive and deal with the changes in life that you did not ask for. We have Patriarchs to learn from the importance of being in total control of our emotions. We can learn from them the art of overcoming feelings of regret, denial and hopelessness. And we can learn from them the importance in preventing negative emotions from stopping us from moving ahead.

 

Here are the Torah based Selfie- Steps. The self-help steps to master the art of resilience.

  1. Accepting and embracing your new reality is the only way to adapt to it. Everything is orchestrated by G-d, and everything is only for our good. Try to find purpose in it all.
  2. Thoroughly explore all the options available. G-d opens other doors before He closes the ones you are used to.
  3. Pray with passion. Set reasonable goals and take actions to solve the problem.
  4. Eat well. Sleep well. Exercise. Pay attention to your needs, and nurture your Nefesh. Turn to others for help, support and to share your feelings.
  5. Believe in yourself that G-d put inside you some G-dliness, and that you can somehow deal with and overcome the impossible. “Whether you think you can go on, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

About the author, Yosef

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