Along with happiness, peace of mind must be one of the most sought-after human conditions. Who wouldn’t want to get rid of the stress that comes from anxiety and worry?
But the question is: How much peace of mind do you want?
The reason that I am asking is because there are two types: “regular” and “premium”. The “regular” version is the one you can imagine and desire and the “premium” version is the one that you can’t even imagine.
But, like everything else, the more it’s worth, the greater the cost.
This understanding is a very powerful tool as it allows you to be able to see within the most painful obstacles and stressors steps and catalysts necessary to achieve the precise objective that you are looking for: Peace of Mind “Premium”.
This counterintuitive idea is based on something very striking in this week’s reading , Vayeishev. The reading opens by telling us that Jacob settled in the land where his father lived, the land of Canaan. He had finally reached peace and quiet after having suffered persecution at the hands of his brother Esau and uncle Laban. Immediately thereafter we read about how his favorite son Joseph is kidnapped and sold into slavery by his own brothers and the only thing Jacob knows about his son’s disappearance is that “a wild animal had devoured him”.
Why such a striking contrast of events? How do you explain that the whole reading about Joseph’s sale and Jacob’s subsequent suffering is called Vayeishev, “and [Jacob] settled settled,” which implies tranquility and security?
Our sages note this strange juxtaposition and explain that, indeed, one thing has to do with the other. Jacob wanted peace of mind. G-d said: is it not enough for the righteous to have tranquillity in the World-to-Come to want tranquillity also in this world? It was then that the turmoil caused by Joseph’s disappearance jumped at him.
This makes things even kore confusing: Is it a sin to want to be calm and to ask G-d for it? And if it’s wrong to ask, isn’t it enough to simply not fulfill the request? Is it necessary to respond with the total opposite, to cause unimaginable suffering?
The Rebbe – may his merit protect us – explains that it was precisely in order to fulfill Jacob’s request and desire that G-d provoked the Joseph saga. Jacob was already in a situation of “regular” tranquillity; in order to experience “Premium” tranquillity it was necessary to go through the process of Joseph’s loss and the inconsolable pain it caused.
Why was it that Jacob wanted to have peace of mind? Obviously it was not because of laziness or personal comfort, since the only objective that the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were looking for was to serve G-d every moment of their lives. They had no personal interests. In kabbalistic terms they was a merkavah, or carriage, whose function is to get the one who drives it to wherever he wants to go. Jacob’s only objective was to take advantage of every moment and situation in order to serve G-d better. He understood that by being calm and without distractions he would be able to achieve much more in that sense than by being agitated, stressed and persecuted.
G-d had another idea. “Yes,” Jacob, “I understand why you want to have the tranquility that you lacked all these years, but I’m going to give you a much greater tranquility, one so great that you can’t even imagine and that’s why it didn’t occur to you to look for it or ask for it.”
Jacob had sought tranquility not as an end in itself, but as a tool to achieve something greater. G-d wanted to give him a tranquility that is worthwhile in itself, as a reward, a natural consequence of everything he had done in his life. And the only way to do that was to go through the crushing process of Joseph’s disappearance, as our sages have taught: the olive produces its oil only after it is crushed.
One more point:
The greatest impediment to tranquility is the insecurity that comes from the lack of certainty. “Yes, I have so much and so much, but who can guarantee that tomorrow I won’t lose it? How do I know that everything I built will last?” You can’t know for sure; you can only trust — or not — that it will. The only way to know if something is destructible or not is by trying to destroy it. If you try and don’t succeed to destroy it, you can be fairly certain that what you have is indestructible. Regarding anything material, such indestructibility is very relative because there is nothing physical that is indestructible. Indestructibility is a condition applicable only to something spiritual. A truth is indestructible; if it can be destroyed it proves that it is not true and never really was.
The only way for Jacob to be sure that his character, values, and teachings — his spiritual legacy — were indestructible was to see them tested to the point of possible destruction. Indeed, after Joseph’s saga and the reunion, after twenty-two years (!), between father and son, Jacob enjoyed the best seventeen years of his life. He had passed the test. Jacob’s legacy was proven to be indestructible.
This week’s tool: don’t be discouraged when things seem to be going wrong; if you take advantage of it correctly, you will reach a place far superior to that which you previously imagined and aspired to.
Based on Likutei Sichot Vol. 30, pages 176-183
Genesis, 32:4 – 36:43
First published in English on my blog at Times of Israel, December 15, 2019