It was a typical Friday night at our home. Just us and our four children enjoying a Shabbat dinner in lockdown. The conversation went from causal to silly and then turned a sharp right straight into “Torah talk”. We started to discuss the first of the ten commandments given at Mt. Sinai with our oldest son. What came out of the conversation is why did G-d have the need to state, “I’m the lord your G-d, who took you out of Egypt”. The question became, why insert the part of “taking us out of Egypt”, rather than just being bold and saying I’m G-d? What came from our discussions was a deeper conversation of…. who put us in Egypt in the first place?
A few weeks ago as read in the Torah portion, we learnt of the story of Joseph, his decent into Egypt and his eventual ascent to Viceroy of Egypt. But the story doesn’t end there, Joseph is reunited with his brothers when they come to Egypt begging for food during the famine. Joseph recognises his brother’s but they do not recognise him, the story continues with a plotted theft and accusation and finally Joseph says “Ani Yossef”, I’m Joseph!, he states to his brothers after he reveals himself from his current identity as Viceroy of Egypt. In that moment, Joseph forgives his brothers for their wrong doings, he harbours no resentment, he understands…..it was G-d that brought him to Egypt, it was G-d that gave him his descent into the pit of despair, and it was ultimately G-d who allowed for his ascent as Viceroy of Egypt, which led to the reconciliation of his brothers.
Life is a visual representation of an ECG scan, it moves like a cardiac rhythm of peaks and valleys, some flutters, some waves, some extreme highs and some deep lows. As humans, we wish for consistency, a steady pace but the doctor will tell you the flatline in a cardiac scan is a sign of no life. It is the ups and downs, the hills and the valleys that remind us of our precious gift called life. How wonderful it is to be at the top of a summit, being financially secure, having exceptional health, a beautiful family, career accomplishments, prestige and social status. Our gratitude may seem overwhelming in the moments where we receive the blessings of life. But what happens to our gratitude in our descent? What happens to us in the gifts of our imperfections and our shock of our mortality?
It was at one such time that I experienced a heartbreak, a stress trigger that took me to my knees where I felt so much pain and anguish that I could not understand why G-d put me there. It was in my deep dark pit that I learned some of the most important lessons that I carry as a badge of armour with me today. For it certainly made me the person who noticed the hand of G-d in all my ascents, and now I understood that it took me a little longer to recognise that G-d too placed me in my valleys so I could experience my greatest growth opportunities. These were the lessons I learned in the darkest, hardest parts of my pain:
1. I do not need to carry the burden of all this pain on my shoulders. I can release some of it to G-d. I surrendered.
2. The power of collective prayer from my Jewish brothers and sisters permeated those cement walls and penetrated my heart and soul. I believe those prayers became the doorcrashers to the heavenly gate which I desperately needed.
3. When community shows up for you at your weakest point, they become part of your extended family and teach you what it really means to be part of “the Jewish Family”
4. This lesson, this pain will not be forsaken but will be for purpose. That this pain and darkness will be a lesson in empathy and allow me to be a light for the next person who suffers in their valley.
5. And lastly, if G-d brought me here…..he can take me out of here too!
While we navigate this intense and unprecedented period in our history. I am reminded of Joseph and the first commandment. I am reminded that when we are brought to the fire, when we are brought to our knees, it is with purpose, we must search for our meaning, we must learn to overcome and fight with grace, grit and dignity in our ascent…..and ultimately share our experiences so we can become a beacon of light for others. Because the same G-d who challenges us with valleys is the same G-d who can take us to the summit. For ultimately, he is “The Lord our G-d, who took us out of Egypt!”
May the words written permeate through the reader and offer a prayer for a speedy recovery and healing to our fellow brothers and sisters who are in their deepest despairs and may we learn and grow through our individual lessons so we can be the light in others’ darkness.