In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, our patriarch Jacob learns of the supposed death of his beloved son Joseph. In point of fact, Joseph is not actually dead, but rather has been sold into slavery by his brothers.
Still, Jacob’s reactions to the reports of Joseph’s death are no less fraught with real emotion and intense grief. Upon seeing evidence of his son’s death, namely Joseph’s torn, tattered and bloodied coat of many colors, Jacob rents his clothes, dresses himself in sackcloth, and mourns his son yamim rabim (many days).
Jacob is inconsolable, even by those closest to him. His other children try to comfort him. And yet, as the Torah tells us, Jacob is unable l’hitnachem, to be comforted at the loss of Joseph. Jacob believes that he will go to his own grave still mourning this profound loss.
Like Jacob, we are often overwhelmed with sadness and grief when someone we love dies. We may feel as though we aren’t going to make it, that life will never be normal again, that we will always be broken, or that we will never experience life with joy and without sadness. These feelings can be hard to bear sometimes.
In truth, when someone we love dies, the pain of that loss does not go away; it changes. Or, as Rabbi David Wolpe so beautifully writes, “There is no magic answer to loss. Nothing, not even time, will make the pain completely disappear. But loss is transformative if it is met with faith. Faith is our chance to make sense of loss, to cope with the stone that rolls around in the hollow of our stomachs when something we loved, something we thought was forever, is suddenly gone.” I have found this to be true in my own life.
Though difficult, Judaism encourages us to cultivate faith even in times of loss, fear and great sadness. That is our perennial challenge … to truly believe that we can move from narrow places to freedom, from despair to hope, from darkness to light.
May we always remember this and believe it to be true.
Shabbat Shalom. And may your Chanuka be filled with limitless light.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)