The Daily Portion
What do we do when everything changes?

Life occasionally compels us to leave our comfort zone and deal with crisis. A biblical and modern model.

Sivan Rahav-Meir ,

Sivan Rahav-Meir
Sivan Rahav-Meir
Eyal ben Ayish

Life does not always go as planned. Job loss, separation, financial crisis, and other unexpected hardships can take us out of our comfort zone and into an unknown future. In a certain sense, this is what happened to all of us last year, the year of the corona.

This also happens in this week's Torah portion, Vayetze. Yaakov (Jacob) is a wholesome individual, a peaceful "tent dweller" and a student. Suddenly he is forced to leave his home. His brother Esau wants to kill him and he flees to Charan. It is easy to imagine that Yaakov would be fearful and lacking in confidence.

But our commentators explain that one detail in the story changes everything. Before Yaakov sets out on his journey, Yitzchak his father takes him aside, blesses him, and tells him the time has come to fulfill his mission: to continue the line of succession and to build the nation of Israel. Go to Charan, find a wife, and raise a familty. Yaakov changes from someone running for his life to a man who builds his future and that of the entire nation.

He is no longer "fleeing from" but rather "going towards." There is enormous significance to his actions. Armed with the awareness of his obligation, Yaakov sets out on his journey full of determination and a sense of responsibility.

Life occasionally compels us to leave our comfort zone. If we wish to find our mission in topsy-turvy times, we will discover that every crisis is an opportunity for renewal and growth.


More recently, we have the story of Chani Weinrott* as an example of just that.

This week marks three years since the passing of Chani Weinrott, whose struggle with cancer was an inspiration for many. In this period of the corona, I have been reminded many times of the advice that Chani used to give – on the need to distinguish between necessary and unnecessary suffering.

She explained that her disease, for example, was essential suffering. This was a reality with which she had to cope. But to become depressed, to argue with everyone, to stop fulfilling her dreams – that would have been unnecessary suffering. That kind of suffering was a matter of choice.

Here's an example from everyday life. Your family gets into the car and it's clear you will be arriving late to an event – that's necessary suffering. But to fill up the time riding to the event with arguments and accusations and worry because of being late -- that is unnecessary suffering. That's a personal decision of how to spend the time until you arrive.

It sems to me that Chani would have explained the corona as necessary suffering. To our dismay, the pandemic is a fact. But it is not necessary that we become addicted to screens, to eating junk food, to wasting time, to cutting social ties, to sinking into pessimism. The corona does not exempt us from decisions on how to behave in every area of life.

(*From Jewish Mom on Chani z"l: At the age of 26, as a young mother of 3 children, doctors told Chani that she had cancer and 6 months left to live. Miraculously, Chani ended up living until the age of 34, writing three books, countless articles and inspiring audiences with speeches given all over Israel. And during the years between her diagnosis and her death, she squeezed in, as Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi put it, 80 years of living into 8 years of life. To read more, click here.)

In her memory.

• Translation by Yehoshua Siskin