A Message for Parashat VaYigash 2017
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Life itself is but what you deem it. (Marcus Aurelius)
Best-selling self-help advisor Dale Carnegie once wrote that the above words of Aurelius are “eight words that can transform your life.” Rav Kook z”l similarly declared to an inquirer:
With a broader perspective…the light of truth will shine forth, deeming the search for answers to every detail unnecessary.
Realizing that their own thoughts define their lives, most people know that the path to success must be approached from the proper perspective. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail, however, often lies in the ability to put this task into motion. The successes maintain perspective; the failures do not.
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At the very moment that Yosef disclosed his identity to his brothers, he revealed something else:
[Yosef said:] And now, do not be pained and do not be incensed with yourselves that you sold me here, because for substance God has sent me before you…And God has sent me before you to make you a remnant on earth and to preserve life, for you to be a great surviving group. And so, it is not you who sent me here but God… (Bereshit 45:5-8)
Yosef then exposed his keen sense of perspective. Glancing back at the ironic twist of events in his life, Yosef overcame thoughts of anger and revenge by placing his brothers’ sale of him within context. Although their actions had caused him much pain, he now understood that they were a necessary step in his climb to power.
* * * *
Viktor Frankl, the well-known Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, once related an encounter that took place long after his experiences in the concentration camps. Somebody showed him an illustrated weekly with photographs of prisoners lying crowded on their bunks and staring dully at a visitor. The person remarked, “Isn’t this terrible, the dreadful staring faces – everything about it.” Frankl could not understand the comment. He was, in that moment, “seeing it all again”: At 5:00 A.M. it was still pitch dark outside. He was lying on the hard boards in an earthen hut where he and seventy others were “taken care of.” They were sick and did not have to leave camp for work, and instead lay all day in the hut, waiting for the daily distribution of bread and soup. Frankl described a particular occurrence at that time:
An exhausted comrade, covered with snow, stumbled inside to sit down for a few minutes. But the senior warden turned him out again…How sorry I was for that fellow and how glad not to be in his skin at that moment, but instead to be sick and able to doze on in the sick quarters!
As he stared at the photograph, Frankl’s remarkable perspective denied him the sight of any negative projection.
Joseph Fabry, a prominent student of Viktor Frankl, recalled a similar experience with his mentor. As they once passed by a barbecue, Frankl remarked that burning wood always reminded him of the concentration camps, because the primitive iron stoves in the barracks were heated with wood. Fabry asked him if the memory was painful. “Oh no,” Frankl replied, “When we returned from a day of hard labor in the freezing cold, we smelled wood fire. This meant a few hours of rest.”
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A final passage in Sefer Bereshit portrays Yosef’s impressive perspective once again. Following the death of Yaakov, Yosef’s brothers feared that he would now exact revenge. Yosef repeated to them his broad vision and understanding of his life’s occurrences. He assured them:
Fear not, for am I instead of God? While you meant evil toward me, God meant it for good, so as to bring about at this very time keeping many people alive. (50:19-20)
Yosef’s commitment to his brothers, in spite of all that they had done to him, was driven by an astonishingly expansive perspective.
It is precisely facts that do not exist; only interpretations. (Friederich Nietzsche)
Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (New York, NY, 1984), pg. 113.
R. Avraham Yisshak HaCohen Kook, Igerot Hara’ayah vol. 1 (Jerusalem, IS, 1985), pg. 94:
...ועל ידי השקפה יותר אמיתית כללית מתגלה אור האמת, עד שאין צורך כלל לתירוצים מיוחדים על כל פרט.
Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Boston, MA, 2014), pg. 45-6.
Foreword to Viktor Frankl, Recollections: An Autobiography (New York, NY, 2000), pg. 8-9.
The Portable Nietzsche (New York, NY, 1977), pg. 458.