Read an essay on this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayeitzei and the current world events written by Rabbi YY Jacobson, a world renowned lecturer on Nigleh and Chassidus and the dean of www.TheYeshiva.Net.
What’s the Shame?
It is a perplexing response in this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei. Rachel, who has been childless for many years, gives birth. In the words of the Torah:
“And she conceived and bore a son, and she said, “God has taken away my shame.”
What type of shame was she referring to? What shame is there in infertility, which is not her fault? Sarah and Rebecca were also barren, but we never hear that they were ashamed. In the world of Torah, there is no room for shame for a condition you never caused. Pain, anguish, or jealousy are sentiments we can appreciate, but why shame?
Rashi presents the astounding and disturbing answer in the Midrash:
The Aggadah (Midrash Rabbah 73:5) explains it: As long as a woman has no child, she has no one to blame for her faults. As soon as she has a child, she blames him. “Who broke this dish? Your child!” “Who ate these figs? Your child!”
Rachel was previously ashamed because she had nobody to blame for any errors, oversights, or flaws. The food was burnt? Rachel must be a lousy cook. The keys to the car are lost? Rachel is irresponsible. Rachel is in a bad mood? She is impulsive and irrational. A plate breaks? She is a shlimazal. The couch is dirty? She is a lazy couch potato. The home is unkempt? Rachel just can’t get it together.
Ah, but now, with the birth of Joseph, the shame is gone. The food burnt because the baby ran a fever, and she had to rush him to the doctor. The keys to the car lost? The baby got a hold of them and cast them in the dustbin. The plate broke? The baby dropped it. The couch is dirty? The baby decided to have his ice cream on the couch. The house is a mess? Of course, the baby is at fault.
So, if I am understanding this correctly, that is why Rachel who was childless for 13 years wanted a baby—not for the incredible experience of creating a life, not for the infinite joy of having a child, not for the happiness that comes with the singular mother-child relationship—all of this was not the motivating factor. Why did Rachel want a child? So that she has somebody to blame for getting the turkey and cranberry sauce all over the floor?!
Absurd or what? Our mother Rachel, barren and infertile, was yearning for a child—to the point of her telling Jacob: “If I don’t have children I am dead”—So that she blame all her mistakes on her child?
What is more, this seems so dishonest. If Rachel did not really make errors like breaking dishes and eating up figs, she would have not been ashamed to begin with. If she did, and she was constantly getting embarrassed, what exactly was her comfort now? That when she breaks a china plate she will lie and say that her child did it?
What is even more disturbing is that she names her baby “Yosef,” which means removed, to celebrate the fact that now her shame has been “removed” (asaf). You are giving your child whom you waited for so many years a name which represents your newfound ability now to blame him for your mistakes?!
How can we make sense of this perplexing Midrash?
Of course, we need to dig deeper to uncover the gems contained here. In essence, Rachel was teaching us one of the primary secrets to live a life of gratitude.
In all our lives there is a gap between what we have, and what we want. No one gets everything. And even when we are given blessings, the “package” comes with “fine print” you may have not realized in the beginning. Human nature is to focus on that which we are missing, while forgetting that which we have. We take our blessings for granted and we obsess about the missing pieces.
Rachel knew about the human proclivity to focus on the negative instead of the positive, and that even after you experienced an extraordinary gift, after a while you take it for granted and begin kvetching about the imperfections. To counterbalance this human recipe for misery, she exclaimed, “G-d has removed my shame,” to remind herself of the idea that she must attribute the things going wrong to her child. When your child breaks the dish or eats the figs, remember that the only reason you have this problem is because you were blessed with a child. When your child breaks something or eats up the fresh food you made for the guests, attribute the problem to your child, to the miracle and blessing of having a child.
You can say: Oy, my child MADE A MESS. Or you can say: Thank G-d, MY CHILD made a mess. Same words, but with a different emphasis.
It is the Jewish custom that when a glass breaks, we shout: Mazal Tov! When the groom breaks the glass under the chuppah, we exclaim Mazal Tov! Why don’t we say: Oy, 10 dollars down the drain? This is Rachel’s gift: When the plate breaks, be grateful. It means you have a home; you own dishes. When your husband breaks something, say: Mazal Tov! Thank goodness, I married a human being, not an angel.
The Hunch of a Mother
With the hunch of a mother, Rachel decided to immortalize this message in the name of her child, Yosef, meaning “G-d removed my shame.” This became the secret of Joseph’s success.
Joseph endured enormous pain and suffering. His brothers despised him, they sold him into slavery, he was accused of promiscuity, and thrown into a dungeon for twelve years. And yet throughout his entire life, Joseph never lost his joy, grace, passion for life, love for people, ambition to succeed, and his ability to forgive. Joseph comes across as one of the most integrated, wholesome, cheerful, loveable persons in the entire Tanach. With a life story like his, we would expect him to be bitter, cynical, resentful, angry, stone-like, and harsh. “A rock feels no pain and an island never cries,” yet Joseph weeps more than everyone in the Bible.
How did he do this? This, perhaps, was his mother’s gift. Though she died when he was nine years of age, she infused him with perspective on how to live: Every challenge can only exist because it has a blessing as its backdrop. I feel pain? But that means I am alive, and I have feelings. It also means that there is something new I must discover about myself and the world. I am hurt, but that means that I I am sensitive, and I can be here for people. I have a conflict with my spouse? That means that I am blessed to have a soul partner who cares for me, and that we have an opportunity to create a deeper relationship. My children challenge me? That means I have children whom I love, and I am given an opportunity to dig deeper and find the light beyond the darkness.
The Backdrop of Pain
When your husband comes home late from work, instead of thinking: He is so irresponsible and unreliable, you can choose to say: Thank G-d I have a husband, who loves me and cares for me, and he has a job he loves, and works hard. (Sure, speak to him about coming him on time, but choose what you will focus on).
When your mother or father call you for help, instead of saying to yourself: Oy, my entire life must revolve around her needs, say instead: Thank G-d I have parents.
When you come into the office and you experience overload, with 90 emails to respond to, six different options for future growth, tell yourself: Thank G-d I have a job, I have six different options, I have so much to do, I am busy and productive, and I am driven.
When your wife rebukes you for your mistakes, instead of thinking, why do I need someone who criticized me? Say to yourself: I am so grateful to I have a wife who cares about me so deeply.
When your kids or grandkids make a “balagan” in your home and turn the place upside down, don’t zoom in exclusively on the mess; rather focus on the fact that you have children and grandchildren who are filled with good spirit.
When your car breaks down and you must get it towed, instead of cursing your lot, say to yourself: I own a car. That puts me in the one percent bracket superior to most humans on this planet.
Chassidim tell a story about the holy Reb Zusha of Anipoli. When he was a child, he often went hungry. But he was always thankful. Once, when he was really hungry, someone overheard him talking to G-d. This is what he said: G-d, I want to thank you so much for giving me an appetite!
Even the hunger he experienced as something that can exist only in the context of a blessing. G-d gave me an appetite.