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Awareness in Time of Distress

Jewish potentiality- V’aeira 5783

When we are facing challenging situations, it’s often the case that we can’t even imagine the idea of a brighter future.

But life also provides us with a way out of the darkness and into that light future. And this is something the Torah reminds us in Parashat V’aeira, this week’s Torah portion.

The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt, they have been living bitter lives of poverty and oppression when God “hears their cry” and “remembers his covenant”, and appears to Moses to announce that he will set them free.

When Moses offers redemption, they can’t even fathom the idea.

The exile of awareness

Our Parashah opens with a turning point, a message of hope, the beginning of the Israelites redemption.

God tells Moses:

“Say to the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will take you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will save you from their labor, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I will take you to Me as a people, and I will be a God to you,’

The words are clear, the promise is strong, and the message should be exhilarating.

Yet, just like Moses’s reluctance when he first heard the message, the response of the people is far from enthusiastic:

”they did not hear Moses because of shortness of breath and because of hard labor.” Here the Torah reminds us of something most people are familiar with.

When we are too depleted, when we are struggling, we often don’t even have the energy to believe that things could be any better.

This may happen collectively, in times of war or oppression, but it may also happen on an individual level when experiencing loss, hardship, or depression.

The question then often arises: why? Why does life bring us such challenges?

Expanding our awareness

In last week’s Parashah, in his commentary on Shemot, the Meor Einayim developed an idea that the Israelite’s exile in Egypt is also a metaphor relevant for us today (and in every generation).

Egypt is also a symbolic place, a state of mind in which awareness is in exile. In this week’s Parashah, he connects this idea to the vast question of human suffering.

When life challenges us, staying connected to the source of life (God), staying aware, is very difficult; we often slip into our own exile without even knowing it.

Yet, to him, this seems to be an inevitable passage. “everyone has to face trials,” he writes. For reb Nahum, suffering has its role to play in the journeys of our lives.

Trials are here to wake us up.

“If you withstand the trial,” he teaches, “it is because the broad awareness you had previously, has made an impression on your heart.”

The Meor Enayim reminds us that awareness can, in moments of trial, be diminished.

But it never disappears entirely, there’s always enough awareness in order to make a choice, and that’s exactly the trial.

According to reb Nahum, our ability to face the trial derives directly from our spiritual practice prior to the challenge, when we had “Da’at Rahav”, a broad awareness.

Then we have the capacity to work on our awareness and connection with the Divine so that in times of need, it’ll serve us.

It seems that the meaning and essence of life’s trials is to give us opportunities to wake up, to come back from the exile of awareness.

We don’t choose what happens to us, but we are in full control of our reaction to whatever it is.

When the magic happens

When we decide to embrace the challenges instead of running away from them,

then we can see how, as the Meor Enayim writes, “judgment turns into mercy.”

This is a deep lesson we can learn from so many people that faced a trial and came out stronger.

Psychotherapist Viktor Frankl, for example, turned his own experience in Auschwitz into logotherapy, a new method of treating patients.

He invited people to reconnect to life by reclaiming their personal story and finding meaning in life again by turning hardships into strengths.

You don’t have to have been through such deep trauma to know brokenness and the power of resilience. We all have our own Egypt.

Trials are there, big and small, every day. And so is Choice.

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