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WITHIN EVERY CRISIS LIES A NEW DISCOVERY

Friday, 22 December, 2017 - 2:00 pm

The story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers after decades of bitter separation is one of the most dramatic in the Torah. 22 years earlier, when Joseph was 17 years old, his brothers kidnapped him, threw him into a pit, and then sold him as a slave to Egyptian merchants. In Egypt, he spent 12 years in prison, from where he rose to become viceroy of the country. Now, more than two decades later, the moment was finally ripe for reconciliation.

This week's Torah portion, Vayigash, relates how Joseph could not hold in his emotions. He dismissed all of his Egyptian assistants, "and he began to weep with such loud sobs that the Egyptians outside could hear him. And Joseph said to his brothers: 'I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?' His brothers were so astounded, they could not respond." The Talmud relates: Whenever the great sage Rabbi Elazar came to this verse, "His brothers were so astounded they could not respond," he would burst out weeping. Rabbi Elazar would say, "If the rebuke of a man of flesh and blood (Joseph) is so powerful that it causes so much consternation, the rebuke of G-d (when it comes) will all the more so cause much shame."

It would be understandable if Joseph felt resentment toward his brothers and a desire for revenge. Yet he rose above it by reframing his experience: You did not sell me; G-d sent me. You tried to harm me, but really you were agents to help me achieve my greatest potential and save much of the world from hunger.

Once, a king wanted to reward a peasant who had done him a great service. "Shall I give him a sack of gold? A bag of pearls?" thought the king. "But these mean virtually nothing to me. I want to truly give something that I will miss, a gift that constitutes a sacrifice for me."

This king had a nightingale who sang the sweetest songs ever heard. He treasured the nightingale over all else and literally found life unbearable without it. So he summoned the peasant to his palace and gave him the bird. "This," said the king, "is in appreciation for your loyalty and devotion." "Thank you, Your Majesty," said the peasant, and took the royal gift to his humble home.

A while later, the king was passing through the peasant's village and commanded his coachman to halt at the peasant's door. "How are you enjoying my gift?" he inquired of his beloved subject.

"Truth to tell, your majesty," said the peasant, "the bird's meat was quite tough—inedible, in fact. But I cooked it with potatoes, and it gave the stew an interesting flavor."

Our greatest mistake, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, is that we do not realize who we really are. We see ourselves as a collection of chemicals, nerves, sinews, bones, and flesh. We are that, too, but there is more.

The human soul synchronizes our many dimensions, and the fragmented components of our daily lives, into an integrated whole. Life without awareness of the soul is like a musician playing scattered notes without a vision and integrating them into a singular ballad.

What does this soul look like? In the holy Tanya, Rabbi Schnuer Zalman defines the soul as “literally a piece of G-d.” The soul—just like G-d— is free, fearless, happy, idealistic, and always one with G-d.

The sixteenth-century Kabbalist Rabbi Elazar Azkari wrote a prayer we recite Friday nights, “Yedid Nefesh.” It describes the soul in these words: "My soul is sick with love for you; Oh G-d, I beg you, please heal it by showing it the sweetness of your splendor; then it will be invigorated and healed, experiencing everlasting joy."

The soul harbors a single yearning—to remain what she really is, a "fragment" of G-d on earth, a reflection of His dignity, integrity, and infinity.

How many of us are truly aware of how holy we are, how good we are, how Divine we are?

The story of Joseph and his brothers is a personal story for many of us. Each time I lie, I take the "Joseph" within me—the beautiful prince, the young, innocent dreamer, full of dreams to change the world—and plunge it into a pit. Every time I surrender to my lower self, I hurt my soul. I degrade my soul, compromising its truthfulness and majesty. Sometimes I sell my Joseph as a slave, allowing my soul to become subjugated to forces and drives that are alien to its very identity.

Yet at that moment of shame and self-reflection, Joseph turns to his brothers and says something astounding:

“And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” What you thought of as giving me pain was really an act of G-d ensuring that I become prime minister of the superpower of the world to save so many from famine.

The same is true with us. What we might have thought of as abuse of our own souls, damaging our own sacred identities—was only from our perspective. For that, we cry and grieve. But from G-d’s perspective, our descent into the abyss was merely a prelude, a springboard, to discover the truth in yet a deeper way, to reach our ultimate potential and give the world a gift we could have never given it had we not fallen into emotional slavery.

Every crisis has the glorious possibility of a new, deeper discovery. It forces me to ask: “Who am I, and what really matters to me?” It moves me from the surface to the depths, where I discover strengths I did not know I have.

I recently learned that the microwave oven was invented by accident by a man, Percy Spencer, who was orphaned and never finished grammar school.

At just 18 months old, Spencer’s father died and his mother left him with his aunt and uncle. His uncle died when Spencer was just seven years old. He subsequently left grammar school and, at the age of 12, began working from sunup to sundown at a spool mill, which he continued to do until he was 16. At 18, Spencer decided to join the U.S. Navy. With a skill for electrical engineering, he helped develop and produce combat radar equipment. This was of huge importance to the Allies and became the military’s second highest priority project during WWII, behind the Manhattan Project.

One day, while Spencer was working on building magnetrons for radar sets, he was standing in front of an active radar set when he noticed the chocolate bar he had in his pocket had melted. Spencer wasn’t the first to notice something like this with radars, but he was the first to investigate it. Together with some colleagues, he began trying to heat other food objects to see if a similar heating effect could be observed. The first one they heated intentionally was popcorn kernels, which became the world’s first microwave popcorn. Spencer then decided to try to heat an egg. He got a kettle and cut a hole in the side, then put the whole egg in the kettle and positioned the magnetron to direct the microwave into the hole. The egg exploded in the face of one of his co-workers, who was looking in the kettle as the egg exploded.

The first microwave oven was created.

He filed a patent on October 8, 1945, for a microwave cooking oven. This first commercially-produced microwave oven was about 6 feet tall and weighed around 750 pounds. The price tag on these units was about $5,000 each. It wasn’t until 1967 that the first microwave oven that was both relatively affordable ($495) and reasonably sized (counter-top model) became available.

Now think about it. What would you do if, standing in your office, a chocolate bar in your pants melts? How would you respond to chocolate oozing down your legs? You might get upset, utter a profanity, and go change your pants. But Spencer used the opportunity to give the world a microwave oven!

Every uncomfortable situation in life, Joseph taught us, can compel us to invent and discover new and precious truths that will bring healing to our world. Yes, I may have hurt my soul. Yes, I made some grand mistakes; but from G-d’s perspective, He allowed it all to happen so that I could build my own unique “microwave oven” that will bring warmth and light to the world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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