By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
And Yaakov left Beer-Sheva and went to Charan.
Do we need security and comfort to do well in life? Do we achieve more when we are relaxed and comfortable or when we are challenged and provoked?
“And Yaakov left Beer-Sheva and went to Charan.” Beer-Sheva represented peace and tranquillity. Charan stood for violence and immorality. It was the hub of tumult and turmoil, home of Lavan the swindler and sheep-thief of note. Yet, ironically, it was there in Charan where Yaakov raised his family. There in Charan were the twelve tribes of Israel born and bred.
Avraham had a wonderful son named Yitzchak, but he also fathered Yishmael. Yitzchak bore the pious Yaakov but also had a ruffian named Esav. Only Yaakov is described as the “select of the forefathers,” because his children were all righteous, his “progeny was perfect.”
Would not Beer-Sheva have made a better place for Yaakov to raise his children, the ideal environment for the future Jewish people to be conceived and nurtured? Why, of all places, in Charan?
The answer is that the olive yields its best oil when pulverized. To produce gold we need a fiery furnace where the intense heat on the raw metal leaves it purified and precious. Yaakov did not have an easy life, but his hardship made him a better man, and it made his children better children.
Many years ago, I met a young man who had just come out of military service in the South African army. I greeted him with a platitude: “So, Joe, did the army make you a man?” He said, “No rabbi, the army made me a Jew!” Apparently he had encountered more than a fair share of anti-Semitism in the military, and it actually strengthened his resolve to live a Jewish life. Today he is the proud father and grandfather of a lovely, committed Jewish family.
Life isn’t always smooth sailing. But it appears that the Creator, in His vast eternal plan, intended for us to experience difficulties in life. Evidently, we grow from our discomfort and challenges to emerge better, stronger, wiser, and more productive people. There is always a purpose to pain. As the physiotherapists tell us (with such compassion that I want to hit them!), no pain, no gain. It would seem that, like the olive, we too yield our very best when we are under pressure. I don’t know about you, but I need to see a deadline staring me in the face to really get myself motivated. The simple fact is that we produce best under pressure.
One of the reasons we use a hardboiled egg on the Seder plate over Pesach is to remind us of the festival offering brought on yom tov. But the truth is that any cooked food would do, so why an egg?
One of my favorite answers is that Jews are like eggs. The more they boil us, the harder we get. We have been punished and persecuted enough, but it has only strengthened us and given us courage, faith, and hope. And no matter where and when it happened, we have always emerged from the tzorres of the time stronger, tenacious, and more determined than ever.
Yaakov raised a beautiful family in less-than-ideal conditions. Please G‑d, we should emulate his example. Wherever we may be living and in whatever circumstances, may we rise to the challenge and live successful lives and raise happy, healthy Jewish children who will build the future tribes of Israel.
I end with a little poem I wrote many years ago:
The tragedy of pain
is we overlook its aim
of leaving us humble and wise
Oh how shallow
of man to wallow
in misery and never realize
That gold, so pure, is in fire proved
and oil from olive by crushing removed
’tis so with all things of worth
So differ from the rest
be strong in life’s test
and make of ordeal, rebirth v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.