Life is full of that which we do not understand.
In this week’s parashah, as he prepares to take leave from this world, Yaakov Avinu talks to his son, Yosef Hatzaddik. The words he told him are one of the highlights children come home with from cheder: “Va’ani — Un ich, Yaakov.” Yaakov Avinu explains to his ben zekunim the reasoning behind his actions in burying Rochel in Beis Lechem and not bringing her to the Me’aras Hamachpelah to be buried alongside the other Avos and Imahos. Many years had passed since he’d done so, and this was the first time Yosef Hatzaddik received an explanation. Yaakov Avinu hadn’t explained himself in the time — almost a decade — between her petirah and mechiras Yosef, nor during the 17 years he lived with his son in Mitzrayim. It was only now, because there was a practical need for an explanation (see Rashi), that Yaakov Avinu told Yosef Hatzaddik why he’d done what he’d done.
And Yosef Hatzaddik was okay with it. Because life is full of things we don’t understand. And we continue despite them.
Continuing isn’t easy. But it’s what we must do. Yosef Hatzaddik made it through close to fifty years before he understood why. Understanding why isn’t important, what’s important is what we have to do.
This idea has a special meaning to me and many of my friends. It is little more than a week since one of our treasured chaveirim was suddenly taken from us, with no warning at all. And we are struggling; struggling to understand Hashem’s plan and struggling to deal with the yidagu kol hachaburah that the passing of Reb Yoel Blumenthal, z”l, has tasked us with.
I was only zocheh to know Yoel for the last four years of his life, and I can say that I am a better person for it. Yoel, after all, brought out the best in people; his easygoing demeanor and reassuring approach made it almost impossible not to be moved by his infectious enthusiasm.
His enthusiasm was always driven by his optimism, and his optimism included an incredible recognition of what people were capable of — even when we didn’t recognize it on our own.
It’s entirely possible, although there’s no way of knowing if it was conscious or not, that Yoel saw potential in others that they didn’t see in themselves because he had accomplished (and was continuing to accomplish) so much in his own life.
I myself only had a glimpse into one aspect of his life, and was amazed by all he would get done. When we worked together on a project, a part of me would wonder how he could be so dedicated to the matter at hand if he had anything else on his plate. Speaking with him, you would get the feeling there was nowhere else in the world he needed to be at that moment, than right where he was — despite his myriad of dealings and obligations. With his quintessential ayin tovah, Yoel must have figured that everyone else must be the same.
Harav Yonah Minsker, Hy”d, would say that a batlan is so irresponsible with his time, he doesn’t have time for anything — even batalah. A masmid is so careful with his time that he has time for everything — even batalah. In this way, Yoel was a true masmid, dedicating the proper amount of time for all his needs, and therefore having time for everything.
The passuk (Vayigash 45:3) tells us that when Yosef Hatzaddik revealed himself to his brothers, they were unable to answer him, because of their shame. Harav Shlomo Feivel Schustal, shlita, explains (based on a shmuess from Harav Yechezkel Levenstein, zt”l) that the Shevatim felt shame because the truth had been in front of them the entire time, and they just hadn’t seen it. They had known what Yosef’s dreams had foretold, and they had come to Mitzrayim, Chazal tell us, to look for Yosef Hatzaddik. Still, when Yosef Hatzaddik told them moments before he revealed himself that he knew their brother was alive, and that he was there with them, they hadn’t considered the possibility that the man they had bowed down to was Yosef Hatzaddik. Once he revealed himself, however, they were filled with shame, because the truth had been there in front of them the entire time; they just hadn’t seen it.
It is true about personal tragedy, as it is true about world events. We seldom see past what is right in front of us. Chazal tell us (Bereishis Rabbah, 85:1) that after mechiras Yosef, when Reuven was mourning his inability to prevent it, when Yaakov Avinu was mourning the loss of his son, the Torah tells us the story of Yehudah and Tamar, to show us that it was at that very moment that Hakadosh Baruch Hu was preparing Moshiach. That truth was there at that time as well; they just didn’t know it.
So much that transpires in the world leaves us with unanswered questions. But the answers are really all there. We just don’t always see them. And with this knowledge, we can find in ourselves the strength to continue until the time when all answers will be revealed.