Long ago, in Babylonia, on a cold and snowy night, a poor young man climbed onto the roof of a house of Jewish learning to hear words of Torah. Because of his pure determination to study, he became the esteemed Rabbi Hillel; the rest is history.
Right now we are in the midst of winter. We wake up to ice, snow, and freezing temperatures, and often face unexpected obstacles and challenges as we try to get from here to there to accomplish our daily goals. Weathering the storms of this season tests our ability to maintain our emotional equilibrium and to stay physically warm and protected. It is just at this time that Parshat Shemot comes to infuse us with a sense of resiliency.
There is a Yiddish expression that says, "The Almighty tailors the cold after our clothing." In other words, G-d hands us as much as we can bear. Furthermore, in the Talmud, it is written, "According to the camel, is its load."
In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites struggle under brutal conditions from a tyrannical Pharaoh. His cold heart hardens toward our people as they continue to flourish despite their harsh enslavement. Pharaoh, baffled that the Hebrews are fruitfully multiplying, decrees that every first-born male must be killed—because even more than their growing numbers, Pharaoh fears their resiliency and strength. But Moses’ mother and sister,Yochevedand Miriam, the midwives saddled with this responsibility, refuse to block the births or drown every newborn male child. Pharaoh then orders his own people to carry out the wicked decree.
Ironically, Pharaoh’s own daughter, Batya, finds baby Moses in the water, reaches out, rescues him and raises him in the king’s palace. There, Moses learns the Egyptian political and cultural system—and having this "inside scoop" gives him a distinct advantage when he later leads the Jewish people to the Holy Land.
Moses’ rocky life holds lessons for us in resiliency. As a young prince, Moses faces the injustice that Pharaoh has placed upon his people. In righteous revenge, Moses slays an Egyptian soldier, then flees to the wilderness, where he meets his wife, Tzipporah. While tending sheep, Moses encounters G-d at the burning bush and, after debating, finally accepts his mission to deliver the Hebrews from the bonds of slavery. Moses bounces back from his self-imposed exile and returns even stronger.
Dr. Al Seibert, a renowned psychologist, in his books, The Resiliency Advantage and The Survivor Personality, states that the flexibility to work through life’s ups and downs makes one emotionally, physically, and spiritually better able to thrive in an uncertain world. Keeping a sense of humor and maintaining optimism are good for one’s health and disposition. Reacting to setbacks with calm and patience, rather than fear and anger, can lead to personal growth and self-actualization. The key is to not allow the negative feelings to become a permanent fixture that freezes our ability to function. Additionally, our sages taught that "life is like a turning wheel." When a point on a wheel reaches the lowest degree, it is bound to turn upwards again. In Judaism, we have outlets to help us move forward such as prayer, charity, ritual, mitzvot and acts of kindness. We also have people and organizations to turn to for help.
We learn from Shemot to see beyond individual events to the big picture—a divine plan. Historically, we see G-d’s "outstretched arm" in the miraculous coping skills and survival of the Jewish nation. We have been given the tools to surpass society’s expectations and contribute significantly to humankind. Weathering waves of hardship or peaks of joy has developed our innate capacity for resilience.
When we focus on the inner strength and support networks that G-d has granted us, we can master change with resilience. It is ours to choose whether to cope or crumble, to become bitter or better, stronger or weaker. We can remain victims or emerge as heroes. In the morning prayers, we recite, "Blessed are you, our G-d, King of the Universe, who girds us with strength and gives strength to the weary." May we find the wisdom and fortitude to create lives of meaning and happiness. Shabbat Shalom.