It saddens the heart to hear about his week’s tragic suicide of Mark Madoff, the 46-year old son of the disgraced Ponzi schemer, Bernard Madoff, who defrauded people of an unprecedented $50 billion or more. What can we learn from this tragedy? So often we get consumed with the pain of the moment that we cannot see things in perspective – the bigger picture. Therefore, we must learn how to step back and distinguish between painful losses and true openings of new horizons. But how?
With that understanding, we can learn how to navigate an uncertain future, as we transition from one life-space into another, and we can stay the course and grow through the process.
Can We Find Good in Evil?
Evil appears to be a real force in the world. Often we find ourselves challenged by it and desperate to know how to overcome it. How do we weaken evil? How do we diminish its force? How do we deal with its various manifestations in our lives, such an abusive employer or a corrupt colleague?
We find the answers in this week’s Torah reading, which begins, “And Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years…” Biblical commentators make a great deal of this introduction, noting that 17 is the numerical value (gematria) of tov (“good”). They thus conclude that Jacob’s final years in Egypt were the best years of his life.
But we have to ask: How is that possible? Jacob spent 17 “good” years in the land of evil. The Egypt of his day was the most depraved of civilizations. The Egyptian polytheistic religion and its morals and ethics – witness the subsequent wholesale slaughter of newborn baby boys – ran totally counter to those of Jacob and his family. Furthermore, his sojourn in Egypt began 210 years of exile and bondage. So what could be good about it?
The answer lies in the cosmic understanding of the meaning of Egypt –Mitzrayim – which represents the limitations and constraints of our lives. Yet these constraints – as difficult and even painful as they often are – have a purpose.The key thing to remember is that Mitzrayim is never an end in itself. It is merely the means to something greater. To be stuck in limitations is bad indeed. To use limitation as a springboard to greatness that is true good.
The same can said of any difficult challenge. We can see it as an evil in our life and be devastated and paralyzed by it. When we do, the real evil begins to grow. But if we find within ourselves the capacity to see the good beneath the surface, we empower the good and we grow as a result into greater, better people.