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Vayechi: A New Way to Deal with Darkness?

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Do you have someone in your office that is just plain obnoxious? Have you ever faced evil in your life? What can we do when we are confronted with a negative experience? How do we deal with its various manifestations, such as an abusive employer, a corrupt colleague or a hurtful relative?

All of us at times are thrust into unpleasant situations and uncomfortable environments – places where we would prefer not to be. How we deal with these challenges define who we are. Often we find ourselves overwhelmed by the cruelties of life, we feel victimized, desperately groping for some respite.

This week’s Torah reading offers us a brilliant yet simple approach that has the power to change your life. The chapter 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 how is that possible? The Egypt of his day was the most depraved of civilizations. The Egyptian polytheistic religion and its morals and ethics 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 opens up for us the Divine mystery, which “uncovers deep things out of darkness.” And provides us with a formula how to look at darkness in a new and empowering way: As an opportunity to bring in light.

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