When it rains, it pours. It often happens this way: first you have one problem, then another comes up, then a third… Before you know it, you feel completely overburdened, as if you can’t even breathe. You imagine all of the world’s issues being lumped together and heaped on your shoulders. But it gets even worse.
Our typical reaction to feeling overwhelmed is to hibernate in a state of utter disconnect. We cut ourselves off from friends, from our true selves, and especially from God. We feel hopeless and despondent, unable to cry out to our Father in Heaven, the only One who can bring about our salvation. This vicious cycle is summed up by the golden rule, “The more attention you yield to anguish and problems, the more anguish and problems will pursue you.”
In order to pacify the anger of his brother Esau, who was upset with him for stealing their father’s blessing, Jacob sent a handsome tribute. Everything that Jacob did was with great wisdom. He told Esau, “I have acquired an ox and a donkey” (Genesis 32:6). Then he separated the different species included in his tribute, as he told his servants, “Leave a space between one group and the next” (ibid., 32:17).
According to Kabbalah, the “ox” refers to Esau (see Isaiah 34:5-7) and the “donkey” to Ishmael (Ishmael is called a “wild donkey of a man”; Genesis 16:12). These two adversaries and their attendant nations were to be the rulers and oppressors of the Jewish people in exile. They represent the exile and all of its bitter problems. Whether through physical oppression or by their negative spiritual influence, their ultimate goal is to bring the Jewish nation to the point of utter despair and hopelessness.
Jacob understood that it is precisely when all of our troubles are lumped together at once that we become overwhelmingly despondent, truly exiled from God. He therefore taught us the secret of separating our problems into “groups” and looking for the “spaces” of relief.
Our first survival tactic is to recall our past. How many times were we in similar, seemingly hopeless predicaments, and somehow not only survived but perhaps even prospered from our situation? When we remember our past salvations and express our gratitude to God for taking care of us until now, we reinforce our sense of faith and trust, thereby cultivating the inner-fortitude that we each process.
But it doesn’t end there. While our troubles are not at all easy to deal with and we are truly in pain, Rebbe Nachman teaches that every problem and trouble we face is packaged together with a silver lining. As difficult and as bitter as life can be, God’s kindness and love for us is present in every situation. The benefit may not always be obvious – in fact, it may be only our realization that our situation could be much worse. Our job is to find those seemingly hidden threads of relief and, rather than disconnect, use these opportunities to express our gratitude and thanks to God for the little bit of good we have discovered.
When life gets bumpy and we find ourselves emotionally overcome by our constant problems, we can give ourselves breathing room by finding the little specks of good and salvation that exist in between the troubles. By discovering those spaces of relief, we defuse the united front of our enemies and are free to rediscover our greatest weapons: hope, faith and prayer. By wielding this powerful arsenal, we can successfully navigate even the greatest challenge.
Based on Likutey Halakhot, Hilkhot Kilay Beheimah 4: