Vayeitzei, Cancer, and the Power of Laughter

In this weeks parsha, poor Jacob goes through a lot of trials.  First, he has to flee his home under threat of violence from his brother.  Then, he sleeps on a rock and wrestles with an angel, earning him the name Israel and a wound he carries the rest of his life.  When he does reach his destination, he deals with years of working for his wicked Uncle Laban in order to marry his love Rachel only to be deceived into marrying her sister instead and then having to work even longer to marry Rachel.

14 years, Jacob spends in a place he never intended to be, working for someone he doesn’t particularly admire or like, all just so he can be with the woman he loves.

Isn’t it amazing what we can work through when we love someone?

My mood was pretty dark following Mr. Safek’s diagnosis of cancer.  Suddenly, our schedule was filled with tests and worries and uncertainty and I cried reading my prayers when they mentioned “widows and orphans.”  Yesterday, though, it was as if I’d been sad and anxious as long as I could and the mood had to lift.  I found myself smiling again and laughing with my husband and kids and, for a moment, I paused, wondering…”Is it ok to feel joy right now?”

Chassidus teaches us it’s not only ok to be joyful in the midst of the challenging times in our lives, but it’s absolutely essential.  We’re taught that it is dangerous to dwell too much in sadness or negativity because it weakens us and saps our strength.

I have to assume that Jacob also couldn’t have been depressed and lamenting his circumstances for 14 years.  He had to find what joy he could in his life even in the shadow of his idolatrous and treacherous uncle.  He prospered so much that his Uncle tried to force him to stay longer.  He made the best of where he was even if  it wasn’t where he wanted to be.

Cancer isn’t really where our family wants to be right now, any more than we wanted to be stuck in the conversion process for 7 years, but it is where we’re meant to dwell for a while.

During our conversion process, there were a lot of difficult moments and sad times, but we kept going by focusing on the joy we could find.  Similarly, now, our family focuses on the joys we do have.  It’s not that we ignore the challenges, but that we don’t allow them to take over our lives and overpower us.  We wrestle with them like Jacob wrestled the angel and we know that as long as we don’t let them dim our light, we’ve won.

We even joke about things like tumors and laugh because if we can laugh at something, it feels like it has less power, like laughing at a childhood imaginary monster helps make the dark less scary.

Sometimes, the monsters are real, but laughter saps their strength just as surely, whether it’s a wicked Uncle double-crossing you or cancer.

Gut Shabbos and may you each have a peaceful and restful Shabbos!

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