In this week’s Parsha, Yosef has dreams that he will be the greatest of his brothers and yet, he finds himself thrown into a pit and then wrongfully imprisoned on his way to greatness. There had to be times, in the pit or in the jail cell, that Yosef’s dreams had to seem very far away from his reality.
Yesterday, Mr. Safek and I were at the cancer center of our local hospital to meet with the surgeon who will be removing his tumor. Even though both our lives have been touched very intimately by cancer, neither of us had ever spent time in a hospital wing devoted exclusively to cancer treatment and this wing was relatively new and well-appointed. Everything was designed to calm and instill a sense of peace. The clinics, instead of being named for the cancer each addressed, had names like “Courage, Hope, etc.” The clinic for cancers related to the GI part of the body where we were going was called, “Faith.”
The waiting room was much less stiff than most hospital or doctor office waiting rooms. There were tables with puzzles and the desk was low, meant to look more welcoming, I suppose. Since my husband had a packet full of less comforting paperwork to fill out, including something as omnious as a “tissue donation form,” that would allow doctors to take any cancerous tissue from him and use it in research, I followed his suggestion to sit down at the puzzle table and begin working on finding pieces.
As I worked at the puzzle, which is an interesting task to give cancer patients and their families in itself, I began to think about the name of the clinic. Faith. What if there were an actual clinic for those struggling with an illness in their faith? What would that clinic look like?
If I were designing such a place, it might look something like the waiting room around me. There would be soft toned colors, comfortable chairs, staff who seemed sympathetic, and things to distract yourself with as you waited to be seen by those who would help heal your faith or carefully remove whatever might be blocking it. Everything would be soft and comforting, designed to soothe.
I have to wonder, though, if I might be completely wrong in how I’d design my Faith clinic?
We see in Yosef’s case that he had to go through great adversity before his dreams could come true. Since he was a great leader of the Jewish people, I have to believe that his own faith never wavered, but Yosef himself never tells us what he feels in the pit or the jail. He just continues to interpret dreams. He keeps on doing the work even when it doesn’t seem like it will lead to any reward. I have to wonder, did he doubt or maybe even just feel down that his dreams were taking a while to come true and he was having to go through all this? Even if he believed, it had to be difficult going from being a favorite son, lavished with affection by his father, to being betrayed by his own brothers, sold off into slavery, and then even imprisoned. Unless his faith was simply super-human, which it might have been, wouldn’t he have felt like G-d was just torturing him?
The fact that he kept on doing G-d’s will even in prison leads me to think that even if he was feeling down, he still kept putting one foot in front of the other, with hope that his dreams would be fulfilled as long as he kept going.
Which leads me to wonder if G-d’s Faith Clinic looks a lot different from mine.
What if G-d’s own Faith Clinic is more like a pit or a jail cell, a place that is far from comforting but where we learn to put one foot in front of the other and to be faithful to G-d even when it’s hard and no reward is in sight? What if the treatment our souls need to strengthen our faith is less like a relaxing massage and more like the harshness of chemotherapy?
I know for myself that the deepest truths I’ve come to know about who I am and how I relate to others, this world, and G-d have always come from the depths of a metaphorical pit, not from the comfort of a soft, relaxing existence. Every really difficult experience I’ve been through has refined me in some way and often, going in, I didn’t even know there was a rough place on me that needed to be rubbed smooth by such an abrasive touch.
Very often, you can’t see a cancer even when it’s there, but you can treat even what you can’t see.
The news we got at the cancer center’s Faith clinic wasn’t the news we would have wanted, but it also wasn’t the worst news we could have gotten. My husband faces 4 months of strong chemotherapy, followed by a course of chemotherapy combined with radiation and then 2 surgeries to cure his cancer, but it is curable. The treatment isn’t going to be comfortable, but it’s exactly what is needed to make him healthy again.
As I look at everything happening in our lives, it’s easy to ask G-d, “Why? Why all this? Why all now?” As I think of what it might have been like for Yosef to go from one disaster to another even after the dreams G-d gave him of greatness, I can sympathize. My own dreams of a peaceful, happy, and healthy life for my family seem so far out of reach. Yet, as Yosef shows me, if I just keep doing what is asked of me, at each step, those dreams may come closer to my reach.
Maybe we’re all here together in the Faith Clinic, our souls undergoing whatever treatment they need to be healed and ready for the world to come and maybe, just maybe, the great Healer above sometimes needs to give out caustic, painful medicines to heal the sicknesses some of our souls have.