The End of WorryNovember 11, 2013 - 5:00 am
“In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well.”—Genesis 32:7
The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” is from Genesis 32:4—36:43, and the Haftorah is from Obadiah 1:1–21.
Worrying is an epidemic. Most of the top ten prescribed drugs in America are to treat worry and its associated symptoms. Despite our tendency to worry, the human body was not created to worry. It’s like using a car that was meant to transport groceries to haul cement. When we worry, we compromise our health, and our body functions at a fraction of its capability. They say that “worrying is the interest we pay on a debt we might not owe.” How can we stop this self-defeating behavior?
The Sages teach, “Who is the one who is never free from worry? The one who has a goal that is too high for himself.” Reaching beyond our limits is the source of all worry. But how are we to know what goals are out of our reach? Also, isn’t setting the bar high a good thing? Don’t people accomplish more when they aim higher than their reach?
The rabbis teach that there is only one goal that is too high for any human being: To be God.
We can aim to be the best in our field; we can strive to be the very best parents that we can be. We can try to find cures for life-threatening diseases and put men on the moon. But there is just one goal that we can never reach – we will never be God.
Many things in this world are beyond our control. There are things that we cannot change. When we mistakenly believe that it is within our reach to control that which is in God’s hands alone, that is when we are plagued by incessant worry. That is when we harm our bodies and our souls by believing that we are capable of doing that which is beyond our control.
In this week’s Torah reading, we find Jacob in “great fear and distress” as he anticipated an imminent attack by his brother Esau. It’s safe to assume that Jacob didn’t worry about much and had more faith in God than most of us. So if he was feeling anxious, he had a very good reason. Yet, surprisingly, a few verses later we read, “He spent the night there . . . ” (Genesis 32:13), which the Sages understand to mean that Jacob actually slept there.
Now, if you were in the scariest situation in your life could you sleep? Probably not. But Jacob understood that there was no use in worrying about that which was in God’s hands. Jacob took the appropriate steps and then left the rest to God. He could sleep soundly knowing he was in good hands.
Next time you are up at night beset with worry, take time to assess your situation. Have you done all that you are capable of doing? Are there any other steps you can take? Once you’ve answered those questions, you need to do as Jacob did and leave the rest in God’s capable hands.