In his book, Gateway to Happiness, Rabbi Pliskin writes,
The cause of much sadness and suffering for many people is not their present experiences. Rather they cause themselves pain by regretting and resenting the past or worrying about the future. i
Yeshua attempted to get this point across to his talmidim when he told them,
“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? … Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”Matthew 6:27 & 34 ii
While Yeshua specifically said “don’t worry about tomorrow” the same could be said about yesterday, no matter how far in the past “yesterday” is. Just as we can do nothing about tomorrow because it isn’t here yet, we can do nothing about our past because it is already done, and the time is gone. It has been said that among the most devastating phrases, in any language, is “if I had only…”. Looking back and regretting past actions is only profitable if first we do not dwell on the past actions and second if we allow the past actions to guide us to better actions or thoughts in our “today.” A popular quotation sums up this issue, “Remember the past, plan for the future, but live for today, because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come” (loosely based upon Yeshua’s teaching in Luke 12:25-26). I offer one more bit of encouragement to live for the day in the present, this time from the psalmist.
“This is the day (today) that the LORD has made—let us exult and rejoice on it.”Psalm 118:24 iii
So why did I start with the idea of not living in the past or the future? In this week’s parasha, Vayechi, Genesis 47:28 – 50:26, after the death of Joseph’s father Jacob, we see Joseph’s brothers actually quaking in fear that Joseph would now reap vengeance upon them for their actions against him.
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!”Genesis 50:15
More than seventeen years earlier, Joseph had, at least in his own mind, settled this issue when he proclaimed to his brothers,
“Come forward to me.” And when they came forward, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.”Genesis 45:4-8
In Joseph’s mind and heart, the situation was finished; he held no ill will against his brothers. Unfortunately, his brothers apparently did not let go of their past actions and almost three decades after the event, they still were allowing their past to fertilize a root of fear. Using a bit of sanctified imagination, one might imagine that in the seventeen years that Jacob and his family lived in Egypt, (see Genesis 47:28) the brothers, minus Benjamin, were probably a bit restrained around Joseph, not fully trusting in his forgiveness. It is as if they were just waiting for the other shoe to fall and to suffer the wrath of their sibling patron. By holding on to their actions in the past, they did not allow themselves to fully enjoy the grace and goodness of their brother. This episode ends with Joseph once again affirming that it was HaShem who brought him (Joseph) to Egypt and that Joseph did not blame his brothers. More than this, Joseph reaffirmed that he would take care of his brothers and their children.
Most of us have times in our past when we did things wrong or made wrong choses, which in turn caused pain, strained or severed relationships, or other manner of physical loss. Or like Joseph, the actions or words of others have caused us pain, strained or severed relationships, or other manner of physical loss. Whether we are at fault or the one wronged, we still need to realize that the past is the past. The reality is that we cannot do anything about the past, except either continue to allow the past to hurt us, as Joseph’s brothers did or, like Joseph, release it to HaShem trusting that he was working and will work out all things to the good (see Romans 8:28). Making the choice to let go of the past and live in the present is not easy. Sometimes one has to make the choice daily, maybe even hourly, until the hurt and pain no longer raises it head. With this daily choice in mind, consider Yeshua’s words to his talmidim and by extension to each of us,
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”John 16:33
It was and is Yeshua’s desire that we have shalom, iv an attitude of being settled in our innermost being. If we allow the shalom that he provides to take root and live within us, then like the psalmist we can truly say, “This is the day that the LORD has made—(we choose to) exult and rejoice on it.”
i Zelig Pliskin. Gateway to Happiness. Monsey, NY., The Jewish Learning Exchange, 1983, p 143.
ii Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
iii Unless otherwise noted, as Tanakh readings are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.
iv Various nuances of the word shalom includes peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility.