Coping with the Trials of Life

Leah has been working for the last few years in an advertising agency preparing advertisements for some quite large companies. She feels depressed at present because the agency is downsizing and it looks likely that she will lose her job. Leah also feels down because she is in her upper twenties and is still not married, she has been out with many different potential dates in the past but there does not seem to be anything on the horizon. Each day Leah wakes up it seems harder and harder to carry on with her daily obligations with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Leah realises that “end of the world” is not near but her feelings of depression persist and her thoughts of “why me” or “what is the point?” continue. Her friends try and help her but she feels that they do not really understand her problems and her family are now getting worried and sometimes aggravated that she seems so sad the whole time.


When faced with difficult situations it is very easy to use the British catch phrase “stiff upper lip and get on with it”. Empathy might be the right thing to do for a friend (or a therapist) but in the end it might not help the person get over their depression.

Victor Frankl (1905-1997) the world famous psychiatrist who was a holocaust survivor had an equation for depression: D=S-M which means Depression = Suffering – Meaning. After seeing how the people in the concentration camps coped with the awful conditions, he saw (as he describes in his book “Man’s search for meaning”) how those who found meaning survived longer, in spite of the trauma, than those who gave up. The ability to give meaning to someone’s suffering even in a situation less dramatic than a concentration camp is essential for them to get through the tough time in their life.

The concept of finding meaning in life can also be seen in this week’s Torah portion. In this week’s Torah portion we are told how Jacob, at the end of his life is living in Egypt, asks his son Joseph (the viceroy of Egypt) that after he dies, Joseph should bury him in Israel. Within this conversation Jacob tells Joseph that he did not bury Rachel (Joseph’s mother and Jacob’s wife) in Israel when she died because she died before they reached Israel[i].

The verses which in the midst of the Jacob’s request to his son, explain why Rachel was not buried in Israel seem to be redundant. The famous medieval commentator Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhchoki (also known as Rashi) explains as follows: Jacob tells Joseph that even though he is asking him to bring him to Israel, he did not do the same for Joseph’s mother because she died on the way. Jacob tells Joseph that I buried her there and I did not bring her over the border of Israel to bury her in Beis Lechem. Jacob said to Joseph that he knew that Joseph had some hard feelings towards him (literarily translated it would read as “there is in your heart about me”) concerning burying Joseph’s mother outside Israel but Jacob said that Joseph should know that I did this because G-D told me to. I buried her there so that she should be of aid to her children (many hundreds of years later)[ii] when Nebuzaradan would exile them and they will pass through by way of Rachel’s tomb. Rachel will then go out on her grave and weep, she will beg for mercy on her Jewish descendents... and G-D will answer her, there is a reward for your actions, your children will return to their borders.

A simple question can be asked what were the actions that Rachel did for which G-D is rewarding her? No actions are mentioned here for which she deserves a reward but only that she is asking for mercy on her children[iii].

This question can be understood by understanding another part of the conversation between Jacob and Joseph. Jacob said that “I know you have some hard feelings towards me”. Jacob is trying to justify himself now, just for before he dies, for not burying Joseph’s mother in Israel. He has not tried to justify himself in previous years which would imply that the resentment of Joseph is being aroused only now. The resentment would then be caused by Jacob’s request of being buried in Israel, although he did not bury Joseph’s mother in Israel.

This would seem to imply that Joseph was feeling like he wanted revenge since it was acceptable and made sense to Joseph that Jacob would want to be buried in Israel. It is only when Jacob asks Joseph to make an effort after he dies to bury him in Israel is Joseph filled with a feeling of resentment that Jacob did not bury his mother there. Nevertheless, It is very hard to think that a person like Joseph who had already reached levels of prophecy and proved his righteousness would have such a feeling?

It would therefore make more sense to say that Jacob did not suspect Joseph of revenge. Joseph certainly understood that Jacob would have done everything possible to bury Rachel in Israel (in a burial plot next to his), especially as he knew how much Jacob loved his mother. If Jacob did not do this it had to be for a reason which was not his fault.

The problem was that Joseph understood intellectually that Jacob was not at fault but that did not help as his mother was still lacking the advantage of being buried in Israel. As Rashi states there was something on Joseph’s heart which was causing him anguish in regards to Jacob since his mother still lacked something[iv]. The general knowledge that Jacob was not at fault was not enough to placate the emotional hurt that Joseph felt. Joseph felt and thought “why could my mother not be buried in such a holy place as Israel?”

The hurtful feeling which Joseph experienced came to a head when Jacob asked him to take him and bury him in Israel. This stressed the great worth of being buried in such a place, to such an extent that Jacob would bother his son to take his body a great distance to bury it there. This stressed how much Rachel was missing since she was not buried there.

[It is quite obvious from here that understanding that no one is at fault for a distressing situation does not take away negative feelings. Just to tell the individual to be happy would also not work since the circumstances which are upsetting them are still there. Jacob needed to try something else and so he explained:]

Jacob buried Rachel on the way to Israel because (as Rashi explains) G-D told him to bury her there. The reason she was buried there was to help her children in the future (guarantying that they would be returned to their land) since Rachel has an advantage which no one else possessed. This answer was enough to remove the distressful feeling which Joseph felt.

The fact that Jacob buried Rachel outside Israel according to G-D’s command so that she should be a help to her “children” (descendents) does not mean that Rachel lost out so that her descendents could benefit. On the contrary, since the redemption of the “children” (descendents) of Rachel was at stake, their redemption is for Rachel’s good and benefit. It is certain that Rachel herself would agree to forgo any personal benefit so her children would be redeemed and in fact she would demand it.

This is the meaning of “there is a reward for your action” in regards to Rachel being buried outside Israel (even though no action is mentioned). The intention is that G-D commanded that Rachel be buried on the way to Israel was only because Rachel herself wanted and desired this. Rachel’s request for mercy many years later specifically had the power to help her children because she declined the great benefit of being buried in Israel for the benefit of her descendents. This was the action which caused G-D to say many years later to say that he would eventually redeem Rachel’s children (descendents).[v]

Back to Leah

Leah is depressed and it is not good enough to try and empathise with her, although that might help ease some of the pain. As Frankl explains Leah needs meaning in her life to withstand its trials and tribulations. So we see in this week’s Torah portion, Joseph was able to be placated and carry out the mission his father was giving him, only after he felt that what had happened to his mother was a meaningful occurrence. Leah as well needs to find meaning in her life and in the things she does. Her depression will persist and might get worse until she realises that there could be a purpose for it.

The ability to see a bigger picture can come through learning Torah and seeing a bigger picture in the world than what the media portrays. Things do not happen randomly and when put into context then an individual can see a deeper reality within their lives. Leah would need to start attending Torah classes, especially in the subject of Chassidut which is the part of Torah which speaks about the deeper reality of the world. These classes she would need to try and apply to her life, so finding a deeper meaning to her difficulties.

If Leah still had a problem after learning in these classes then it would be appropriate for her to speak to a qualified Jewish Orthodox Therapist who could help her with her depression.

The above article is a general structure for people but for specific problems a qualified therapist should be consulted.

Yitzchok Kaye BA, Pg. Dip., Msc is a trained, qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, who also specializes in other therapies. He helps individuals and couples with their challenges and issues. He has been a practising therapist for a number of Counselling Organisations but now has his own private practice. He is available around the world via Skype. He can be contacted at

[i] Breishis 48,7

[ii] Breishis Rabba chapter 82,10

[iii] Rashi does not mention the midrash that Rachel made sure that her sister would not be embarrassed when she married Jacob. That would imply that Rashi does not think that this is the action for which Rachel is being rewarded.

[iv] Even though Jacob was not at fault nevertheless since Rachel’s disadvantage came through Jacob, he therefore bore some responsibility, see Tanya from Igerest Hakodesh beginning chapter 25.

[v] Likutei Sichos 30 p.236

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