Let it go!

Part of a yearlong series about resilience in Jewish spiritual life.

"Let it Go!" – no, not the hit song from Disney's animated movie "Frozen". "Letting it go" is this week's lesson in resilience.

Many purveyors of "modern spirituality" counsel a letting go that releases tension and cultivates graceful acceptance. To mindfulness educator Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, "It's not a matter of letting go; you would if you could. Instead of 'let it go' we should probably say 'let it be'." Sometimes, healing comes from accepting reality without judgment; better not grasp or lurch for solutions but to release the past and be free to be present. Some say "Let go and let God" – surrender (להכנֵֵע) not from fatalism but in trust of a loving God.

Both kinds of "letting go" offer wisdom. Acknowledging the fragility of human experience, we can more honestly focus on those aspects of our lives which we can control moving forward. This week's Torah portion (Vayigash) models a third kind of "letting go" – telling the truth – is a prerequisite to cultivating resilience in that we can identify what brokenness needs healing and can address it in the present tense.

Along Joseph's path to greatness, traumatic events and horrific circumstances weighed heavily upon his psyche.  He began as favored son whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery. He was further victimized as he was imprisoned in an Egyptian jail. Joseph later was offered physical redemption as he rose to become second in command to Pharaoh. As viceroy, Joseph receives his brothers who have come begging for food during a crippling famine. Joseph weaves an elaborate scheme to test his brothers, who don't recognize him in his royal finery. 

At this dramatic peak of the saga, Joseph can't take it anymore. He sends away his royal attendants and sobs. Joseph "makes himself known" to his brothers, assuring them that they are absolved of guilt, and credits God with divine orchestration so that Joseph could be sent ahead to save their lives. Only then could Jacob come to Egypt and the family be reunited safely.

In this pivotal moment, each of the actors is in the process of letting go. Judah lets go of his secret wrongdoing. Joseph chooses to move past his grudge. The brothers relinquish their guilt. All of them had to let go of their perceived sense that they were in charge: indeed it was God who worked through them to save the family and prepare for the future of the Jewish people.

The continuity of Israelite civilization was guaranteed in this time of revelatory reconciliation. We further learn that resilience doesn't just mean "letting go" in the passive sense of surrender, but also in the active sense of addressing falsehoods, injustices, and grudges.  This teaches not only "revealing" but also "confessing", is necessary in the process of "letting go" to emancipate the secrets that enslave the heart and soul.  

"Let it go," say Joseph and Judah, teaching us that resilience isn't doubling down on the commitment to a past, painful narrative. Instead, resolving to recognize and reveal the traumas of the past as laying the groundwork forward in partnership with God, empowers us with creative resilient.

– R. David Evan Markus