This too shall pass

By Rabbi Greg Alexander

How do we cope with struggles and challenge? What guides us in the confusing world we find ourselves in today?

In the big picture, 2021 is not looking that different to 2020. Yes, there is talk of vaccines and by the time you read this I hope that many of our over-60s will have had the jab, but we know that this is far from over and we need to draw on our reserves of patience and resilience once again. Many people respond with anger or even distrust of the vaccines (and the government/big Pharma push for them) and many respond with helplessness that there is ‘nothing to do’, COVID can’t be beaten.

There is a great tool that we have for these times and it is summed up in a story set 3 000 years ago in the court of King Solomon the wise. Of all Solomon’s most reliable advisors, none was more trusted than Benaiah ben Yehoyada. He was a proven soldier, general of the king’s army and someone who not only had performed heroic acts like killing a lion but had also stood by Solomon against his enemies even when it was not in his interests to do so. Check out the books of Samuel, Chronicles and Kings for more Benaiah stories.

This one, which is not in the Tanakh, begins at Pesach when King Solomon calls for Benaiah with a strange request. He asks him to find a special ring. One that has the power to make a sad person happy and a happy person sad. What he doesn’t tell Benaiah is that the ring does not exist. He wanted to test his truest general and see how he would respond. Would he refuse the task? Would he try and then give up, or hope the king would call it off? Would he pretend success and hope Solomon would not notice his failure?

The king gives him until Sukkot to bring back the ring, a period of six months. Of course, Benaiah accepts the challenge and heads off into the world to seek the ring. If we had pages I would describe the adventures he had along the way, but in short, it is nearing the end of Sukkot, and he is on his way back to Jerusalem ready to admit defeat.

He passes through a poor village where he sees some merchants have set out a market. One catches his eye and calls him over, asking if she can provide what he seeks. Benaiah describes the ring and the merchant thinks for a while and then nods. “You have the ring?” asks Benaiah, amazed. “I have this ring,” says the merchant and produces a simple plain gold band, and then in front of Benaiah she engraves three letters. Gimmel, zayin, yud. “What do they stand for?” asks the now suspicious Benaiah. Was this woman just trying to con him seeing how desperate he was to find the ring?

“For the words ‘Gam Zeh Ya’avor’ – this too shall pass” answers the merchant. After a moment’s thought, a broad smile breaks over Benaiah’s face. “Thank you, thank you,” he says, and, paying for the ring, he rushes off towards Jerusalem.

The morning of the last day of Sukkot dawns and Solomon welcomes Benaiah back to court. “So Benaiah, how have you managed with your quest?” Without a word, Benaiah produces the ring. Without any explanation Solomon understands immediately and shakes his head in amazement. “You have done well, my friend, and this ring will be my most treasured possession.”

The ring is not the treasure. The story is. Summed up in those three words – gam zeh ya’avor. When things are good, we should be humble enough to know that our lives are fragile. And when things are hard, we should realise that this won’t always be our state in life. This too shall pass. The wheel will turn. And we will move on. There are so many things beyond our control, out of our hands. We are not in control of COVID, or even of the way that governments of the world respond to it. We can’t control the weather, or the traffic or the neighbour’s barking dogs.

What we are in control of is our response. If we respond with anger, with fear, with frustrated seething fury, we not only do not stop COVID, we also add another problem to our already difficult day. When we try to work on what we can control – the support structures around us and our loved ones, keeping safe, making sure we do things that bring us joy, connecting to people who inspire us and make us smile – then our burden is less.

Temple Israel

• Published in the PDF edition of the June 2021 issue – Download here.

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