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Finding G‑d During Tough Times

Finding G‑d During Tough Times

“Say you are my sister”

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Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling spiritually drained? Do the difficulties of life sometimes get to you, robbing you of your serenity, making you feel disconnected from anything higher than the daily grind?

It happens to all of us, and overcoming these feelings, reconnecting to our spiritual side, can be a real challenge. As always, we can look to the Torah for guidance. The life of our matriarch Sarah presents a powerful lesson that teaches us how to approach these difficult times.

The very first time we are introduced to Sarah, she and her husband Abraham, in their advanced years of life, are told to leave their home and birthplace and travel to an unknown land.

Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling spiritually drained?

Let’s look at the sources.

G‑d appeared to Abraham (then called Abram) and said to him:

“Get out from your country, and from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.”

Characteristically, Abraham does not hesitate a moment before obeying G‑d’s command.

So Abram departed, as G‑d had spoken to him, and Lot went with him; Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all the possessions that they had gathered and the souls that they had gotten in Haran, and they went forth to go to the land of Canaan, and to the land of Canaan they came.

It was here, in the holy land of Canaan, that Abraham has a vision and G‑d communicates with him, promising him that he will inherit this blessed land.

The Hebrew word Canaan, the ancient name for the land of Israel, also means “merchant.” A merchant symbolizes wealth, bounty, opportunity. Spiritually, too, the name signifies bounty, a profound closeness to G‑d.

Indeed, for Abraham the land held great spiritual wealth:

G‑d appeared to Abram and said, “To your seed I will give this land,” and there he built an altar to G‑d who appeared to him . . .

Abraham is communicating with G‑d, experiencing a much closer relationship than ever before, as the text continues, “There he built an altar to G‑d and called upon the name of G‑d.”

But, as happens often in our lives, a challenge appears on the horizon. Abraham confronts a test of his faith:

There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.

And it came to pass, when he came near to enter to Egypt, that he said to Sarai, his wife, “Behold, I know that you are a pretty woman. When the Egyptians shall see you, they will say ‘This is his wife,’ and they will kill me, but you they will keep alive. Therefore please say that you are my sister, so that they will benefit me because of you, and my life shall be spared because of you.”

In future essays we will take a deeper look at this exchange, and what Abraham was really requesting from Sarah. But for now let’s focus on the metaphorical, spiritual lesson in these words.

In Canaan, a land of spiritual bounty, Abraham and Sarah live openly as husband and wife. They care for each other and look out for each other as only a husband and wife can.

But then . . . there is a famine. Spiritually, a famine is a time when our sensitivity to G‑dliness becomes dulled.

Sarah and Abraham end up in Egypt—Mitzrayim, in Hebrew—a name which connotes constraints and limitation. Famine is a time when our sensitivity to G‑dliness becomes dulled.Here Abraham instructs Sarah to conceal their true relationship: to say that she is his sister.

What is the difference between a spouse and a sister on a spiritual plane? And what does this mean for us in our own spiritual journeys?

Think of your siblings. How do you get along with them? There may be times when you fight, and times when you are closer. But you don’t choose your brother or sister. Whether you like him or not, whether you love her or not, your sibling is your sibling for life. There is an underlying connection that is constant and unbreakable.

The bond with a spouse is different. It is a relationship that is chosen; it is subject to change. Unfortunately, as we see more and more often—today they are married, tomorrow or a year from now they may be divorced.

The relationship of siblings is innate, inborn, constant. Love for a spouse, on the other hand, is created. Two separate individuals from separate families come together as two distinct beings and unite. That’s what gives the marriage its intensity, its passion, a closeness that can’t be matched by even the closest siblings.

Let’s return to the lesson that Abraham and Sarah’s journey holds for our own times of spiritual and psychological challenge.

King Solomon, in Song of Songs (5:2), speaks of the Jewish people’s relationship with G‑d as being both a sister and a wife.

Abraham and Sarah’s journey shows us how our relationship with G‑d can hold both elements. Their journey also teaches us how to get through times of spiritual and psychological challenge.

When living in the Holy Land, in Canaan, a place where we feel G‑d’s presence in our lives, we can feel that G‑d is our beloved, G‑d is our spouse.

Likewise, in Canaan, Abraham and Sarah are obviously husband and wife.

But then comes a famine. A period of change. A period of challenge. A situation that tests your resolve. The relationship becomes strained. And suddenly it seems you are no longer so connected. You don’t feel the richness, the “merchant” of Canaan any more. You feel instead that you are in Egypt, a place of meitzarim, limitations. Alone.

Now comes the great lesson from Abraham and Sarah—“say you are my sister.” Realize that even in moments when you feel disconnected from your G‑d, from your nation, from your soul, G‑d isn’t only a spouse, but also a sibling.

We are G‑d’s people not just because we feel it, but because G‑dliness is inborn in our being. Like the bond between siblings, it may not always be overt or passionate. Indeed, there are times when it may seem to be completely dormant, but it is always there, a constant.

We may—and we should—crave to have G‑dliness is inborn in our being.a relationship with G‑d that is alive, vibrant, passionate and full of love, that is like the relationship of a loving spouse. In those times, we feel like we’re living in the Holy Land, surrounded by spiritual blessings. Life is great. We feel the connection. Deeply.

But even when we are experiencing our personal famines, our times of meitzarim and constraints and hardships, this episode with Abraham and Sarah teaches us that our relationship with G‑d still exists. It may not be as passionate, but we have to realize that it is still present, and that we can tap into it and revive it, now and forever.

Let’s review:

Canaan acquired the meaning of “merchant” and “wealth” (see Ezekiel 16:29), and represents a level of spiritual bounty and closeness to G‑d.

Mitzrayim means “constraints” and “limitations,” and represents a level of limited spirituality with severe boundaries holding us back.

In Canaan, Abraham and Sarah were openly husband and wife.

Canaan represents those times when our spiritual relationship with G‑d is at the level of “spouse,” a developed relationship where we feel passionately in love with G‑d.

In Mitzrayim, Abraham tells Sarah to say she is his sister.

This teaches us that even in difficult times we still have an inborn relationship with G‑d, at the level of “sister,” where the innate love, although not as passionate, is still present and accessible.

(See Ohr Hatorah, Vayikra 2:578–581, where many of the ideas expressed in this article can be found.)


Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Sarah Elisheva October 13, 2013

Thank you! Chana, thank you so much! This article was particularly meaningful to me as my brother has been out of the country for more than a year. I found the description about siblings & our relationship with G-d to be beautiful. Wrote it down to look at when I'm feeling blue. Love & blessings to you and all.
Shalom,
Sarah Elisheva Reply

jody October 8, 2013

Thank you for your amazing article. As always your writing is articulate, so interesting and thought provoking.
I always look forward to reading you. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 8, 2013

Teaching Stories Abrahams Sarahs Judiths, Deborahs, Ruths... among us... It feels like, every time we revisit a Biblical story, we perceive something more, and that those who engage in dialogue, together, are each gifted a piece of the puzzle, an enlargement of story, that is based on their unique selves, their particular lenses, through which the light breaks into patterns. So we need to listen, to everyone who comes our way. We can reject their views, but we should respect them, and they should respect each other.

Many of us are coming to this place at this time, having taken journeys, analagous to our sages. Who is to say, that suddenly, one among us, or many, isn't hearing the voice of G_d, isn't being told directly, how to proceed. Why make the assumption it was just "them" and not "us". I am saying G_d appears daily in our lives, through metaphor, through dream, through our own unique and connected stories. And that is very clear, that we too, have access, to the depths of being, of being with G_d, exactly as did Moses. I know I did. Reply

Anonymous October 8, 2013

Thank you for sharing!! God bless! Reply

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