There is a wonderful story about a king who dreamed about possessing the most precious ring in the world. He sent his advisors out to find something that could live up to this vision. When they finally returned with the one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry, the king opened the box to find a simple, plain-looking ring. Inscribed on it were three Hebrew words: “Gam zeh ya’avor.” This too shall pass. While he didn’t appreciate the simplicity at first, over time the king started to realize the true magical powers of the ring. When he was exceptionally sad, he would look at it and be reminded that dawn always follows the darkness of night. When he was giddy and enjoying his days, he would look at it and be sobered, managing his expectations and knowing how quickly things could change. This ring became his most prized possession.
As a parent of small children, parents of older children are always reminding me that everything is simply a phase. We hear all the time, “This too shall pass.” And while it brings little comfort in the midst of a tantrum, it is still very true. With all of life’s challenges, it can be important to remember “this too shall pass.” It may not seem like it in the moment when you’re down on your luck or in a “phase,” but it is the truth.
This week we read Parshat Miketz, the turning point in the Joseph saga. Joseph solves Pharaoh’s dreams and becomes a great leader in Egypt. He then marries a woman, he has sons named Ephraim and Menashe, and the land endures the seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. During the famine Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt in search of food, and Joseph recognizes them, but they have no clue who he is. Joseph tests the brothers and asks for his younger brother to be brought to him. Then when no food remains in Jacob’s house in Israel, Benjamin is brought back down to Egypt, and again Joseph interacts with his brothers. All the while, Joseph’s brothers still have no idea who he is.
The story of this particular famine is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. The Israelites and the Egyptians were confronted with one man’s dream that predicted a terribly difficult period ahead of them. The key to their survival was the knowledge that “this too shall pass.” The seven years of plenty could have been squandered, but they knew that those years were to be followed by seven years of famine, so instead the people saved.
We don’t have a way of knowing what is to come, but perhaps, like the king in search of something precious, we can remind ourselves that nothing lasts forever. Things do change, although that’s sometimes hard to see in the moment.