Regarding the beginning of the portion Vayeshev which tells the story of the family of Jacob, Rashi quotes an explanation from the Midrash as to why this story follows the ending of the previous portion Vayishlach. It had described all the different kings who existed then, and all the generations and family of Esau, who, at the time, was considered Jacob’s negative brother.
To explain why this portion, Vayeshev, begins with Jacob and his family, Rashi brings a parable about a man traveling with his camels that are laden with linen. The man and his camels walk by a coal worker who sees them, and says, “Look at all this linen! I am overwhelmed,” to which a wise person tells him, “Do not worry about all of the linen; if one spark from your flame jumps out, it will burn it all up.” Rashi explains that this is how Jacob saw all the generations of Esau; not as stories about families, but rather, like the linen, as forces of negativity, and is therefore overwhelmed.
So, Jacob is overwhelmed in the beginning of the portion Vayeshev, and in order to calm him and answer his question of how someone can fight against all of these forces and energies of darkness, negativity, and destruction mentioned in the end of the previous portion, the Midrash says that the house of Jacob is a fire, the house of Joseph is a flame, and the forces of Esau, of darkness and negativity, are like hay; one spark comes out of Joseph and burns up all of the hay that is Esau.
Let’s just understand, in a literal sense, what Rashi is quoting from the Midrash. Jacob sees all of the generations of Esau and is overwhelmed. He does not see a way out of all of the darkness and pain that is going to exist in the world, and asks, “How can I stop all of this darkness and destruction?” The answer the Midrash gives, as in the parable, is that it is possible for us to have one spark of Light that will burn away all these forces of negativity.
What is the secret, then, of the parable, and more importantly, how do we use it in our own lives? The kabbalists explain that with everything in our world, there is the internal aspect and there is the external aspect. Most of us, unfortunately, live within the realm of the external aspect, caring what others think and say about us. That is a clear indication that we are invested more in the external aspect of things than the internal. Unfortunately, pain, suffering, death, and darkness are also aspects of the external, and if an individual gives strength to any of the external aspects of things in his consciousness and in the way he lives his life, he also gives power to the external aspects of the world; the forces not only bring darkness to the world as a whole, but also to the individual.
So, how does one burn up that external aspect? How can an individual who is experiencing judgment and negativity burn it up and make it disappear? The answer is simple. If an individual starts living his life not being concerned about the external, but only about the internal aspect - which is his soul, transformation, and spiritual work - then that spark can burn all of the external judgments. When we are overwhelmed by darkness and judgment, we can take it away by first remembering that it is only external; it is not real, it does not have an existence, and one spark of an internal Light can burn it all away.
The question we have to ask ourselves, therefore, is: what are my concerns and where is my focus? Because if we continue to be focused on, and concerned about, the external, then there is no way we can ever stop the judgment or burn up all of that negativity. Conversely, if we understand that the only way we can burn off all of the external is by focusing on sending out a spark from the internal, we begin to focus our life only on our transformation and our connection to the Light of the Creator. Then, in so doing, "The spark travels out and burns up all negativity,” as the Midrash says.
We can burn off judgment and all the overwhelming forces of darkness, both individually and for the world, by sending out a spark of our internal aspect. How do we do that? By refocusing our mind not to care what people think or say about us, by not caring anymore about all the external things that we spend most of our days focusing on and worrying about. Instead, we go to the internal aspect of our soul and focus there. That is the secret of this Midrash; Jacob is overwhelmed by all the forces of negativity, but the Creator says, “Do not forget, they are not real.” And then we, like Jacob, can remove those forces of negativity and judgment with one spark, but we have to be connected to that spark, the internal aspect.