When a man’s knowledge is not in order, the more of it he has, the greater will be his confusion. -Herbert Spencer
Joseph, in his role as Viceroy of Egypt, and still unrecognized by his brothers, has orchestrated an elaborate charade to implicate their younger brother, Benjamin, in the theft of his silver goblet. Joseph announces that Benjamin will remain in Egypt as Joseph’s slave and that the other brothers are free to return home to their father Jacob in Canaan.
Brother Judah, in a great act of repentance for having sold Joseph into slavery, steps forward and confronts the Viceroy/Joseph in an attempt to rescue Benjamin. Judah altruistically offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin. At this point Joseph, overcome with emotion, reveals himself as their long-lost brother and the family is happily reunited.
The Bat Ayin on Genesis 44:18 examines Judah’s speech to the Viceroy/Joseph and focuses on the part where Judah says to Joseph “because you are like Pharaoh.” The verse is making an equivalence between the righteous Joseph and the (ultimately) evil Pharaoh. The Bat Ayin explains that when Israel is in exile, there is no visible difference between the righteous and the evil. This is in contrast to when Israel is redeemed and in its own land with a greater revelation of God’s presence. In such a reality God more readily shows His pleasure with the righteous and with His more visible blessings they ascend in their righteousness. The evildoers in such a reality descend and are punished more clearly for their sins.
However, the current reality of exile is that God’s presence is significantly hidden. As a result of that, the clearly righteous can be wracked with travails, while evildoers enjoy the blessings and bounty of this world. Our experience is that God can be so obscured that there is no apparent difference between the fate of the righteous and the evil. There is utter existential confusion regarding good and evil, reward and punishment, and God’s involvement in our lives. In such a reality it becomes easy to equate a righteous Joseph with an evil Pharoah.
Nonetheless, the confusion of the world doesn’t absolve us from pursuing good and believing in God’s benevolent presence. Sometimes He even lets us peek behind the curtain and get a glimpse of His handiwork. In fact, the more we believe in Him, the more He shows Himself.
May we get more glances of clarity within the confusion of our times.
The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility. -Vaclav Havel
After twenty-two years of mourning, Jacob discovers that his beloved son Joseph is alive. Not only is Joseph alive, but amid a global famine Joseph is also the Viceroy of Egypt and the man in charge of the world’s supply of grain. Joseph, with Pharaoh’s blessing invites Jacob with his entire family to relocate from Canaan to the land of Goshen, the most attractive area in Egypt.
Jacob leaves Canaan with the whole family. The night that he is about to cross from Canaan into the Egyptian lands God appears to Jacob. God tells Jacob not to worry:
“Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
The Chidushei HaRim on Genesis 46:4 wonders as to the unusual phrase that “Joseph’s hand will close your eyes.” Why is that good and how does it comfort Jacob?
He explains that one of the defining aspects of Joseph was his fortitude to withstand the enticement of Potiphar’s wife and to remain holy and dedicated to God’s precepts. Whenever that aspect of Joseph is present among the Jewish people and they find themselves in danger or exile, it is Joseph’s “hand” that will protect and save them. It is the commitment to a higher standard in our relations that will call down a higher level of divine involvement. God in a sense is telling Jacob that Joseph’s strength of character will ensure that his descendants will return to their home from the Egyptian exile.
The concept of family purity, of correct monogamous relationships, of not wreaking havoc on the bonds of marriage invokes Joseph’s great power and merit. That merit affords us an added measure of intervention, of taking us out of the dangers and personal exiles we find ourselves in.
May we cherish the bonds of marriage and merit to be redeemed from our exiles.
To the memory of Rabbi Gideon Perl zt”l, Rabbi of Alon Shvut and Gush Etzion.
Keep thy smooth words and juggling homilies for those who know thee not. -Lord Byron
Joseph has finally sprung his trap, while his brothers still haven’t discovered that he, the Viceroy of Egypt, is their long-lost brother. Joseph got them to bring brother Benjamin to Egypt, and he had incriminating evidence placed among Benjamin’s belongings. The brothers, not realizing they were being set up, had brazenly declared that if Joseph’s men would find the thief in their midst, the thief would be put to death and the rest of them would become Joseph’s slaves.
When the stolen goblet is found in Benjamin’s possessions, the brothers realize they are in big trouble. Joseph, however, presents himself as a magnanimous judge. He states that only the thief himself will become his slave, while the rest of the brothers are free to return home.
This is the situation in which Judah steps forward and asks for a private audience with the Viceroy. Judah recounts the recent history, of how the Viceroy had insisted on Benjamin coming to Egypt, despite pleas that their father Jacob’s life was highly dependent on Benjamin’s wellbeing. If anything untoward were to happen to Benjamin, it would almost certainly kill their father Jacob.
The Bechor Shor on Genesis 44:32 reads an accusatory statement in Judah’s plea to the Viceroy. He explains that Judah is saying that the Viceroy’s magnanimity is ultimately false. The Viceroy is only pretending to be generous by saying the other brothers are free to go, while only Benjamin will remain enslaved. While the Viceroy seems to be saying that the other brothers are likely innocent and there’s no need for them to be punished, in effect, by enslaving Benjamin and separating him from their father, the Viceroy will be killing Jacob, who is completely innocent. How can the Viceroy justify the exoneration of people who may have been accomplices to the crime, while he inflicts a fatal punishment on Jacob, someone completely innocent?
At that point, Judah offers himself to be a slave to the Viceroy instead of Benjamin, in order to save Jacob’s life. Moved by Judah’s valiant gesture, the Viceroy finally reveals himself to be Joseph. The brothers are shocked into silence, and the process of family reconciliation can begin.
May our family reunions be less duplicitous than that of our ancestors.
Night brings our troubles to the light, rather than banishes them. -Seneca the Elder
As Jacob is about to leave the land of Canaan, the land that had been promised to him, to his father, to his grandfather, and to his progeny, God appears to Jacob that night. Jacob is driven to leave because of the famine in Canaan and he is pulled to Egypt by the promise of seeing his long-lost son, Joseph, as well as by assurances of sustenance for the entire family in Egypt.
The Meshech Chochma on Genesis 46:2 wonders why we see such an unusual divine revelation during the nighttime to our patriarch Jacob when we don’t see such a revelation to either of the other two patriarchs, his grandfather Abraham or his father Isaac.
The Meshech Chochma explains that what is different about Jacob from the other patriarchs, is that Jacob was ready and willing to live in exile. Abraham only leaves Canaan for a short period of time and Isaac never leaves.
God, therefore, pays Jacob a special visitation at night. Night is parallel to exile. The physical darkness of night parallels the spiritual darkness of exile. Nonetheless, God comes to tell Jacob that even in the spiritual darkness of exile, God is still with him and will remain with him in his exile.
The Meshech Chochma elaborates further, that just as God remained with Jacob in exile, so too He remains with Jacob’s progeny, with the people of Israel in their long exile.
But the Meshech Chochma qualifies his statement. When the people of Israel follow the ways of the patriarchs, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; when we hold firm to the traditions of our ancestors, then Israel is a strong nation, an ancient yet vibrant people to whom God revealed Himself when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. God remains with the people also in the long night of exile.
But when the people of Israel forget the covenant our ancestors forged with God, when we no longer walk in their paths, then the divine presence no longer resides with the people of Israel. We cease to lay claim to our ancestral heritage and the divine accompaniment that comes along with it. We become “fair game” to the vicissitudes and ill winds of the world.
May we remain firm in our connection to our ancient covenant and may God’s presence ever be near.
To all those completing the 7.5 year cycle of learning the entire Babylonian Talmud (Daf Yomi). And to those starting the next cycle this Sunday, especially my wife Tamara, who will be teaching a weekly online review course of Daf Yomi at WebYeshiva: https://www.webyeshiva.org/course/daf-yomi-one-week-at-a-time/
The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth. -Frances Moore Lappe
The end of this week’s Torah reading describes Joseph’s economic efforts, how he singlehandedly saved the Egyptian people from starvation, redistributed the land and imposed a tax rate of 20% on the Egyptian farmers.
The Berdichever explores the unusual phraseology “You will give a fifth to Pharaoh and four hands will go to you to eat and for your household.” (which means Pharaoh gets twenty percent of your produce, you get to keep the remaining 80%). Expounding on the verse and the “four hands,” the Berdichver explains that God established four different levels of creation in our world:
“Inanimate”: earth, water, stones, minerals (“Domem” in Hebrew);
“Grows”: vegetables, plants, trees (“Tzomeach” in Hebrew);
“Alive”: animals (“Chai” in Hebrew);
“Speaks”: man (“Medaber” in Hebrew).
He quotes from Kabalistic sources that detail God’s plan and desire for each element to be elevated and raised to the next level:
When earth, water, minerals and other nutrients are converted from their base state into some type of vegetation, they are somehow elevated to a higher spiritual level. They have moved from the lowly “Domem/Inanimate” state to the slightly more elevated “Tzomeach/Grows” state.
When plants, in turn, are consumed by animals, they are now elevated from the “Tzomeach/Grows” state to the even higher “Chai/Alive” state.
Finally, when man consumes the flesh of an animal, be it fish, poultry or beef, that person is elevating those molecules from the “Chai/Alive” state to the highest terrestrial level of “Medaber/Speaks.”
Man’s God-given ability to somehow convert the matter around him, be it mineral, vegetable or animal into a part of his very self, is nothing less than a form of creation. It relates to a Talmudic discussion as to the phraseology of the blessings we recite when we eat. We bless God, who “creates” these products. We say “creates” in the present tense, as opposed to “created” in the past tense, because it is a current, ongoing, creative act by God.
The quarks, atoms and molecules that make up our reality are constantly given life and existence by God. It is that divine aspect that also allows us to absorb these elements into our being and in some fashion that we have trouble comprehending, elevate the spiritual sparks of these items by consuming them.
May all our consumptions be for divine purposes and may we succeed in elevating them and ourselves higher.
To the speedy recovery of the victims of the terror shooting in Ofra. Especially to the young pregnant mother who was shot and had the baby delivered by emergency C-section. As of this writing, the mother is currently stable, but the baby is in critical condition.
A gentle response allays wrath; A harsh word provokes anger. – King Solomon, Proverbs 15:1
Joseph, viceroy of Egypt, has sprung the trap on his brothers, who still don’t recognize that he’s their sibling. He decrees that young Benjamin will be his slave based on fabricated evidence, while the other brothers can return to Canaan to their father Jacob. The whole ruse is patently unfair. They’ve been set up. Judah steps up and asks for a private audience with Joseph.
Judah, softly, gently, respectfully yet passionately, argues his case in front of the viceroy. He retells the history of how they came to the unfortunate situation. Judah ends his moving plea by offering himself as a slave instead of Benjamin. Joseph can no longer contain himself, is moved to tears, and reveals his true identity to his brothers in what becomes perhaps one of the most emotional reunions depicted in the Torah.
Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 44:18 (Vayigash) analyses the recounting of events, of Judah’s daring approach to viceroy Joseph, of his tactics in confronting the powerful ruler who held their fate in his hands. Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that Judah was successful in calling on Joseph’s compassion by speaking calmly and gently to the harsh accusations and decree. Had Judah responded with righteous indignation, he would have only succeeded at kindling Joseph’s own anger which may have led to a worse outcome. By confronting the situation with calm, patience and understanding, Judah assured the best possible outcome. He allowed Joseph’s better nature to determine the rest of the story, not vengeance or a momentary fit of anger.
Rabbeinu Bechaye however, adds that there were two other elements in Judah’s address to Joseph. Besides entreating, softly pleading with Joseph for mercy, he also called on Joseph to be fair with their family and particularly their aging father who would be heartbroken should Benjamin not return. His final point is that he’s prepared for battle. The Midrash shares with us ancient tales of how Judah faces off against Joseph, prepared to tear Egypt apart should Joseph continue with his unfair enslavement of Benjamin.
Rabbeinu Bechaye however repeats and reinforces the value of training oneself to speak calmly and to always answer angry words with patience. There is no better way to inflame a situation than by answering anger with anger; and there is no better way to forestall a fight than to answer anger with calm.
May we not be the source of heated conversations and may we diffuse those that start that way.
To the voters of Zehut International who have put their trust in me.
Joys divided are increased. -Josiah Gilbert Holland
Up until the time of Jacob, the animal sacrifices that our ancestors brought to God were completely consumed by fire. The entire beast was burnt in a ceremony known in Hebrew as a Korban Olah. This act demonstrated a total submission and entreaty to God. It all went to God. Jacob does something different.
Jacob is informed that his beloved long-lost son Joseph was alive and not dead as he was lead to believe for twenty-two long years. As he rushes down to Egypt to reunite with Joseph, Jacob offers a different type of sacrifice, which is called Zevachim and also Shelamim (peace offerings). In this sacrifice, part of the animal is burnt upon the altar, but here man also partakes of the meat of the sacrifice.
In the words of Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 46:1:
“[The peace offerings] express a loftier concept, that of “God coming into our midst.” They are therefore offered in the happy awareness that wherever a family lives in harmony, is faithful to its duty and feels that it is being upheld by God, there God is present. That is why the spirit of the Shelamim, the “peace offerings” of a family life blessed by God, is so typically Jewish. The concept of surrendering to God and permitting oneself to be absorbed by Him has begun to dawn also upon non-Jewish minds. But the thought that everyday life can become so thoroughly pervaded by the spirit of God that “one eats and drinks and while doing so, beholds God,” that all our family rooms become temples, our table altars, and our young men and young women priests and priestesses – this spiritualization of everyday personal life represents the unique contribution of Judaism.”
“The reason why Jacob-Israel at this point did not offer a Korban Olah, but Zevachim, is that now, for the first time, Jacob felt happy, joyous and “complete” (“Shalem” in Hebrew also means “complete” or “whole”) within the circle of his family. It was under the impact of this awareness and this emotion that he made a “family offering” to God.”
Part of the point of the Shelamim sacrifice was to share it with family and friends in a festive celebratory spirit: to consecrate the meal, to make the meal itself holy and have God as part of the celebration.
May we have many causes of celebration and holy festivities.
On the engagement of our son Eitan to Rebecca Charytan who complete each other. We are filled with joy that we look forward to sharing.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. -Melody Beattie
Observant Jews have a common, repetitive and to some, an irritating habit of mentioning God all the time. We will use the phrase “Thank God,” “Baruch Hashem,” (Blessed is God) or “Beezrat Hashem” (With God’s help), multiple times in the same conversation, and sometimes in the same sentence. The etymology of our name may give a hint as to why.
We are called “Jews” because we are the people who come from “Judah,” or “Yehudah” in Hebrew. Yehuda was the fourth of Jacob’s sons but more than a millennia later became the dominant tribe of the nation of Israel and all descendants of Israel thereafter became known as “Yehudim” – Jews.
The root of the word “Yehudah” comes from “Todah” which means thanks. The Sfat Emet in 5631 (1870) explains that our name also stems from the fact that we are a people who constantly thank God. Whether the matter is large or small, we realize that all comes from God and we thank Him for it. Hence, we are named the “Yehudim” – the People who thank God.
He continues by stating that understanding and acknowledging that reality, that God is the source of all, especially during difficult times, helps us realize that God is still around and with us, but according to His plan.
To Max Sapolinski, the new President of the Jewish Community of Uruguay.
We never know the love of the parent till we become parents ourselves. -Henry Ward Beecher
It seems, the Patriarch Jacob knew that if he descended to Egypt from the land of Canaan, it would be a one-way trip. He would not be able to return to the Promised Land in life. He probably also knew that it would signal the beginning of the prophesied exile and enslavement of his descendants.
However, the moment he discovers that his beloved and missing son Joseph is alive and well in Egypt, Jacob doesn’t hesitate and immediately goes to reunite with his long-lost son.
The Baal Haturim on Genesis 44:29 compares the love and self-sacrifice of Jacob to the natural instinct a mother has for her child. A cow that resists going to the slaughterer because it senses impeding death will rush to the same place if it hears the cry of its calf. So too the maternal instinct is to ignore whatever danger stands in the way of reaching ones child.
May we have and feel the sentiments of love – without the danger.
—Estamos todos listos para ser esclavos de mi señor —dijo Judá, postrado en el suelo con sus hermanos.
—Tonterías —el Virrey declaró con una voz extraña—. El hombre en cuyo poder se encontró la copa —señaló a Benjamín—, él será mi esclavo. En cuanto a ustedes —indicó al resto de los hermanos—, vayan en paz con su padre.
¿Por qué está obsesionado con Benjamín? Judá se preguntó. Acabamos de ofrecerle esclavos fuertes y valiosos, pero él sólo está interesado en Benjamín. Tiene que haber más en esto que lo que podemos ver.
—Por favor, mi señor —Judá levantó la cabeza, aún de rodillas—, podré yo, tu siervo, hablar unas palabras en tu oído. Y espero que tu enojo no se levante sobre mí, ya que tú eres como Faraón.
El Virrey le indicó a Judá que se acercase a su silla.
Tengo que hacerle entender la dinámica de la familia, pensó Judá. Si él se queda con Benjamín,el hijo que queda de Rachel, ¡padre va a morir! Yo no puedo ser el culpable de que otro hermano sea esclavizado. Sería un destino demasiado cruel.
Judá le repitió al Virrey, en un susurro, la historia reciente de la familia y los sucesos importantes. Le explicó cuán querido era Benjamín para su padre, sobre todo desde la desaparición de José, el primer hijo de su amada Rachel.
Este Virrey es poderoso e inteligente, Judah señaló para sí mismo. A pesar de que actúa de forma extraña. Si él sigue teniendo la intención de adquirir un esclavo, me ofreceré a mí mismo.
—Si regreso a mi padre —Judá declaró— y el joven no está con nosotros, morirá. Su alma está muy ligada al alma de Benjamín. No quiero ser yo quien tenga la culpa de haber llevado el alma de mi padre a la tumba llena de pena.
Judá se detuvo un momento para recuperar el aliento y ver el impacto de sus palabras en el Virrey. Puedo sentir su agitación interior, Judá pensó esperanzado, y sus ojos se están humedeciendo. Tengo que seguir adelante.
—Porque yo tomé la responsabilidad del más joven de mi padre cuando le dije:”Si no te lo vuelvo a traer, entonces yo estaré pecando ante mi padre para siempre”. Ahora, por lo tanto, por favor, déjame quedarme en lugar del joven como tu siervo, mi señor —Judá observó la respiración agitada del Virrey—. Deja que el joven vaya con sus hermanos. ¿Cómo podré regresar con mi padre si Benjamín no está conmigo, para ver cómo se apena por él?
Los ojos del Virrey se abrieron con sorpresa. Él está sorprendido por mi voluntad de cambiar de lugar con Benjamín, Judah concluyó. Su rostro se está desfigurando y retorciendo…
—¡Basta! —el Virrey gritó, arrancando de su cabeza todos sus ornamentos.
—¡Sirvientes! ¡Salgan de la habitación! —el Virrey continuó gritando con los ojos desorbitados.
Judá y sus hermanos estaban confundidos, sin saber qué hacer.
—Ustedes. Quédense —el Virrey señaló los hermanos, apenas conteniéndose a sí mismo.
Todos los guardias y personal de la casa se escabulleron rápidamente fuera de la sala, perplejos por el arrebato inusual de su amo.
Tan pronto como el último criado cerró la puerta de la sala, el Virrey se lamentó:
El grito fue fuerte y potente; parecía hacer eco de un alma torturada. Repercutió en toda la mansión del Virrey y más allá: atravesó el corazón de cualquiera que lo escuchara. Los hermanos se quedaron atónitos y confundidos.
¿Quién es este hombre? Judá se preguntó. ¿Qué hemos desatado?
—Yo soy José —el Virrey les confesó entre sollozos—. ¿Mi padre aún está vivo?
¡Esto no es posible! Judá pensó con asombro. ¡¿José?! ¿Cómo puede ser esto? ¿Después de todos estos años?
Los hermanos se miraron con una mezcla de miedo e incredulidad.
¿Será posible? Judá buscó a los demás con la mirada. ¿José? ¿El hermano al que traicionamos? ¿Ahora es el hombre más poderoso de Egipto? ¿Qué es lo que quiere? ¿Buscará la venganza? ¿Es todo esto una artimaña para castigarnos?
Judá y sus hermanos dieron un paso atrás con aprehensión.
—Por favor, acérquense a mí —José los llamó, al ver su desconfianza—.Yo soy José vuestro hermano —dijo, controlando sus lágrimas—. Soy yo, el que vendieron como esclavo para Egipto. Y ahora, no se aflijan ni se reprochen a sí mismos por haberme vendido, porque Dios me envió hasta aquí antes que a ustedes para que yo fuera su proveedor de alimentos. Porque estos han sido tan solo dos de los años de sequía y hambre en la tierra, y aún quedan cinco años más en los cuales no habrá ni siembra ni siega.
¿Es esto posible? Judá comenzó a recuperarse de su sorpresa y examinó a José más de cerca. Ahora percibo algunos de sus viejos modales. Pero veo cómo ha crecido y madurado. Él ya no es el hijo mimado y vanidoso que echamos. Él todavía es grandioso, pero de una manera fuerte y poderosa. ¡Dios está con él!
José les dijo a sus hermanos acerca de cómo ser vendido como esclavo había sido parte de un plan divino para salvar a la familia de la escasez. Aún así, los hermanos estaban preocupados e inseguros de las intenciones de José.
—Rápido. Vuelvan con nuestro padre y díganle que esto es lo que dijo su hijo José: Dios me ha hecho señor de todo Egipto. Ven a mí, no te demores. Tú podrás vivir en la tierra de Goshen y estarás cerca de mí. Tú, tus hijos, tus nietos, tus ovejas y tus vacas, y todo lo que es tuyo. Y yo cuidaré de ustedes allí – porque habrá otros cinco años de hambre – por lo que no voy a dejar que sean indigentes. Ni tú, ni tu hogar ni todo lo que es tuyo.
¡Quiere ayudarnos! Judá se sorprendió. Él no guarda rencor y busca encargarse de toda la familia. ¡Esto es increíble! Nuestro sufrimiento se ha convertido en salvación y en alegría, aunque haya algunos de mis hermanos no parezcan convencidos. Sé que José también lo percibe.
—He aquí —José hizo un gesto hacia Benjamín—. Sus propios ojos ven, al igual que los ojos de mi hermano Benjamín, que soy yo, su hermano, quien les está hablando.
José se acercó a Benjamín y lo abrazó con fuerza. Las lágrimas corrían ahora profusamente por las mejillas de los hijos reunidos de Rachel.
¡Él es José! Judá afirmó. ¡José está de vuelta! La mano de Dios está claramente presente en todos estos hechos. ¡Es increíble!
Rubén fue el siguiente en abrazar a José, el hermano mayor que había tratado de salvar a José hacía tantos años.
Y entonces José se acercó a Judá. Fue mi iniciativa la de venderlo, Judá pensó con culpa. Yo soy quién creó toda esta angustia.
Pero los ojos de José sólo se llenaron de lágrimas y de amor y de perdón. Su aura parecía decirle a Judá: Estás perdonado, mi hermano. Todo está perdonado.
Hermano, cada uno de ellos pensaban mientras se abrazaban cálidamente.