Guilty Conscience

B”H

parashas Mikeitz 5781

“And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew him not.”

– Genesis 42:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

About twenty years after Joseph was rejected by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and sold as a slave to a caravan that passed by Dothan, Joseph ascended to second in charge of Egypt, next to Pharaoh, who placed his entire kingdom at his disposal. Joseph preserved grain during the seven years of plenty that were prophesied in Pharaoh’s dreams. Then, he began to carefully distribute food, at the beginning of the seven years of famine. Jacob’s family needed provisions, for like everyone else on the known earth, they were affected by the famine. So, Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to purchase food, excluding the youngest, Benjamin, “Lest peradventure harm befall him” (Genesis 42:4, JPS).

When the brothers arrived in Egypt, Joseph was in charge of selling grain to all the peoples who looked to Egypt for food. “And Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down to him with their faces to the earth” (Genesis 42:6, JPS). Thus the dream he had as a youth was only partially fulfilled, so far; yet, in the dream all of his brothers bowed down to him. Although the brothers did not recognize Joseph, he recognized them. They saw an Egyptian prince standing in front of them; Joseph saw his long lost brothers. Yet, he spoke to them harshly, insinuating that they were spies. They said that they were part of a family with twelve sons, “and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not” (Genesis 42:13, JPS). So, Joseph declared that if they brought the youngest down to Egypt, that would prove that they were not spies. He put them all in prison for three days; then, he kept Simeon in prison as a surety for their return.

The brothers response to this turn of events was such that they realised that the guilt they incurred because of their prior treatment of Joseph twenty years ago was being requited by a divine judgment against themselves. “And they said one to another: ‘We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us'” (Genesis 42:21, JPS). This is a classic example of “the sins of the heels,” overtaking the transgressor, in the day of retribution. According to the Zohar, the sins that people neglect to acknowledge, will accrue over time, until some evil overtakes the person. The brothers carried a guilty conscience all of those years; yet, not until the tides were turned did they begin to openly admit this to themselves.

We would be wise to learn from this example. The Zohar explains that subconsciously the sins that go disregarded by a person, i.e., sins that are not repented of, remain buried in the self, eliciting an unexplained fear. According to the Zohar, the source of the fear is the prescient sense of judgment that exists, unrealized, below the surface of consciousness. Perhaps, this is the underlying cause for so many people turning away from reflection upon oneself. Instead, we distract ourselves with endless preoccupations, trying to avoid the inevitable.

Heirloom

parashas Vayeishev 5781

(Genesis 37:1 – 40:23)

“And he made him a coat of many colors.”

– Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

The favored son received “a coat of many colors,” that served as a designation that some of the responsibilities of the first born would be placed upon Joseph. Because Reuben had lost the rights of the firstborn, due to an earlier indiscretion, Jacob chose Joseph, who showed both spiritual qualities and intellectual capacities that deemed him fit for that role (Zohar). Yet, his brothers were jealous of this status conferred upon him. When Joseph dreamed a dream, wherein he and his brothers were binding sheaves in a field, and their sheaves bowed down to his sheave that was standing upright, they asked, “Shalt thou indeed reign over us?” (Genesis 37:7-8, JPS). And, he dreamed a second dream, wherein “the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to” him (Genesis 37:9, JPS). This implied that not only his brethren, rather, also his parents would bow down to him. “And his brethren envied him; but his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:11, JPS 1917 Tanach).

These dreams originated from a divine source; yet, his brothers may have felt that Joseph’s imagination, and ego generated the literal content of the dreams. The latent content, i.e., the meaning of his dreams was clear to them. Inasmuch that his father, Jacob “kept the saying in mind,” this may indicate his recognition that the dreams would one day be fulfilled. For Jacob himself knew very well the power of dreams. Apparently, the spiritual qualities that connected him intimately to G-d, were now manifest in his son, Joseph. Perhaps, this was even a sign that Jacob had made the right decision in choosing Joseph to take on the responsibilities of the first born. Hence, he sent Joseph to check up on his brothers, who were tending sheep in Shechem. “Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock; and bring me back word” (Genesis 37:14, JPS).

Thus begins Joseph to set out on a journey that will soon include a major detour, bringing him down to Egypt. For when his brothers saw him, they proclaimed, “behold, this dreamer.” “And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph of his coat, the coat of many colours that was on him; and they took him, and cast him into the pit” (Genesis 37:23-24, JPS). Joseph was sold to traders that were passing by on the main thoroughfare; he was taken to Egypt, where he was sold as a slave.”His feet they hurt with fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalm 105:18-19, JPS).

“It is good that a man should quietly wait for the salvation of the L-RD.”

– Lamentations 3:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

the Ascent of Prayer

B”H

parashas Vayeitzei 5781

“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it.”

– Genesis 28:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

After the debacle of Esau’s temper, became known, Jacob was sent away to find a wife in Haran, amongst his own kindred. Essentially, he left in flight from the simmering wrath of his brother, Esau, who was furious about not receiving the blessing of the firstborn. Jacob sets out penniless, travelling by foot to the land of his mother’s brother, Laban. Along the way, he grows weary towards evening; so, he rests at a certain place, where he places stones around his head, before going to sleep. There, he dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth; there are angels ascending and descending upon the ladder.

We would expect that the angels would first descend from heaven, then ascend back to heaven. However, the wording is specific, the angels were “ascending and descending.” One explanation given is that the angels are angelic messengers of prayers. The angels are even likened to the actual prayers, ascending to Heaven as requests to G-d; then, descending as specific replies to those requests. It is as if the angels are standing by on earth, ready to take our prayers to Heaven; at some point later, they are answered in one form or another. Perhaps, not many of us stop to ponder how our prayers reach G-d anyway; so, this could be as viable an explanation as any other. Elsewhere it is written that our prayers obtain wings like angels, enabling them to ascend on high to G-d.

The place that Jacob dreamt about the ladder, connecting heaven and earth is described by him, when he awakes, as “none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17, JPS). It is feasible, to think of a unique place upon the earth, whereof there is a direct connection to G-d, a sort of umbilical cord between heaven and earth. The place where Jacob dreamt his dream is thought to be Mount Moriah, where eventually, much later in time, G-d’s House was indeed built, initially by King Solomon. Although, since Beis-El is ten miles north of Jerusalem, where Mount Moriah was located, the connection between Beis-El and Mount Moriah may be more symbolic.

Regardless, the “Temple Mount,” where the “House of G-d stood,” is currently in the midst of Jerusalem. For the Jewish people, this is the holiest place on earth. Although access to the Western Wall, part of the complete wall that surrounded the entire location where the Temple once stood, is limited because of restrictions put in place during the pandemic, people from around the world would usually flock here to pray. This does not imply that G-d is unable to hear our prayers, wherever we live upon the face of the earth. Even though, according to tradition, He sits on His Throne in Seventh Heaven, He is still able to hear our whispered prayers, even the prayers in the silence of our hearts.

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