Never Forget

parashas Shemot 5781

And G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”

– Exodus 2:24, JPS 1917 Tanach

For four hundred years, the Children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. Upon crying out to G-d day and night, perhaps, they began to wonder when the Redeemer would arrive. The question may be asked, why did G-d permit so many years to pass, before He finally responded? One answer given is because not until the pleas of the Children of Israel were genuinely heartfelt did He answer them. At that time, finally, “they cried, and their cry ascended to the high heavens of the L-rd” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 22:4, sefaria.org). Persistence in prayer, to the point of upmost sincerity, was eventually heard. “The L-RD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him” (Lamentations 3:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).


How did the Children of Israel become enslaved? Ironically, when Joseph was governing Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, he instituted a system, whereof all of the land was turned over to Pharaoh. When all the people of Egypt became destitute during the famine, they said to Joseph, “there is nought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands” (Genesis 47:18, JPS). “So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine was sore upon them; and the land became Pharaoh’s” (Genesis 47:20, JPS). Yet, to what degree this system, wherein the Egyptians became serfs, remained in place over the ensuing years, thus setting the stage for a more fluid transition, when the Children of Israel became enslaved is unclear.


Consider that an entire people, the Children of Israel, a large population of common ethnic origin, could not have been made subject to slavery overnight. Perhaps, their subjugation occurred in a manner akin to the proverbial frog in boiling water. Thus, the temperature of the water is slowly increased, cooking the frog without a reaction from the frog, that would otherwise immediately jump out of the cooking pot, if it had been thrown into boiling water. Although the actuality of the proverb may not be accurate, the saying does serve as a descriptive metaphor. Can this metaphor be applied to the enslavement of the Children of Israel?

If so, perhaps, the narrative could serve as an admonition. In retrospect, a parallel can be drawn to a contenporary historical tragedy. The confinement of the Jewish people, to ghettos and concentration camps in Germany, only occurred after the institution of discriminatory laws, and state sponsored violence against German citizens of Jewish descent. However, the same principle may conveniently play out in other insidious designs, cast upon an unsuspecting people. Today, more than ever, in acknowledgment of the cultural shifts that eventually brought oppressive regimes into power, we should always remember the past, lest history repeats itself.

Forgiveness

B”H

parashas Vayechi 5781

“And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

– Genesis 50:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Joseph’s perspective, in regard to the events in his life, spanning a period of twenty-two years, was such that he recognized a higher purpose to his suffering: inasmuch that his suffering led to a greater good, for himself, his family, and all of Egypt, as well as the surrounding peoples. Surely, knowing that the challenges that he endured throughout life were part of G-d’s divine plan to provide for the children of Israel, and sustain many peoples, during the seven year famine, compelled him to transcend the causal events that led to this provision.

Therefore, he was in a place of understanding, wherein even the precipitant event, when his brothers cast him into a pit, then sold him as a slave to traders who brought him down to Egypt, could not be viewed through the taint of blame. Nor did he hold his brothers responsible for what ensued, the many further trials that he faced in Egypt, before being placed in charge, second to Pharaoh. Rather, he attributed all, to the hand of G-d, whose design was implemented through a means that only appeared to be human related.

The hindsight gained into the purpose of his undoing, and journey from slave to royalty, permitted him to forgive his brothers, to the extent that no trace of ill will towards them existed in his newfound relationship with them. For, he explained to them, “ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20, JPS). Therefore, he acquiesced to G-d’s will, without concern for a cause and effect view, that would only render the events of his life as near happenstance, without any greater purpose.

So too, may our lives be viewed, especially with the greater understanding of seeing in retrospect, what may have transpired to bring us to where we are today. No one lives in a vacuum, nor does anyone go unnoticed in regard to G-d’s plan for every individual on the face of the planet. If every star is given a name, denoting its significance, how much moreso is every human being watched over by G-d? By placing our faith in Him, we may be lifted up above the negativity, that could otherwise be amplified by our lower selves.

Often, we may not acknowledge that our suffering may be hinged upon an unknown plan from Above; this type of reasoning usually escapes us, because our perspective is limited. Yet, to at least acknowledge the possibility of a higher plan, could permit us to better endure the suffering for the sake of His intent to bring about something of benefit sometime and somewhere down the road from now.

 “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

– Victor Frankl

Joseph’s Revelation

B”H

parashas Vayigash 5781

“Ani Yoseph (I am Joseph).” – Genesis 45:3

Joseph had devised a test of his brother’s loyalty towards their brother Benjamin, who was Joseph’s full brother; their mother was Rachel, Jacob’s first love. He created circumstances whereof he was able to take Benjamin as a servant, because of his alleged guiltiness in the incident of the goblet. Judah steps up to the plate, so to speak, to defend Benjamin, offering to take his place as a servant to Joseph. When Joseph sees the sincere offer on the part of Judah, the very one who had sold Joseph into slavery, Joseph now realizes that indeed their is a change in character demonstrated by Judah’s noble offer. This was all he needed to know, for the culmination of his plan, in order to uncover the intentions of the brothers, to determine if they had regretted their prior transgressions against him.

The climax of the narrative, pertaining to Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, occurs immediately following Judah’s respectful plea to Joseph, who stands as an Egyptian prince before him. Now, as recorded in the narrative, “Joseph not could refrain himself before all those who stood by him” (Genesis 45:1). He caused all of his Egyptian courtiers to leave his presence, so that he could reveal his true identity to his brothers in private. At first his brothers stood in front of the Egyptian prince in disbelief. Could this really be Joseph? Twenty two years had passed since the brothers conspired against him, and sold him as slave to a caravan of traders passing by Shechem on their way to Egypt. Yet, he spoke in Hebrew, and beckoned them to draw closer to him: “And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt” (Genesis 45:4).

He explains to them that what occurred so many years ago was for a higher purpose: “And G-d sent me before you to give you a remnant on earth, and to save you alive for a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but G-d” (Genesis 45:7-8, JPS). According to the Chafetz Chayim, all of the events that transpired over that duration of time, were brought clearly into perspective when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. Additionally, he explains that in the (near) future, when H’Shem reveals Himself through His presence in Jerusalem, everything that has happened in history will become clear. Perhaps, this holds true for the events in our individual lives, so that while the duration of our journey on earth may sometimes appear similar to a view of the back of a tapestry, with all of the tangled threads, and loose ends, throughout the cloth, the woven pattern on the other side will finally be revealed in all of its beauty and splendour.

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

parashas Mikeitz 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Mikeitz 5780

For every descent, there is an ascent: apropos to this week’s parashas, we see Joseph, whose feet were placed in “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 105:19, JPS). Joseph’s descent to Egypt, and eventually into prison, began with his literal descent into the pit that his brothers callously cast him. He was then sold to Midianite traders, who brought him down to Egypt. He became the servant of Potiphar, who put Joseph in charge of his estate; yet, he was wrongfully accused by Potiphar’s wife; as a result, he wound in prison.

Even in prison, Joseph flourished; “the L-RD was with Joseph, and showed kindness unto him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). He gained notoriety as an interpreter of dreams, after correctly interpreting, b’ezrach H’Shem (with the L-RD’s help) the dreams of two prisoners who had been in stewardship in Pharaoh’s court. When the cup bearer, two years later, saw how disconcerted Pharaoh was about his own dreams, he recommended Joseph to Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: ‘Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou’” (Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach). Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph’s interpretation, that he elevated him to second in command of Egypt, thereby charging him to care for Egypt during the famine, by developing a means to store food during the seven years of plenty, to be subsequently distributed during the famine that would ensue, according to Pharaoh’s dream. Thus, Joseph’s ascent followed his descent, all for the sake of his family, as well as the Egyptians, and other inhabitants of the earth.

“And now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for G-d did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land; and there are yet five years, in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest. And G-d sent me before you to give you a remnant on the earth, and to save you alive for a great deliverance.”

– Genesis 45:5-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

Vayeishev 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayeishev 5780

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

  • Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jacob loved his son Joseph, so much that “he made him a coat of many colors,” meant to distinguish him from amongst his brethren. For, he was the firstborn of Rachel; moreover, because Reuben lost the birthright as a result of a particular transgression (see Genesis 35:22), in all likelihood, Joseph was being groomed for the honors given to the firstborn. He already was granted some authority over his brothers, inasmuch that his father had assigned him the duties of a kind of overseer, “‘Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock; and bring me back word” (Genesis 37:14, JPS 1917 Tanach).

When Joseph arrived in Shechem, his brothers were not there. Befuddled, Joseph was wandering in a field, when a man met him. The man asked him, “What do you seek?” (Genesis 37:15). Joseph responded that he was looking for his brethren (Genesis 37:17). According to tradition, this man was Archangel Michael; Yosef’s mission was so important that H’Shem sent the Archangel Michael to make sure he would continue on the way to find his brothers; this meeting with his brothers became a pivotal event in the life of Joseph.

Upon arrival, his brothers, out of hatred and jealousy, stripped Joseph of his many-colored coat, threw him in a pit, and sold him to Ishmaelite traders, who brought him down to Egypt. And, thus began the descent of Jacob’s family into Egypt, with Joseph being the first and most significant of his brothers, inasmuch that he went ahead, as is mentioned in Psalms, “He sent a man before them; Joseph was sold for a servant; 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 105:17-19, JPS 1917 Tanach). This rendering of Joseph’s tsoros (troubles) depicts a perspective that reveals G-d’s intent for Joseph – a test of his character designed to prepare him for leadership.