Lessons for Humanity from the Weekly Parshah
y Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

To subscribe to the UNIVERSAL TORAH weekly email click here
Back to Parshah Index


Torah Reading: VAYEISHEV Gen. 37:1-40:23


"These are the generations of Jacob. These are their dwellings and rollings (GILGULIM) until they came to a state of habitation (YISHUV). The first cause was that 'Joseph was seventeen years old.'

" 'And Jacob dwelled.': Jacob wanted to dwell in tranquility, but the storm of Joseph sprang upon him. The tzaddikim want to dwell in tranquility, but the Holy One, blessed be He, says, 'Is it not enough for the tzaddikim that the World to Come is prepared for them, but they want to dwell in tranquility in this world?' " (Rashi on Gen. 37:2).

Now that the Torah has completed the stories of Abraham and Isaac and that part of the story of Jacob in which he is the chief actor, we now turn to the story of Jacob's children: "These are the generations of Jacob". Their "dwellings and rollings" -- as recounted in the remaining four parshiyos of Genesis, allude to all their future history, in the Land of Israel and in exile, until we will finally come to a "state of habitation" (YISHUV) in the Land of Israel, with Melech HaMashiach: a state of YISHUV HADA'AS, "a settled mind" -- expanded consciousness. Jacob sought immediate tranquility in the Land of Israel, but this tranquillity could only be attained in the Future World, after many "rollings" -- (GILGULIM) incarnations and generations.

The Children of Israel are destined to be a Light to the Nations. As such, they must be at peace with each other, for how can they shine to the nations when they are at war with one another? But in our parshah of VAYEISHEV, the Children of Israel were unable to make inner peace: ".And they could not speak to him [Joseph] peaceably" (Gen. 37:4). Joseph exemplified the true leader -- "and he was pasturing his brothers" (v. 2) -- but as yet his brothers could not accept him. He was too saintly. The brothers were still out for themselves: ".They went only to pasture THEMSELVES" (Rashi on Gen. 37:12). Their in-fighting turned into a hypocritical religious war: "They said, Let us go to Dothan" (from the root DAS, "religious law"; Gen. 37:17). They went "to seek out religious contrivances" (NICHLEY DOSOS) in order to kill the true leader (see Rashi on this verse).

Yet Jacob sent Joseph into the middle of all this "from the depth (EMEK, valley) of Hebron" (Gen. 37:14). -- "But surely Hebron is on a MOUNTAIN, as it says, 'And they ASCENDED from the south and he came to Hebron' (Numbers 13:22)??? But what it means is FROM THE DEEP PLAN of that tzaddik who is buried in Hebron, i.e. Abraham, to fulfil what was said to him at the Covenant Between the Pieces, 'for your seed will be a stranger' (Gen. 16:13)" (Rashi ad loc.).

In other words, the "deep plan" necessitated the sale of Joseph into slavery in Egypt, which would eventually cause all his brothers and Jacob himself to go down to Egypt, in order to bring about the exile of the Children of Egypt there in preparation for their eventual Exodus. The paradigm of Exile / Redemption recurs repeatedly in Jewish history in the exiles of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome (Edom-Yishmael).

All the "rollings" and incarnations of the Children of Israel from generation to generation refine and purify their souls in preparation for the eventual state of YISHUV, "habitation", which depends on peace among the Twelve Tribes. In the coming parshiyos, we will see how the wise leader exemplified in Joseph skillfully manipulates everything to bring his "exiled" brothers to repent of their fractiousness and enmity and make peace with one another. Repentance is a recurrent theme of this and all the remaining parshiyos in Genesis. Reuven repented his "sin" (Gen 35:22; Rashi on 37:29); Judah repented, confessing: "she was more righteous than me" (Gen. 38:26); Joseph's brothers repented: "but we are guilty" (Gen. 42:21).

The essential fissures among the Children of Israel in their later history were between Benjamin vs. the other tribes (Judges Ch. 19ff), and the House of Judah (representing fidelity to the Oral Torah) vs. the House of Israel, the Ten Tribes, who rebelled under the leadership of Jeraboam son of Nevat of the tribe of Ephraim = Joseph (representing worldly success). (This is also the clash today between the "religious" and "secular".) In the coming parshiyos we will see how Judah (from the Children of Leah) becomes a "guarantor" (Gen. 44:30) for Benjamin (from the sons of Rachel), and how the state of near war between Judah and Joseph (Gen. 44:18) is transformed into a state of reconciliation between Joseph and all his brothers (Ch. 45). Judah's repentance and taking responsibility make him worthy of being the religious leader. "And he [Jacob] sent JUDAH before him to Joseph to RULE." (Gen. 46:28).

The bond forged between Judah and Benjamin exemplifies the concept that "all Israel are guarantors for one another" (Shavuos 39a). This bond is embodied in the fact that the territories of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin are contiguous, meeting in Jerusalem, YeruSHALAYIM, City of Peace, at the site of the Holy Altar in the Temple on Mount Moriah. The bond between Judah and Benjamin is also embodied in the figure of Mordechai, who although from the tribe of Benjamin is nevertheless called ISH YEHUDI, a man of Judah (Esther 2:5). The Code of Jewish Law also represents peace between Judah and Benjamin, in the sense that the stringent House of Shammai (Benjamin) receives honor and is always mentioned first, yet the legal decision in almost all cases follows the opinion of the compassionate House of Hillel (Judah).

The transformation of the war between Joseph and Judah into a state of reconciliation and peace is paradigmatic of the future reconciliation of the Jews (= Jude, Judah) and the lost Ten Tribes, and also the reconciliation between the "religious" and the "secular". All this comes about through Mashiach son of Joseph (Rachel) and Mashiach son of Judah (Leah).

However, in our parshiyos, all these hints of future history are contained in allusion only, for prior to attaining the future state of YISHUV and MOCHIN DE-GADLUS -- "settled" and "expanded consciousness" -- the world is in a state of BILBUL and MOCHIN DE-KATNUS, "confusion" and "limited consciousness". Thus our parshah deals with negative feelings and emotions: the hatred of the brothers for Joseph; their deception of Jacob with the blood of the slaughtered goat; the deception of Judah by Tamar; the attack on Joseph by Potiphar's wife, etc. etc.

The state of MOCHIN DE-KATNUS is the state of exile. Thus in our parshah, the scene changes from the Land of Israel to Egypt, MITZRAIM = METZAR, the "narrow" or "constricted" place. While Israel is the "face" (the PNIMIUS, the hidden "interiority"), Egypt represents the revealed exterior, the "backside". Thus the King of Egypt is Pharaoh, the Hebrew letters of whose name when rearranged spell out HA-OREPH, "the BACK of the neck", opposite of "the FACE". In this state of exile, there is no more prophecy, only dreams. Joseph dreams. The Butler and the Baker dream. Pharaoh dreams. G-d appears to Jacob "in the appearances of the night" (Gen. 46:2). Constricted consciousness!

* * *


"The tribes were busy with the sale of Joseph; Joseph was busy with his sack-cloth and fasting; Reuven was busy with his sack-cloth and fasting; Jacob was busy with his sack-cloth and fasting; Judah was busy getting himself a wife. And the Holy One, blessed be He, was busy creating the light of the King Mashiach. -- 'And at that time Judah WENT DOWN' (Gen. 38:1). Even before the first oppressor [Pharaoh] was born, the final redeemer was born" (Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 85:1).

Immediately after the story of the sale of Joseph to Egypt (the beginning of the exile) the Torah immediately tells us the story of Judah and Tamar, which culminates with the birth of Peretz (Gen. 38:29) who was the ancestor of King David, the Messianic King (Ruth 4:18-22).

The story of Judah and Tamar ione of sexual sin and its rectification. Of the three cardinal sins, Abraham rectified that of Idolatry (fallen CHESSED) while Isaac rectified the sin of Bloodshed (fallen GEVUROS). The mission of Jacob and his sons was to rectify the sin of GILUI AROYOS, sexual immorality (fallen TIFERET-Beauty), which is why the preceding parshiyos were preoccupied with how Jacob built his House, with his Four Wives and the Twelve Tribes arranged around his pure "bed", the Holy Sanctuary. Sexual immorality was the main theme in the story of Dinah, recounted in last week's parshah of VAYISHLACH. The theme continues in our parshah. Thus Joseph was "a lad" -- "he was engaged in puerile behavior, he arranged his hair carefully and smoothed his eyes in order to look beautiful" (Rashi on Gen. 37:2 and see Rashi on Gen. 39:6). Judah came in to "the harlot" (Gen. 38:15ff); Potiphar lusted for the beautiful Joseph and his wife attempted to seduce him...

Sexual immorality was an essential element in the original sin of Adam, which the rabbis conceptualized as KERI, an "impure emission" of seed. Adam had been commanded to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and conquer it and rule." (Gen. 1:28). But in "eating the forbidden fruit" of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, Adam fell into material lust. His seed, intended to produce future generations that would know G-d, "fell" and became prey to the forces of unholy lust. Thus the holy sparks became trapped in exile. This had to be rectified by Adam's descendants, the Children of Israel, whose mission -- as mentioned above -- was to rectify sexual immorality [see Kavanot of ARI, Pesach]. However, Er, the firstborn of Judah, failed the test and spilled his seed in order that his wife Tamar should not conceive and loose her worldly beauty (see Rashi on Gen. 38:7), and as a result G-d killed him.

According to the law of Levirate marriage (YIBUM), Er's surviving brother Onan should have "raised up seed" in the name of his dead brother (i.e. the dead brother would be reincarnated in order to rectify his sin in a new life), but Onan was also selfish, and spilled his seed (Gen. 38:7).

Only through the resourcefulness of Tamar (who was the daughter of Shem = Malki-Tzedek, the "Priest", symbol of moral purity, see Gen. 9:23) was the sin rectified through the mystery of Judah's encounter with the "harlot", which led to the birth of Peretz and eventually of David King Mashiach.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov stated that the main task of Mashiach is to rectify the spilling of seed.

* * *


The reason why Joseph was "a successful man" (Gen. 39:2) was precisely because "HaShem was with Joseph" (ibid.) -- "the name of Heaven was regularly on his mouth" (Rashi ad loc.). Joseph had the power to see and find G-d even in Egypt, the place of MOCHIN DE-KATNUS, "constricted consciousness", the "back-side". This was the key to his "success". Joseph was the very essence of Jacob, as Rashi goes to some lengths to prove (see Rashi on Gen. 37:2).

As the key figure in the "generations of Jacob", Joseph had the same mission as his father: the building of the archetypal holy HOUSE, as discussed in connection with the preceeding parshiyos. At first, Joseph dreams of being in the FIELD, where all his brother's sheaves prostrate to him. Later Joseph strays in the FIELD (Gen. 37:15). Yet at length his dream comes true in Egypt. There his brothers prostrate before Joseph, who orders them to be brought to his HOUSE (Gen. 43:16ff.), where they eat and drink.

The Children of Israel are not disembodied souls. They are IN the material world, their task being to elevate and spiritualize it. This is done through turning the mundane material house into a HOME, a Sanctuary of G-d -- "and I will dwell within them" (Exodus 25:8).

It is the moral integrity of Joseph -- who succeeds in finding G-d even in Egypt, constriction, the "back-side" -- that is the key to this house-making. As we will see in next week's parshah of MIKETZ, Joseph knows the secret of material, economic success (as exemplified in his successful management of the Egyptian economy even in times of famine). Through the story of Joseph, the Torah teaches us that the foundation of genuine long-term material success is moral purity and integrity. Even when Joseph was faced with the supreme moral test -- alone in the house with his master's wife tempting him day after day -- he set the unchangeable Law of G-d before him: adultery is forbidden. "How could I do this great evil and sin against G-d?" (Gen. 39:9).

Joseph observed G-d's law despite the fact that this led to his incarceration in the king's prison and his disgrace in the eyes of sophisticated Egypt. Joseph is the archetype of "the tzaddik who has it bad" (Berachos 7a). Yet even in this adverse situation, "HaShem was with Joseph" (Gen. 39:21). As before (ibid. v. 2), this teaches that "the name of Heaven was regularly on his mouth". That was the very key to Joseph's "success". Joseph knew that G-d speaks to us through the happenings of this world, and that we can find divine messages and meaning everywhere and in everything. Thus Joseph (DAAS-YESOD, Knowledge-Foundation, the Center Column) could "interpret dreams", even those of the Butler (fallen CHOCHMAH-Wisdom) and the Baker (fallen BINAH-Understanding). These two, together with the Captain of Guard (fallen DAAS-Knowledge) in whose HOUSE Joseph was a slave and captive, were the Chief Officers of Pharoah, the very embodiment of the "Back-Side", where holiness is initially concealed. It was through Joseph's incorruptible moral integrity (SHEMIRAS HABRIS, Observance of the Covenant) that he was able to turn everything around and find divine meaning and messages even in darkness and dreams of the night. This is what brings Mashiach.

And so may our Chanukah Lights light up the darkness of night, heralding GEULAH SHELEMAH, complete redemption with Ben David Melech HaMashiach quickly in our times. Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum




© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5770 - 2009-10 All rights reserved