Lessons for Humanity from the Weekly Parshah
y Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

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Torah Reading: VAYIGASH Gen. 44:18-47:27.


The key to the dramatic encounter between Judah and Joseph with which our parshah of VAYIGASH begins is to be found in the Haftara our sages attached to this parshah: Ezekiel's vision of the joining of the two sticks. One stick the prophet was to inscribe with the names of Judah and the Children of Israel his friends -- the kingdom of Torah Law and spirituality under David. The other stick he was to inscribe "to Joseph Tree of Ephraim and all the House of Israel his friends" -- secular, assimilated Israelite might: economic, political, military, involvement in the material world. The prophet was to join the two sticks and make them one, signifying that they will become --

"One nation in the earth in the mountains of Israel, and one king will be over all of them as King, and they will no longer be two nations and they will no longer be split into two kingdoms. And my servant David will be king over them and one shepherd will be for them all [King Mashiach]. And they will go in My laws and guard My statutes and do them. And they will dwell in the land that I have given to My servant Jacob in which your fathers dwelled, and they and their children and children's children will dwell upon it forever, and David My servant will be Prince to them forever. And I will cut for them a Covenant of Peace, an eternal Covenant will be for them. And I will give them and multiply them and I will put My Holy Temple within them forever. And My Dwelling will be upon them and I will be G-d for them, and they will be My People. And the Nations will know that I am HaShem who sanctifies Israel that My Sanctuary should be among them forever " (Ezekiel 37:28).

The encounter in our parshah between Judah and Joseph is the paradigm of this necessary joining between the two aspects of Israelite being in the world, spiritual and material. For its own existence, the Torah "kingdom" depends upon the successful material presence of Israel in the world, be it in the Land of Israel or in "Goshen". ("Goshen" would include all historical and present-day centers of Jewish sojourn in exile and dispersal east or west.) For "if there is no flour [bread to eat], there is no Torah". Likewise, material Israel cannot survive without true Torah leadership -- Melech HaMashiach. Jacob saw this, which is why "he sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to rule before him to Goshen" (Gen. 46:28). It is the Torah leader who must rule over Israel, and Torah leadership must direct Israeli worldly power to the nation's prophetic mission of being worthy of building the Temple in the Land of Israel from which the Law will go forth to all the Nations.

* * *


Judah's heart-rending appeal to Joseph (standing there before him as a hard-hearted Egyptian tyrant) is the prototype of the Tzaddik (which may be any one of us) facing MIDAS HADIN (the aspect of G-d's harsh judgment) and using prayer to turn it into RACHAMIM (compassion). Judah appealed to Joseph's heart and to a fundamental sense of FAIRNESS that exists everywhere in the world including among the Gentiles (see "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom" #78 for a profoundly insightful discussion of this subject.) At some point there is a universal loathing for blatant unfairness

This is because even the Seventy Nations are at root vitalized by a spark of G-dliness deriving from KETER, the "Crown" of G-d's will, which gives life and sustenance to the side of evil, as represented in Egypt. For the duration of history, this vitalizing root is contained in the Seven "Crowns", the seven Commandments of the Son's of Noah, which come to rectify the Seventy Nations as exemplified in Egypt (Ham) under the rule of Joseph (Shem).

Judah's appeal to Joseph is a heart-to-heart appeal, man to man. Judah is willing to sacrifice his entire life and submit himself to slavery in order to save his younger brother Benjamin. Judah is the true AREV ("guarantor") for his brother - the ultimate in loving your fellow as yourself.

From the way we appeal to the heart of a fellow human, we are to learn how we should to appeal to G-d in prayer. This must be "face to face", as to a friend, even all seems clothed in MIDAS HADIN, the power of strict judgment. From Judah's appeal to Joseph we are to learn how in prayer we are to plead and offer to sacrifice our very selves in servitude to G-d, in order to turn G-d's DIN, strict judgment, into RAHAMIM, mercy.

Judah's eloquent appeal to Joseph's sense of fairness can serve as an exemplar to all of us in the art of prayer and entreaty, particularly in times of stress and danger. Eloquence in prayer is a good trait for all of us to cultivate -- it comes by speaking from heart to heart. We need to be bold and speak out our complaints and requests to G-d from our hearts.

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After revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph provides them with a peace-making way of re-perceiving the past, even where negative, as part of a divinely-prepared plan -- in this case to draw the Children of Israel down into Egypt. "Not you sent me here but G-d" (Gen. 45:8) -- "for sustenance G-d sent me before you" (ibid. v. 5).

In all circumstances, understanding that all the various humans who surround us are in reality agents of G-d, Who is behind and within all phenomena, is one of the main keys to understanding our personal situation in the world.

As expressed by the great early-20th century Polish Breslover Chassid, Rabbi Yitzhak Breiter (in his "Seven Pillars of Faith"):

"Other people are also free agents, yet everything they do is ultimately controlled by God. If someone insults you or in some way harms you, know that this has been sent by God as a way to cleanse your soul. If things go against you, be patient. When you accept everything as God's will, this causes the veil of concealment to be removed, thus manifesting God's control over all creation..

"..,.Everything we experience is actually a communication from God. This includes our inner thoughts and feelings. Even negative thoughts and feelings - heaviness, lack of enthusiasm, depression and the like - are from God. Everything you hear, see, or experience in life, whether from people you know or from complete strangers, is a call to you from God. Even unclear or contradictory messages are sent with a purpose: to give us choice and free will in order to test us. The way to sort out which messages we should follow and which we should ignore is by evaluating everything in the light of Torah teaching Pillars #4 and #6).

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"Forced by the WORD OF THE MOUTH of G-d -- "ANOOS AL PI-HADIBUR" -- is a phrase from the Haggadah explaining why Jacob and his sons went into exile. Historically, exile was forced on the Jews as a kind of "rape" of the Shechinah, the Jewish Soul, by the material world, making it necessary to go out to "slavery" in the "Egypt" of the Seventy Nations for sheer survival. Again and again in Jewish history, economic needs ("famine") caused Jews to migrate.

G-d's plan in sending Joseph down to Egypt to prepare for the subsequent Israelite slavery and ultimate redemption may be seen unfolding repeatedly in the later history of Jewish exiles. For example, the Jews who spread wide in Poland and what was once its empire, the very centers of Ashkenazic Jewry, (Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, Galitzia, etc.) were originally enticed there in the 11th Century and thereafter from Germany by Polish kings (Pharaohs) who wanted to enrich themselves with industrious Jewish managers (Joseph). The Jews of Germany had themselves been enticed there in better days from France, the original "Ashkenaz".

For centuries the Jews of the "Four Lands" of the Polish empire were practically an independent Torah kingdom within the kingdom, even after the dispersal of another Torah kingdom, the Jewry of "Sepharad" -- Spain, remnants of whom reached Israel. For Polish Jewry, the tide changed from the times of the Chmielnitzki Massacres of 1648-9 and thereafter, when Jewish worldly influence and actual Torah practice among the Jews of Russia,Poland and its former empire declined to the point of near extinction under communism. Meanwhile the Jewry of Europe was rapidly assimilating. For generations from the 1800's onwards, Jews were looking westwards, especially to America. The culminating points were the Pogroms, the Russian Revolution and the Holocaust, which annihilated European Jewry spiritually and physically. After the Second World War most of Sephardic and Oriental Jewry migrated to Israel or to the west. Thus the main world Jewish centers shifted to Israel and America, both of which contain an uneasy balance of "Judah" and "Joseph" Jews -- Torah observant and secular.

Israel was built up by the returnees to the Land from the East and from the West and is today the key to ultimate Jewish survival and victory -- Israel is LAND: it is THE Land. The holocaust appears to have been the "price" for the birth of the State of Israel, which today is confronted by an existential struggle for survival, under attack, directly or in disguise, by all of the Seventy Nations.

The key to Jewish survival today is the bond between "Israel" under the leadership of Judah -- Torah, Melech HaMashiach -- and "Joseph", "Ephraim", the main body of Jewry in Israel and throughout the world.

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The concluding section of our parshah of VAYIGASH, recounts how in the years of famine in Egypt, Joseph "purchased" the Egyptians' land, their livestock and their very bodies for Pharaoh (Genesis 13-27).

One point found in the commentators is of special note in UNIVERSAL TORAH, which focuses on aspects of Torah that apply to all humanity. It is that Joseph worked assiduously for the benefit of Pharaoh and did not seek to use his position as Viceroy for personal enrichment. He could have sent sacks of silver back to store for himself in Canaan, but he did not. He worked diligently for his employer and was an exemplar of service.

The "purchase" by Joseph of the land and the very bodies of the Egyptians for an annual tax of 20% -- one fifth of all income -- institutes fundamental principles of the modern state. Military power is controlled by the "king" or government, who is expected to protect the population and alleviate "famine", providing everything necessary for general wellbeing ("health of the economy").

One of the features of modern history has been great migrations of people of all nations from country to country and continent to continent. This has tended to separate the population from connection to the land in the form of land-ownership, while urbanization has separated over 50 per cent of the world's population from direct connection with nature.

The only people on earth who have a continuous historical link with one and the same country going back thousands of years is the People of Israel and the Jews. Israel is the only country on earth that belongs to the Jews.

The Twenty Percent Tax Joseph instituted for Egypt alludes to the 20% of net income that a person should ideally separate for Tzedakah (just as Jacob said, ASOR (10%) A-ASRENAH (10%) "I will surely tithe" -- Genesis 28:22, Maaser Rishon ("the first tithe") and Maaser Sheni ("the second tithe").

"And Zion will be redeemed through justice and her returnees through charity" (Isaiah 1:27)

Shabbat Shalom!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum




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