Arrival at the Doorway to Jewish Destiny
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
All's well that ends well, or so it seemed.
In this week's parsha, Yosef finally revealed himself to the utter shock of
his brothers who were left speechless. After 22 years of painful
separation, Ya'akov recovered his long lost and dear son Yosef, and the
family was reunited in Egypt. Amazingly enough, Yosef felt no hard feelings
towards his brothers, and they seemed to take his painful charade in
stride. Any loose ends let to tie up?
Well, the truth is, not everything had worked out the way Yosef had
planned, and because it didn't, the Jewish people had to enter into a
bitter exile, and Moshiach's arrival was pushed off for millennia!
What went wrong?
To begin with, putting the Viceroy's silver chalice into Binyomin's sack
was to accomplish more than to arouse the loyalty of his brothers in his
defence; it was to arouse more than a streak of self-sacrifice for their
father who waited with every bone in his body for the safe return of all of
his sons, especially Binyomin. In fact, of all the things the brother did
wrong in selling Yosef "up the river," one of the worse was that they had
been "choshaid b'kasherim," that is, they had suspected an innocent person
As the rabbis are quick to point out, the brothers were against Yosef not
out of petty jealousy, but, because they saw a dangerous potential within
Yosef, one that could lead generations of Jews in the wrong direction. The
truth be known, they had not been so wrong about this, for, it was Yeravam
ben Nevat, a descendant of Yosef who helped split Shlomo HaMelech's kingdom
into two parts, after which he blocked the path to the Temple for his
constituents, and then set up golden calves for worship!
However, Yosef himself had posed no personal threat to anyone, and if
anything, he proved to be their redeemer in the end. Thus, no matter how
the brothers justified their actions, they had been, in the end, choshaid
b'kasherim - they had falsely accused Yosef. And, according to the Talmud,
this is no small crime:
Anyone who falsely suspects an innocent person will physically suffer.
Instead, says the Talmud, everyone had an obligation "to judge a person to
the side of merit ..." (Shabbos 128a). And because the brothers had not,
Yosef wanted to fix this up, and this was the principle intention behind
everything he had done in concealing his identity. It was all a set up to
create a similar scenario since complete repentance requires being in the
exact same position again, and then doing the right thing instead. Hence,
by putting the cup into Binyomin's sack Yosef had created the opportunity
for the brothers to decide whether or not Binyomin had in fact stolen the
goblet. If they could overlook the evidence and absolve Binyomin of his
apparent theft, then this would prove to Yosef, and more importantly, to
G-d, that they had repented completely for what they had done to Yosef.
Alas, the midrash tells us what they had really thought:
When the cup was found with Binyomin, they said, "You thief, the son of a
thief! You are just like your mother who stole from her own father (Rachel
stole the idols from Lavan; Bereishis 31:32)!" (Bereishis Rabbah 92:8)
Like many times to come throughout history, the moment of truth came and
went, and so too did the chance for complete rectification. Another
opportunity to "end it all" had come and gone in the long, tiresome history
of the Jewish people. Won't we ever get it right? Must everything we do to
bring the final redemption be for naught!
Despair not! Not all was lost, and it never is! The process of fixing up
this mistake began with the brothers, and much was accomplished. However,
what wasn't rectified was left up to future generations to complete. We
ourselves can start to end that process by learning to judge our fellow Jew
to the side of merit.
The Talmud says:
A person should never treat one child differently than the others, for,
because of the two selas of material that Ya'akov gave to Yosef over his
brothers, the brothers became jealous of Yosef, and it led to our fathers
going down to Egypt. (Shabbos 10b)
The astute student of Chumash should ask: Didn't G-d tell Avraham that his
descendants would have to go down to Egypt, which seemed to be the result
of Avraham's own error, not his great-grandchildren's'? Tosfos himself asks
this question, and answers that, perhaps it was not the brothers' jealousy
of Yosef that caused us to go down to Egypt, but it was their jealousy
which led to a more intense exile of slavery than what was foretold to
However, there is another midrash that seems to answer this question and
lead the discussion in a more perplexing direction:
"Go and see the works of G-d, awesome in deed (Hebrew: alilla) toward
mankind." (Tehillim 66:5); Go and see how when The Holy One, Blessed is He,
created the world, from the first day He created the Angel of Death as well
... Man was made on the sixth day, yet death was blamed on him. What is
this similar to? To a man who decided that he wanted to divorce his wife
and then wrote her a Get (divorce document), after which he went home
holding the Get looking for a pretext (Hebrew: alilla) to give it to her.
He told her, "Prepare me something to drink."
She did, and taking it, he said, "Here is your Get."
She asked him, "What did I do wrong?"
He told her, "Leave my house, because you made me a warm drink."
She answered him, "Were you able to know that I would prepare you a warm
drink in the future, that you wrote a Get in advance and came home with it?"
So too did Adam say to The Holy One, Blessed is He, "Master of the
Universe! Before You created the world, Torah was with You for 2,000 years
... And what is written in it, 'This is the law when a man will die in a
tent ...' If You had not established death for Your creations, would You
have written this? Rather, You just wanted to blame death on me ..."
... It also says the same thing with respect to Yosef ... Rav Yudan said,
"The Holy One, Blessed is He, wanted to carry out the decree of 'Know that
you shall surely be (strangers)' and therefore set it up in such a way that
Ya'akov would love Yosef and that the brothers would hate him and sell him
to the Arabs, and that they would all go down to Egypt ... " This is what
is meant by "awesome in deed." (Tanchuma, VaYaishev 4)
From this midrash it seems as if Adam's eating from the forbidden Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil was inevitable, as was Ya'akov's loving of his
son and the sale of Yosef. If so, what sense can be made of the first
midrash, which pins the blame of Egyptian exile on Ya'akov's special
treatment of Yosef, and of the Torah itself, which blames the sale of Yosef
on the brothers?
One way to answer this is to know that G-d has a master plan for creation,
and He is always looking for people to play specific roles to help Him
carry out that plan. It doesn't necessarily mean that Person "A" has to do
this or do that; just that someone has to do it. Who that someone will be
will depend upon that spiritual level of that person at the time history
requires a particular detail to be executed.
If the person is a spiritually sensitive person who is growth-oriented, G-d
will work it out that the person is at the right place at the right time to
get the credit for something G-d ordained to occur. Otherwise, if, G-d
forbid, a person is spiritually insensitive, then G-d will work it that
that person is the perpetrator of a required negative deed. There are no
accidents in G-d's world; it is thief and the person stolen from that are
paired together by G-d for reasons that may only be known to G-d Himself.
Thus, we can't always directly control the world in which we live and how
it will impact us, or how we will impact it. However, by being on guard and
working on spiritual growth, we develop an aspect of ourselves that makes
us suitable for the positive tasks in creation. Otherwise, we can find
ourselves being the vehicles for negative things to occur, even though we
didn't intend to do so on our own.
[Ya'akov] sent Yehudah up before him to Yosef, to Goshen (Hebrew: Goshnah).
When Ya'akov sent Yehudah down to Egypt to arrange with Yosef for the
future immigration of Ya'akov and his family, he sent him to Goshen.
According to the B'nei Yissachar, the word "Goshnah" alludes to Chanukah,
for, the four letters (gimmel, shin, nun, heh) are the same four letters
found on the sides of the dreidel and which stand for: neis gadol hayah
shumm-a great miracle happened there.
What a strange place to insert an allusion to Chanukah, no?
Perhaps a clue to understanding this particular Chanukah-hint lies in this
week's Haftarah, and Yehudah's mission on behalf of Ya'akov.
The prophet wrote:
The word of G-d came to me to say: You, Son of Man, take one piece of wood
and write on it, "For Yehudah and the Children of Israel, his friends," and
one piece of wood and write on it, "For Yosef, the wood of Ephraim and the
entire House of Israel, his friends." Bring them together each to the other
to become one piece of wood, and they will become one in your hands. When
they say to you, your people, "What does this mean?" Tell them, so says
G-d, "Behold, I will take the wood of Yosef which is in the hand of Ephraim
and the tribes of Yisroel, his friends, and I will put on them the wood of
Yehudah and make them one wood, and they will become one in My hand ..."
This week's parsha, as indicated by the prophet, is not just about a family
reunion; it is about the longed for reunion of the entire nation of Israel;
not just then, but in the future, when Moshiach comes. The connection to
this week's parsha is that the reunion itself began in Goshen, when Yehudah
went down to join forces with Yosef.
What caused the reunion to take effect?
[Ya'akov] sent Yehudah up before him to Yosef, to Goshen (Hebrew: Goshnah).
... To establish a Bais Talmud (House of Study) ... (Rashi)
One of the only places the Jewish people ever achieved such unity was at
Mt. Sinai, when the Torah was given (Shemos 19:2; see Rashi). The pristine
revelation of G-d drew the soul out of everyone there, to the point that
personal biases were overcome and objectivity, and hence, national unity,
By sending Yehudah down to Goshen, specifically on a mission of Torah was
the key factor in cementing the bond between Yehudah and Yosef, for it is
Torah that brings objectivity and which makes unity possible. Subjectivity
blinds us to the point that we take ourselves too seriously, and other
people, not seriously enough. It is subjectivity that causes us to distort
the words of Torah to suit our personal causes at the cost of its essential
message of truth. Some people are so busy getting offended that they "lose
the forest for the trees," they "throw the baby out with the bath water,"
etc. In other words, they reject what they personally don't like, rather
than accepting what, objectively speaking, must be true.
During the Chanukah battle, the main war was among the Jews themselves -
Jews who wanted to adhere to the practice of their ancestors since Har
Sinai, and Jews who wanted to throw off the "yoke" of their past and adopt
newer, more modern lifestyles like the Greeks around them; between the
Sages and the Hellenists. The result was, and has been since then, bitter
Goshen symbolizes to all future generations the true heart of the nation:
Talmudic learning. It is the Talmud, and specifically the Oral Law it
discusses that makes us unique as a nation, and which connects up all the
generations like pearls on a necklace. It is the Oral Law that unites not
just a single generation, but all the generations throughout all the ages.
No wonder the midrash writes:
"The people who walk in darkness see the Great Light" (Yishiyahu 9:1):
These are the masters of Talmud who see the Great Light because The Holy
One, Blessed is He, illuminates their eyes ... The (darkness) is the Oral
Law, which is difficult to learn and causes great pain; this is why it is
compared to darkness. (Tanchuma Noach 3)
And is it any wonder then, that one of the four places that the Hidden
Light of Creation, which shone for thirty-six hours on Day Six and Shabbos
of creation before being hidden for the Righteous at a future time-and
which, in the meantime, can be accessed through Shabbos; through the
thirty-six righteous people in every generation; through the thirty-six
candles of Chanukah-can also be accessed through the thirty-six tractates
of the Babylonian Talmud!
Chanukah may end this week, but its message lingers on, as does its promise
of national and international unification, when the Jewish people rally
around the Torah.
The number of people who came to Egypt with Ya'akov, who were his blood
descendants, totaled 66, not including the wives of Ya'akov's sons. Yosef's
sons, born to him in Egypt, added another two individuals; the number of
individuals in Ya'akov's family who came to Egypt was 70. (Bereishis 46:26)
In Torah, seventy is a mystical number, representing, primarily, wisdom:
Anyone who becomes settled through wine has the knowledge of his Creator
... has the knowledge of the Seventy Elders; wine was given with seventy
letters (Rashi: the gematria of yaiyin-wine-is 70), and the mystery (sod of
Torah) was given with seventy letters (sod equals 70) ... (Eiruvin 65a)
There are seventy facets to Torah. (Zohar, Bereishis 36)
There are many other such quotes equating the number 70 with Torah and
wisdom. The reason for this is because, since G-d made the world in six
days, and attached Shabbos to the week, seven became a number that
represents physical creation and the potential for physical completion.
Since the physical world was designed and "constructed" according to the
Torah, which acted as a kind of "blueprint" for creation, anyone who
studies the world in search of spirituality, will, by definition, gain
wisdom. This is, according to the midrash, how Avraham discovered the
existence of G-d, and why G-d first communicated with Avraham in his
But that was the wisdom that Avraham gained up until prophecy. From that
point onward, Avraham's prophecy took him beyond the wisdom of physical
creation, which had merely been a preparation for the prophecy of Torah
itself. (This is one of the reasons why Chanukah had to be eight days long,
though the oil only burned for seven extra days. Chanukah represents a
departure from the natural world, into the world of the spiritual.)
This is why Ya'akov entered Egypt as a family of seventy souls. This was to
indicate that all the Forefathers had accomplished until then had been the
preparation for what was about to come up: the purification of the Egyptian
furnace. The "raw material" that was to eventually become B'nei Yisroel
entered shortly after the reunion of Ya'akov and Yosef, and their settling
in Goshen. It would take 210 years and a descension into the lowest depths
of spiritual impurity, but in the end, a nation would emerge that could
stand before G-d at Har Sinai, and receive His Holy Torah, and the wisdom
that goes beyond 70, into the realm of the supernatural.