At Last, The Final Approach
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
"I am Yoseph" (Bereishis 45:3)
If I had to choose a posuk to sum up the story of Yosef and his brothers,
besides the one just quoted, it would be, "The stone the builders despised
became the cornerstone" (Tehillim 118:22). This verse was said by Dovid
HaMelech about himself, for no one -- not even Shmuel HaNavi -- suspected
that young, red, and ruddy Dovid -- would be G-d's choice for king over the
entire Jewish people and ancestor of Moshiach himself.
No one suspected that Yosef was inside the viceroy's clothing wielding the
power of the second-in-command over the mightiest nation on earth at that
time. No one suspected that Yosef would be G-d's choice to act as the
"Yesod" -- the foundation -- for the future of the Jewish people. Certainly
not his brothers.
And, of course, this posuk also sums up the message of Chanukah as well,
which, as we have already said, is about revealing hidden lights, often
from sources within which we never thought they resided.
It's an old malady -- quite old, in fact. Adam HaRishon overlooked the Tree
of Life for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and gambled away
Paradise. According to the Kli Yakar, that was because the Tree of Life
lacked the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was
external, visible, and therefore tangible.
However, the bark itself of the Tree of Life was its fruit, something that,
from the outside, did not seem obvious. No, in fact, to the physical eye,
the Tree of Life appeared inedible, and therefore, without any real value
-- just like secular people view Torah today. As any Ba'al Teshuvah will
tell you, the "Tree of Life" looks much, much different on the "inside"
than it does on the "outside," extremely nourishing and life-supporting.
It is a Tree of Life for those who grasp her. (Mishlei 3:18)
For those who GRASP it, not for those who remain and examine it at a distance.
This is why G-d comes to Adam with the question, "Aiyekah," a word whose
gematria is equal to THIRTY-SIX -- the number of the Hidden Light of
creation, and, the Ner Chanukah. It is also a word that can be read,
"Aiyeh-koh," -- "Where is TWENTY-FIVE" -- the other number for the Hidden
Light, and, of course, the day in Kislev on which the "Holiday of Lights"
Probably the only reason why many of the THIRTY-SIX righteous people upon
whom the world stands in each generation are HIDDEN is because of the posuk
"The stone the builders despised became the cornerstone."
For, we are constantly doing it. We are constantly assuming that G-d sees
the world that same way that we do, and feels the same way about people
that we feel. Make no mistake about it: Yoseph's brothers were
Torah-observing individuals, righteous in their own right, though, perhaps
in need of an even higher level of perfection. But, with all of their
spiritual greatness, they still missed out big time with respect to Yosef's
role in Jewish history.
And, Dovid HaMelech's brothers were tzaddikim too. His own father, Yishai,
the Talmud says, was so righteous that, had it not been for the decree for
man to die, he would have gone to the World-to-Come without dying (Shabbos
54b). And Shmuel HaNavi -- the posuk says that he equaled Moshe Rabbeinu
and Aharon HaKohen combined (Tehillim 99:6)! But, with all of their
spiritual greatness, they still missed out big time with respect to Dovid's
role in Jewish history.
And, how many times do we do it too? There are people walking around us
doing special things, but, for one reason or another we find other things
about them that make us "despise" them on some level, or, at least discount
their importance to G-d. Maybe on occasion, when we're in an objective
mood, we look and become somewhat impressed, but, all too often, we lapse
back into our old sense of doubt about them, and write them off as, well,
just ordinary people.
However, each "Yosef" of history gets his day, if not now, then, at some
time in the future. And when he or she does, we'll be shocked at the
revelation, maybe even speechless like Yosef's brothers were. And, for the
unassuming person who respects all people and is busy being a messenger of
G-d in This World, there may be the biggest shock of all, when he finds out
that he, too, was one of G-d's main cornerstones with which He has built
the Final Redemption, and, His Kingdom on earth.
He sent Yehudah ahead to Yoseph to prepare for their arrival. They traveled
to the land of Goshen (Goshnah). (Bereishis 46:28)
The other posuk that I think sums up Chanukah and the story of the brothers
accurately is the one the follows the posuk mentioned above, "This is from
G-d, that which is wondrous in our eyes" (Tehillim 118:23). This posuk
instructs us about Divine Providence, so that we won't be fooled, like the
brothers were, regarding Divine messages sent to us as clues about the will
of G-d in history.
You could say, "What Divine messages? Yosef engineered the whole thing!"
However, as the Talmud says, a man does not lift a finger if it is not
willed by Heaven (Chullin 7b). Even the idea to life that finger often
comes from Heaven, to help us help Heaven bring the master plan of creation
to fruition, willingly or unwillingly, the former bringing us credit for
being G-d's partner in creation, the latter bringing us no glory
whatsoever, as Yosef's dumbstruck brothers realized the hard way.
The above posuk from this week's parshah makes its own connection to the
Chanukah-story, for as many commentators point out, the word "Goshnah" is
spelled: gimmel-shin-nun-heh, the very same letters on the side of the
dreidle that allude to the words: Neis Gadol Hayah Shumm -- a "Great
Miracle Happened There."
What do those words mean to us?
Usually, they act as a reminder that G-d once "interfered" in the history
of man, and "arranged" events that the small Jewish army under the
leadership to Mattisyahu and his sons could overcome the mighty Greek army
under the leadership of Antiochus. Every year, on Chanukah, we commemorate
and "publicize" that miracle, and more importantly, the miracle of the
olive oil that burned for seven extra days.
However, there is also "mussar" in those words as well, based upon the
posuk, "This is from G-d, that which is wondrous in our eyes." A corollary
of this verse is, if you can't see the hand of G-d in life, then, it is
because life has lost its wonder for you. For YOU, not for G-d, for Whom
creation is also wondrous because it is one big, ongoing miracle. It is the
yetzer hara that says, "Big Deal!" about life.
As Rebi Chanina Ben Dosa told his daughter, who was amazed that the vinegar
she mistakenly ignited burned as if it were the oil she thought it was, the
only reason why oil burns better than vinegar -- NORMALLY -- is because
that is the way G-d wants it. As you have just found out, he told her, it
doesn't HAVE to be that way -- unless you believe that it MUST.
But, if you believe in the miracle of life, and, are real with G-d's hand
within nature, controlling nature like a puppeteer does his puppet, then
miracles won't surprise. They will delight you, but not surprise you, just
as was the case with Rebi Chanina Ben Dosa, because, seeing the world the
way G-d does, you will sense that a miracle is forthcoming, AND, the
brothers would have recognized Yosef even before he had revealed himself.
And, even had they waited until that fateful moment, they would have,
instead of being silenced, celebrated the fantastic turn of events.
A Great Miracle Happened There -- UNEXPECTEDLY -- because, we were out of
touch with Reality, with THE Reality -- G-d's Reality. And, the Talmud and
the Holy Books tell us that, at the end of history, great miracles will
happen for the Jewish people of that generation as well, on the level of
those which happened for the Jews who left Egypt, and greater. Who will
expect them, see them coming, and, who will be surprised.
It was the right place for Yehudah to meet Yosef, in "Goshnah." For, at
this particular meeting point in time and space, Yehudah, and by learning
the story, future generations, are reminded that, if we are sensitive to
the wonders of life and the events of our days, we will be able to see the
hand of G-d, and work with it, as partners, to bring the Final Redemption,
may it come speedily in our days.
Then Yoseph brought Ya'akov his father, and presented him to Paroah.
Ya'akov blessed Paroah. (Bereishis 47:7)
From the posuk we don't know who was there at this ceremonial event, when
the Gadol HaDor came and blessed the president of the super power of the
time. However, the Midrash fills in the guest list for us, but revealing that:
At the time when Ya'akov came before Paroah and blessed him, as it says,
"Ya'akov blessed Paroah," Og was sitting there. Paroah said to Og, "Did
they not used to say about Avraham, that he had a wife who could not give
birth, yet, here is the son of his son, and seventy of his descendants!" At
that time, Og gave them an "evil eye," and, The Holy One, Blessed is He,
said, "Evil one! Why are you causing an evil eye to My children?" He
blinded that evil one, and, in the future, he would fall into his hand."
(Yalkut Reuveini, Vayigash)
Og, the giant sure got around, seemingly always in the wrong place at the
right time. While all others were being drowned by the Flood waters in
Noach's time, Og managed to stay alive by hanging onto the Ark. And later
on, when he set his eyes on Sarah, Avraham's wife, he informed Avraham of
the war in the land and the capture of his nephew, Lot, in hope that
Avraham would die in battle, which, of course, did not happen. And there he
was again, already in Egypt ahead of Ya'akov, chumming up with Paroah,
casting evil eyes on Avraham's descendants.
But it backfired. Not only did Og's evil eye have no affect on the Jewish
people, but, it paved the way for his own downfall at the hands of Moshe
Rabbeinu, much later in history at the end of Parashas Chukas. And, it is
another good example of how G-d fights wars on behalf of the Jewish people
without us even knowing it, as we saw in the case of Bilaam who was hired
to curse the Jewish people (Parashas Balak):
The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Israel: Know how much "tzeddakah" I
did for you, by not getting angry in those days of Bilaam the Evil. For,
had I allowed Myself to get angry (at the time that I NORMALLY do), then
not one Jew would have survived! (Sanhedrin 105b)
In fact, as one person put it to me this week, if the Jewish people knew
how much evil there was out there, and how much scheming against the Jewish
people there is, they'd shake in their boots and learn Torah with great
enthusiasm and say Tehillim in-between. We have learned just evil evil can
be when it is allowed to rear its ugly head.
So, why don't we? Because, often G-d keeps evil at bay, or, at least,
minimizes its effects. Many times, here in Eretz Yisroel, a timely
rainstorm not only waters thirsty fields and fills the low Kinneret, but,
it has also foiled a terrorist plot. In fact, during Sukkos this year,
when, uncharacteristically, it poured several times, terrorism dropped
dramatically. And, as one soldier who fought in the '67 War said, "The
reason we won the war was because of superior firepower. But, we all knew
that we were shooting better than we were able to."
However, as we have learned the hard way many times throughout history, G-d
only fights our wars for so long -- about as long as we appreciate His help
and show it in our actions. If not, then.
For the Conductor, a psalm of Dovid. Free me, G-d, from the wicked man;
from the man of violence preserve me. Who devise evil schemes in their
hearts, who assemble daily for war. (Tehillim 140:1-3)
It is, after all, quite overwhelming. So much evil in the world! So many
people doing evil things in the world -- stealing, raping, murdering
abusing entire countries. So much deceit! One can almost imagine the yetzer
hara sitting in some executive chair at the top of the world's tallest and
most impressive skyscraper, calling the shots.
I once tried to convey to my children one day how the chocolate bar they
wanted to buy was just making someone rich, someone who sits around all day
scheming how to take advantage of children's desires to make themselves
rich. They bought the chocolate bar anyhow, just as I did when I was their
age, because the person who made that chocolate bar knew their yetzer hara
better than they did.
Such people, of course, were not exactly what Dovid HaMelech had in mind
when he composed this psalm, though, on some level, they can be included.
He was talking about far more abusive and harmful people, people who live
for war and thrive on it, one kind of war or another, one way or another.
They define themselves by war and their acts of war, and, this, in the end,
is what makes them so dangerous, so difficult to live with.
And there are a lot of them, which necessitates our constantly turning to
G-d for help.
They have sharpened their tongue like a serpent, a spider's venom is on
their lips, Selah. (4)
Swords can physically kill a person, but, words can make a person go
through a living death. Dovid HaMelech experienced this first hand, because
they used to spread terrible rumors and lies about him, regarding his
ancestry from Rus the Moabitess, and, regarding his marriage to Bas Sheva.
And, when those words come from seemingly "credible" sources, and the
people listening either do not have the wherewithal to check out the
validity of the statements, or, the will to do so, then, such "venom"
settles into the minds of the masses, and are hard to reverse.
How many times has a single statement turned the lives of others upside
down, perhaps even resulting in death, or, worse, pogroms, as in the case
of blood libels? Yet, there are people, unscrupulous people, people who
only think about getting ahead in life, even, perhaps, at the cost of
others, who delight in using their sharp tongue to inject their venom.
Guard me, G-d, from the hands of the wicked one, from the man of violence
preserve me -- those who have schemed to cause my steps to slip. The
arrogant have hidden a trap for me and ropes, they spread a net near my
footpath, they set traps for me, Selah. (5 - 6)
There is a name for this process, and that is "Politics." Some call it the
"Game of Politics," because that is what it is to them, a game. Man seems
to be a political "animal," and, he certainly loves to play games.
Sometimes politics just seem to be a more civil form of gladiator fights.
In the name of politics we often hide truths that ought to be revealed,
and, in the name of politics we often reveal truths that ought to have
"Clean politics," assuming the term is not an oxymoron, is part-and-parcel
of life. However, when politics inspire and allow people to act immorally,
then, politics itself become a false god, and form of idol worship. Some
feel that, in the name of politics, everything is fair game. G-d begs to
I said to G-d, "You are my G-d! Listen, G-d, to the sound of my pleading."
G-d, my L-rd, Might of my salvation, You protected my head on the day of
armed battle. Grant not, G-d, the desires of the wicked one; do not cause
his conspiracy to be successful, for them to be exalted, Selah. (7 - 9)
On the last line, the Talmud comments:
Ya'akov said to The Holy One, Blessed is He, "Master of the Universe! Don't
fulfill the heart's desires of the evil Eisav, the "bit" do not remove from
his mouth!" This is Germamia of Edom, for, if they went out, they would
destroy the entire world(Megillah 6a)
At the back of the Talmud, a commentator amends this word to read,
"Germania," an Ashkenazic tribe that descended from Eisav. Was Ya'akov
seeing the future?
The Pri Tzaddik, however, points out that Edom's physical strength is drawn
only from Ya'akov's spiritual weakness, and therefore, G-d could answer
Ya'akov's request by saying, "I should control Eisav?! That's your job!
Just live by Torah, and the "bit" will never leave Eisav's mouth!"
Therefore, says the Pri Tzaddik, Ya'akov was really referring to the Eisav
side of himself, which represents his downfall and can trap him in exile.
After all, Ya'akov WAS the twin brother of Eisav; there must be some
similarity to his twin brother on SOME level.
Indeed, "Ya'akov" IS the twin brother of Eisav, and possesses the potential
to mimic Eisav's ways. However, "Yisroel" is NOT the twin brother of Eisav,
and thus, this is what we must strive to achieve: the level of Yisroel.
Hence, Ya'akov was really saying, "Dear G-d, please, help me with my yetzer
hara so that I can expunge all Eisav-type qualities from my being. That
way, Eisav my brother, and his descendants will have no power of me."
And, when they do, then, it is a clear sign that we have slipped into a
Ya'akov, twin-brother-of-Eisav mode.
Only the righteous will give thanks to Your Name; the upright will dwell in
Your Presence. (13)
All the more reason to enlist G-d's help to overcome our Eisav-like
tendencies, and fulfill our potentials to be spiritually great.