A Fundamental of "Foundation"
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Now Yosef could not restrain himself . . ."(Bereishis 45:1)
It is certainly one of the all-time, most dramatic moments in the entire
Torah. There was Yosef, in the eyes of his brothers he was the Viceroy of
Egypt and second-in-command to Pharaoh, and he watched them squirm in
humiliation and frustration - and for their own good. Thus, seeing their
confusion and suffering, he could no longer continue the charade without
bursting into tears himself, and he felt compelled to reveal his true
identity, which he did promptly.
Regarding the posuk above, the Holy Zohar says the following:
COULD NOT RESTRAIN HIMSELF: Rebi Chiya began and said, "He distributed
widely to the destitute . . ." (Tehillim 112:9). Come and see: The Holy
One, Blessed is He, created the world and gave man dominion over it, making
him king over everything. There are many types of people spread out around
the world: righteous people, evil people, fools, and wise people; and
amongst them there are wealthy and poor people, in order that they should
benefit each other. The righteous benefit the evil [by helping them to
repent], and the wise benefit the fools [by teaching them]. The rich help
the poor [by filling their needs], and in this way a person merits eternal
life, and he becomes bound up with the Tree of Life. Not to mention, the
tzedakah he gives lasts forever, as it says, "His righteousness (tzidkaso)
endures forever". (Tehillim 111:3, Zohar 208a)
As is often the case with the Zohar, it is not clear at first what prompted
such an "explanation" of the verse. However, the answer is usually
forthcoming as the Zohar continues its journey on the way to teaching a
fundamental, albeit a more Kabbalistic one, of creation.
HE DISTRIBUTED WIDELY TO THE DESTITUTE: Rebi Elazar said: When The Holy
One, Blessed is He, created the world, He stood it up on one column (i.e.,
principle), and 'Tzaddik' is its name, and it is this tzaddik that is the
basis of the world's continued existence. He is the source of its "drink"
and "food," as the verse says, "And a river went out from Aiden to water
the garden, and from there it branched out." (Bereishis 2:10)
What did this add to clarify the original statement and its connection to
the parshah? To begin with, most references to the concept of 'tzaddik'
are usually made with Yosef HaTzaddik in mind, who, according to Kabbalah,
is affiliated with the sixth sefirah, Yesod, which means "Foundation," as
it says, "V'tzaddik YESOD olam - And the righteous person is the foundation
of the world" (Mishlei 10:25). This is why Yosef was destined for such a
primary position, from which he was able to sustain the world, spiritually
Furthermore, Kabbalah teaches, another name for the sefirah, Yesod is
"river." Thus, the Zohar learns that the river that watered the Garden of
Eden back at the beginning of creation, on the level of the Sefiros, was in
fact this sefirah. And, like this primordial river, tzaddikim such as
Yosef have continued to be the source of the world's nourishment in every
generation since that time.
The Zohar continues:
AND FROM THERE IT BRANCHED OUT: What branched out? The "food" and "drink"
of the river was completely received by the garden, and then it was
distributed to all four directions of the world. Many are there who look
to "drink" and "eat" from there, as it says, "The eyes of all look to You
with hope, and You give them their food in its proper time" (Tehillim
145:15). Therefore, when it says, "He distributed widely to the destitute"
(Tehillim 112:9), it refers to the Tzaddik (who is the level of Yesod,
which completely distributes its blessing with wisdom and kindness,
fulfilling all the destitute of the world).
Thus, the Zohar's references are to Yosef HaTzaddik, who, like the sefirah
and the type of person he represents, is the source of bounty for the
entire world. That is fine and makes perfect sense. However, the Zohar
still has not revealed to us why it chose THIS posuk specifically as the
reason to reveal this sod.
Now Yosef could not restrain himself in the presence of all who stood
before him, so he called out, "Remove everyone from before me!"(Bereishis
From what we have said so far, we can see how the physical reality is a
projection of the spiritual one. In other words, what happens "Down Here"
does so exactly as it does because that is the way things are happening "Up
There," that is, on a spiritual plane. And, though the words of a posuk
can be, and are meant to be read and understood on their most basic level,
we can see how they also describe the most profound of spiritual realities.
Thus, the Zohar continues regarding the posuk above:
Come and see: "Could not restrain himself in the presence of all who stood
before him:" They were all those who came to eat and drink from
him. (Zohar 208a)
In other words, the Zohar is revealing the posuk, on a sod-level, and is
not talking about Yosef the person, but "Yosef" the sefirah, Yesod. And,
since it is the nature of Yesod to distribute the spiritual nourishment to
the entire world, it is difficult for Yesod to hold back from doing so,
just as a tzaddik himself has difficulty NOT doing chesed.
This is important to know, because another name for the sefirah of Yesod is
"Goel," which means "Redeemer" (Ziv HaZohar). In other words, if
redemption is a function of the sixth sefirah - and it is:
The Yesod divided into two kings, the Yesod and the Atarah. The Atarah is
relevant to "malchus" since it is her (Yesod's) crown, which is why it is
called "Atarah". . . Therefore, the Yesod and the Atarah became two, but
after the tikun the Yesod and the Atarah became one in order to join
together Zehr Anpin and Nukveh, forever . . . This is the sod of "Yemos
HaMoshiach" being at the end of the sixth millennium . . . (Hakdamos
v'Sha'arim, page 172) - and Yesod, by definition, cannot hold back its
blessing. Redemption is then bound to spill out early just as the
revelation of Yosef's true identity.
Furthermore, just as the "redemption" of that time came when the brother's
had hit rock bottom and were suffering defeat, then, perhaps, that is when
it will come for us. Given the situation of the Jewish people, therefore,
Moshiach is probably not too far off.
Perhaps this is another reason why Moshiach himself is referred to as
Moshiach 'Tzidkainu' - the "Righteous;" not just because he will be
righteous himself, but because of his connection to the sefirah of Yesod,
and Yosef himself, the prototypical tzaddik.
So Ya'akov arose from Be'er Sheva; the sons of Yisroel transported Ya'akov
their father, as well as their young children and wives, in the wagons
which Pharaoh had sent to transport them. They took their livestock and
their wealth which they had amassed in the land of Canaan and they came to
Egypt . . . (Bereishis 46:5-6)
And so the exile began. Twenty-two years earlier Ya'akov had returned home
to Be'er Sheva and his family from the house of Lavan in Padan Aram, with
the hope of living out the rest of his life there. Could he have known
then that the remaining seventeen years of his life would transpire in a
country even more foreign than the one to which he had escaped to avoid his
furious brother, Eisav?
For a Torah-Jew, Egypt was a frightening place, even for the great Ya'akov
Avinu. Everything about Egypt ran contrary to the Torah's point of view
about life. Yet, that was where G-d had sent the Torah nation of that
time, into the heart of spiritual impurity, of all places, in order to
become a nation, which we did, but at a tremendous cost.
The rate of assimilation had been tremendous, and even from those family
lines which did last the full 210 years, four-fifths of them died in the
Plague of Darkness, not wanting to leave Egypt for Eretz Yisroel.
Why was it necessary?
The truth is, not all the answers have been given to us, and we'll
understand a lot more once Moshiach arrives; it should be in our
time. However, a lot of times the end reflects back on the beginning,
which provides insight into an unclear situation.
The Torah makes the following comment regarding the night that the exodus
from Egypt actually began:
But against the Children of Israel, no dog shall whet its tongue, against
neither man nor beast, so that you shall know that G-d will have
differentiated between Egypt and Israel. (Shemos 11:7)
Curious. We know that Pesach is called "Passover" because G-d
differentiated between the Jewish people and the Egyptians by "skipping"
over the homes of the former to plague the latter. What role did the dogs
play in this all-important theme of the Egyptian exile and redemption?
As we have mentioned on so many occasions, even though dogs, traditionally,
are considered to be "man's best friend," which they certainly can be,
Kabbalistically, they represent one of the worst nations the world has ever
known . . . the antithesis of the Jewish people - Amalek:
Then came Amalek and warred with Israel in Refidim. (Shemos 17:5)
THEN CAME AMALEK: The Torah placed this section close to this verse to
say, "I am always amongst you and ready to take care of your needs, and you
ask, 'Is God amongst us or not?' (Shemos 17:4). By your life! The dog
(Amalek) will come and bite you and make you call out to Me, and then you
will know where I am!" (Rashi)
In fact, the Zohar warns:
If they [Israel] do not merit it, then a dog will descend. What is the
name of that dog? Biladan is its name. (Zohar, Introduction, 6b)
In other words, from the Zohar, the concept of the dog does not have a
On the other hand, we also know that most concepts have two sides to them,
and therefore, even the idea of a dog can represent either good OR
bad. Thus, a hero of the Jewish people was Kaleiv ben Yehuneh - one of the
twelve spies who spied Eretz Yisroel, but only one of two who came back
with a favorable report - his name is spelled the same as "kelev," though
The question is, what does the reference to the dogs in Parashas Bo mean in
light of all of this?
Then came Amalek and warred with Israel in Refidim. (Shemos 17:5)
. . . Another question I (Rebi Chanina) asked him (Rebi Eliezer) was, "What
does Refidim mean?" He answered me that it was merely the name of the
place . . . Rebi Yehoshua said, "They weakened (rifu) themselves with
respect to Torah." (Bechoros 5b)
In other words, often the names of the locations at which the Jewish people
camped during their forty years in the desert were not what the places were
previously called, if they had previously been called anything at
all. Rather, the Torah named them what they are called now, because the
names themselves revealed what occurred to the Jewish people there, whether
for good or bad.
Since the battle against Amalek had been such a significant event, Rebi
Chanina had assumed the name of the place at which the battle had occurred,
"Refidim," must somehow reflect why it had occurred. Rebi Eliezer had not
seen anything in the name to be of any significance. However, Rebi
Yehoshua had, and his explanation fit perfectly with the entire concept of
Amalek, whose goal it is to sever the Jewish people from Torah.
For, the gematria of Amalek is "doubt" (suffek: samech-peh-kuf), indicating
that it is Amalek's main goal to create doubt in the minds of the Jewish
people, specifically with regard to their uniqueness, and particularly with
regard to Divine Providence. It doesn't bother them that they die in the
process; just as long as they are able to hurt the Jewish people and give
the impression that G-d does not protect His "own" people.
Since Egypt in Hebrew is made up of two parts, "meitzer" and "yumm," the
rabbis teach that Egypt was a place that constricted ("meitzer") and Divine
knowledge ("yumm" which equals 50 in gematria), that is, the Fifty Gates of
Understanding that make the reality of G-d crystal clear. In this respect,
Mitzrayim was an extension of Amalek, leaving the Jew with a sense of
despair, and little belief in his uniqueness.
However, those who had fallen for this and had been lost in the Plague of
Darkness had left the "show" too early. All of the plagues had been part
of a build-up to a level of clarity that would completely and utterly
neutralize Amalek, leaving him no room whatsoever to cause any fermentation
of doubt in the minds of the remaining Jews. This was symbolized by the
fact that the "dogs" of Egypt had cooperated fully by abstaining from what
they do so naturally and best: bark and whet their tongues.
The same clarity, however, did not come to the Egyptians, who, in spite of
all they had seen and witnessed, still pursued the fleeing Jewish people to
re-enslave them. In this, there was a great differentiation between the
Jewish people and the Egyptians themselves, once reminiscent of the
following distinction, which in itself is connected to the Chanukah message:
He [God] made a separation in the illumination of the Light, that it should
not flow or give off light except for the righteous, whose actions draw it
down and make It give off light. However, the actions of the evil block
it, leaving them in darkness, and this itself was the hiding of the
Light. (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 133)
It is this light that Kaleiv ben Yefuneh accessed to see the value of Eretz
Yisroel, while the rest of the spies, other that Yehoshua himself, remained
in doubt about the importance and wisdom of entering the land. In short,
it is the light that forces away the doubt of Amalek and "silences the
dogs," so-to-speak. In short, it is what turns the "kelev" into a
"Kaleiv," and in a very real sense, that is precisely what Ya'akov's family
went down to Egypt to achieve.