Don't Look A Gift-Donkey In The Mouth
This week's parshah sheet is dedicated to Yerachmiel Don ben Tzipora
Chana. May the merit that comes from this spreading of Torah, as well as
from all the many wonderful acts of chesed he and his family have
performed over the years, inspire Heaven to grant him a complete and
immediate recovery, and many years of health and happiness. Please doven
on his behalf.
To his father he sent 10 male donkeys carrying from the best of Egypt,
and 10 female donkeys carrying grain, bread, and foodstuffs for the way.
There are basically two approaches to Torah. There are those who approach
Torah with the belief that what you see is all that you get. Thus, if it
is not implicit from the narration, then it is not part of the story on
any level. And, should you find meaning in words or phrases that is not
obvious to the eye then it is meaningful only to you, because you have
imagined the meaning when in fact it really is only a figment of your
On the other hand, there is the opposite approach: what is obvious to the
eye is merely a veil for many different levels of meaning. And, if you
find some hidden meaning that is consistent with the rest of Torah and the
rules of Drash (exegetical extrapolation of ideas from the Torah), then
chances are it was meant to be found, even if you are the first one to
notice it (or at least mention it).
However, more often than not, if it is a true idea and meant to be found
when it was discovered, it is already addressed by Sod. Just open Sha'ar
HaPesukim written by Rav Chaim Vital based upon the teachings of the
Arizal, and you will get a sample of what is built into the simple stories
and narration of the Torah. The Torah tells stories, but the words of its
stories tell their own story, often providing deep insights into life in
In this story we learn about the reunion of Yosef and his family. After 22
years of separation from his father and family, a worldwide famine brought
Yosef's brothers down to Egypt. This, in turn, gave Yosef a chance to
reveal himself to them and finish a painful chapter in the history of the
Jewish people. The Torah comments:
Pharaoh told Yosef, "Tell your brothers to load their animals and to go to
the land of Canaan. Take your father and your households and return to me.
I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you will eat the fat of
the land. You are commanded [to say], 'Take wagons for yourselves from the
land of Egypt for your little ones and your wives, and bring your father.
Do not worry about your belongings, because the best of the land of Egypt
is yours.' " (Bereishis 45:17-20)
Everyone was happy. Yosef was happy to return home once again, even if
that homecoming was to be in Egypt. The brothers were happy because Yosef
was found alive and well, and no worst for the wear they had caused him.
Pharaoh was happy because his second-in-command would be even more
committed to the welfare of Egypt if his family numbered amongst its
inhabitants. All that remained was to bring the good news home to their
father, and to bring their father down to Egypt.
The children of Israel did so, and Yosef gave them wagons according to
Pharaoh's instructions and provisions for the way. To each man he gave a
change of clothes, [but] to Binyomin he gave 300 pieces of silver and five
changes of clothes. (Bereishis 45:21-22)
And, off they went up to Eretz Canaan to prepare the way for the next
chapter of Jewish history: Golus Mitzrayim (Egyptian exile). A special
gift for their father was prepared from his long lost son:
To his father he sent 10 male donkeys carrying from the best of Egypt, and
10 female donkeys carrying grain, bread, and foodstuffs for the way.
Ten male donkeys? Ten female donkeys? What's the story?
He appointed it as a testimony for Yosef when he went out over the land
of Egypt . . . (Tehillim 81:6)
What's in a gift? It all depends upon the purpose of the gift, and in this
case, Yosef's gift to his father was something quite Kabbalistic:
At the time that Yosef was separated from his father he already knew the
wisdom of Above, b'Sod the holy upper Sefiros. In Egypt, he learned the
wisdom of the lower Sefiros [of the Sitra Achra]; that is, where they
latch onto from the right and from the left, ten from the right side and
ten from the left side, and male donkeys (chamorim) and female donkeys
(atonim). With this he hinted to his father what he learned there, as it
says, "To his father he sent 10 male donkeys . . ." (Bereishis 45:23).
(Zohar, Balak 207a)
Explains the Leshem:
He wanted to hint to Ya'akov Avinu that he withstood a great test, that he
entered in peace and left in peace, remaining righteous and holy as
before. (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 342)
When it came to the Jewish people and the golden calf, Moshe pleaded
before G-d to excuse their involvement. He claimed that it was to be
expected, since G-d had made them so wealthy in the first place, comparing
their situation to that of a handsome prince whose father had him finely
groomed, put money in a purse around his neck, and then parked him at the
front door of a brothel (Brochos 32a). What can anyone expect from the
prince in such a situation?
What could anyone expect from the Jewish people in THAT situation, fresh
out of idol-worshipping Egypt with gold and silver to literally burn. And,
living elbow-to-elbow with the Erev Rav whose job it was to cause the
nation to stumble? Indeed, the Midrash says that when the Prosecuting
Angel wanted the Jewish people to drown in the Red Sea because they had
worshipped idols in Egypt, G-d vetoed the demand, explaining that their
behavior had been the result of living amongst the Egyptians for so long
(Yalkut Shimoni 1:234).
How old was Yosef when he was sold into slavery by his brothers? Seventeen
years old. Seventeen years old, handsome and refined, and living in the
red light district of the world! And, even had Yosef survived one year on
the same spiritual level as when he entered Egypt, what could have been
expected of him after two years, let alone twenty-two of them?
The spiritual pressure that he must have lived with was tremendous. It was
not as if anyone coming before him threw on more modest clothing when in
his presence, or that he stayed home to avoid the Egyptian crowds. He was
Viceroy of Egypt and was expected to conform in as many ways as he could,
and you can be sure that the wife of Potiphar was not the only Egyptian
woman who was attracted to him, as Rashi explains later on (Bereishis
Then there were the philosophical debates. Egypt was an idol-worshipping
society with many religious beliefs, all of which were contrary to the
tradition Yosef had learned from his father. Although they saw themselves
as being intellectually and spiritually advanced for their time, Yosef had
to live among them knowing how wrong they were and that they were probably
on a collision course with G-d at some point in the future. In order to
avert that, perhaps he used the famine as an excuse to circumcise all
Egyptians who came to him for food.
This is why, Chazal tell us, that Ya'akov Avinu did not respond
immediately to the news that Yosef was alive and well and living in Egypt.
It wasn't surprising to hear that Yosef was physically alive after 22
years, or even that he had a leadership role in Egypt. However, when he
learned that Yosef was spiritually alive as well, then he finally had
reason to end his 22 years of mourning, and his spirit was revived.
How did Ya'akov know this? According to the Midrash, Yosef had told his
brothers to tell their father that he still remembered the last halachah
they had learned together, the eglah arufah (Tanchuma, Vayigash 12).
Coincidentally, that halachah concerns the actions of the Bais Din in the
case of an unsolved murder, which in the case of Yosef was the revelation
that he never died.
Some say that this was the message behind the wagons (agalot) that Yosef
sent back to his father. In other words, agalah (wagon) having the same
letters as eglah (calf), was Yosef's hint to his father regarding his
spiritual well-being. But, according to the Zohar, it was in fact the
sending of the donkeys, which represented the right and left side of the
Sefiros on the side of the K'lipos (spiritual impurity) that transmitted
the message to Ya'akov.
If you want it like money and pursue it like buried treasures, then you
will understand fear of G-d, and you will find knowledge of G-d. (Mishlei
The Arizal lived between 1534 and 1572, about 432 years ago. With his
help, we are better able to understand the Zohar, based upon the teachings
of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, revealed around 120 CE, which was published by
Rabbi Moshe de Leon around 1390, some 150 years prior.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was the talmid of the great Rabbi Akiva, who was a
Master Kabbalist par excellence, and from him one can trace the tradition
of Kabbalah all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu at Mt. Sinai:
The holy Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordevero; 1522-1570) gave his rebuke in [his
work called Sefer] Pardes, and this is what he said: . . . Now that the
wisdom of the Truth (i.e., Kabbalah), which is an inheritance for the
Assembly of Ya'akov from Moshe Rabbeinu from G-d, has become revealed and
made known amongst the wise of Israel, anyone who denies it or argues with
it is called a apostate, for he denies a portion of Torah Sh'b'al Peh
(Oral Law), and he removes himself from the Faithful of Israel. For, from
the time that it became well-known amongst the Jewish people, that is,
from the time of the Ramban (Nachmanides; 1194-1270) onward, there has not
been a single Torah scholar from the wise of Israel . . . who has denied
its validity. Previous to this time it was hidden and revealed only to a
few fitting people in each generation, as it is known in the Teshuvas
HaGaonim (589 - 1038 CE). However, from the time of the Ramban it became
known amongst the Jewish people and not a single chacham from all the wise
of Israel, from whose waters we drink when learning their commentaries on
Talmud and Poskim, argued with it at all . . . (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 525)
This is why it is called Kabbalah, because as the word implies, it has
been received and is, therefore, part of a tradition going back to Moshe
at Sinai. And granted the Avos and their children kept the mitzvos (at
least in Eretz Yisroel), even the rabbinical decrees, but Sod? Were they
really learning Sod back then? Did Ya'akov truly know about the Sefiros
and teach them to his sons, particularly Yosef?
In the Zohar, there seems to be no question, for that is what Yosef had
signaled to Ya'akov through the male and female donkeys. He wasn't just
confirming his adherence to the lifestyle of his ancestors, but he was
referring to knowledge that belongs specifically to the realm of Sod.
Which is interesting, because so much of our understanding today is built
upon latter day revelations, the type of which was given to the Arizal by
none other than Eliyahu the prophet.
Which just goes to show you once again that whereas secular knowledge may
be accumulative, meaning that we get smarter in this area with each
passing generation (in general), this is not the case with Torah
knowledge, or what we call true wisdom. We may be more technologically
advanced than previous societies, but they knew a lot more than we do
about the way the world worked, spiritually-speaking that is.
For many that will be hard to believe since mankind seems to become more
primitive the further back one goes in time. But that is only based upon
assumptions that have been based upon findings. The following is not based
upon any assumptions, but based upon a Kabbalistic tradition going far
back in time.
Cush fathered Nimrod, and he began to be powerful in the land. He was a
great hunter before G-d, and thus was born the expression, "Like Nimrod, a
great hunter before G-d." (Bereishis 10:8)
What did Nimrod hunt? What do most people hunt for food? Deer? Buffalo?
Whatever wild animals existed at that time in that part of the world,
that's what Nimrod probably hunted when he wanted to eat something.
However, when it came to leading the world in rebellion against G-d at
that time, Nimrod hunted something altogether different:
The Generation of the Dispersion were experts in using oaths and the Holy
Names, and they used practical Kabbalah for the sake of idol worship,
which they knew quite well had no power unless it draws from
holiness . . . Their only plan was to fulfill the desires of their hearts.
The leader of this generation was Nimrod who was very knowledgeable in
using oaths and names to cause an angel to do his bidding. And this is
what it says, "He was a great hunter before G-d," because he used to
subjugate and trap all the "powers" using the Names of The Holy One,
Blessed is He . . . (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 535)
Not only that, explains the Leshem, they didn't build a tall tower because
they actually planned to go as high up in the sky as possible to actually
challenge and fight G-d for control over the earth, or to plug a leak in
the Heavens that bursts once every 1,656 years. How naïve can one be?
Rather, says the Leshem, the tower was built according to an extremely
Kabbalistic dimension, based upon their understanding of how G-d made
Creation and controls it. In Kabbalistic terms, they wanted to draw down
the Malchus of Atzilus, the sefirah through which Divine Providence
operates. We already know from the Talmud that the supernal light with
which G-d made Creation was subject to abuse by evil people, which is why
G-d hid it on Day One of Creation (Chagigah 12a). In essence, this was
precisely what they were trying to do.
And what is even more amazing is that had G-d not come down and confounded
their languages and put an end to their cooperation with one another, they
might have succeeded in their diabolical plan. After all, Nebuchadnetzar
destroyed the House of G-d, as did Titus later on in history. Indeed, he
even stabbed the Paroches in front of the Holy of Holies and it spurt
blood (Gittin 56b). Titus even thought he had killed G-d Himself! And, all
for the sake of free-will.
It is frighteningly amazing how far evil can go before G-d finally steps
in and rights the wrongs. But that is a discussion unto itself. The main
point here is to see how much we under-estimate the spiritual greatness of
the early generations, either to the side of good or to the side of evil.
We're only recovering and understanding what was most likely known and
accessible in daily life long ago.
Kabbalas Ma'asios (Practical Kabbalah) according to tradition says that it
was hidden by Rebi Akiva who, like his Creator, saw how the light would be
abused by upcoming generations. Purportedly, the Arizal knew such secrets
but is quoted as having said that he abstained from using what he knew for
fear of the spiritual side effects it might have, in spite of all the
miracles he is said to have performed, as so many other spiritual greats
before and after him did.
The world is a lot different than modern man perceives it to be, and so is
our past. Out of arrogance or absolute naïveté we assume that the way we
know reality today is the way it has always been. All it takes is a few
donkeys to set the record straight.
Have a great Shabbos,
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.