They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians eating with him by themselves, since eating bread with Hebrews was offensive for the Egyptians. (Bereishis 43:32)
There is a saying, “An insult from my enemy is a compliment.” Some people just get more angry at their enemies, feeling that insult has been added to injury. However, another person, realizing that what makes an enemy an enemy is a vast difference of opinion with respect to life, a completely different perspective, taking the insult as an affirmation of what he strives to be.
We are told that the Egyptians lived on the forty-ninth level of spiritual impurity, and you can’t go much lower than that. We know that they were heavily involved in idol worship, often using it to sanction a lifestyle that ran contrary to Torah and the Seven Noachide Laws. Yet, it was a place that Yosef was not only able to strive in, but thrive in as well. After all, how bad can Egypt have been if its leader was able to admit to the reality of G-d, ran the affairs of men, and that He spoke through Yosef?
The answer to the question is in the posuk above: In spite of the fact that Pharaoh had been impressed with Yosef’s ability to prophesize and with his wisdom to implement what he spoke, the Egyptians found it repulsive to eat with Jews. The most spiritually bereft nation on the face of the earth, repulsive in the eyes of G-d, found it disgraceful to eat with the Jews. Is this an insult or a compliment?
Let me point something else out as well. We know that Lavan was no friend of the Jewish people, and certainly not a good father-in-law to Ya’akov. We are told that he also wanted to kill Ya’akov, his own son-in-law and nephew, but that G-d stopped him. Even if he had not physically harmed him, then at least financially harm him, for as Ya’akov later complains on his way back to Eretz Yisroel (during his final confrontation with Lavan):
“Of the twenty years I was in your house, I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks; you changed my wages ten times. Unless the G-d of my father, the G-d of Avraham and the Dread of Yitzchak had been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed . . .” (Bereishis 31:41-42)
The question arises: If G-d was with Ya’akov all those years, how was Lavan able to be so nasty to him? The answer is, that was one of the ways that G-d WAS with Ya’akov, for had it not been for Lavan’s “anti- Semitism,” Ya’akov may have lost some of his holiness along the way. “Im Lavan garti” was true, in part, because of the way Lavan treated Ya’akov during the twenty years he stayed with him.
And, lest you think that it was impossible for someone of Ya’akov’s stature to be lured down the dark path by someone like Lavan, Rav Dessler, zt”l, points out that it also happened to Avraham Avinu. For, Avraham Avinu practiced kiruv rechokim (outreach) – which meant that he was out in the streets trying positively to influence people who, by their nature, were a bad influence on him.
And, as is so often the case when it comes to kiruv, spiritual compromise was necessary to bridge the spiritual gap between Avraham and the people he was trying to bring under the wings of the Divine Presence. Even the strongest of individuals can be worn down a little, if not a lot, by such constant bombardment by the forces of spiritual impurity.
This is why Avraham Avinu descended to a lower level of prophecy than his wife, Sarah. Rav Dessler explains why G-d had to provide special protection for Avraham that was not necessary for the other Forefathers. Hence, explained Rav Dessler, the brochah in the Shemoneh Esrai begins with a reference to the G-d of all three Avos, but ends by referring to G- d as the “shield” of Avraham only.
Now, had Lavan been perfectly nice to Ya’akov all through the years, would Ya’akov not have tried to reciprocate and be the perfect son-in-law, perhaps even compromising some of his spiritual stringencies to fit in better and not seem unappreciative? Had the Egyptians found it perfectly acceptable to eat with the Hebrews, would Yosef have been able to maintain himself as a Hebrew all those years?
Thus, when the brothers threw Yosef into the pit back in Shechem, they threw him into an even deeper spiritual pit when they took him out and sold him down to Egypt. And, it was obviously not something Yosef saw coming, and therefore, it had not been something for which he could have consciously prepared himself for.
Yet, all of that was part of the prophecy Avraham Avinu had of the future exile of the Jewish people. And, though Yosef told his brothers that he had been sent down to Egypt ahead of them to save them from famine, which was true, the deeper and more profound reason for his being sent down to Egypt, and in as an abrupt manner as had been the case, was to save us at the end of history.
The story of Yosef is the story of Moshiach Ben Yosef, and what he has to be to do his job at any particular point in history, but specifically at the end of it. The brothers were made to be jealous and to hate their brother, for this is part of what Moshiach Ben Yosef will have to endure in his role as Savior #1. They were made to misunderstand his intentions and abilities, because this will be true of Moshiach Ben Yosef, whoever he will be, at the End-of-Days.
Likewise, like Yosef HaTzaddik, Moshiach Ben Yosef will be “sold” by his own, and like Yosef, ultimately this will not benefit those who sell him, but will only benefit Moshiach Ben Yosef. It will put him in a better position to lead the nation as he is destined to do. It will also put him in a position to sanctify the Name of G-d while so many of his brothers continue to profane the Name of G-d. Indeed, the prophet Yechezkel warned that G-d will be “forced” to bring the Final Redemption just to end the profanation of His Name. Moshiach Ben Yosef will do that.
And, the most remarkable thing will be, that Moshiach Ben Yosef will become what he will need to be, just like Yosef HaTzaddik before him, in the last place you’d expect him to be able to do so – in Egypt, or rather, Mitzrayim. In Yosef’s time, they were one and same thing, but in the generation of Moshiach Ben Yosef they are not. Mitzrayim will be another nation, or perhaps even several nations, that live by the same rules that the Mitzrayim of Yosef’s time lived by.
And, from amidst the counter – Torah philosophy, and perhaps for reasons known only to G-d, Moshiach Ben Yosef will not only strive in such a society, but thrive in it. From amidst the darkness, he will be the light that will grow ever stronger in intensity until it conquers all impurity, paving the way for Moshiach Ben Dovid to provide the final stability to Creation.
Like G-d Himself, Who shone light onto the chaos that preceded Creation to order it into a beautiful and elegant universe, Moshiach Ben Yosef will be that light at the End-of-Days, once again turning tohu into order, leading the path to the paradise it is destined to become.
The rock that the builders despised became the cornerstone. (Tehillim 118:22)
This is very much like the message of the olive, or at least the oil inside of it. One of the nicest things about an apple or an orange, or even a pineapple, is that you only have to wait until they ripen before picking and then eating them, (excluding any inedible peel, of course). They don’t need any other process to provide natural edible enjoyment.
Not the olive. Serve a can of unpickled olives at your next kiddush, and you’ll greatly reduce the number of little hands that snatch them up before the adults arrive. Then again, the adults won’t want them either, for unpickled olives, no matter how ripe they become are very, very bitter.
On the other hand, squeeze the juice out of just about any other delicious tasting fruit, and the most you will get is delicious juice. Take that juice on a cold, dark night, immerse a wick in it and light it and nothing will happen to make the room any warmer or brighter. But, light shemen zais (olive oil) and you will get a beautiful yellow, calm, flame that will inspire a sense of Heavenly security.
There are many parts to the Chanukah story, but the main focus is on the oil that miraculously burned for seven extra days, and the great victory of a handful of zealous Jews over a massive and far better fortified Greek army. Amazingly, one of the most important points of the entire story is all but ignored.
It would have been a different story altogether had Mattisyahu and his sons been planning a rebellion all along, but that had not been the case. Instead, they had been living in hiding and practiced their mitzvos in secrecy and in hardship. For the time being, they had judged that by staying out of the way of the Greeks (Hellenists) as much as possible was the safest passage through a very dangerous time in exile.
Heaven disagreed. Therefore, Hashgochah Pratis arranged it that Mattisyahu be there when a Jew offered up a pig on a pagan altar at the request of a Greek soldier. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Mattisyahu shot back first and asked questions later, acting against the gross profanation of G-d’s Name. The rebellion had not been previously started, but had then started on its own, so-to-speak. Who would have guessed that a pig, the very symbol of all that is treif in the world, being offered on a pagan altar, would eventually lead to a holy victory over the Greeks?
Then again, Avraham was fathered by Terach, Rus came from Lot and his own daughter, and Peretz from an ill-begot relationship between Yehudah and Tamar.
And the list and examples go on and on.
And, so does the shemen zais, which, like Yosef and Moshiach Ben Yosef, are misjudged from the outside, while inside resides the flame of redemption. If only our eyes were trained to see it.
The daughters of Tzelofchad – the son of Cheifer, the son of Gilad, the son of Machir, the son of Menashe, from the family of Menashe, the son of Yosef – approached. These are the names of his daughters: Machlah, No’ah, Chaglah, Milkah, and Tirtzah. (Bamidbar 27:1)
FROM THE FAMILY OF MENASHE, THE SON OF YOSEF: Why did it have to mention all this, since it already said “the son of Menashe”? To tell you that Yosef loved the Land, as it says, “Bring my bones up” (Bereishis 50:25), and that his “daughters” also loved the land, as it says, “Give us our possession” (Bamidbar 27:4). (Rashi)
It is ironic that the one who is known to have loved Eretz Yisroel so deeply was the one to have been taken away from it so long, and forced to die outside the Land. Amazingly, Yosef grew up in Egypt, having been kidnapped at the tender age of 17 years old, and was only allowed to return home briefly to bury his father in Chevron.
But then again, that it is another factor so typical of Moshiach Ben Yosef, who seems so atypical in terms of how he develops as a Jewish leader. It is clear that this is all part of his training to lead the people he will find in his time back to where they ultimately belong, under the wings of the Divine Presence, living in Eretz Yisroel. If he is going to be able to lead them, he will have to understand them. If they are going to listen to him, then they are going to have to be able to relate to them.
Ultimately, Yosef represented a concept that is the basis of Chanukah and Eretz Yisroel: Nothing is really what it seems to be on the surface. I was recently asked by someone, “What is the relevance of Talmud, which seems to be so involved in discussions that have little bearing on everyday life?” The answer, to teach us what Chanukah revealed to us: In this world, light often, in fact, usually comes from within the darkness, just as it did on Day One of Creation. That is why the Oral Law plays such a prominent role in the Chanukah story.
Ironically, so many people who learn Talmud do not apply its message to other Jews, who often appear on the surface to be anything but Jewish, in the traditional sense of the term. And, they do not understand that what the Talmud teaches us about life is exactly what Eretz Yisroel is there to teach us as well.
And, that is why we need Moshiach Ben Yosef, for just as the brothers had to learn about life from Heaven’s point of view from Yosef, whom they had previously rejected, modern day Jewry will only gain an accurate perception of what counts the most to Heaven at the right time through Moshiach Ben Yosef, may he come in our time – and quickly.
Have an illuminating Chanukah and great Shabbos,
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org