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Posted on December 24, 2020 (5781) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and all that you saw…Then he fell upon his brother Binyamin’s neck and wept, and Binyamin wept upon his neck.[2]

Chazal[3] tell us that Yosef wept for the two batei mikdosh that would stand in Binyamin’s portion of the land, and that ultimately would be destroyed. Various explanations have been given to connect the long-awaited meeting of the two brothers with the destruction of the future Temples.

Here is a thought. The eighth of Teves marks the tragedy of the rendering of the Torah into Greek, which was accompanied by three days of darkness.[4] The darkness initially seems to us to be counterintuitive. Ptolemy Philadelphus asked for a translation of the Torah because he sensed something of value in it, and that his library would not be complete without it. Indeed, that translation led to many nations of the world lauding its wisdom, and resolving to honor it. Why was that so terrible?

One reason (and there are others) is that the honor bestowed by the Greeks upon the Torah quickly became reciprocal. Just as their non-Jewish neighbors were now studying Torah, Jews felt compelled to study Greek philosophy. Too many wound up buying into Hellenic thought and became misyavnim, or active Hellenizers.

We can explain a passage in Ve’eschanan similarly. “You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation.’”[5] The nations do not comprehend that Torah is not of this world, that it is part of Hashem’s realm, not ours. They see it as the product of smart Jews who possess “wisdom and discernment; we become the focus of their admiration rather than HKBH.

Besides belittling the holiness of the Torah, this perception by the other nations is intrinsically problematic. If the attractive parts of the Torah are nothing more than products of the human mind, then human minds can also modify it. They can remove sections, or add new ones. Torah then becomes infinitely plastic. For this reason the Torah warns, “You shall safeguard and perform them….[because] it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples.”

Additionally, the Torah anticipates that we will enjoy being the focus of non-Jewish adulation. When Jews are treated that way, they will try even harder to please their admirers. They will compromise their own traditions and beliefs. Yosef understood that. As the rest of the family arrives, Yosef realizes that the Egyptians will extend to his brothers the great esteem they hold for him. He understands that in the future, some of his descendants will be infatuated with the non-Jewish philosophies that become more inviting when its proponents show greater regard for Jewish ideas. That will lead some of them to disparage the true meaning of the Torah, and to dilute its intent in order to curry favor with non-Jews. Such dilution will lead, inexorably, to a decline ending in the destruction of a beis hamikdosh.

The Egyptian servitude began, in fact, with a peh rach – with the Egyptians using a glib tongue to invite Yosef’s descendants to assume the burden of civic responsibility, knowing that the appeal would have traction with Jews eager to please their neighbors. This would have happened much earlier, were it not for the presence of Yaakov, and the imprint he left on Egyptian society, at least for a while. Yosef understood all that. Therefore, when he spoke of the honor he received in Egyptian society, he urged his brothers to bring his father with the utmost speed, so that he would serve as the antidote to the poisonous effect of that honor.

Looking a bit further into the future, it was the perfect time to sense the impending doom of the destruction of two Temples.

  1. Based on Chidushei R. Yosef Nechemia (Kornitzer), 1880-1933, Rov of Krakow
  2. Bereishis 45:13-14
  3. Megilah 16b
  4. Shulchan Aruch OC 580
  5. Devarim 4:6