We have so much to learn from Torah, on so many different levels. The lives of the avos and their children are redolent with psychological insights and guidance in our avodas Hashem.
They also speak of ideas, events, and conflicts that operate far beyond the years of the original personalities. Their lives adumbrated the missions of their descendents, and the pathways through which those descendents would have to travel in trying to complete those Divinely-assigned tasks.
There is a fascinating back-story in the strife between Yosef and his brothers. Within it are elements that were set in motion in their days, and have yet to fully play out.
The purpose of galus/ Jewish national exile is to add converts from among the nations. Yosef in particular was charged with presiding over this function. He was to be a king – not over his brothers, but over the geirim who would join. He would gather the fallen sparks of kedushah that fell outside the borders of Israel. He would attract them, process them, and add them to the rolls of the Jewish people. (His mother hints at this role, when she asks Hashem for another child after Yosef’s birth. Rather than simply ask for that child, she uses the verb “add:” “May Hashem add to me another son.” That request gave Yosef his name; his very nature, in other words, was to add on to Klal Yisrael.)
Galus gets a bad rap. We think of it as dark, and harmful, and as Divine punishment. It did not have to be that way. Had we performed according to the script, galus would have meant that many foreign souls would have streamed towards us, without our suffering any consequences along the way. Had Yosef done his job perfectly, that is precisely what would have happened. He would have had his own set of twelve shevatim, i.e. twelve sons who would have been the founding members of the Yosef-branch of Yaakov’s family. Protected by the kedushah that Yosef achieved, they would waded into the mire of galus without become soiled. He would have not only spared Yaakov the indignity of leading the way to the Egyptian exile clad in chains, but would have spared his brothers as well. They would have been free to develop as the other branch of the family, concentrating on kedushah alone.
Yosef passed his tests with flying colors. He was close to perfect in rejecting the advances of Potiphar’s wife – but not entirely perfect. The first consequence was that Yosef realized that he had ever so slightly fallen short of his mark. He had not generated the required amount of kedushah to complete the larger mission himself. He would need the assistance of his brothers. They would have to join him and his descendents in galus.
The shevatim were none too happy with this change in plans. They refused to accept it. They wished to prevail upon Yosef to complete his job without involving them. They sensed that Yosef had aborted the original mission, and focused his energies exclusively on saving Yaakov alone from the worst of galus. He had given up on sparing them as well; he opted to take them along, counting on the collective merits of all of them to ride out the storm of challenges in galus.
He included Yehudah in his calculus. His contribution would also be necessary to provide the kedushah-foundation for an accretion of geirim to build upon. Until such time, all the shevatim –Yehudah included, would need to answer to him, Yosef. This was Yosef’s rejection – for a time – of malchus Yehudah.
The dispute between Yosef and his brothers about the initiation of malchus Yehudah and its relationship to Yosef’s mission continued forward in time. It was very much part of the story of Yeravam, who challenged the Yehudah-derived Davidic dynasty. The fissure that opened up continues to our own times, as the exiled ten shevatim have not yet made their way back.
Because of Yosef’s changed plan, the other shevatim hated him. In the end, they sold him, sending him – alone – into galus. Yosef still had a Plan B. One of his brothers also had leanings to inclusion, to adding on. “Forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses prophesied to Yisrael. None detracted or added to what is written in the Torah – except for the reading of the Megilah.” Mordechai, responsible for that work, descended from Binyamin, must also be considered an add-on enabler, just as Yosef was. Yosef therefore tried hard to bring Binyamin down to Egypt. The joint effort of both of them, he believed, would at least spare the two Temples – both of which stood in part in the territory of Binyamin – from destruction.
Yehuda resisted. The main body of the Jewish people – led by Yehuda – needed the power of inclusion as well. They were not going to give up Binyamin. That left Binyamin. (Mordechai would demonstrate that alliance: he was descended not only from Binyamin, but from Yehudah as well!)
When Yosef realized that he could not disengage Binyamin from Yehudah who zealously guarded him, he finally gave up. “Yosef could not restrain himself in the presence of all who stood before him.” He identified himself as Yosef their brother. He realized that his plan would not work; his effort to protect the two Temples from destruction had not borne fruit. Therefore, he “fell upon this brother Binyamin’s neck and wept:” crying, according to Chazal for the two batei mikdash that would be destroyed.
- Based on Mei Marom, Bereishis, Maamar 74 ↑
- See Sotah 36B ↑
- Megilah 14A ↑
- Bereishis 45:1 ↑
- Bereishis 45:14 ↑
- Megilah 16B ↑