Yehudah approached (vayigash) [Yosef] and said, “My master, let your servant speak a word in my master’s ears. Don’t be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh …” (Bereishis 44:18)
“Oh, I wish I wasn’t going through this, at least not now.”
Famous words, uttered by almost every human being who has ever walked the face of the earth at an uncomfortable, usually very inconvenient moment. The ones who have not uttered such words were usually from a special breed of people who, instead, say, “All that G-d does He does for the good” (Brochos 60b).
What is the ultimate definition of “inconvenience”? When what we plan for ourselves is different than what G-d plans for us. What is the difference? How does such a difference occur? Usually when we look at life each day as just another day on the way to an “end,” during which we try to plot a course to … to … what? That is the whole point — to what?
G-d, on the other hand, created each individual to achieve a certain potential, and to play a certain role within His master plan for creation. We don’t always know what our potential is, or when our moment(s) of glory may come. Our job is to spend our thoughts and energy trying to discover our potential, and looking for ways to contribute to G-d’s purpose for creation.
If we do that, then He will guide us, and put us in the right places at the right time — even if we didn’t know it could happen that way. People who look to walk G-d’s path in life are assured Divine assistance in doing so, and this is what the prophet meant when he wrote:
Blessed is the one who trusts in G-d, for G-d will be his trust. (Yirmiyahu 17:7)
The difference between someone committed to working with Divine Providence and one who just “strolls” through life is, that, when “his moment” arrives, he may not even know it. In fact, more than likely, it is not what he expected, and though he may rise to meet it, he will feel anxiety rather than exhilaration. He may even resist the moment, and waste a valuable opportunity to grow.
One such moment is Yehudah’s final confrontation with the viceroy of Egypt, a.k.a. Yosef HaTzaddik, at the beginning of this week’s parshah. It is not what Yehudah planned, but it was what Divine Providence ordained. Yehudah was not comfortable at all approaching the second-in-command of Egypt this way, but it was what the moment demanded. Yehudah would have preferred to be minding his own business, probably learning Torah, back in Eretz Canaan, but, instead, he was “thrown” before the divining minister of Egypt, and forced to justify his and his brother’s existence!
Perhaps, this is another interpretation of the word “vayigash,” “and he approached.” On a “pshat” level, the word refers to Yehudah’s approaching Yosef, to have a word with him about the situation at hand. On a deeper, more midrashic level, perhaps it is an allusion to how Yehudah’s personal version of reality “approached” G-d’s version of reality — or vice-versa — and the confrontation between Yehudah and Yosef was just the playing out of the confrontation between Yehudah’s reality and G-d’s version of it.
It wouldn’t be too hard to make that leap, for, the Midrash does compare Yosef’s revelation to his brothers (soon to come) to the eventual revelation of G-d to the Jewish people, on the Day of Judgment. Then it becomes clear to Yehudah and the rest of his brothers that all that had transpired since they first sold Yosef into slavery (and really long before that) was to cause an eventual tikun (rectification) to himself, his family, the Jewish people, and the entire world!
If only he had known that all along. If only we could know that all along.
It is our job to make sure that our plans for our lives run in tandem with G-d’s plans for our lives, if not in detail at least in intention. Then, when the “vayigashes” of life occur to us, they will not seem abrupt or discomforting, but rather, expected and exciting. That goes for events troubling the Jewish people even today.
Along these lines, I saw in a sefer recently that, when (and if) the war of Gog and Magog ever takes place, some people will not survive it, but not because they will die in battle. Rather, it will be because the reality of such a Biblical event ever coming true will leave them in intellectual and emotional shock — like Yosef’s brothers who speechless, reeled backwards at the revelation of their long lost and previously ridiculed brother.
Surviving anything in G-d’s world is not a matter of being skeptical about Biblical realities or predictions. It is a matter of always asking one self: Who am I, what am I here to accomplish, and what would G-d say about me and my life. That is precisely the question G-d waits for to hear from us before sending us all the necessary clues and answers.
Yehudah approached and said, “My master …” (Bereishis 44:18)
Since we’re talking about the first posuk, there is a very interesting point brought out by the Gra on this verse, except this time by referring to the ta’amei hamikra — the notes according to which the words from the Torah are vocalized. For anyone who is not familiar with the various different notes, the following words may be foreign. However, the conclusion itself should be understandable by all, b”H.
According to tradition, the incantation notes for the first Hebrew words of the above verse are:
Kadma (1) v’Azla (2)
Munach (5) Segol (6)
— and the Gra offers an explanation why:
“Above in Parashas Mikeitz, it is written that Yehudah told his father Ya’akov, ‘If I don’t bring him (Binyomin) back to you and set him before you, then I will have sinned all my days.’ (Bereishis 43:9). It is found in the Midrash [that the words] ‘sinned all my days’ refer to the World-to-Come, and this is what is hinted to by the notes, Kadma, Azla, Revi’i:
Why [did Yehudah] precede (kadam) and go (azal) to Yosef, Yehudah being the fourth (revi’i) of the sons. Really, Reuvain should have taken the place and substituted for Binyomin, since he was the firstborn, and not Yehudah, who was the fourth born.
The explanation: Zarka, Munach, Segol:
Because he threw (zarak) himself from being among (m’lehunach) the treasured (segulah) nation, by cutting himself off from the World-to-Come if he didn’t bring back Binyomin to his father …
— which is why Yehudah, and not someone else, stood up as the replacement [for Binyomin].” (Kol Eliyahu, Vayigash 42)
I wrote up this d’var Torah because I thought it would be an interesting and somewhat unconventional approach to unraveling the strange events of these parshios. In fact, it is really quite impossible to understand and appreciate what is transpiring here without a lot of inside information, which, “coincidentally,” is what Chanukah is all about: “inside information” — or, “p’nimius” as it is called in more Kabbalistic circles.
(Just today I saw an important Ba’al HaTurim in last week’s parshah on 42:7, regarding Yosef’s unusually harsh treatment of his brothers: He (Yosef) wanted to greet them (his brothers) warmly, but the angel he found “straying” (42:15) came and reminded him (about what his brothers had done to him), and immediately he “recognized” them …)
However, the REAL reason why I chose to use this d’var Torah this week was to emphasize the extreme sensitivity of the minds of our rabbis to all the nuances of Torah, the revealed and the hidden. Furthermore, such remarkable insights are often the result of help from Heaven, something that we too can enjoy (on some level) if we hunger to know as much p’nimius of Torah as we can.
And finally, now we will all have something to wait and pay attention for this Shabbos while listening to the reading of the Torah.
I just want to point out something that has been mentioned before, and not just here in “Perceptions.” It was also Yehudah, in the end, who was also sent ahead of the rest to Goshen to prepare the place for settlement by Ya’akov and his family. Perhaps this was reward for his self-sacrifice, being prepared to even eliminate himself and his tribe from the Jewish people, should Binyomin not make it back to Ya’akov.
As has been pointed out before, the spelling of the word “Goshen,” the district in which the Jewish people were to settle in Egypt, in the Torah is spelled, “Goshnah”: gimmel, shin, nun, heh, the same letters on the dreidel that allude to the words, “A great miracle happened there.” That is, back in Eretz Yisroel from whence Yehudah just came.
Why the connection? Because, if we are not living in Eretz Yisroel as a NATION living according to Torah and with prophecy, then, Jewish survival is all about surviving exile. It is about withstanding the temptation to absorb and imitate the surrounding nations among which we may find ourselves at various points in history. Exile, as the Talmud teaches, is for us to influence the non-Jewish nations, not for them to influence us.
That, of course, has always been the message of the miracles of Chanukah. The Greeks were physical “purists,” but spiritually, the Midrash calls them “darkness.” This is why the symbol of the ongoing and spiritually-torturous battle between the Jews and the Greeks was the mitzvah of Bris Milah — circumcision — which, the Talmud says, was given with THIRTEEN covenants (Shabbos 132a).
Interestingly enough, if you take the gematria of the word “Goshnah” (358) and subtract “Moshe” (345) — who was born THIRTY-SIX years after the decrees against the Jews began, with the HIDDEN LIGHT of creation, and already CIRCUMCISED — then you arrive at the number THIRTEEN. Perhaps in the word Goshnah was an allusion to Jewish survival in spiritually decrepit Egypt?
Perhaps this is also why Yosef had all the Egyptians circumcise themselves in order to get food during the famine (Rashi, Bereishis 41:55), as if he tried to soften the spiritual blow on the Jewish people who would eventually descend down to Egypt. And, perhaps this is why Moshe was almost killed by G-d for not circumcising his own son on the way down to Egypt to save the Jewish people 209 years later (Shemos 4:24).
And, finally, perhaps, this is the reason why ALL Jews are named for Yehudah (Yehudi) — to remind us of just how far we, as a people, are expected to go to preserve our tradition and relationship with G-d.
Yisroel said, “It is enough that Yosef my son is still alive! I will go and see him before I die.” (Bereishis 45:28)
And so began the Egyptian exile. As much as Ya’akov’s journey to Egypt seems incidental, just a way to go and finally meet up with his long lost beloved son, it is not true: this was the point of the whole story, as Tosfos points out:
“[The selling of Yosef] caused our fathers to go down to Egypt: Even though without this, it was already decreed, as it says, ‘You will serve them, and they will afflict you …’ (Bereishis 15:13) …” (Tosfos, Shabbos 10b, q.v. Nisgalgel Hadavar …)
The Midrash says it even more directly:
… It also says the same thing with respect to Yosef … Rav Yudan said, “The Holy One, Blessed is He, wanted to carry out the decree of ‘Know that you shall surely be (strangers)’ and therefore set it up in such a way that Ya’akov would love Yosef and that the brothers would hate him and sell him to the Arabs, and that they would all go down to Egypt … ” (Tanchuma, Vayaishev 4)
There is also another source to bear that confirms the same idea:
It was fitting for Ya’akov Avinu to go down to Egypt in metal chains [Rashi: Like all those who go into exile, since it was decreed that they should go down there into exile.]; rather, his merit caused him [to go down in honor], as it says, “With human cords I draw them forward [Rashi: Because of the love of ‘Man,’ I drew them to Egypt with ‘ropes’ and not with chains], with lead-strings of love; and I was to them as those that lift off the yoke from their jaws, and I held food out for them.” (Hoshea 11:4). (Shabbos 89b)
There are many ideas to draw out from all of this, but I want to focus on only two here. First of all, one has to understand the story of Yosef and his brothers in this wider, more Divine Providential context, to appreciate all the “strange” nuances of the story. The midrashim are pointing out that there were “forces” (actually, only one Force) at work here that made certain uncomfortable results inevitable, to satisfy a higher purpose.
Secondly, there is the message of merits overpowering negative decrees. The Jewish people’s history, were it to be plotted on a graph, would look like a runaway E.C.G. chart with “mountains” and “valleys” all over the place. Jewish history is filled with “ups” and “downs,” and unfortunately, “downs,” and “downs.”
There is no Jewish family today that can’t trace its family tree back to some pogrom and major act of anti-Semitism along the way to the Twenty-First century. Thank G-d (and you really have to daily), we are living in a time of relative calm for the Jewish people. But history can change at any moment in time, at a moment’s notice, and we have to be ready.
“Being ready,” as we learn from Ya’akov Avinu, is using those peaceful times to earn merits in the eyes of G-d. It is not a time to be spiritually sluggish, but a time to be energized, and to maximize the opportunity to grow in Torah and mitzvos. You’ll never know, until the time comes, just how powerful a mitigator such merits can be in a pinch — be it a small one or, G-d, forbid, a major one.
When G-d will reign, nations will tremble — before Him who is enthroned upon Keruvim, the earth will quake. (Tehillim 99:1)
To which tribe did Moshe dedicate this awesome tehillah — the fifth of Kabbalos Shabbos? According to Ibn Yachya, it was the tribe of Dan that he had in mind, for, “Dan will have the opportunity to conquer them in G-d’s Name.” (Devarim 33:22)
When will this time come? According to the Sforno, when G-d brings all the nations of the world before Him on the Day of Judgment, as the Talmud speaks of in Avodah Zarah (2a). But, what role with the tribe of Dan play then?
Rashi, on the other hand, speaks of the immense war of Gog and Magog — the war of all historical wars, when G-d will take revenge against the nations that have persecuted the Jewish people. The Radak concurs with Rashi.
According to Kabbalah, the whole purpose of man’s existence in This World is to build a kingdom for G-d on Earth. G-d’s dominion is already well-established in Heaven, but still lacks the acceptance here on earth by man. It is the Jewish people’s responsibility to pave the way for His kingdom to be established on Earth, and, until G-d’s kingdom is complete on Earth as well, the Earth itself remains “unsettled.”
An analogy to this idea is in this week’s parshah, when Yosef tries to calm the fears of his brothers:
[Yosef told them,] “Now, don’t be sad, and don’t let it bother you that you sold me. Clearly G-d sent me before you to preserve life, because [of] these two years of famine in the midst of the land, and another five years during which there will be no plowing or harvesting. G-d sent me before you to make a [way] for you to remain in the land, and to assure that you survive.” (Bereishis 45:5-7)
So it has been with the Jewish people. We have been sent “ahead” to pave the way for the time of Moshiach, and to help the nations do what they must to merit survival. Either they can listen to us and follow our lead, or, they will have to deal with “Dan,” and the Divine retribution that he will spearhead. But, first-and-foremost, we must fulfill our mission, by making it clear to them what they must do, or else we may suffer a similar fate. G-d willing, we will rise to the occasion.
Have a great Shabbos,