Food For the Soul
What the soul yearns for
In the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi defines the soul as a flame that seeks to depart from its wick and kiss the heavens. “The soul,” he writes, “constitutes the quest in man to transcend the parameters of his (or her) ego and become absorbed in the source of all existence.” The soul, in other words, is that dimension of our psyche that needs not self-aggrandizement, dominance or excessive materialism. It despises politics, manipulation and dishonesty. It is repulsed by unethical behavior and by false facades.
What are its aspirations? The soul harbors a single yearning: to melt away in the all-pervading truth of G‑d.
Yet, how many of us are even aware of the existence of such a dimension in our personality? How many of us pay heed to the needs of our soul? In response to the soul’s never ending dreams and yearnings that confuse our ego-based schedules and disturb our cravings for instant gratification, we so often take the “Joseph” within us and plunge it into a pit. We attempt to relegate its dreams and passions to the subconscious cellars of our psyche.
When that does not work, because we can still hear its silent pleas, we sell our “Joseph” as a slave to foreigners, allowing our souls to become subjugated to forces and drives that are alien to its very identity. Yet, in each of our lives the moment arrives when our inner “Joseph,” which was forced to conceal its truth for so many years, breaks down and reveals to us its identity. At that moment, we come to discover the sheer beauty and depth of our soul, and our hearts are filled with shame.
In the Parsha Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27) the humiliation that Joseph’s brothers experienced when Joseph revealed himself to them did not stem from the fact that he rebuked them for their selling him into slavery. Joseph’s mere appearance to them constituted the most powerful rebuke: For the first time they realized who it was that they subjected to such horrific abuse and their hearts melted away in shame.
Similarly, when the day will come and we will realize the G‑dly and spiritual sacredness of our own personalities, we will be utterly astounded. We will ask ourselves again and again, how did we allow ourselves to cast such a beautiful and innocent soul into a dark and gloomy pit?
From an article by Rabbie Yosef Y. Jacobson
Why are Shabbat candles lit 18 minutes before Shabbat?
Strictly speaking, Shabbat begins at sundown, and from that time on it is forbidden to perform certain activities (including lighting Shabbat candles). However, based on the language the Torah employs regarding Yom Kippur, the sages of the Talmud learned that there is actually a mitzvah to add a few minutes to the Shabbat, both before it starts and after it ends. This is called tosefet Shabbat, “adding time on to Shabbat.” According to most, this is biblically mandated. Not only does bringing in Shabbat early ensure that we will not accidentally miss the start time and perform forbidden work on Shabbat, it also demonstrates our affection for the Shabbat.
From an article by Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin
Mind Over Matter
Staying human despite hardship
Joseph had every reason to be hardened. His youth was most traumatic, filled with pain and suffering. From being despised by his brothers, sold into captivity, the center of a national scandal, spending years in prison, his was not the journey of a normal child. Notwithstanding his difficult past, his emotional disposition proved that he was still in touch with his human side. This is what made him appeal to his people. It is time to re-evaluate and redefine the meaning of leadership. The world needs true leaders today more than ever. Proper ones. Like Joseph the Prince of Egypt.
From an article by Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson
“. . . fear not to go down to Egypt . . . I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.” –Vayigash 46:3-4
Jacob was not sent to the galut (exile) on his own: the Almighty descended with him and guarded him there. Our patriarch Jacob possessed an all-comprehensive soul which compounded the souls of all Jews. “Jacob” thus stands for every single Jew, and his descent to Egypt alludes to Israel’s descent into galut, including the present galut. The Almighty is with us, as it is said, “Wherever they were exiled, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is with them” (Megilah 29a). Moreover, “In all their affliction, He is afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). He Himself suffers their affliction, as it were. Thus, just as Israel is unable to bear the affliction of the galut, so, too, as it were, with the Almighty. Surely, then, He shall hasten the redemption, for as we leave the galut so will He, as stated in our text, “I will also bring you up again.”
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Bread according to the young
“Why do my kids ruin everything?”
Okay, I confess: I’ve emitted that exasperated cry at least once or twice. Maybe even once a week. Like the time my two-year-old dumped all her toys in the toilet and flushed. Or the time my very tech-savvy ten-year-old figured out the password to my laptop and somehow deleted my entire hard drive. Or all the times they’ve emptied my drawers, my refrigerator, my closets, my shelves, and created glorious messes. Need I go on? But in the midst of the chaos and aggravation, there is a little phrase I hold on to that helps me keep my sanity. “Bread according to the young.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, we read of Joseph generously supporting his brothers and their families during a famine, after they settled in Egypt: “And Joseph sustained his father and his brothers and his father’s entire household [with] bread according to the young children.” Rashi interprets the words “bread according to the young” to mean that Joseph provided enough to meet the needs of every family member.
The Midrash explains that Joseph actually provided more than their needs, because children naturally “crumble up more than they eat.” In other words, it’s part of the package. Children will crumble up their food. They will make messes. They will waste half of whatever you give them. They will get into your things and wreck them. That wastage has to be factored into the family budget.
Joseph provided for his siblings in such an exemplary fashion that we ask G‑d Himself to take note: “O Shepherd of Israel, hearken, He Who leads Joseph like a flock of sheep.”4 On this verse, Rashi comments, “All Israel are called by the name Joseph because he sustained and supported them in time of famine.” The Midrash interprets the verse as a plea to G‑d, to “lead us as Joseph led his sheep”:
Joseph saved during the years of plenty for the years of hunger; so, too, save for us from this world for the world to come. Joseph provided for his brothers according to their deeds, as it says, “bread according to the young”; so, too, provide for us according to our deeds. Rabbi Menachem said in the name of Rabbi Avin: “Joseph’s brothers dealt him evil and he repaid them with good; we, too, have dealt You evil but [ask that You] repay us with good.”
By providing for his brothers in Egypt, Joseph granted them more than their survival during the years of hunger. He bequeathed to his brothers and all their descendants the strength to show forbearance, to repay evil with good, to overlook flaws and forgive mistakes.
And just as Joseph dealt with his brothers, so do we want G‑d to deal with us.
We are G‑d’s children and He generously provides us with all our needs, material and spiritual. But we are children and we don’t appreciate half of what we are given. We squander G‑d’s gifts; we mess up. Even when we do mitzvahs, we don’t fully grasp their value. We do them when our mind is elsewhere, we do them with ulterior motives. Of the Torah that we do study, we only remember and internalize a small fraction.6 Yet G‑d graciously gives us again, and yet again, “bread according to the young.” As Joseph did for his brothers.
G‑d knows that our essential desire is to be close to Him and to fulfill His will. Although in our spiritual immaturity our actions may not always reflect this inner will, we ask G‑d to “provide for us according to our deeds”—to take into account the true spiritual value of our mitzvahs, even when our thoughts and intentions are less than perfect. We ask Him to overlook our imperfections, forgive our messes, and focus on our inner worth—just as Joseph did for his brothers.
From an article by Chana Weisberg