Food For the Soul
Differences in spiritual stature
What is our image of a spiritual person, a man or woman of G‑d? Torah teachings present us with a number of different possibilities. In our Parshah Miketz (Genesis 41:1–44:17) we learn about a highly interesting figure: Joseph.
Joseph and all his brothers are regarded by the Sages as having been highly spiritual men. The Torah records some of the conflicts and paradoxes in their lives. Nonetheless, each of them had sufficient spiritual power to found an entire tribe, a whole section of the Jewish people. In fact, Joseph founded two tribes: Ephraim and Menasseh.
The Sages point out an interesting distinction between Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was the creator and administrator of a vast system which centralized the food production of Egypt. By contrast, his brothers were shepherds, leading quite solitary lives pasturing their flock on the slopes of the ancient Canaanite countryside.
The Sages tell us this contrast indicates a difference in spiritual stature. For some people, an intimate relationship with G‑d can only be maintained in a quiet atmosphere, remote from the hurly-burly of daily life. The brothers, contemplative mystics, are in this category. But Joseph was on a higher level. He could maintain his bond with the Divine at the same time as playing a highly active role in a complex civilization.
For us in the 21st century, both examples are relevant. The contemplative style of the brothers relates to certain moments in the day, and Shabbat. The vigorous active style of Joseph provides the example of how we should be during the week, with every moment full, significant and effective — while at the same time, continuously, we maintain our awareness of and bond with G‑d.
By Dr. Tali Loewenthal
When to do the laundry?
Among the ways of honoring the Sabbath is wearing a clean garment. One’s Sabbath garments should not resemble one’s weekday clothes. A person who does not have a different garment for the Sabbath should allow his robe to hang low, so that his [Sabbath] clothing will not resemble the clothes he wears during the week. Ezra ordained that the people launder their clothes on Thursday as an expression of honor for the Sabbath. But not on Friday, so that they will have time to engage in other Sabbath preparations (Magen Avraham 242:3).
By Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (“Maimonides”); translated by Eliyahu Touger
Mind Over Matter
Joseph’s confinement was only physical, not spiritual. Even in jail, he retained, and was mindful of, his spiritual heritage-the teachings of his father. This heritage was his light with which he overcame the darkness of prison. It filled him with hope, joy and delight. The constraints of prison did not fetter him. It was but a temporary confinement, and immediately upon his release he rose to rule over all of Egypt.Thus, we must remember Joseph and the events of his life. We must realize that the very idea of confinement is alien to us, because Jewish life is essentially unrestricted. The present era of constraints is undoubtedly only temporary. It is merely a step toward the ultimate goal of illuminating the world, even in its present state of lowliness and galut (exile),with the light of Torah and mitzvot.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
From exile to royalty
When Joseph interpreted correctly the dreams of Pharaoh, he also solved the riddle of all his troubles to that point, for everything led progressively to his becoming the viceroy in Egypt. The Jewish people, too, are presently in the dungeon of a harsh and bitter galut (exile). For many years we have been bound and fettered by the shackles of the galut. We must realize, though, that just as Joseph went from confinement to rulership, so too our whole nation will speedily leave the prison of galut and simultaneously ascend to the status of royalty-“children of the King of all kings.” The mystery of the “dream of the galut” will be solved and explained at that point.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Who are you?
When I was younger my father often talked of the proverbial child who never got to school on time. If it wasn’t his pants, it was his hat. If it wasn’t his hat, it was his socks. If it wasn’t his clothing, it was his homework. There was always something missing and he was constantly scrambling to find it. One day the boy penned a list. “Pants and shirt are on the chair, shoes and socks are beside the bed, my homework is in the school bag and my bag is at the door.” After a moment he added, “And I am in bed.” The next morning he awoke to find everything exactly where the list indicated it would be, but he still came late to school. Try as he might, he could not find himself in bed. This proverbial child is us. We are on the constant lookout for gadgets that remind us where we are. A friend recently told me of a new cell phone with a GPS chip. “Now,” he proudly told me, “I can never get lost. My phone will always guide me back home.”
I caught myself reflecting on the first chat that G‑d had with man. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and G‑d descended to investigate. Hearing the celestial footsteps, Adam went into hiding. “Ayekah,” thundered G‑d. “Adam, where are you?” G‑d surely knew where Adam was, but he wanted Adam to know it too. Adam had sinned and G‑d called him on it. “You have only been alive for ten hours and you have already defied my will? What’s with you, asked G‑d? Where are you?”
This kind of question cannot be answered with a GPS signal. Because this is not so much a question of “Where are you,” but of, “Who are you?”
We live in an ambiguous age and we often find it difficult to identify our true selves. We must decide who and what we really are. At our very core, in our heart of hearts, at our point of quintessence, who are we? Am I a professional or a family member, a husband or a friend, a patriot or a Jew? What is my main role? What is in the forefront? What describes the true me?
We, in the Diaspora, live among host cultures that are larger and more dominant than our own. We often dress like them, act like them and talk like them. We often befriend them, join their social circles and identify with them. The question, “Ayekah?” echoes through the corridors of time. It pierces the veil of history. Its unceasing demand prompts us to take a stand. We need to prioritize between the many hats that we wear and choose from the many values that we juggle. What are my primary concerns? Are my secular studies more important than my Torah studies? Is acceptance in the right social circle more important than belonging to the Jewish nation? Is my commitment to my host nation greater than my commitment to Torah?
When Jacob’s sons sold their brother Joseph to the Egyptians, he was a young lad who looked and acted like a Jew. When they met him again twenty-two years later, they didn’t recognize him. He was a full grown adult and every bit the Egyptian prince. He dressed, behaved, talked and walked like a prodigy of Egyptian culture.
This wasn’t the young Jewish lad they had last seen at home. He may have been the same man, but he was not the same person. This wasn’t Joseph. This was an Egyptian prince. Little did they know that this was just a facade, that on the inside Joseph was a passionate, devout and utterly committed Jew. His dress belied his inner nature. His manner obscured his true identity. The brothers had no way of knowing this. To them he was an Egyptian.
Like Joseph, we too must ensure that our diaspora accouterments do not affect our Jewish identity. Our Jewish GPS signal must ring with clarity as we continually ask ourselves the timeless question, Ayeka? Are we keeping faith with the Jewish spark that we carry within?
From an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow