Food For the Soul
Joseph, My Son, Still Lives
This week’s parashah Vayigash relates how Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers and was reunited with them. It is stated in last week’s parashah that when the brothers had first come to Egypt and met with Joseph, “Joseph recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him.” Why did the brothers fail to recognize Joseph? The simple explanation is that many years had elapsed since they had last seen him. They had left him an unbearded young man, and now he was a fully-bearded adult.
Chassidism offers a different interpretation of the verse. The sons of Jacob had all chosen to be shepherds – a quiet and peaceful occupation. Out in the fields, tending their flocks, they had little contact with the social life of the country and were undisturbed in their service of G‑d, in their worship and study. The brothers of Joseph felt it necessary to select an occupation which would facilitate their leading a G-d-fearing life. They did not wish to live in an environment that would place temptations in their chosen path.
Joseph, however, was in this respect superior to them. He was able to occupy the highest administrative position in the mightiest nation of that era, and yet remain righteous. The brothers did not recognize and could not comprehend that the viceroy of Egypt could truly remain the same G‑d-fearing Joseph whom they had known, for such a way of life was above their level. In fact, not only the brothers but even Jacob, Joseph’s own father, when told that “Joseph yet lives and he rules over the entire land of Egypt,” was apprehensive lest his son, who had become the absolute ruler of the mighty Egyptian kingdom, was assimilated into Egyptian culture. It was cold comfort to Jacob that his long-lost son still lived – if he had, G-d forbids, adopted the Egyptian way of life. When his sons explained that Joseph had attained a new and higher level of righteousness and strength of character, Jacob experienced real joy. Only then was he truly satisfied that “Joseph, my son, (i.e. following my way of life) yet lives”– that although Joseph was viceroy of Egypt, he still conducted himself as befitted the son of Jacob.
Rabbi Itzhak Meir Kagan
Sanctification of the moon
Once a month, as the moon waxes in the sky, we recite a special blessing called Kiddush Levanah, “the sanctification of the moon,” praising the Creator for His wondrous work we call astronomy. Kiddush Levanah is recited after nightfall, usually on Saturday night. The blessing is concluded with songs and dancing because our nation is likened to the moon—as it waxes and wanes, so have we throughout history. When we bless the moon, we renew our trust that very soon, the light of G‑d’s presence will fill all the earth and our people will be redeemed from exile.
Visit Chabad.org for practices associated with the sanctification of the moon and Kabbalistic thoughts about the moon and the Jewish people.
Mind Over Matter
“G‑d said to Jacob: Do not fear descending to Egypt…” (Genesis 46:3)
The pain is real. The fear is not. The pain is real because we are not in our true place. Nothing is in its true place. It is called exile. Exile of the soul. The fear is not real—there is nothing to fear. Because no matter where we are, G-d is there with us. For He is everywhere. The only thing we have to fear is that we may no longer feel the pain. That we may imagine that this is our place after all. For it is that pain of knowing we are in the wrong place that lifts us higher, beyond this place.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
The Days and Years of Joseph’s Life
When Jacob met Pharaoh in Egypt, the king asked: “How many are the days of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh: “The days of the years of my wanderings are one hundred and thirty years; the days of the years of my life were few and bad…” (Vayigash 47:8-9).
How could Jacob say that “one hundred and thirty years” are but few when the average life span after the generation of the flood was one hundred and twenty years? Jacob was the third of the patriarchs and thus most intimately bound up with the third and eternal Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) to be built by Moshiach. All his life he yearned for the everlasting peace and tranquillity of the Messianic era. Thus, as long as the Messianic redemption did not happen, he regarded the years of his life as qualitatively few. His years were few and meagre because they did not contain that which is most important of all, namely the ultimate and complete redemption.
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Wandering Too Far?
What toll have the wanderings of the Jews taken on our national psyche? What consequences have there been to our spiritual and cultural identities as a result of centuries of globetrotting, usually out of urgent necessity rather than choice? Clearly, there must have been many dramatic and discernible effects. Today, in our own freely chosen migrations, it behooves us to learn the lessons of our history.
This week’s parshah tells the story of Joseph’s reunion with his family after some two decades of separation. Joseph is now viceroy of Egypt and sends for his father Jacob and the rest of the family, promising to support them all during the famine that was then gripping the region. Old father Jacob agrees to go down to Egypt but needs some Divine reassurance. G‑d provides such encouragement, telling Jacob to have no fear of descending to the land of the pharaohs.
Why was Jacob fearful and how were his anxieties allayed?
Commentaries offer a variety of answers. He was reluctant to leave the Holy Land and its special heavenly presence. Egypt was infamous as a morally depraved society. He was afraid of losing his children to an alien culture. He was already old and did not want to be buried in Egypt. Concerning all the above, G-d reassured Jacob. And so he goes down and the rest is history.
But there was something particularly significant that he did before leaving. He sent Judah to establish the first Jewish Day School for the children. Jacob took what he considered to be a vital precaution to prevent any assimilation in Egypt. How best could he guarantee Jewish continuity and the spiritual and moral protection of his grandchildren? There could be no better way, no more effective tool than Jewish education. And so Judah formed the advance guard on the way down to the challenging cultural melting pot of Egypt.
How many of our grandparents declined invitations to leave Eastern Europe in the last century because America was a treifene medina (let me be kind and translate that as”an unkosher country”)?A great many, I can tell you. My own zayde, Reb Yochonon Gordon, of blessed memory, refused to consider moving to the United States back in the 1930s, even though he already had three brothers there practicing as shochtim (ritual slaughterers) in New York. It wasn’t until the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe promised him that his children would remain faithful to the Torah and the chassidic way of life, and would even study in the Rebbe’s yeshiva (a fanciful daydream at the time), that he agreed to put in his immigration papers. Thankfully, the dream was fulfilled when the Rebbe came to New York in 1940 and immediately founded a yeshiva where my uncles were among the first students.
Sadly, we know of too many children of pious European parents whose children did not fare well Jewishly in America. As religiously committed as their parents may have been, young people born and/or raised in the America of the early- to mid-20th century were all too often swept away by the dominant culture of the great melting pot. They were quickly Americanized and in the process jettisoned their parental values to embrace the popular culture of a tantalizing new world. It was the exceptional parent who was able to offer any meaningful resistance to this powerful societal trend. Few were creative enough to successfully communicate old-world values in the context of the new social order.
Socially, professionally and economically, those young people did very well indeed, and in one generation became educated and successful though their parents were illiterate immigrants. But Jewishly? Not too many managed the transition that well. Those who remained faithful to their forefathers’ way of life were generally those whose parents worried enough to do something about it. Who survived Jewishly in the end? Only those whose parents ensured a meaningful Jewish upbringing for their children, both in school and at home. It wasn’t easy but there were the moral heroes and heroines who stood out at the risk of ridicule by the majority.
Jacob worried in Egypt, my grandfather worried in Europe and we need to worry today. Because history has shown that unless we are concerned enough to translate our anxieties into action, the children of Israel may become enchanted and mesmerized by prevailing civilizations. May we all have the strength to put work into the aspirations we have for our children and may we enjoy yiddishe nachasnow and always.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman