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Blog - Torah Insights

Why Joseph Framed Benjamin - מקץ

Why Joseph Framed Benjamin

The terrible famine brought ten of Jacob’s sons before the Viceroy of Egypt to purchase bread. The viceroy, who, unbeknownst to them, was their brother Joseph who they sold as a slave, accused them of being spies and demanded that they bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt. Before Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, he framed Benjamin by planting his silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag and charging  Benjamin with stealing. Judah stood up for Benjamin, requesting that Judah himself be punished instead of Benjamin. Joseph then revealed his identity to his brothers, and the extended family was reunited with Joseph and they all settled in Egypt.   

The conventional understanding is that the entire plot of Joseph and his brothers serves to explain how the Jewish people came to live in Egypt and how they eventually became enslaved to the Egyptians.The Kabbalistic reading is precisely the opposite. Every step that Joseph took was, in reality, paving the way not for the eventual enslavement but rather for the spiritual fortification of the Jews in exile, which would ultimately lead to the redemption.

From the mystical perspective, in order for their descendants to survive the harsh exile, the brothers of Joseph, who were the heads of the tribes of Israel, had to experience the oppression and accusations of the Egyptian monarch, who was, in truth, their brother in disguise. When the Jewish people, like their ancestors before them, would feel subjected to the Egyptian monarch, they would remember the story of Joseph and realize that there was a deeper reality in play. The hidden reality is one where the oppressive monarch, was their “brother”, who would ultimately bring benefit to them. The exile was a process that would refine them and lead them to great material and spiritual wealth.

In addition to physical subjection, exile also has a spiritual dimension. When we are in exile we are not in our natural environment. In exile we are living a life that is not consistent with our inner core. Our natural, inherent, awareness of G-d and connection to the spirituality of our inner soul is compromised, as our emotions and aspirations are directed exclusively to our physical survival.

Joseph empowered the Jewish people  to overcome the spiritual numbness that is exile.  

The Torah describes how Joseph had Benjamin framed:

Then he commanded the overseer of his house, saying, "Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man's money into the mouth of his sack.

And my goblet, the silver goblet, put into the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his purchase money." And he did according to Joseph's word, which he had spoken. (Genesis 44:1-2)

According to the mystics, the silver goblet represents passionate love and joy. The Hebrew word for silver (kesef) is the same word that means yearning and longing. The goblet contains wine which, as the verse says, brings joy to the heart of man.

Joseph’s planting the goblet in Benjamin’s sack empowers us to realize that hidden within us is a goblet that has the capacity to experience the love and joy which a relationship with G-d embodies. Joseph planted the goblet in the sack of Benjamin to remind us that we can dispel the darkness of exile by searching for the hidden reservoirs of positive emotions planted within us. When we discover the goblet and taste the wine, the spiritual exile dissolves paving the way for the physical redemption as well.

(Adapted from Or Hatorah Bireyshis 6, page 2206)

How to Climb Out of the Pit - וישב

How to Climb Out of the Pit 

If you happen to live on planet earth it is likely that occasionally you will feel trapped. You may feel something holding you back, keeping your spirits down and depleting your joy and passion for life. What is the secret to redemption, to escaping the confines and trappings of negativity?

In this week’s Torah portion we begin to read about the turbulent life of Joseph. We read of his going from being his father’s favored child, to being sold as a slave in Egypt. If that was not bad enough, he was then placed in prison on false charges. We read about how Joseph descended to the lowest state of society. In the coming weeks we read about the dramatic and abrupt reversal of his fortunes. Joseph was taken directly from prison to become the leader of Egypt.

What was the moment that triggered the redemption for Joseph? What was the turning point that ultimately led to Joseph’s freedom and ascent to power? 

With Joseph in prison were two of Pharaoh’s ministers. Each of them dreamed a mysterious dream on the same night and in the morning they were troubled by the dream. Joseph’s interaction with them is what ultimately brought salvation to Joseph (and by extension, to his family and to the entire Egyptian economy): 

And Joseph came to them in the morning, and he saw them and behold, they were troubled.

And he asked Pharaoh's chamberlains who were with him in the prison of his master's house, saying, "Why are your faces sad today?" (Genesis 40:6-7)

This seemingly simple question “why are your faces sad today?” is what led to Joseph’s redemption. If Joseph was indifferent to their mood, if he had not inquired about what was troubling them he would not have had the opportunity to interpret their dreams and subsequently he would not have been recommended  to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams which led him to royalty. 

What is remarkable about the exchange is that Joseph himself had all the reasons in the world to be sad and bitter. He was in prison based on false charges and there was no realistic hope for him to be freed. Yet Joseph was able to break free from the constant focus and concern for self. Joseph transcended his own perspective and was concerned for the wellbeing of others. And indeed, this internal liberation, eventually brought salvation to Joseph and ultimately  to his entire family.  

Each of us has two souls within ourselves, The natural soul, which is self oriented, and the G-dly soul, which seeks to transcend the confines of self and connect to G-d and to the Divine spark within each and every person. When we feel confined and limited by difficulties or internal shortcomings and challenges, when we sense that we need to free ourselves from negativity, we should follow Joseph's lead. The best path to redemption is tapping in to our G-dly soul, reaching out and connecting to others. For the liberation from the confines of focusing exclusively on the self, will ultimately unleash broader liberation, freeing us to reach our fullest potential. 

(Adapted from Sichos Kodesh, Miketz 5734)

Can you Really Have Everything? - וישלח

Can you Really Have Everything? 

After twenty years of separation the twin brothers were reunited. 

Upon hearing that Esau was traveling toward him with four hundred men, Jacob prepared for their meeting by preparing for war, praying, and sending large gifts of livestock to appease his brother. 

In one of the most emotionally charged scenes in the Torah, Jacob and Esau reunite and embrace. Esau tells Jacob that he does not need his gift while Jacob implores  Esau to accept it. As the Torah describes: 

But Esau said, "I have plenty, my brother; let what you have remain yours." 

Thereupon Jacob said, "Please no! If indeed I have found favor in your eyes, then you shall take my gift from my hand, because I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of an angel, and you have accepted me.

Now take my gift, which has been brought to you, for God has favored me [with it], and [because] I have everything." He prevailed upon him, and he took [it](Genesis 33:9-11)

Esau and Jacob seem to saying the same thing. They both have an abundance of possessions and they don’t need the gift of cattle. Yet upon careful analysis we discover a slight difference in the way the brothers describe their possessions. Esau says “I have plenty”, while Jacob says “I have everything”.  

Esau’s perspective is the perspective of the natural soul and is the reason that, so often, accumulating possessions does not lead to a feeling of joy. Esau says “I have plenty”, but having a lot does not mean that he does not want more. The Talmud says that human nature is such that “one who has one hundred wants two hundred, and one who has two hundred wants four hundred. Having a lot is no guarantee for happiness, in fact, it can actually make happiness more elusive because the more one has the greater is his appetite for more.  

By contrast, Jacob’s attitude toward his wealth is “I have everything”. Jacob does not need more. He has everything he needs to be able to live his life and fulfill his purpose with meaning. If he does not have something, than he is certain that that is not necessary for him to be able to achieve the purpose of his creation. As the Ethics of our Fathers teach: “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot”. Jacob is joyous because he has everything. 

There is a deeper dimension to Jacob’s statement. To understand this, we must first ask the question, how can Jacob state that he has everything? He can say that he has all he needs, but how can he say that he has everything if, in reality, he does not have everything? The Sfas Emes, the 19th century Chassidic commentary, explains that Jacob does indeed have everything, because Jacob is connected to G-d who is the source of all existence. When Jacob looks at a physical object he sees its soul, the divine spark which continuously brings it into existence. When Jacob connects to the soul of the object he is indeed connecting to the soul of all of the world. When he connects to the soul of a given object, by using it in a manner that is consistent with its inner purpose, he indeed has everything. For he is connected to the Divine source of all existence which permeates everything and encompasses  all of existence. 

 

Rachel or Leah, Serenity or Struggle - ויצא

Rachel or Leah, Serenity or Struggle  

Would you prefer a life of serenity and peace of mind, or a life of hardship, emotional crises and inner turmoil? 

When Jacob fled to Charan to escape his brother Esau, he arrived at the well. He saw Rachel, the daughter of his uncle Laban. It was  love at first sight. 

Laban had two daughters. As the Torah describes:

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

Leah's eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion. (Genesis 29:16:17). 

Jacob wanted to marry Rachel but he was tricked into marrying her sister Leah. While Jacob’s love for  Rachel was greater, Leah became the most important of his four wives. She bore six of his twelve sons, and while Rachel was buried on the side of the road on the way to Efrat, Leah was laid to rest together with Jacob in the cave of Machpelah. As Jacob commanded his children before his passing:

Bury me with my fathers, in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite… 

There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebecca, and there I buried Leah.

Rachel was beautiful. She was righteous and spirituality wholesome. Jacob, who the Torah describes as “an innocent man, dwelling in tents” was immediately drawn to Rachel’s purity and innocence. Leah, on the other hand, had a complex personality, she experienced inner tension and frustration and had to struggle  to live the life she desired and to achieve her spiritual goals.

The children of Rachel and Leah personified the character traits of their mothers. Rachel’s children, Joseph and Benjamin, were naturally righteous, while Leah’s children had to struggle with their moral integrity. They sold their brother as a slave, Judah went to Tamar, who he thought was a harlot. They were far from perfect. Yet Leah’s children learned to overcome their moral shortcomings, they learned to correct their mistakes and grow from the negative experiences. 

Jacob loved Rachel. Jacob was attracted to a woman who had inner peace and serenity. Yet it turns out that Leah, who triumphed over  hardships and challenges, became the matriarch who bore six of the twelve tribes, and who was buried with Jacob in his eternal resting place. 

We often yearn for “Rachel”, for a life filled with tranquility and inner beauty. The story of Jacob teaches us that we should embrace the “Leah” in our life. The challenges we face in our lives are opportunities for us to discover the deepest and most profound part of ourselves.  The true potential for growth lies in the experience of facing a challenge and persevering. 

Adapted from Lekutei Sichos Vayishlach, vol. 35 Sicha 3.

 

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