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Feminine Redemption - ויגש


Feminine Redemption 


The family of Jacob was heading toward the land of Egypt, a journey that would eventually lead to the slavery which had been foretold to Abraham. As they were entering Egypt, a child was born that symbolized the ability to persevere through exile and ultimately transform it. 


When Jacob and his family travel to Egypt, the Torah tells us that they numbered seventy souls:  


All the souls coming to Egypt with Jacob, those descended from him, excluding the wives of Jacob's sons, all the souls were sixty six. And Joseph's sons, who were born to him in Egypt, two souls; all the souls of the house of Jacob who came to Egypt were seventy. (Genesis 46:26-27)


The problem, however, is that when we run the numbers, we see only sixty-nine, not seventy, names. Rashi addresses this discrepancy by explaining that both are true; sixty-nine people traveled to Egypt, but seventy arrived in Egypt because at the city's walls, a baby was born who completed the number seventy. The baby was Yocheved, who later became the mother of Moses. As Rashi explains: 


This [missing one] is Jochebed, who was born between the walls when they entered the city, as it is said: "whom she bore to Levi in Egypt". Her birth was in Egypt, but her conception was not in Egypt. (Rashi, Genesis 46:15)


Yocheved, born at the gates of Egypt, symbolized the unique ability to be in Egypt but not be from Egypt, to live within the spiritual darkness of Egypt yet to remain connected to the light and inspiration of the holy land. The Kabbalists explain that she embodied the feminine Divine attribute of Malchut, sovereignty, which descends from the spiritual world of "emanation", where G-d is the only reality, to the three lower worlds of "creation", "formation", and "action", where G-d's vitalizing energy is concealed. The energy of Malchut is present within creation but yearns for, and occasionally ascends to, its source in the world of unity. 


This feature of the feminine attribute, the ability to bridge two worlds and perspectives, ultimately led to redemption. 


In Kabbalistic thought, Masculine energy represents the ability to conquer and dominate. The masculine energy seeks to undermine and destroy its challenger and opponent. The feminine energy, by contrast, seeks not to dominate but to cultivate. Where the masculine energy seeks to highlight the superiority of the spiritual over the physical, of holiness over the mundane, the feminine energy demonstrates how the created mundane reality itself can be cultivated and refined to become a vessel for holiness. While the masculine energy would seek to break Egypt, the purpose of the exile would ultimately be fulfilled through the feminine perspective, that Egypt should not be destroyed but should come to recognize that "I am the L-rd in the midst of the land". 


In Biblical Hebrew, numbers can take either masculine or feminine form. When the Torah describes the sixty-six souls that descendent to Egypt (excluding Joseph and his sons and Yocheved), the Torah defies the laws of grammar and writes the number sixty-six in the feminine (Shisim Vashesh, in the feminine, as opposed to Shisim Vishisah in the masculine), to highlight that for the Jewish people to achieve the purpose of exile, they would have to cultivate within themselves the feminine energy as exemplified by the young Yocheved.  


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 20 Vayigash 2


Joseph and Self Esteem - מקץ


Joseph and Self Esteem

No other character in the Torah experiences extreme circumstance changes, as does Joseph. He starts as the cornerstone of his home, his father's favorite son, and abruptly descends to become a slave in Egypt. If that were not enough, he is slandered by his master's wife and is imprisoned. Just as abruptly, he ascends from the lowest position in society to become the leader of Egypt, as Pharaoh told him: "besides you, no one may lift his hand or his foot in the entire land of Egypt."

What is Joseph's secret to success, remaining upbeat and loyal to his ethics, beliefs, and inner character, despite the dramatic and changing circumstances? What was the secret of his ability not only to preserve his own identity but to affect the people around him in a positive way? 

Our culture values people based on external criteria, such as physical appearance, material possessions, or professional success. Defining ourselves by these criteria, however, is never a route to healthy and enduring self-esteem and could potentially be psychologically dangerous because our circumstances and achievements are not permanent. The healthiest and most durable way of creating lasting self-esteem is by connecting to our spiritual soul, the spark of G-d within, whose value is infinite and unconditional. When we live this way, no one can diminish our self-esteem, and we experience a great sense of freedom. There is no need for validation from others. When we connect to the spiritual side of ourselves, we recognize that our value is infinite and unconditional. 

Back to Joseph.

When Joseph was rushed from prison to meet Pharaoh, the Torah states: 

So Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they rushed him from the dungeon, and he shaved and changed his clothes, and he [then] came to Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:14)

The deeper meaning of "changed his clothes" is that the circumstances of slavery and prison were "garments", they were external to his essence. Joseph did not allow those "garments" to define him. The same was true about his successes. His success in the eyes of the Egyptians was not what defined him. Joseph self-defined as someone with a Divine soul, a conduit to the Divine plan, to bring salvation, comfort, and holiness wherever he was, regardless if he was imprisoned or on the throne of Egypt.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 35 Mikeitz Sicha 1

Was She a Villain? - וישב


Was She a Villain?

Joseph experienced a dramatic downfall. 

This week's Torah portion begins with the description of Joseph as his father's favored son, and concludes with Joseph in prison after his brothers sold him as a slave. 

Indeed a dramatic downfall. 

One of the characters in the story who advances the plot is Potifar's wife, who, after failing to seduce Joseph, causes his imprisonment. The Torah describes the story in great detail: 

Now it came to pass after these events that his master's wife lifted up her eyes to Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me."...

Now it came about when she spoke to Joseph day in and day out, that he did not obey her, to lie beside her [and] to be with her. And it came about on a certain day, that he came to the house to do his work, and none of the people of the house were there in the house. So she grabbed him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me!" But he left his garment in her hand and fled and went outside. So she left his garment beside her, until his master came home. And she told him the same thing, saying, "The Hebrew slave that you brought to us came to me to mock me. Genesis 39:7, 10-17)

It would be natural to view Potifar's wife as a villain, yet, surprisingly, the sages explain that her motivation was holy ("for the sake of heaven"). As the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, explains: 

Scripture juxtaposes the incident of Potiphar's wife with the incident of Tamar, to tell you that just as that one [Tamar] meant for the sake of heaven, so too this one [Potiphar's wife] meant for the sake of heaven. For she saw through her astrology that she was destined to raise children from him (Joseph), but she did not know whether [they would be] from her or from her daughter {Indeed, later in the story, Joseph married her daughter}. 

While the perspective that Potifar's wife had a holy intention may seem radical, it captures the essence of the story of Joseph and replays itself in each of our lives. The Mystics explain that the source of all unholy energy and phenomenon is rooted in holiness, the source of all existence. At the core of unholiness lies its concealed spark, whose intention is not to destroy holiness but to challenge the person to grow and intensify his connection to holiness due to the challenge. 

Indeed, every obstacle and challenge in Joseph's path was, in reality, a pedestal that would ultimately allow him to ascend to the most incredible heights. The same is true in our life. When we cultivate the awareness that at the core of our challenge or opponent is a concealed Divine spark; that in reality, there is no experience separate from G-d, the challenge becomes the fuel of commitment, dedication and spiritual growth. 

Recognizing the Divine spark in every experience will help reveal that Divine purpose and allow us to see how the challenge is transformed into positivity. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Vayeshev volume 1 

The Two Columns - וישלח


The Two Columns 


When Jacob, the third Patriarch, prepared to meet his brother Esau, he divided his family and the people with him into two camps. 


Jacob became very frightened and was distressed; so he divided the people who were with him and the flocks and the cattle and the camels into two camps.

And he said, "If Esau comes to one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp will escape." (Genesis 32:89)


Esau represents the world of "chaos", whereas Jacob embodies the "world of order". Before the world as we know it was created, G-d emanated ten intense energies; each was too intense to compromise and interconnect with the others. As a result, the energies clashed and were shattered. Then, G-d emanated the powers of order, whose energy was dimmed and thus able to interact with a different energy to become the building blocks of creation. 


Jacob was the third Patriarch, for he embodied the "middle column", which exists specifically in the world of order, that can synthesize the two extreme "columns", the kindness and love of his grandfather Abraham with the discipline and awe of his father, Isaac. Yet, in preparation to meet his brother Esau, a product and embodiment of the intensity of the world of chaos, Jacob divided his camp in two, because he understood that it was his responsibility not to ignore or destroy but rather to elevate and channel the chaotic energy. To align his camp with the chaotic energy, Jacob divided his camp in two, for the number two represents the two extremes that cannot interact with each other. The meeting of Jacob and Esau represents the fusion of the intensity and passion of chaos with the focused application of order. 


The Torah teaches us, the descendants of Jacob, how to balance order and chaos. Each morning we dedicate time to pray, to awaken the chaotic desire to "run", to escape the confines of life, and cleave to G-d. Yet that feeling is followed by the commitment to "return", channeling that desire for transcendence and applying it within the framework and limitation of daily life. 


Adapted from Torah Ohr Vayishlach 



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