Blog - Torah Insights

The Blessing of the Unexpected - ויחי


The Blessing of the Unexpected 

In the final pages of the book of Genesis, we read about the episode when Jacob placed his right hand (which represents the greater blessing), upon the head of Ephraim, Joseph's younger son, bypassing the elder brother Menashe, echoing a recurring theme of the book of Genesis: throughout the book, the younger son was chosen as the blessed and superior one. 

Regarding all the other instances, we can argue that there was a reason that the younger one was chosen, it was because of a negative choice or characteristic of the older one; regarding Menashe and Ephraim, by contrast, it is clear that Menashe was a righteous and virtuous person. The selection of Ephraim points to a general preference of the second over the first. 

The book of Genesis begins with the story of the creation of the natural order with all its beauty, precision, and consistency — the laws of nature are precise, consistent, and predictable. Very quickly, however, the book shifts its focus to the stories of individual people who, with the power of their free choice, defy their natural instincts and do the unexpected. It is unnatural to stand alone as Abraham and Sarah did, serve water to ten camels as Rebbeca did, or forgive your brothers as Joseph did. And that is also the reason why the first is consistently passed over. 

The first represents the natural impulse. The second represents the ability to offer another perspective, to deliberate, to choose. The lesson the Torah conveys is that true blessing comes from the ability to overcome instinct and do the unexpected. 

When we begin to read the scene of Jacob blessing Joseph's children, we think we know where the story is headed. Joseph sets up the science so that his firstborn Menashe will receive the superior blessing symbolized by the right hand: 

And Joseph took them both, Ephraim at his right, from Israel's left, and Manasseh at his left, from Israel's right, and he brought [them] near to him. 

But then the unexpected happens: 

But Israel stretched out his right hand and placed [it] on Ephraim's head, although he was the younger, and his left hand [he placed] on Manasseh's head. He guided his hands deliberately, for Manasseh was the firstborn.

The second one is chosen, because the second one represents the ability to do the unexpected. To defy the natural desire and express the gift and blessing of free choice. 

You Did Not Send Me Here - ויגש

You Did Not Send Me Here 

The brothers were startled. It turned out that the all-powerful viceroy of Egypt, who they were standing before, was their brother Joseph, who they sold as a slave to Egypt twenty-two years earlier. After many months of hiding his identity, Joseph could not hold back anymore and declared: "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" Understandably, "his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence."

Joseph then sought to reassure them, as the Torah describes: 

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me," and they drew closer. And he said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. (Genesis 45:4)

But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you. (45:5)

And now, you did not send me here, but God, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt. (45:8)

In each of these verses, Joseph says something different. In the first verse, Joseph tells them that they sold him into Egypt ("I am Your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt"). In the second verse, Joseph reiterates that they sold him; he, however, requests that they should not be sad or troubled because something good has emerged from his sale ("let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me"). The thirst verse, however, is the most surprising: Joseph tells them, "You did not send me here, but God". How could Joseph possibly say that they did not send him, which contradicts the facts of the story, as well as his very own statements earlier when he tells them that they sold him to Egypt?  

The word for "sent" implies that there is a purpose, intention, and reason. The Hebrew word "shalach", "sent", is the same word for "mission" or "emissary". Joseph told his brothers that, indeed, they sold him into Egypt, which is a factual statement, yet they did not "send" him to Egypt. They did not define the reason and the meaning of his stay in Egypt. "Only G-d sent me here", he tells them. The reason I am here is to fulfill the Divine plan to save the family as well as save and impact all of Egypt. 

Joseph's words are a lesson to each of us. There is meaning and purpose In any circumstance we find ourselves in. We have a Divine mission to infuse holiness and positivity wherever we may be. Yes, various people and experiences may have caused us to be in a specific space, yet that does not define the meaning of our experience. We were "sent" by G-d with a mission and purpose to bring life and spiritual sustenance to ourselves and our surroundings. 


How to Fulfill Your Dreams - מקץ

 How to Fulfill Your Dreams

One lesson from the story of Joseph is: if you want your dreams and hopes to be fulfilled, help the people around you achieve their hopes and dreams. If you want to achieve success, focus on helping the people you interact with be successful. 


Joseph dreamt that he would achieve leadership. We read in last week's Torah portion: 


And he said to them, "Listen now to this dream, which I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the midst of the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright, and behold, your sheaves encircled [it] and prostrated themselves to my sheaf." (Genesis 37:6-7)


Those dreams ultimately did materialize, but only after Joseph helped those around him interpret and fulfill the meaning of their own dreams. Last week it was the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and chief butler which Joseph interpreted. In this week's portion, Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream saving the entire Egypt from ruin and destruction and, in the process, amassing tremendous power and wealth for Pharaoh. 


Joseph is the only person in the five Books of Moses referred to as a successful person. When he was a servant in his master's home, the Torah states: 


The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 

And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and whatever he did the Lord made successful in his hand. (Genesis 39:2-3)


While the conventional understanding of these verses is that the Egyptian master saw that G-d was with Joseph and that "he" - meaning Joseph - was a successful man, the Kli Yakar offers an alternative reading. Joseph's success spilled over to the master and the household. The first verse states that G-d was with Joseph, and Joseph was a successful man. The second verse, however, refers to the Egyptian master: "And the Master saw that the Lord was with him", "him" referring to the master, "and whatever he did", "he" referring to the master, "the Lord made successful in his hand. 


Joseph knew the secret to success, and we should learn from him. If you want to be successful, help the people around you succeed. 



Chanukah: to "Light" or to "Place"?


Chanukah: to "Light" or to "Place"?

When discussing the Mitzvah to kindle the Chanukah lights, the Talmud seeks to define the precise definition of the commandment. The first opinion is: "lighting accomplishes the Mitzvah", meaning that the definition of the Mitzvah is the act of lighting. The second opinion is: "placing accomplishes the Mitzvah", meaning that the act of placing the candles in their proper place for the required amount of time (half an hour after sunset) is what defines Mitzva.

Multiple ramifications emerge from the query; here are two of them: 

(1) If the Chanukah candles were extinguished (before the required amount of time has passed), is a person required to relight them? If the commandment requires one to "place the candles", then he would have to relight the candles so the candles would be "placed" throughout the required time. If, however, the commandment is the act of lighting, it would not be necessary to relight the candles, for the essence of the Mitzvah, the act of lighting, has already been fulfilled. 

(2) if someone lit the candles in the incorrect place (not next to the door or window), and then moved the burning candles to the proper place, would he have to relight the candles? If the commandment is defined as "placing the candles", he would have fulfilled the commandment. If, however, the commandment is defined as "lighting the candles”, he would have to relight the candles in the correct place because the commandment, the igniting, must occur in the ordained place. 

After some discussion, the Talmud concludes that the defining point of the commandment is the act of lighting: 

From the fact that we recite the following blessing over the mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah light: Who has made us holy through His commandments and has commanded us to light the Chanukah light, the Gemara suggests: Conclude from this that lighting accomplishes the mitzvah, as it is over lighting that one recites the blessing. The Gemara concludes: Indeed, conclude from this.

On Chanukah, we celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. We celebrate the courage of the Jewish people who stood up to battle darkness. The Maccabees, who fought for religious freedom against the mighty Greek army, could not have known they would be victorious. The priests in the temple who lit the jug of oil on the first night could not have known that the miraculous would occur and the oil would burn for eight days. In a time of darkness, we don't necessarily see how our efforts will succeed in the face of the odds.

Nevertheless, the message of Chanukah is that regardless of the darkness of the night, we must do our part to ignite at least one candle. We must focus on illuminating our environment. We may or may not believe we have the power to achieve lasting transformation, yet we focus on what we can do. We focus on increasing light. 

After all, the defining point of the Mitzvah is not that the candle be "placed" - that we succeed in illuminating the darkness for the desired time. The Mitzvah is to light, to do our part. Doing so will, G-d willing, trigger and elicit miraculous blessing and success.    

Shabbat vs. Chanukah Candles


Shabbat vs. Chanukah Candles 

Considering that we light the Menorah on Chanukah to commemorate the miracle that occurred with the Menorah in the temple, it is interesting to note that there are profound differences between the candles of the Menorah in the temple and the candles of the Chanukah Menorah:

The temple candles were ignited: 

(1) inside the temple

(2) in the afternoon, when the sun was still shining

(3) seven candles were lit

(4) the same number of candles were lit every day. 

Whereas on Chanukah, 

(1) the original ordinance was to light the candles “outside, at the entrance of the house”

(2) the candles are lit “after sunset” 

(3) we light eight candles

(4) we increase the amount of light each night

There is one reason for all these differences.

The temple era represents a time of spiritual light and awareness. Therefore, at that time we focused on serving G-d in a state of figurative daytime, and we consistently served G-d with the number seven, which represents the full gamut of our natural abilities. Chanukah, on the other hand, was a time of triumph of light over spiritual darkness, thus we take the candles and illuminate the darkness outside. We must consistently increase our efforts and commitment  with devotion which extends beyond logic or reason, represented by the number eight, in order to fearlessly overcome any challenge. 

Shabbat candles are similar to the candles of the temple. Shabbat candles represent creating a holy environment in the home for our family. On Shabbat, we are in a state of wholesomeness and spiritual awareness. As we light the Shabbat candles we bring the spiritual light into our home and our home becomes a temple, a space of holiness and connection. 

By contrast, on Chanukah we seek to illuminate the world as a whole. We know that ultimately, we will succeed in our spiritual mission, the mission of the collective Jewish people throughout history, to illuminate the world and infuse it with goodness and kindness, transforming it into a temple, a home for G-d Himself.  


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