Thursday, November 29, 2007

VaYeishev 5631 Second Ma'amar

The first half of our parsha recounts the story of Yosef and how his brothers sell him into slavery. The second half of the parsha relates Yosef’s trials and travails as a slave in Egypt. Between the two halves of the parsha, the Torah interjects a parenthetical and rather lengthy interlude, the story of Yehuda, how he leaves his brothers and his father’s house for many years. Why?

The Midrash lists several answers. One answer is that Yehuda understood that selling Yosef into slavery was not a good thing. He was concerned that God would exact punishment from the brothers. His advice therefore was for them to spread apart. His thinking was that God would exact punishment from them only if they were together. What is the meaning of this Midrash?

The key to understanding this Midrash lies in the different approaches Yosef and Yehuda took in serving God. The Chidushei HaRim explains. Yosef and Yehuda are archetypes of two different types of tzadikim. Yosef’s approach was to strive to separate completely from the mundane in order to be dedicated totally and only to God. Yosef saw the Godliness that gives life to everything physical. In fact, the Sfas Emes tells us that Yosef actually represents this hidden Godliness. The Torah calls him the most consecrated of his brothers – נְזִיר אֶחָיו (Breishis 49:26). Yosef believed that by reaching very high levels of holiness, we can affect the surrounding material world without actually having to go out to it.

Yehuda’s approach, on the other hand, was to bring holiness into the mundane. The Torah tells us, regarding Yehuda, “שְׁמַע ה' קוֹל יְהוּדָה וְאֶל-עַמּוֹ תְּבִיאֶנּוּ .../May God hear Yehuda’s voice and bring him to his people.” (Devarim 33:7) The Chiddushei HaRim understands this as an allusion to Yehuda bringing God to His people.

The Chidushei HaRim taught that we find this difference in approach in tzadikim in more recent times. There are tzadikim who strove to separate themselves from the world around them, who did not want many followers. This is Yosef’s approach. On the other hand, there are tzadikim who wanted to spread their teachings among as many as possible. Their work involved influencing as many people as possible even at the expense of lowering their own level of holiness. They bring holiness into the mundane. This is Yehuda’s approach.

With this understanding of the difference between Yehuda and Yosef, the Sfas Emes explains the Midrash. Yehuda understood that his and his brothers’ mission was to bring holiness into the material world. To accomplish this mission, they would need to be a part of the material world. For this reason he advised them to spread out into the world. Only by striving to achieve their mission would they be protected. The Torah relates that he followed his own advice.

The Sfas Emes continues this line of thought in another ma’amar. He explains that the difference in approach between Yosef and Yehuda is actually at the root of our exile. Yosef’s level is, of course, much higher than Yehuda’s. If we are on Yosef’s level, then we can bring holiness to the entire world without leaving our land and the Beis HaMikdash. This is the reason the prophet compares Yosef to the tongue of fire – לֶהָבָה – that will destroy Esav (Ovadia 1:18). The fire of the house of Ya’akov – בֵית-יַעֲקֹב אֵשׁ – is inadequate. Yosef’s level of holiness is necessary for the strength of Ya’akov to spread out. If we are not on a level to merit this, we are forced to spread out, ourselves, into the world to bring the holiness to each place. May Hashem gather in our exiles.

No comments: