Thursday, December 10, 2009
VaYeishev 5632 First Ma'amar
The first pasuk of the parsha seems to be extraneous. We know where Ya’akov lived. Last week’s parsha recounts his return to his father’s house in
. This week’s parsha recounts Yosef’s descent to Hebron . Why did the parsha not start from the second pasuk, אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב יוֹסֵף .../These are the generations of Ya’akov, Yosef …”, the beginning of the story? Egypt
A clear understanding of a Midrash that Rashi cites will give us the answer to this question. The well known Midrash at the beginning of this week’s parsha begins, “בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהַצַדִיקִים יוֹשְׁבִים בְּשַׁלְוָה וּמְבַקְשִׁים לֵישֵׁב בְּשַׁלְוָה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶה .../When the righteous are dwelling serenely, they ask to dwell in serenity in this world as well …” There seems to be redundancy in the wording of the Midrash. Would it not have been simpler to say, “The righteous ask to dwell in serenity in this world”? Why does the Midrash first say that the righteous are dwelling serenely and then afterward say that they ask to dwell in serenity in this world?
In order to understand this Midrash we need to understand what dwelling serenely means? The Sfas Emes explains that the righteous consider it their purpose, their reason for being, to draw holiness into this world. They want to be the conduit through which holiness descends from the spiritual into the physical. In order to do this, they must first work on themselves to minimize their own connection to the physical world. The righteous person who is not drawn by the desires of the natural world, is an appropriate conduit to relay holiness into the world, otherwise, his own pull to the physical world acts as a block.
Dwelling serenely, then, means reaching a state of minimal connection with the physical world. It is very serene indeed. On this level, the physical presents no barrier between the righteous person and God. On this level, he can be a perfect conduit. This is the goal of the righteous and this is what the Midrash means by, “they ask to dwell in serenity in the world as well.”
The parsha starts from, “וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב/Ya’akov dwelled” to teach us that Ya’akov was totally connected to his spiritual roots. וַיֵּשֶׁב/He dwelled, has the same root as repentance – תְּשׁוּבָה – and Shabbos – שַׁבָּת. The literal translation of תְּשׁוּבָה is return. When we repent we return to God, the highest spiritual level. The Sfas Emes explains elsewhere that Shabbos as well, means a state of Divine revelation. וַיֵּשֶׁב therefore implies that Ya’akov Avinu connected to his spiritual roots. In fact, Ya’akov Avinu was so successful at separating himself from the physical that he was completely beyond the natural world. Because of this, on his own, he was unable to act as a conduit to bring holiness into nature. He needed Yosef.
For this reason when the Torah begins to describe the generations of Ya’akov, it starts from Yosef, “אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב יוֹסֵף .../These are the generations of Ya’akov, Yosef …” The word תֹּלְדוֹת/generations, can be understood more loosely to mean any influence a person has on the world, not just offspring. The Sfas Emes understands it here to mean the holiness that Ya’akov wanted to bring into the natural world.
The Torah begins describing Ya’akov’s influence on the world by mentioning Yosef to teach us that the holiness of Ya’akov influenced the world through Yosef. Rashi notes this relationship between Ya’akov and Yosef. He writes that Yosef was the flame of Ya’akov’s fire. Fire without flame has little effect. However fire with a roaring flame can affect areas far from the original source of the fire. Ya’akov’s “fire” was able to spread far and wide only because of Yosef’s “flame”.
This is the reason, too, that, “... אֹתוֹ אָהַב ... מִכָּל־אֶחָיו ... [Ya’akov] loved [Yosef] more than all his brothers …” Only through Yosef did Ya’akov have a connection with the brothers and the world. Although the pasuk tells us that Yosef brought evil tales about his brothers to his father, he brought their good deeds to him as well. He was the conduit, the go between that enabled Ya’akov’s holiness to descend into and influence the material world. By the same token, he brings the positive actions of the nation of
Israel to Ya’akov who represents the highest level in a spiritual hierarchy[*] that affects the world.