Friday, December 16, 2011

VaYeishev 5633 First Ma'amar

The second pasuk of our parsha, "אלה תולדות יעקב יוסף בן שבע עשרה שנה היה רועה את אחיו בצאן .../These are the descendents of Ya'akov, Yosef was seventeen years old when he herded the sheep with his brothers …" (Breishis 37:2)  The words "אלה תולדות .../These are the descendents …", are usually followed by a list of descendents.  Here, however, these words are followed by the story of Yosef.  Why is this?

Chazal[1] teach us that Yaakov wondered how he would be able to persevere and conquer the generals of Eisav listed at the end of last week's parsha.  At the beginning of this week's parsha, the Torah hints at the answer.  Ya'akov would be able to cope with Eisav through Yosef.  This is alluded to in the pasuk, "והיה בית יעקב אש ובית יוסף להבה ובית עשו לקש ודלקו בהם ואכלום/The house of Ya'akov will be fire, the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav will be as straw; and they will ignite them and consume them …" (Ovadia 1:18)

Why does the pasuk compare Ya'akov to fire and Yosef to a flame?  Is there significance to this association beyond the simple metaphor?  The Sfas Emes teaches that there is.  Elsewhere, we find the Torah referred to as fire, "... כה דברי כאש נאום ה' .../… My word is like fire, declares God …" (Yirmiyahu 23:29

The pasuk in Ovadia is teaching us that Ya'akov Avinu is like the Torah.  He is the repository of Torah and has the spiritual power of Torah.  This is a very high level.  The Sfas Emes teaches us that Ya'akov Avinu was on a spiritual level that was beyond nature.  However, because he was on such a high level, he was not able to influence the physical world.  He was beyond the physical world.  The Torah too, is ephemeral.  It needs something to ground it in the physical world.  Just like fire needs to be fanned to spread, the Torah needs a flame as well.  This flame is represented by Yosef.  Yosef is the להבה/flame that will spread the Torah in the physical world.

What is this flame that will spread Torah?  The word להבה/flame has the same root as the word התלהבות/enthusiasm.  In order for us to internalize the fire of the Torah so that we can be influenced by it and use to influence others and the world around us, we need to approach it with enthusiasm.

Rashi[2] explains that the flame enables fire to control that which is far from its source.  The farther a person is from something the stronger his desire to come close to it.  When we are close to something, we do not have a strong desire to come close to it.  We are already there.  It is easy.  However, when we are far from something that we want, we have a strong desire to come close to it.  It is this strong enthusiasm, then, that enables the Torah to spread far and wide.  

This explains, "אלה תולדות יעקב יוסף .../These are the descendents of Ya'akov, Yosef …"  The word תולדות/descendents can be understood loosely to mean anything that comes from Ya'akov, not necessarily his progeny.  It can also mean Ya'akov's Torah.  We've already seen that Ya'akov himself represents the fire of Torah.  The pasuk can be understood then, to mean that Torah will spread only with the desire and enthusiasm represented by Yosef HaTzadik.

[1] Breishis R. 84:5
[2] Breishis 30:25, ד"ה כאשר

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