Friday, December 04, 2015
VaYeishev 5631 Third Ma'amar
The mission of the children of Israel was to recognize and clarify that there is a spiritual component to everything physical. Every physical thing has spiritual roots. The physical world exists only because its spiritual roots provide it with existential sustenance much as a tree could not exist without its roots which provide it with life-giving sustenance. Even though the physical world contains many, many disparate and sundry things, the entire physical world has a common spiritual denominator. This means, of course, that the world is not abandoned. Rather, God runs things here.
The Sfas Emes sees an allusion to this concept in Yosef’s first dream, “וְהִנֵּה אֲנַחְנוּ מְאַלְּמִים אֲלֻמִּים בְּתוֹך הַשָּׂדֶה .../And behold, we are binding sheaves in the middle of the field …” (Breishis 37:7) A field connotes an abandoned place. We find, for example, that the Torah calls Eisav a, “אִישׁ שָׂדֶה/man of the field” (Breishis 25:27). Chazal tell us that Eisav lived with abandonment, killing, having illicit relations and worshipping idols. This world seems to be “abandoned”. Like the field, it appears as if the world has an autonomous existence; that there is no one running the show.
A defining factor of nature and the material world is plurality. A defining factor of the spiritual is unity. Since the spiritual underlies the physical, the plurality of the physical is an illusion. In reality, there is unity in the physical as well. Binding the sheaves symbolizes this unity. This unity is the antithesis of abandonment. The unity underlying the physical world points to Divine Providence.
When we acknowledge that events are not happenstance, that the world is not “abandoned” but rather that there is Divine Providence, we can understand the Midrash on the next part of the dream, “... וְהִנֵּה קָמָה אֲלֻמָּתִי .../… and behold my sheaf arose …” (Breishis 37:7)
The word for sheaf – אֲלֻמָּתִי – has the same root as the word for mute – אִלֵם. The Midrash says that this is an allusion to Yosef’s mother Rachel who refused to speak up when Ya’akov sent gifts for her, and her father Lavan gave them to her sister Leah. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “My entire life I was raised among the sages and I haven’t found a better thing for the body than silence.” Why was Rachel silent? Why did she not stand up for herself? Rachel was silent, the Sfas Emes explains, because she was aware of the limits of her intelligence and abilities in the face of Divine Providence. She was quiet because she knew that there was nothing she could possibly do to change the Providence that decreed that Leah be married to Ya’akov. One can only imagine how difficult a test this must have been for her, but she succeeded in subordinating her own desire to Divine Providence.
If events constantly occur that are opposed to our desires. If our desires are constantly being thwarted, then it’s time to entertain the possibility that God is sending us a message. Since our intelligence and desires are of no value against Providence, and if they are aligned with Divine Providence, we cannot help but succeed, it is in our best interest to align our will with God’s.