Sunday, 8 January 2012



By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

Torah Reading: SHEMOS Exodus 1:1-6:1; Haftara: Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23 (Sephardi ritual: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3).


With the beginning of the book of SHEMOS, "Exodus", Israel enters the world stage as a people. Pharaoh himself, their oppressor, recognizes them as "the PEOPLE of the Children of Israel, many and mighty." (Ex. 1:9). Their servitude in Egypt is in fulfillment of the promise given to their founding father, Abraham: "Surely KNOW that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs and they will serve them and they will oppress them. And also the people that they will serve I will judge, and afterwards they will go forth with great wealth" (Gen. 15:13-14).

The Exodus of the People of Israel from Egypt is the pivotal event in the history of mankind, paradigm of all true freedom and liberation, the eternal proof that G-d is not only the Creator of the natural world but also directs and controls all aspects of human affairs with HASHGACHAH PRATIS - "providence in every detail" - for good.

For the sake of G-d's self-revelation to the world, it is not sufficient that He should be known privately to a select few. The climax of G-d's revelation is when "the earth will be full of the KNOWLEDGE of G-d like the waters cover the seas" (Isaiah 11:9). Even those who are turned away from G-d, even those who resist knowing Him, must be forced to admit -- even against their will -- that G-d is King of the whole world.

Thus when Moses first calls on Pharaoh in the name of G-d to release His People, "...and Pharaoh said, 'Who is HaShem that I should listen to His voice. I do not KNOW HaShem." (Ex. 5:2). But in the end Pharaoh himself was forced to send them away: "Go, serve HaShem as YOU said" (12:31); "And Egypt said, let me flee from Israel, for HaShem is fighting for them against Egypt" (14:25).

In Egypt the Children of Israel, G-d's emissaries, were in an upside-down world. "There is an evil that I have seen beneath the sun like a mistake that went forth from before the Ruler: folly is put in many high places while the wealthy [=Israel, Rashi] sit in the low place. I have seen slaves on horses while princes walk like slaves on the ground" (Koheles 10:5-7). Noah cursed the nations of Ham to be "a servant of servants to his brothers" (Gen. 10:25). But now Ham's second-born, MITZRAIM (Gen. 10:6) -- Egypt -- were lording it over the choicest of the line of Shem. It looked as though Pharaoh was the "first-born". G-d's revelation to the world depended upon showing that "My son, My first-born is Israel" (Ex. 4:22). Even the Egyptians saw this when G-d smote all their first-born while saving all the Israelite first-born.

Even the Egyptians had to come to KNOW. Even Jethro -- who tried every religion in the world -- had to admit in the end: "Now I KNOW that HaShem is greater than all the gods." (Ex. 18:11). More than anyone, the Israelites -- who in slavery fell into the false consciousness imposed on them by their oppressors -- had to learn the lesson on their own flesh. The Exodus from Egypt is the pivotal event in the history of the People of Israel, the very brith of the nation. The climax was to come at Mount Sinai, when the entire nation, together and in unity, witnessed G-d's revelation. The revelation at Sinai was a "mass conversion": the Rabbis point out that the three acts associated with conversion -- circumcision, immersion in the Mikveh [the Torah root of "baptism"] and [in Temple times,] a sacrificial offering, were all observed at Sinai.

After introducing us to the "upside-down" world of Egypt in the first chapter of Exodus, our parshah of SHEMOS immediately moves to the concepts of revelation and conversion. When Moses was born, "the whole house was filled with light" (Rashi on Ex. 2:2 "and she saw him THAT HE WAS GOOD" corresponding to "and G-d saw the light THAT IT WAS GOOD" Gen. 1:4). Immediately afterwards, "And Pharaoh's daughter went down to wash by the river" -- "she changed her religion and went to convert" (Baal HaTurim ibid.) In the merit of Batya's compassion for the baby Moses and her act of saving him, she was worthy of being one of the greatest ever converts. Batya's predecessor, Hagar, daughter of the Pharaoh of Abraham's days and mother of Ishmael, "went astray" (Gen. 21:14). But Batya married into the princely tribe of Judah (Sanhedrin 19b on Chronicles I, 4:18). The other prominent convert introduced in our parshah is Jethro.

* * *


In the upside-down world of Egypt it looks as though not G-d is running the world but Pharaoh. As discussed in the commentaries on Genesis, PhaRaOh is the embodiment of the OrePh, the "back of the neck" of the Creation as opposed to its inner face. Pharaoh is the epitome of worldly power and control, "the great crocodile squatting in his rivers who says 'the river is mine and I made myself' " (Ezekiel 29:3, Haftarah of next week's parshah when not Rosh Chodesh).

Pharaoh "does not know" HaShem: he resists knowing. Thus MITRAYIM is related to the root MEITZAR, the "narrow strait", a place of constriction. In kabbalistic literature, Pharaoh is called "the constriction of the throat" (MEITZAR HAGARON). Through the neck run three narrow channels that are vital to survival: the windpipe, the gullet and the jugular veins (corresponding to Pharaoh's three "officers", the Butler, the Baker and the Captain of the Guard). Life depends upon the free flow of gases, fluids and solids through these channels from the head down into the body, while all our functioning is governed through the most heavily protected channel of all: the spinal column, which extends down from the brainstem into the body via the neck.

The book of Genesis is the "head" of the Torah: BEREISHIS, "at the head". The first word and first verse of Genesis contain the entire creation "in a nutshell" (King Solomon's "garden of nuts"). The first book of the Torah is the head and brain in the sense that it introduces us to all the fundamentals of true religion. The rest of the Torah is the "body". Exodus is the "arms" ("for with a mighty HAND G-d took you out of Egypt" Ex. 13:9). Leviticus is the middle and heart of the Torah: "You shall be holy, for I HaShem your G-d am holy" -- "and love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus ch. 19 v. 2 and v. 18). The Book of Numbers is the "legs": the Children of Israel are on the move through the wilderness -- "these are the journeys of the Children of Israel" (Numbers 33:1). Finally Deuteronomy is the "feet" -- Malchus, the lowest level: "the END of the matter, when all has been heard: fear G-d and observe His commandments, for that is the Whole Man" (Koheles 12:13).

With the opening of the book of Exodus, we are at the beginning of the transition from "the head", Genesis, to the "body", the rest of the Torah. We are at the "neck". This is why we must now encounter Pharaoh, the "back of the neck" -- the real Pharaoh, no longer Joseph's "friendly" patron but a wicked tyrant who, to perpetuate his own rule, is hell-bent on keeping the world from KNOWING G-D.

Pharaoh's scheme is to constrict the passage of DAAS from the head and brain down into the body. Whereas the nervous system connects the body with the brain, bringing sensation, awareness and consciousness to all parts, Pharaoh's officers work to constrict the flow of awareness. The Butler and the Baker make us want to eat and involve ourselves in the material world, but our material involvements, although vital for our survival, often tend to distract and separate us from the life of the spirit. We fall into false consciousness, and the battle for physical survival and material gratification becomes paramount. We spend our lives building "store cities for Pharaoh" (Ex. 1:11).

The role of Moses is to bring DAAS, spiritual knowledge and awareness from the "head" down into the "body". It is not enough to know that there is a G-d in our minds. We have to bring that knowledge down into our actual lives and daily activities. "And you shall KNOW TODAY and BRING DOWN INTO YOUR HEART that HaShem is G-d in the heaven above and on the earth below, there is none other" (Deut. 4:39).

* * *


Adam was created for the highest mission, to "fill the earth and conquer it and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and every living being swarming on the earth" (Gen. 1:28). But Adam fell from his mission, and instead of "tending and guarding" the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15), he was driven out to become slave to the earth: "With the sweat of your brow you will eat bread." (Gen. 3:19).

The only way for the Children of Adam to escape this servitude is through the Shabbos, which each week releases man from slavery to the material world and the battle for survival, lifting him above it to the world of DAAS, the knowledge and awareness of G-d.

Thus when Moses first went into Pharaoh, his initial request was that the Children of Israel should have a holiday from their slavery: "Let us please go for a journey of three days into the wilderness, and there we will sacrifice to HaShem our G-d" (Ex. 5:3).

Pharaoh's immediate reaction was to resist the idea: "Why are you disturbing the people from their labors, go back to your tasks. You are causing them to cease from their tasks" (Ex. 5:5). The Hebrew for "you are disturbing" is taPhRiyOO, containing the word PHARAOH -- as if Moses and Aaron are the tyrants. The Hebrew for "You are causing them to cease" is ve-hiSHBATem, containing the word SHABBOS. Pharaoh's scheme for preventing DAAS spreading from the head, Moses, to the Children of Israel, the body, was to make the Children of Israel so busy with this-worldliness that they would not have TIME to be aware of G-d. And indeed the Children of Israel became so wearied by their intensified servitude on the threshold of redemption that "they did not listen to Moses because of shortness of spirit and hard work" (Gen. 6:9).

Moses had to legislate the Shabbos because there is a wicked force in man -- Pharaoh -- that will not allow him to rest from the world until he must by law! Shabbos was the first commandment given to the Children of Israel directly after their entry into the wilderness following the crossing of the Red Sea (Rashi on Ex. 15:25). Shabbos -- SHEVITA, the willful cessation of and resting from MELACHAH, deliberate, manipulative labor -- is the very key to man's freedom from the tyranny of this world.

* * *


"In the merit of the righteous women that were in that generation, Israel were redeemed from Egypt" (Sotah 11b).

The Midrashim give many examples of the heroism and self-sacrifice of the women of the period of exile and slavery in Egypt in lifting their husbands' spirits and breeding new generations for a better future.

While our parshah introduces the Savior of Israel -- Moses -- who was a man, it is striking that the most decisive roles are played by women. In Genesis we saw a succession of great women turning and shaping history on their own initiative, such as Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel, Leah and Tamar. In our parshah this is a recurring phenomenon: four outstanding women take decisive action on their own initiative to bring about redemption: Jochebed, Miriam, Batya and Tziporah.

Thus when Pharaoh wanted to kill the Israelite boys, it was the two midwives, "Shifra" and "Pu'ah" (= Jochebed and Miriam) who cleverly frustrated his plans. When Amram "took the daughter of Levi (=Jochebed)" (Ex. 2:1) from whom he had separated because he did not want to breed children who would be killed, it was on the initiative of Miriam that he relented (see Rashi ad loc.). By drawing Moses out of the water, Batya saved the entire world. The dauntless Miriam went straight up to the king's daughter offering to bring someone to take care of the rescued baby. Batya had the good sense to understood the crucial importance of good nurturing. Jethro's daughters were perhaps too modest to invite Moses home until their father told them -- after all, they thought he was an Egyptian (Ex. 2:19-20). However, Tziporah showed no hesitation when she saw an angel consuming her husband Moses for failing to circumcise Eliezer: she took a flint and performed the bloody circumcision herself, showing that as a true righteous convert, her heart was circumcised to G-d.

In all these cases, examples, the heroism and initiative of these women is bound up with breeding and rearing future generations to know and serve G-d.

Shabbat Shalom!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum

PO Box 50037 Jerusalem 91500 Israel



By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

Torah Reading: VAYECHI Gen. 47:28-50:26


"And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years" (Gen. 47:28). These were "good" years (17 is the gematria of TOV = "good") as opposed to the first one hundred and thirty years of Jacob's 147-year life. The first hundred and thirty years were riddled with suffering. Through the suffering Jacob endured while struggling to build his family, the House of Israel, he rectified Adam's 130 years of separation from Eve (see Rashi on Genesis 4:25), during which Adam wasted his seed and created demons, instead of peopling the world with Bney Adam.

G-d's first command to Adam was "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and conquer it" (Gen. 1:28). As explained by Rabbi Nachman (Likutey Moharan II:7), this commandment is fulfilled not by producing anthropoid monsters but by giving birth to, raising and educating true Children of Adam, who bear the TZURAH ("form") of ADAM, who was made "in the image of G-d".

Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, their generations were flawed. Cain killed Abel, Canaan sodomized Noah, the Sodomites wanted to sodomize the angels, the kings of Egypt and of the Philistines and the crown prince of Shechem kidnapped women, Ishmael lived by the sword, Esau was a rapist.

Only Jacob was SHALEM, "Whole" or "Perfect" (Gen. 32:18): Jacob bore the true TZURAH of ADAM, of whom it is said: "And upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness having the appearance of ADAM upon it from above" (Ezekiel 1:26). When man perfects himself, G-d shines through him and is thus revealed in the world.

Jacob is sometimes called Yaakov, sometimes Yisrael. Yaakov is "small" ("Yaakov her SMALL son" Gen. 27:15; "How will Yaakov rise, for he is SMALL" Amos 7:5). In his "small" aspect -- his time of struggle and suffering (MOCHIN D'KATNUS, "constricted consciousness") -- Jacob signifies that the revelation of G-d is as yet incomplete and is still proceeding in stages. But Yisrael, Israel, is Jacob's name of greatness -- "for you have struggled with G-d and with men and you have prevailed" (Gen. 32:29).In his "great" aspect (MOCHIN D'GADLUS, "expanded consciousness") Jacob -- Israel -- signifies that G-d's greatness is revealed and manifest in the world.

This was the case at the time of the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah, when the entire world shook with G-d's self-revelation. It was the case during the reigns of King David and his son Solomon, who built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And it will be the case again in the near future, when G-d's House of Prayer for All the Nations will stand in the center of the world on Mount Moriah in the Holy City of Jerusalem. [The intensity of the hatred in much of the world today for all that goes by the name of Israel signifies how far the world is from HaShem. But "the people that go in darkness will see great light and those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, light has shone upon them" (Isaiah 9:11).]

Our parshah of VAYECHI puts the seal on the first of the Five Books of Moses, the book of Genesis (Bereishis), portraying Jacob, the rectified Adam, in his "good" years at the end of his life. They are good years, because Jacob is now reunited with Joseph, who is in his place of true glory ruling over Egypt. Jacob's main love was essentially for Rachel. It was for her that he served Laban, and it was because Joseph was Rachel's firstborn that "Israel loved Joseph out of all his sons" (Gen. 37:3). While Leah signifies the "hidden realm", Rachel signifies G-d's glory revealed in and through this world. This comes about when Jacob-Israel (=ADAM, the Soul complete with its Nefesh, Ru'ach and Neshamah levels) conquers Esau (=the Serpent, ASIYAH, the realm of material activity), using this world to build a sanctuary for G-d.

Our parshah of VAYECHI also contains a number of specific allusions to the Temple in Jerusalem, as in Jacob's blessing to Judah (Gen. 49:11) and especially his blessing to Benjamin (ibid. v. 27). The Temple Altar stood in the territory of Benjamin, son of Rachel. Thus in Jacob's funeral procession, his twelve sons carried him up to the Land of Israel in the same positions in which their descendents the twelve tribes encamped around the Sanctuary in the Wilderness. Jacob and his sons, the House of Israel, are the Sanctuary in which G-d dwells in the world. "And I will dwell within them" (Exodus 25:8).

* * *


Jacob spent the final "good" years of his life fulfilling the commandment to be spiritually fruitful -- by educating the young, especially his grandson Ephraim (see Rashi on Gen. 48:1: "Ephraim was habitually with Jacob learning"). Jacob'sfinal blessings, will and testament to his sons, with their harsh chastisements, were also intended to be educational.

According to tradition, "At the time when Jacob our father assembled his sons in Egypt at the hour of his death, he commanded and spurred them on in the unification of the name of G-d and that they should follow the path of HaShem that Abraham and Isaac his father walked. He asked them and said, 'My sons, maybe someone among you is flawed and does not stand with me in the Unification of the Name.?' They all answered and said, 'Hear Israel HaShem our G-d HaShem is One' -- that is, 'Hear from us, our father Israel, HaShem our G-d HaShem is one'. The old man answered 'Blessed be the Name of the Glory of His Kingship for ever and ever!' And this is why all Israel has the custom of repeating the expression of the praise used by Israel when he was an old man after this verse". (Rambam, Laws of Recital of Shema Ch. 1:4).

* * *


Jacob's death-bed blessings to his sons contain some of the most beautiful flights of Biblical poetry. It is noteworthy that Onkelos, author of the best-known Aramaic Targum (= "translation") of the Five Books of Moses, departs here from his usual practice of giving the simplest, clearest PSHAT (= "simple meaning") of the Biblical text except where DRUSH, Midrash, "searching out" beneath the surface is absolutely indispensable. However here, as in the case of some other highly poetic passages (the Song at the Sea, Bilaam's blessings, the Song of Moses -- HA-AZINU -- and his final blessings), Onkelos felt obliged to introduce MIDRASH into his Targum in order to bring out the essential meaning of the text, which contains allusions to all historical periods and especially the time of Mashiach.

Thus it is Onkelos who informs us that SHILOH (Gen. 49:10) is Mashiach. The Tribes are compared to various animals. Judah is a lion, Issachar is a wide-boned donkey, Dan is a serpent, Naftali a gracious hind, Benjamin a preying fox. In the case of Jacob's children, the animal qualities are elevated in order to destroy the wicked and give the victory to G-d. Thus Onkelos translates Gen. 49:14-15 as: "Yissachar will be wealthy in possessions and his inheritance is between the boundaries. And he saw that his share is good and that the land produces fruits. And he conquered the territories of the nations and destroyed their inhabitants and those who remain of them will serve him and pay him taxes." Onkelos translates the blessing of Benjamin (v. 49:27: "Benjamin is a preying fox, in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the prey") as: "In the land of Benjamin the Shechinah will dwell (= TISHREI) and in his inheritance the Holy Temple will be built, in the morning and in the afternoon the priests will offer sacrifices and in the evening they will divide the rest of their portions from the other offerings".

Onkelos himself was a GER TZEDEK ("righteous convert"). He was the son of the sister of the Roman Emperor Titus." It is said that before Onkelos converted, he raised the spirits of Titus, Balaam, and Yeshu from hell in order to find out the truth. All three confirmed that the nation of Israel is held in the highest repute in the world to come (Gittin 56b, 57a). Onkelos learned Torah from Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus ("Rabbi Eliezer the Great") and Rabbi Yehoshua, who were outstanding students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and were also the teacher-partners of Rabbi Akiva. Onkelos' Targum is the first and most authoritative "commentary" on the Torah.

* * *


When Joseph went up with his brothers to bury Jacob, "they came to the threshing floor of Atad (= bramble)" (Gen. 50:10). According to Rashi, "It was surrounded by brambles. All the kings of Canaan and princes of Ishmael came to war, but when they saw the crown of Joseph hung on Jacob's ARON (= Ark), they all stood and hung their crowns and surrounded him with crowns from the threshing-floor which was surrounded by a fence of brambles.

The kings and Canaan and princes of Ishmael were confounded by the ARON, the holy ark of Jacob, crowned with the crown of Joseph.

According to tradition, this took place on during Chanukah-time. Jacob's HISTALKUS (ascent) was on 15th Tishri, the first night of Succos. The Egyptians wept for him seventy days, upon which Joseph and his brothers went up to Israel to bury him. The seventieth day after 15th of Tishri is 25th Kislev, the first day of Chanukah. The initial letters of the four Hebrew words in the verse "and the dweller of the land of the Canaanite saw" are the permutation of the name of HaShem that holds sway in the month of Kislev (see Kavanos of Rosh Chodesh Musaf prayers).

There is an integral conceptual connection between Jacob's funeral procession and Chanukah, which is the time of the inauguration of the Temple. Jacob's twelve sons, the holy House of Israel, under the leadership of Joseph the Tzaddik, were taking Jacob -- the archetypal House-Builder -- to his final, eternal house and home in the Cave of Machpelah, the resting place of Adam and Eve as well as the patriarchs and matriarchs.

The funeral procession was a "rehearsal" for the formation in which the twelve tribes would would bring the Ark of the Covenant up from the wilderness and into the Holy Land. This is paradigmatic of the building of the Holy Temple, the House of G-d on the spot where Jacob had his dream of the ladder: "This is none other than the House of G-d and this is the Gate of Heaven" (Gen. 28:17). That place is alluded to in the opening word of the Torah, BEREISHIS, the letters of which, when re-arranged, spell out BAYIS ROSH, the House that is Head (=Tefilin shel Rosh). It was to that place that Joseph promised his brothers that they would return from Egypt: "G-d will surely redeem you and bring you up from this land to the Land which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob" (Gen. 50:24).

"Be strong! Be strong -- and we will be strong!"

Shabbat Shalom!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum

PO Box 50037 Jerusalem 91500 Israel



By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

Torah Reading: VAYIGASH Gen. 44:18-47:27; Haftara: Ezekiel 37:15-2.


The key to the dramatic encounter between Judah and Joseph with which our parshah of VAYIGASH begins is to be found in the Haftara our sages attached to this parshah: Ezekiel's vision of the joining of the two sticks. One stick the prophet was to inscribe with the names of Judah and the Children of Israel his friends -- the kingdom of Torah Law and spirituality under David. The other stick he was to inscribe "to Joseph Tree of Ephraim and all the House of Israel his friends" -- secular, assimilated Israelite might: economic, political, military, involvement in the material world. The prophet was to join the two sticks and make them one, signifying that they will become --

"One nation in the earth in the mountains of Israel, and one king will be over all of them as King, and they will no longer be two nations and they will no longer be split into two kingdoms. And my servant David will be king over them and one shepherd will be for them all [King Mashiach]. And they will go in My laws and guard My statutes and do them. And they will dwell in the land that I have given to My servant Jacob in which your fathers dwelled, and they and their children and children's children will dwell upon it forever, and David My servant will be Prince to them forever. And I will cut for them a Covenant of Peace, an eternal Covenant will be for them. And I will give them and multiply them and I will put My Holy Temple within them forever. And My Dwelling will be upon them and I will be G-d for them, and they will be My People. And the Nations will know that I am HaShem who sanctifies Israel that My Sanctuary should be among them forever " (Ezekiel 37:28).

The encounter in our parshah between Judah and Joseph is the paradigm of this necessary joining between the two aspects of Israelite being in the world, spiritual and material. For its own existence, the Torah "kingdom" depends upon the successful material presence of Israel in the world, be it in the Land of Israel or in "Goshen". ("Goshen" would include all historical and present-day centers of Jewish sojourn in exile and dispersal east or west.) For "if there is no flour [bread to eat], there is no Torah". Likewise, material Israel cannot survive without true Torah leadership -- Melech HaMashiach. Jacob saw this, which is why "he sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to rule before him to Goshen" (Gen. 46:28). It is the Torah leader who must rule over Israel, and Torah leadership must direct Israeli worldly power to the nation's prophetic mission of being worthy of building the Temple in the Land of Israel from which the Law will go forth to all the Nations.

* * *


Judah's heart-rending appeal to Joseph (standing there before him as a hard-hearted Egyptian tyrant) is the prototype of the Tzaddik (which may be any one of us) facing MIDAS HADIN (the aspect of G-d's harsh judgment) and using prayer to turn it into RACHAMIM (compassion). Judah appealed to Joseph's heart and to a fundamental sense of FAIRNESS that exists everywhere in the world including among the Gentiles (see "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom" #78 for a profoundly insightful discussion of this subject.) At some point there is a universal loathing for blatant unfairness

This is because even the Seventy Nations are at root vitalized by a spark of G-dliness deriving from KETER, the "Crown" of G-d's will, which gives life and sustenance to the side of evil, as represented in Egypt. For the duration of history, this vitalizing root is contained in the Seven "Crowns", the seven Commandments of the Son's of Noah, which come to rectify the Seventy Nations as exemplified in Egypt (Ham) under the rule of Joseph (Shem).

Judah's appeal to Joseph is a heart-to-heart appeal, man to man. Judah is willing to sacrifice his entire life and submit himself to slavery in order to save his younger brother Benjamin. Judah is the true AREV ("guarantor") for his brother - the ultimate in loving your fellow as yourself.

From the way we appeal to the heart of a fellow human, we are to learn how we should to appeal to G-d in prayer. This must be "face to face", as to a friend, even all seems clothed in MIDAS HADIN, the power of strict judgment. From Judah's appeal to Joseph we are to learn how in prayer we are to plead and offer to sacrifice our very selves in servitude to G-d, in order to turn G-d's DIN, strict judgment, into RAHAMIM, mercy.

Judah's eloquent appeal to Joseph's sense of fairness can serve as an exemplar to all of us in the art of prayer and entreaty, particularly in times of stress and danger. Eloquence in prayer is a good trait for all of us to cultivate -- it comes by speaking from heart to heart. We need to be bold and speak out our complaints and requests to G-d from our hearts.

* * *


After revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph provides them with a peace-making way of re-perceiving the past, even where negative, as part of a divinely-prepared plan -- in this case to draw the Children of Israel down into Egypt. "Not you sent me here but G-d" (Gen. 45:8) -- "for sustenance G-d sent me before you" (ibid. v. 5).

In all circumstances, understanding that all the various humans who surround us are in reality agents of G-d, Who is behind and within all phenomena, is one of the main keys to understanding our personal situation in the world.

As expressed by the great early-20th century Polish Breslover Chassid, Rabbi Yitzhak Breiter (in his "Seven Pillars of Faith"):

"Other people are also free agents, yet everything they do is ultimately controlled by God. If someone insults you or in some way harms you, know that this has been sent by God as a way to cleanse your soul. If things go against you, be patient. When you accept everything as God's will, this causes the veil of concealment to be removed, thus manifesting God's control over all creation..

"..,.Everything we experience is actually a communication from God. This includes our inner thoughts and feelings. Even negative thoughts and feelings - heaviness, lack of enthusiasm, depression and the like - are from God. Everything you hear, see, or experience in life, whether from people you know or from complete strangers, is a call to you from God. Even unclear or contradictory messages are sent with a purpose: to give us choice and free will in order to test us. The way to sort out which messages we should follow and which we should ignore is by evaluating everything in the light of Torah teaching Pillars #4 and #6).

* * *


"Forced by the WORD OF THE MOUTH of G-d -- "ANOOS AL PI-HADIBUR" -- is a phrase from the Haggadah explaining why Jacob and his sons went into exile. Historically, exile was forced on the Jews as a kind of "rape" of the Shechinah, the Jewish Soul, by the material world, making it necessary to go out to "slavery" in the "Egypt" of the Seventy Nations for sheer survival. Again and again in Jewish history, economic needs ("famine") caused Jews to migrate.

G-d's plan in sending Joseph down to Egypt to prepare for the subsequent Israelite slavery and ultimate redemption may be seen unfolding repeatedly in the later history of Jewish exiles. For example, the Jews who spread wide in Poland and what was once its empire, the very centers of Ashkenazic Jewry, (Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, Galitzia, etc.) were originally enticed there in the 11th Century and thereafter from Germany by Polish kings (Pharaohs) who wanted to enrich themselves with industrious Jewish managers (Joseph). The Jews of Germany had themselves been enticed there in better days from France, the original "Ashkenaz".

For centuries the Jews of the "Four Lands" of the Polish empire were practically an independent Torah kingdom within the kingdom, even after the dispersal of another Torah kingdom, the Jewry of "Sepharad" -- Spain, remnants of whom reached Israel. For Polish Jewry, the tide changed from the times of the Chmielnitzki Massacres of 1648-9 and thereafter, when Jewish worldly influence and actual Torah practice among the Jews of Russia,Poland and its former empire declined to the point of near extinction under communism. Meanwhile the Jewry of Europe was rapidly assimilating. For generations from the 1800's onwards, Jews were looking westwards, especially to America. The culminating points were the Pogroms, the Russian Revolution and the Holocaust, which annihilated European Jewry spiritually and physically. After the Second World War most of Sephardic and Oriental Jewry migrated to Israel or to the west. Thus the main world Jewish centers shifted to Israel and America, both of which contain an uneasy balance of "Judah" and "Joseph" Jews -- Torah observant and secular.

Israel was built up by the returnees to the Land from the East and from the West and is today the key to ultimate Jewish survival and victory -- Israel is LAND: it is THE Land. The holocaust appears to have been the "price" for the birth of the State of Israel, which today is confronted by an existential struggle for survival, under attack, directly or in disguise, by all of the Seventy Nations.

The key to Jewish survival today is the bond between "Israel" under the leadership of Judah -- Torah, Melech HaMashiach -- and "Joseph", "Ephraim", the main body of Jewry in Israel and throughout the world.

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The concluding section of our parshah of VAYIGASH, recounts how in the years of famine in Egypt, Joseph "purchased" the Egyptians' land, their livestock and their very bodies for Pharaoh (Genesis 13-27).

One point found in the commentators is of special note in UNIVERSAL TORAH, which focuses on aspects of Torah that apply to all humanity. It is that Joseph worked assiduously for the benefit of Pharaoh and did not seek to use his position as Viceroy for personal enrichment. He could have sent sacks of silver back to store for himself in Canaan, but he did not. He worked diligently for his employer and was an exemplar of service.

The "purchase" by Joseph of the land and the very bodies of the Egyptians for an annual tax of 20% -- one fifth of all income -- institutes fundamental principles of the modern state. Military power is controlled by the "king" or government, who is expected to protect the population and alleviate "famine", providing everything necessary for general wellbeing ("health of the economy").

One of the features of modern history has been great migrations of people of all nations from country to country and continent to continent. This has tended to separate the population from connection to the land in the form of land-ownership, while urbanization has separated over 50 per cent of the world's population from direct connection with nature.

The only people on earth who have a continuous historical link with one and the same country going back thousands of years is the People of Israel and the Jews. Israel is the only country on earth that belongs to the Jews.

The Twenty Percent Tax Joseph instituted for Egypt alludes to the 20% of net income that a person should ideally separate for Tzedakah (just as Jacob said, ASOR (10%) A-ASRENAH (10%) "I will surely tithe" -- Genesis 28:22, Maaser Rishon ("the first tithe") and Maaser Sheni ("the second tithe").

"And Zion will be redeemed through justice and her returnees through charity" (Isaiah 1:27)

Shabbat Shalom!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum

PO Box 50037 Jerusalem 91500 Israel
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