Torah for the Times    

Friday, December 23, 2011 - 24 Kislev, 5772

Torah Reading: Miketz (Genesis 41:1 - 44:17) 
Candle Lighting Time: 4:14 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:19 PM  

Be Prepared 

Joseph’s Shabbat Table

In the whirlwind story of our Parshah, Joseph became the Viceroy of Egypt. His dream that one day his brothers will bow down to him has come true. Joseph is now in a position to torment them by accusing them of being spies and threatening that if they do not bring their/his brother Benjamin they will not be able to return and that Shimon, who had been detained by Joseph, would remain a prisoner.

Let us concentrate on one seemingly minor detail of the tumultuous events discussed in our Parshah. When the brothers finally do return with Benjamin, Joseph prepares a meal for them. In his instructions to the supervisor of his house he tells them to “slaughter an animal and to prepare.” The verse does not really specify what Joseph asked the supervisor to prepare. It is assumed that he meant that he should prepare a full meal, but the Torah does not explicitly state that.

According to the Midrash, the term “preparation” is a code word for the preparations that we make for the Shabbat. Since we cannot cook our foods on the Shabbat itself we are compelled to make all of the preparations before the onset of the holy day. The Midrash suggests that Joseph observed the Shabbat and therefore made sure that his supervisor would have everything prepared for the festive Shabbat meal that he would share with his brothers.

The Day and Meal of Unity

One can derive from this interpretation an immediate lesson: The meal that Joseph had with his brothers was a prelude to Joseph’s final reconciliation with them. First it was this meal where he sets them up for the ensuing accusation that Benjamin stole his magic goblet. This eventually led to Judah’s bold defense for his brother at which point Joseph broke down and divulged his identity to them, a confession which led to all the brothers' reunification as a family. Second, and more importantly, as the commentator Sforno and others maintain, this meal, in which he gave Benjamin five times the amount of gifts he gave the other brothers, was the final test to see if his brothers might still harbor any feelings of jealousy to one of them. When the brothers exhibited no jealousy for his preferential treatment of Benjamin Joseph knew that they had erased all of their negative feelings towards him as well. They were now, therefore, ready for the unification process.

In effect, this Shabbat meal can be characterized as the meal of unification where previous jealousies and grudges dissolved. This is a direct lesson to us about the power of the Shabbat to unify us. Shabbat is referred to in the Zohar as a day of unification in every sense of the word. It is the day, the Zohar says, in which “all realms of anger and severe forces flee from her and vanish.” The spiritual aura of the Shabbat is so powerful that on Shabbat, and specifically during the Shabbat meals, all of the external factors that divide us fall to the wayside and, in their place our inherent spiritual unity deriving from the common source of our souls is on display.

The Eternal Shabbat

The Shabbat meal that we enjoy today is also a metaphor for the ultimate Shabbat of existence, the Messianic Age, when the unity will become permanent. There will be a total rapprochement between all of the different factions of the Jewish community. Indeed, there will also be peace between Israel and all of the nations of the world who, in the words of the Prophet, will serve G‑d with “one consent.”

The catalyst for this is the preparations we are making now for the future Shabbat. This is alluded to in the words “and to prepare.” As mentioned above, it does not say what they were to prepare for because in terms of our exile, it is subtly alluding to the ultimate preparatory phase of history we are now making for the time of Moshiach.

Why did They Drink?

We can now answer the question commentators ask about the Torah’s description of that meal. “They drank and became drunk with him.” Rashi comments that from the day they sold Joseph neither Joseph nor his brothers drank any wine. This was the first time they had done so since then.

Commentators ask why the brothers, who did not realize that they were sitting at the table with Joseph, would drink wine? If they refrained from wine out of mourning or sadness for the separation from their brother, why would they drink now with the Viceroy? In light of the foregoing characterization of that meal as a Shabbat meal we can understand that it was the very aura of Shabbat that inspired them to elicit their deepest feelings of love and unity. Wine, our Sages tell us, reveals our secrets. Their physical drinking of wine was an expression of their spiritual feelings that were finally becoming aroused. These newly exposed feelings engendered a profound and unprecedented sense of unity among the brothers. Their spiritual drinking of the wine made them feel at peace with themselves and with each other to the point that they now felt comfortable enough to again drink wine.

Preparing for the Shabbat: Two Schools of Thought

The Talmud records a dispute between the Sages Shammai and Hillel with regard to the preparations for the Shabbat. Shammai would purchase food on Sunday and select the finest for Shabbat. On Monday he would find something of higher quality and designate that for Shabbat and eat what he had prepared on Sunday. He would repeat this every day, so that whatever he ate during the week was, in effect, a result of his preparation for the Shabbat. In the words of the Talmud, “All his life he ate for the honor of Shabbat.” Hillel, by contrast, would do everything for the sake of Heaven. He would say, “Blessed is G‑d day by day.” He would trust that he would find the best food right before Shabbat.”

The two Sages’ approach to Shabbat reflects two ways of understanding our role in preparing for both the weekly Shabbat and the ultimate Shabbat, the Era of Redemption. Shammai’s approach is to focus on the goal all the time. Whatever we do any day of the week has to be connected to Shabbat. Shammai is obsessed with the spiritually intoxicating day of Shabbat that is a taste of the future. Hillel, by contrast, lives one day at a time. While Hillel also thought of the Shabbat everyday of the week, his focus was on living each day to the fullest. When people are so preoccupied with preparing for a future event, they can forget about the daily obligations they have as Jews. And it is precisely when we make the most of each day of the week that we are best prepared for the ultimate Shabbat. 

Both approaches are correct. On the one hand, we must constantly be thinking of the goal, of preparing ourselves for the future Redemption. Particularly now as we get closer to that time everything we do must be permeated with the sense that now is the precisely the time for the preparation of Shabbat. On the other hand, we must not let our yearning for the future impede our ability to do our job while we are still here in the last moments of exile. Every day must be filled with the study of Torah and fulfillment of the Mitzvot. While we are here in exile our mission is to make wherever we are an extension of the Holy Land of Israel and every moment should be a Shabbat moment. This we do even as we prepare for the imminent arrival of Moshiach who will transport us into a new era, a Shabbat Era, and bring us back to the Land of Israel in both the literal and spiritual sense. 

Chanukah in Egypt?

It is interesting, as many commentators have pointed out, that the words which contain Joseph’s order to his supervisors to “slaughter an animal and prepare” contain the letters that, when rearranged, spell “Chanukah!” What connection is there between the preparations for the Shabbat feast and Chanukah?

A connection can be found in light of the above analysis of the two approaches of Shammai and Hillel and what can be understood as a parallel dispute between Shammai's and Hillel’s students. Concerning the Chanukah lights, the School of Shammai and School of Hillel argue about the following point. The School of Shammai maintains that we should light eight lights the first night, seven the second night, and so on, in declining order. The School of Hillel maintains that we start with one light the first night and continue in ascending order.

It may be suggested that the School of Shammai, following the teaching of their mentor Shammai, were obsessed with Shabbat preparations. The School of Shammai therefore put their emphasis on the first day of Chanukah. On that day, they saw into the future that there would be an eight day miracle; so they were obsessed with those eight days. On the second night they saw seven days of miracles so they “lived” with those seven days, and so on. The School of Hillel, as did their mentor Hillel, directed their energies to living each day to its fullest, knowing that such an outlook will ultimately lead to the future. The School of Hillel therefore required the lighting of one light the first night. On the first day there was one miracle, and it was that miracle that had to be celebrated and internalized.

Today, as we stand on the threshold of the future Redemption we have to incorporate both approaches. To be sure, we must follow the Halacha and light in accordance with the School of Hillel until the time of Redemption when, according to the teachings of the Ari, we will follow the School of Shammai. But, nonetheless, emotionally and spiritually we must integrate these two approaches. On the one hand, we must yearn for the future when G‑d’s light, the infinite G‑dly light created on the first day of creation that enables us to see from one end of the world to the other, will be revealed. This primordial light is recaptured with the Chanukah lights that we light at present, but which will be fully revealed in the future at which time we will have all eight lights burning brightly, the number eight representing the most transcendent light. Our prayers have to be directed to G‑d to make this time become a reality. All of our thoughts have to revolve around Moshiach and Redemption.

We must also, simultaneously, follow the approach of Hillel and the School of Hillel and focus our attention of living every day that we are still in exile to the fullest, utilizing every opportunity to make our lives today as radiant as they can be. Even if it means just lighting one humble candle, it can be the one candle that will banish the darkness of exile entirely and permanently. We cannot allow our obsession with the future deter us from action today. In this period of transition we have to combine the two opposite mindsets of obsession with the future even as we are totally involved in the present.

Moshiach Matters 

The Talmud tells us that Choni HaMeagel slept for 70 years, which is also the length of the Babylonian exile. The message for us is: we must feel as if the entire span of our exile is but a fleeting dream. We can end that dream by being obstinate like Choni was. He drew a circle during a drought and said he would not leave it until G‑d caused it to rain. We must say to G‑d, "we will not move from here until you bring the redemption!" (The Rebbe, Shabbos Chanukah, 1990)

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