Torah for the Times

Friday, December 21 - 7 Tevet, 5773

Torah Reading: Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 - 47:27)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:13 PM

Shabbat ends: 5:18 PM

The Royal Yeshivah







Start A Yeshivah

Before Jacob made his way to Egypt to be reunited with his son Joseph after so many years of painful separation, Jacob sent his son Yehudah ahead of the entire family to the land of Goshen.

Why was it necessary to send Yehudah? If Joseph was the Viceroy of Egypt, he certainly had the ability to make the necessary preparations and accommodations. Indeed, Joseph said as much when he sent his brothers back home to bring their father from Israel.

Rashi, anticipating this question, answers that Yehudah was sent to start a place of study, where the teachings of Torah would be taught. Before bringing the nucleus of the Jewish people into Egypt it was crucial that they had a place where they could imbibe the teachings of Torah that were revealed to the Patriarchs and their children, even before the Torah was formally given at Mount Sinai.

Why Yehudah?

The question, however, remains: Why did he send Yehudah, specifically, to establish this Torah academy? In Jewish classical sources, the tribe of Yissachar is credited with being the greatest source of Torah knowledge. Even the most arcane subject as the determination of the New Moon was their specialty. Presumably, the tribe of Yissachar inherited this trait from their ancestor Yissachar. Why then didn’t Jacob send him instead of Yehudah?

Other sources indicate that only the Levites remained faithful to the teachings of the Torah throughout the 210 years of Egyptian exile and bondage, and they were the ones who actually maintained the “Yeshivah” in Goshen established by Yehudah. Why then didn’t Jacob send Levi to establish the academy? What advantage did Yehudah have over all the other sons of Jacob?

The question is even more pronounced when we consider the role of Yehudah as the progenitor of royalty. Yehuda was the ancestor of King David and of a long line of kings and leaders that occupied leadership positions throughout Jewish history to this very day. And, indeed, one of Moshiach’s—the ultimate leader and king—qualifications is that he descend from the Davidic line that traces itself back to Yehudah. Royalty and scholarship, while not mutually exclusive, do not necessarily complement each other. Why then the emphasis of Yehudah, the leader, being the one to establish a center of Torah learning?

The Three Dimensions of Torah

To answer this question we have to explore the various facets of Torah study, for Torah study possesses many qualities and objectives.

First, Torah is our guide. The very word Torah means instruction because it instructs us how to live our daily lives in accordance with the Divine plan for the world.

Second, Torah is also Divine wisdom. Even if there would be no direct lesson that we couldderive from a particular Torah thought, there is intrinsic value to studying that part of Torah. It is true that if one studies Torah as a mere intellectual or academic exercise and does not follow its dictates, one is involved in a very flawed form of Torah study. It can be compared to the person who studies the ill effects of smoking while refusing to stop smoking or the expert in the laws of theft who proceeds to steal. Nevertheless, Torah study, in and of itself, is an intrinsically positive and holy endeavor because it is Divine wisdom that is absorbed into our consciousness, making us more Divine. If it fails to guide us in our lives, it is a sign that we approached Torah not as a Divine discipline, but as a mental exercise or a cultural experience.

The Third Dimension

There is yet another dimension to Torah study that expresses a unique and powerful feature of Torah that is not evident in the other two dimensions:

When we look at Torah from the vantage point of it being a Divine source of guidance, it presupposes that the world precedes the laws that govern our behavior. For example, if we deal with the laws of not kindling a fire on Shabbos, we presuppose that fire exists. If fire did not exist, we couldn’t be told not to light a fire of Shabbos. Similary, if there were no commerce, we could not relate to the Torah’s laws of commerce.

Even when we approach Torah as a transcendent Divine body of wisdom that preceded creation, one can get the impression that there are two distinct realities: the Higher reality of Torah and the lower reality of our physical existence. We can compartmentalize. When we study Torah, we are in G‑d’s domain and when we are in business, we are in a human and material world.

However, the third dimension of Torah is the very power and essence of our existence. Torah is the life force of the entire cosmos. And though Torah in its pristine spiritual state transcends the universe, G‑d has “unleashed” the power of Torah to create and control all that exists. Torah in this context is not just a way of, and response to, life situations; it is the very source and essence of life.

This aspect of Torah, the Midrash refers to as its “royal” component. The royal component of Torah is based on the verse in Proverbs (8:15): “Through me kings reign…” Torah confers royalty to those who master it, because Torah is the very source of royalty. Just as the king dictates and controls, so too, does the Torah dictate and control the way our universe exists. Torah, the Jerusalem Talmud declares, actually controls nature. When G‑d created, and continues to create the world—He did/does so by “looking into the Torah.” In the words of the Zohar: “He looked into the Torah and created the world.” “Similarly,” the Zohar continues, “man studies the Torah and sustains the world.” The Midrash describes this dynamic of Torah as the “blueprint of creation.”

No Contradictions

Of what significance is it to know that Torah is the “blueprint of creation” and that Torah has the power to affect the natural order of the world?

One important lesson is that any apparent contradiction we find between Torah and our lives is not real. How can the world conflict with its very source of existence? And any appearance of a conflict is a mirage. Torah is what dictates reality.

However, G‑d also allowed for reality to become clouded and eclipsed to the point where the reality of Torah is relegated to the realm of fantasy and the fantasy of our golus/exile existence is viewed as reality.

Facing Exile with the Power of Royalty

We can now understand why Jacob sent Yehudah, specifically, to establish a center of Torah in Egypt, rather thanhis other sons. It was not necessarily due to Yehudah’s superior knowledge of Torah. Rather, it was due to Yehudah’s status as a leader, a monarch. Yehudah’s position as the symbol of royalty empowered him to elicit the royaldimension of Torah; Torah’s capacity to control the natural world.

As the nucleus of the Jewish nation was about to enter into Egyptian exile—the forerunner of subsequent exiles, including the one we are in—it was crucial that they be equipped with the power to be in control of exile conditions. If not, the exile would crush them and extinguish the hope for them to ever be liberated.

To be sure, Torah was needed as a guide for them just as it has been for Jews throughout our history. It is also true that they needed Torah as a way of introducing G‑dly knowledge into their minds. And those objectives would have been well served—or perhaps even better served—by Yissachar and Levi, whose tribes boasted the greatest Torah scholars and the most G‑dly people. However, as they were about to enter into the state of exile, they needed a leader and teacher who personified the ideal of kingship to empower the student of Torah to be in control of nature.

Wearing Two Hats

Throughout Jewish history, the two roles of the monarch and the eminent Torah Sage were vested in two different people. The king or leader was not necessarily the greatest Torah Sage and, conversely, the greatest Torah Sage was not necessarily someone who yielded great power. Two notable exceptions were Moses and Joshua, who were both kings and the preeminent Torah teachers of their generation and of generations to follow.

The reason for these two exceptions is that Moses and Joshua’s role was not restricted to teaching the people Torah to help guide them. They were also charged with the responsibility to instill in the people the power of mastery over their lives and their environment—the royal dimension of Torah.

Moses was the leader whose function it was to liberate the Jewish nation, and Joshua was the one who would lead them into the conquest of the Land of Israel, the land which exemplifies complete Torah mastery over the mundane. These two leaders, therefore, had to possess the regal power of Torah, not just its spiritual and moral authority. One cannot be freed from slavery and exile without the royal power of Torah. And one can certainly not conquer a land and transform it into the Holy Land without that aspect of Torah.

Moshiach: The Ultimate Leader

The Jewish belief in Moshiach and Redemption is that Moshiach will usher in the Messianic Age. Why does it have to come through Moshiach?
One answer is that to end the state of exile, once and for all, it requires a force that possesses complete mastery over nature. As Moses before him, Moshiach is the ultimate monarch and Torah personality. It isn’t just that he is multi-talented—being a leader and a scholar – rather, his knowledge of Torah is intertwined and permeated with the trait of royalty. Moshiach’s Torah has the capacity to inspire and endow us with the royal dimension of Torah that will reveal the true nature of reality—a world that conforms to the dictates of the Torah. In the Messianic Age we will experience complete harmony between the Torah and the physical world.




Moshiach Matters

One must always think to himself:
"What have I done and what am I doing now to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the complete Redemption which will come through our righteous Moshiach?"
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe)