Torah Fax

Friday, January 6, 2006 - 6 Tevet, 5766
Torah Reading: Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 - 47:27)
Candle Lighting Time:  4:25 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:30 PM

Surviving, Thriving
When Joseph finally revealed his identity to his brothers, they were dumbfounded. Years earlier, they had sold their brother into slavery and, as far as they knew, they were now dealing with the viceroy of Egypt – not their very own brother who had miraculously climbed to the heights of Egyptian society and now held their future in his hands. Now they he was revealing his true identity to them, they recoiled partly in fear and partly in shame, until Joseph comforted them with these words:

"But now, don't be upset or angry with yourselves that you sold me to this place, for G‑d sent me ahead of you to save your lives... G‑d sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival in the land, and to sustain great salvation."

After he had uttered these words of comfort, the second Aliyah (of the seven sections into which each Torah portion is divided) concludes. The third section commences with the following rather redundant statement made by Joseph:

"Now it was not you who sent me here, but G‑d. He made me an advisor to Pharaoh, a master over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt."

The question begs to be asked. After stating that he was sent by G‑d to provide them with their sustenance and survival, it was clear that Joseph was trying to show that, in the end, it was a good thing that he had been sold into slavery. The next section should have then recorded Joseph's request that they return home and bring their father Jacob to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph. But instead, the new section has Joseph essentially reiterating his point that G‑d had sent him to help them and the rest of the world cope with the famine by having him rise to the position of ruler over Egypt .

This question is thus a threefold one:

First, why did Joseph have to repeat that it was G‑d's plan to have him become the ruler over Egypt?

Second, why would this reiteration of his previous statement mark the beginning of a new section or Aliyah, as if Joseph was thereby actually making a totally new point?

Third, every narrative of the Torah must be understood as not only a historical fact, but also as a message for us in our generation. What is the lesson in the above narrative and in the apparently redundant statement of Joseph?   

We should preface the answer to these questions by noting the uniqueness of the Egyptian experience in Jewish history. Egypt was not merely a foreign country with a Jewish viceroy, it was actually the first nation to enslave the Jewish people. Indeed, all future exiles that the Jews would have to endure find their roots in the Egyptian exile. Thus, Kabbalah teaches that Egypt is the forerunner of all future exiles. Equipped with this knowledge we will be capable of dealing with our own situation in these last days of exile, before the advent of the ultimate Redemption.

In this context, the Rebbe notes two distinct accomplishments in Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt.

First, Joseph was able to withstand all the pressures of living in an alien environment and still survive as a son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Second, Joseph not only did not succumb to the pressures of exile and the power it has to suffocate one's identity, he also became the master over all of Egypt and all that Egypt represented. He exercised complete control over his environment. He did not just maintain the status-quo, but as his name Joseph (meaning increase) suggests, his spiritual achievements increased.

Joseph epitomized the ultimate power of a leader to find inner strength to cope with all the pressures from the outside world and to survive all the attempts at destroying his people physically and spiritually. This was the first function of Joseph that he conveyed to his brothers: "I was sent by G‑d to give you the strength to be survivors. No matter how much you will be subjected to persecution and tyranny, as Jews you can and you will survive. That is a G‑d given power, Joseph suggested, that is embedded within the soul and psyche of every Jew. A Jew is a survivor. It takes the inspiration of a Joseph-Jewish leader - to evoke this G‑d given potential. And on that note of survival the end of the second Aliyah of this parsha concludes.

The third section begins with Joseph's second message to them. Not only can you survive, but you will also flourish. When we follow Joseph's example we can take the exile conditions and exercise control over them to the extent that we use them as a means to grow and prosper.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust and other tragedies of the 20th century, the Jewish people were once more challenged to express these two powers. Having been dealt the horrific blows of these unprecedented forces of evil, we can all qualify as survivors.

But, the ultimate test of Joseph's words will be realized when we take the adversity of our experience in exile—and the post-Holocaust experience in particular—and transform it into the positive energy that we need to usher in the Messianic Age. At that time, we will no longer have to be survivors. Instead, we will be able to devote all our energies to spiritual growth. The tensions that we will experience in the Messianic Age will no longer be negative tension brought on by the threat of destruction by a tyrant or even with anti-Semitism; rather it will be the tension that goes along with spiritual "mountain climbing"—scaling infinitely greater heights.

Our way of preparing for this time of continuous positive growth is to learn how to refocus our vision on the positive, even as we are still situated in exile. Instead of just surviving and coping, we must look for ways of proudly expressing our Jewish identities and practices.

Indeed, this was the message we conveyed when we added a new light every night of Chanukah. And this year, more than any previous year in history, thousands of public Menorot have graced the entire world's landscape (in addition to the millions of private ones), proclaiming to the whole world that we are a free people that is dedicated to illuminating the world with G‑dly light. We will not just be content with fighting and defeating evil; we are—and will always be—obsessed with adding more light.

Moshiach Matters
The Talmud states, "The mitzvot will be annulled in future time." This means that the mitzvot in their present form will be of no account relative to the revelations of the future. The degree of Divine energy elicited by the performance of a mitzva today is infinitely inferior to the degree of Divine energy that will be elicited by the performance of a mitzva in the future. (From a Chasidic Discourse of Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch)
Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit
© 2001- 2006 Chabad of the West Side