Ki Tavo

Torah Fax

Friday, September 12, 2003 - 15 Elul, 5763

Torah Reading:  Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8)
Candle Lighting Time: 6:52 PM
Shabbat Ends: 7:50 PM

Underhanded Innocence

When a Jew would bring his first fruits to the Temple, he would recite a section of the Torah (Deut. 26:5 - 10) that describes the odyssey of the Israelites from Canaan to Egypt and back to Israel. With this recitation, he would express gratitude to G‑d, particularly for giving the Land which provided such wonderful fruits. This paragraph is also read in the Haggadah.

One of these verses seems to connect two disparate events: "An Aramean (a reference to Laban, Jacob's father-in-law), tried to destroy my father, and he descended into Egypt." The implication of this statement is that as a result of the Aramean, Laban, Jacob had to go to Egypt.  Commentators are baffled by this juxtaposition. No where in the Torah is the suffering Jacob endured at the hands of his wily father-in-law Laban given as a reason for Jacob to descend to Egypt.

Indeed, Jacob's sojourn to Egypt occurred decades after having left Laban. At that time, Jacob had just fathered Joseph. Jacob did not come to Egypt until Joseph had already become the Viceroy of Egypt at age 30, followed by 7 years of bounty and 2 years of famine. So Jacob's descent into Egypt occurred 39 years after he had left Laban. Why link these events?

One ingenious interpretation is given by the great 19th century sage, Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer in the name of his father: The Talmud maintains that the catalyst for the Jewish people's enslavement in Egypt was the sale of Joseph by his brothers, which was provoked by their jealousy for him when his father gave him preferential treatment. However, had Laban not tricked Jacob and given him Leah instead of Rachel, Rachel would have, in fact, given birth to Joseph first. Hence, Joseph would have been the first-born and would have deserved this preferential treatment, as was the custom in those days. Hence it was Laban's deceptive practice that ultimately led to their enslavement in Egypt.

However, this explanation, does not suggest that there was any intrinsic relationship between Laban and Egyptian bondage. Furthermore, why implicate Laban more than Jacob? After all, the reason Jacob had to go to Laban was to escape the wrath of his brother Esau when he took his blessings from him. So why don't we connect the bondage with Jacob, or with Rebecca who pushed Jacob to (apparently) deceive his father?

There is really a deeper connection between Laban and Egyptian bondage. One of Laban's statements to Jacob was: "The sons are my sons and the daughters are my daughters." Ostensibly Laban meant to say that he was just as concerned about the well being of his grandchildren as was Jacob. But the real intent of Laban was that he was the true patriarch of the family -  not Jacob.

The dispute between Laban and Jacob was a clash of cultures. Laban-which means white-had a clean and veneer. He was indignant-after tricking Jacob-and self-righteously proclaimed: "In our region we don't give away the younger daughter before the older." Behind this cultured veneer lurked a duplicitous and corrupt man. Jacob, conversely, did not always appear cultured or pristine. Jacob was compelled to appropriate the blessings from his brother Esau. Similarly, his sons engaged in the destruction of Shechem-though motivated by righteous indignation in response to what happened to their sister.

To be sure, beneath the outer appearance, Jacob had a pure spirit. But living in a world of such immorality and deception, he were occasionally compelled to fight that deception with his own. There is a well-known adage: "One who wrestles with a dirty person will also become dirty." No matter how innocent one is, by associating with those who are not, even to combat them, one acquires some trace of their impurity. Since Jacob and his children represented the nascent energy of the Jewish nation, it was imperative that they be cleansed from even the slightest trace of "Labanism."

This is why Laban's desire to "destroy my father" is connected with Jacob going to Egypt. In order to be rid of the destructive association with Laban we had to go through the refining process of slavery in Egypt.

The Kabballah says that the descent into Egypt played a key role in paving the way for Moshiach. Mystically, we our obligated to "elevate" 288 sparks of G‑dliness hidden throughout creation. Every time we do a Mitzvah, we elevate all of the elements involved in the Mitzvah. If we give food to a poor person, we elevate our hand, the food which is used for the Mitzvah and even the ground upon which we stand at that time. Of the 288 sparks, the Kabballah says that 202 of them were elevated during our stay in Egypt. Since then, we have only had to purify the remaining 86.

Thus, our stay in Egypt not only cleansed the Jewish people of any trace of negative energy acquired from Laban, it actually purged the world of much collective negative energy. Finally, the Rebbe has informed us, over the past 2,000 years of exile, we have completed the process of elevating the final sparks, and we are ready to greet Moshiach. May that be immediately.

Moshiach Matters

In the daily prayer “Uva L'Tziyon Goel U’Leshavei, And a redeemer shall come to Zion and to those who repent,” the last two letters of the word Goel - redeemer, (Alef Lamed), and the first two letters of the word U’Leshavei - and to those who repent, (Vav Lamed), spell Elul, signifying that th final month of the year, Elul, which is a month of repentance and preparation for the New Year, is also a time to prepare for the redemption. (Avudraham)

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