29 Dec DOES JUDAISM BELIEVE IN THE WALL? THE GRAND DEBATE BETWEEN JUDAH AND JOSEPH
What’s for Dinner?
The main course at the big civic dinner was baked ham with glazed sweet potatoes. Rabbi Cohen regretfully shook his head when the platter was passed to him.
“When,” scolded Father Kelly playfully, “are you going to forget that silly rule of yours and eat ham like the rest of us?”
Without skipping a beat, Rabbi Cohen replied: “At your wedding reception, Father Kelly.”
Infinite Layers of Depth
One of the most fascinating elements about Torah study is how a few cryptic and seemingly irrelevant words contain within themselves extraordinary depth. What is equally enthralling is how a concrete law, seemingly technical and tedious, mirrors profound ideas in the realm of philosophy and psychology.
An example of both these truths we will present today.
Jacob Says Goodbye
This week’s portion, Vayechi, describes Jacob’s bidding farewell to his children prior to his departure from this world. “And Jacob called for his children,” the Torah relates, “and said, ‘Gather together and I shall tell you what will befall you in the end of days.’” Jacob goes on to address each of his twelve sons, describing their character—their flaws and strengths—and their destiny. When he comes to Joseph, these are his words:
A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; the women strode along to see him. They made his life bitter and they quarreled with him; archers despised him.
Rashi explains the words of Jacob:
His charm attracts the eye that beholds him. The women of Egypt strode out on the wall to gaze upon his beauty. Of the women, each one strode to a place from which she could catch a glimpse of him.
What is Jacob trying to convey with these words? Apparently, he wants to speak of Joseph’s dazzling beauty. Not only was he appealing to any eye that saw him, but even the Egyptian women were enthralled by his figure. They ascended the walls and fortresses of Egypt to be able to gaze at him.
But why is this so relevant on the deathbed of Jacob?
Out of the Walls
There is an interesting law in Judaism, concerning its sacred offerings.
Most of the offering offered in the Holy Temple, of grain or animals, would be eaten either by the serving priests (kohanim) or by the individuals who brought the offering, or by both. Some of the offerings had to remain within the confines of the Holy Temple itself, while others could be eaten within the walls of the entire Old City of Jerusalem. But no offering was ever allowed to exit the walls of Jerusalem, for that would desecrate its holiness. Once a holy offering leaves the walls of Jerusalem it is unusable and needs to be burnt.(The energy of this food is extremely intense, and only Jerusalem could “contain” it.)
Now, the First Temple was erected by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the year 2928 from Creation (832 BCE), exactly 440 years after the Jews entered into the Holy Land. It stood (partially) in the territory that belonged to the tribe of Judah (as the entire Land was divided among the twelve tribes of Israel). But where did the Jews offer up their sacrifices for the first four centuries in the land? They had the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary which served the People of Israel in their journeys in the desert. Following the People of Israel’s entry into the Holy Land in the days of Joshua, the Mishkan was erected in Shiloh, in Joseph’s territory. The Shiloh Sanctuary served as the spiritual epicenter of the Jewish people for 369 years, until its destruction by the Philistines in approximately 2872 (888 BCE).
Now, there was a fascinating contrast between the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shiloh and the Temple in Jerusalem, as far as the laws of eating the offerings. The Temple offerings could only be eaten within the Jerusalem walls. Yet the Shilo offerings could be eaten in any location from which you can see the Tabernacle in Shilo. Even in you were standing on a mountaintop dozens of miles away, but you could see even one part of the Tabernacle in Shilo, that location was fit for the consumption of the holy sacrifices. It is as though the holiness of Shilo extended to as far as the eye can behold it; where the sanctity of the Temple—a far more permanent structure—only extended to the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem.
The Holy Eyes
Why this difference?
The Talmud, fascinatingly, attributes it to the above mentioned verse, where Jacob tells Joseph:
A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; the women strode along to see him.
The Hebrew word for charming, poras, can also be translated as fruitful or abundant. The Hebrew words to the eye, alei ayin, can also be translated “because of the eye.” We can thus understand Jacob’s words thus: “A fruitful son is Joseph; a fruitful son, because of the eye.”
Says the Talmud:
Rabbi Avahu said, The Torah says “Yosef is a fruitful son, a fruitful son because of the eye. Let the eye which would not feed upon and enjoy that which did not belong to it, merit to eat from sacrifices as far as it can see.
Joseph refused to allow his eyes to glean from the beauty and seduction of the Egyptian princess, Potiphar’s wife, who was desperately trying to tempt him into promiscuous behavior. She did not belong to him, so he took his eyes off her. What is the reward for this type of self-control? That at the end you end up with more, not less. When you guard your eyes against that which does not belong to you, you allow it to expand and conquer all that which does belong to you. Hence, in the Shilo Tabernacle, stationed in the territory of Joseph, one gets to enjoy the sacrifices in the entire territory from which the eye can behold the Tabernacle. This was a privilege in Shilo, not in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Yosef Rosen, the great 20th century sage, known as the Rogatchover Gaon, brilliantly goes on to explains the continuation of Jacob’s words: “The women strode along to see him.” Since in Shilo, Joseph territory, what matters is not the location of the Temple and the city of Shilo, but to be able to see it, the women were gazing at Joseph. This was symbolic of the fact that one day people would gaze at the Tabernacle in Shilo, representing Joseph, which would allow them to eat the sacrifices in that location.
Yet there is something still amiss. What is the connection between Joseph not gazing at Potiphar’s wife and the Tabernacle in Shilo having the privilege of conferring holiness upon far distances so that you can eat its sacred offerings wherever your eyes behold the Tabernacle?
It is a strange correlation. As a reward for guarding his eyes in Egypt, hundreds of years later, people will get to eat sacrifices from the Tabernacle in Shilo in a larger territory? What does this have to do with his abstaining from Potiphar’s wife?
In order to understand this, we must explore the continuation of Jacob’s words:
They made his life bitter and they quarreled with him; archers despised him.
This indicates that Joseph’s reward in Shilo which came because of his eyes is somehow connected to the conflict between him and his brothers.
What was at the root of the conflict in the first family of Israel? Could it be that a multicolored coat or a favorite son’s share of his father’s affections should generate such profound strife and animosity?
Why did Joseph’s brothers plot to kill him? Why did so loath him so deeply? Why throw him into a pit and then sell him into slavery? Just because he had a dream that they would bow to him? Was this a petty conflict?
Separation Vs. Integration
Joseph and Judah (Judah representing also the other brothers) embodied two divergent world-views. They possessed different approaches on the meaning of Judaism, just beginning to bud, and the place of the Jewish people in society. The conflict, to some degree, persists in the Jewish world.
Judah believed that holiness can thrive in seclusion. The Jewish family must remain insulated behind a physical or conceptual wall that would separate it from outer influences. Joseph’s brothers were shepherds. (When they arrived in Egypt they told the Pharaoh that this has been their occupation throughout their entire lives!). They chose this vocation because they found the life of the shepherd—a life of seclusion, communion with nature, and distance from the tumult and vanities of society—most conducive to their spiritual pursuits. Tending their sheep in the valleys and on the hills of Canaan, they could turn their backs on the mundane affairs of man, contemplate the majesty of the Creator, and serve Him with a clear mind and tranquil heart.
Joseph believed that the Jew was a “universalist,” possessing the responsibility of transforming all of human society. Holiness ought not to be relegated to the internal Jewish world; it must be brought out in the open. It is not enough to maintain your faith and spiritual consciousness, Joseph argued, in the confines of your celestial cocoon; you ought to enter mainstream society and become “the great provider” of spiritual grain to society. “Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; it was he who sold grain to the entire populace of the land.” This is not only a technical description of his role as Prime Minister of Egypt. It captures also his spiritual mission statement: Joseph sees his potential as a person who can nourish, sustain and inspire the entire world. Joseph stressed the mission of the Jewish people as ‘a light unto the nations.’ The entire universe, argued Joseph, craves to place its mouth on the mouth of the Jew and declare “Yisgadal V’yiskadash Shmei Rabah!”
There is a striking verse in Genesis. When Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers, he sends this message to his father Jacob: “Samani Elokim leadon al kal Eretz Mitzrayim,” “G-d has made me a lord over all of Egypt.” Did he really think that this will impress his old saintly father? Tell my father that I made it into Harvard and became a doctor! Jacob, “the serious man who dwelled in the tents of study,” would have appreciated more a report about his son’s spiritual progress.
The Chassidic masters present a deeply moving interpretation to his words. They ought to be translated a bit differently: ““Samani Elokim leadon al kal Eretz Mitzrayim,” I have made G-d a Lord over all of Egypt!”
That was Joseph’s mission statement. It is not enough that G-d rules the heavens and the Jewish enclave; my mission is to turn G-d into a ruler over all of Egypt!
Joseph as a Threat
Joseph’s brothers had a different view, and they actually saw Joseph as a threat—fearing that under his leadership the Jewish people would be corrupted and assimilated even before they had a chance to develop as a nation. They could tolerate Joseph as an individual, but when they discovered that he saw himself as the king of Israel, and they would all prostrate themselves to him, this spelled for them the end of Judaism. Judah feared that Joseph’s philosophy of openness would endanger the future of the Jewish people. But how to safely neutralize this threat?
Shimon and Levy, who had already fought against assimilation and the culture of immorality when they decimated the city of Shechem for kidnapping and raping their sister Dina, planned to simply kill Joseph. Judah objected, “What profit is there if we kill our brother?” The true danger is not Joseph, but his school of thought. Even if we kill him, his ideology will remain. What is more, you don’t disprove an ideology by destroying your opponent. You are not proven right by murdering your rival. Instead, argued Judah, let us put his theories to the test. We will sell Joseph to the gentiles. As he will experience assimilation first hand, he will certainly change his views.
Sure, now he yearns to impact the larger world. Let’s give him a taste of the food he so yearns for. He loves the world so much? Let him become part of it; I can promise you, he will come “running back” to our “Jewish ghetto.”
The Great Irony
They erred in their judgement of Joseph and the holiness of his mission. Here we come to one of the greatest ironies and humorous contrasts in the entire book of Genesis. The Torah juxtaposes two stories, Genesis chapters 38 and 39. Judah, the champion of Jewish seclusion, encounters a woman who appears like a harlot and he engages her. While Joseph, the “worldly” Jew, serving as a slave in Egyptian society, stands up to the test and rejects the seduction of his master’s wife, paying for this refusal with his very liberty. He ends up spending 12 years in prison because he was not ready to sell his soul and to compromise his loyalty to G-d and his master.
Wow! The “black sheep” of the family—the one being accused of “assimilationists” tendencies—emerges as the purest of spirits. He, more than his brothers, carries the flame of holiness and purity even in the most morally depraved location. He, more than anyone else, is permeated with a G-d-consciousness, with which he effects his entire environment.
In his master’s home, as well as in prison, and then in the palace of the Pharaoh Joseph invokes the presence of G-d. He speaks of G-d and introduces the reality of the Divine into this spiritually forsaken parcel of land.
When you train yourself to be holy only in an environment of holiness, the moment you are exposed to street, you can lose it all, in an instant. Only when you learn how to discover G-d within every aspect of the material world, can you be secure that even when you encounter the outside, you will not falter.
The Shilo Tabernacle and the Temple
How does this distinction play itself out in Jewish history? In the difference between the Temple in Jerusalem, located in Judah’s territory, and the Tabernacle in Shilo, located in Joseph’s territory.
These conflicting views are reflected by the contrast between the Tabernacle in Shiloh and the Temple in Jerusalem. As you recall, in Shiloh, offerings could be eaten outside the walls of the city, as long as the Tabernacle of Shiloh was in sight. Temple offerings in Jerusalem, on the other hand, could only be eaten within the walls of Jerusalem. The difference will now be clear; it cuts to the heart of the distinction between Joseph and Judah.
For Judah, our primary function is to create an oasis of holiness and transcendence within the Jewish world. Holiness must be protected and insulated so that it does not get corrupted and distorted. The Temple in Jerusalem was located in the land of Judah and thus followed his view that it is necessary to build a wall to separate the holy from the mundane; the holiness cannot be transported beyond the wall. That is why we could never take the holy sacrifices outside of the Jerusalem walls, for only within the confinements of the walls can holiness thrive. If you take the holy sacrifices outside of this wall you are actually contaminating it and destroying its holiness. It loses its status as a sacred piece of food, and you cannot eat it any longer as a “karban,” as a Divine offering. If you take the Jew out of the wall, he will inevitably forfeit part of his or her holiness.
For Joseph, the primary mission of the Jew is spread the sanctity of the Divine and transform the entire landscape of our planet. Thus, the holiness of the Shiloh Tabernacle — standing in Joseph’s portion in the Holy Land — spread far beyond any walls. Where you are, as long as you can open your eyes and “see” Joseph, as long as you can observe the sanctity of Shilo’s Tabernacle, you are in a holy place and you can consume there the holy sacrifices.
This is the meaning of the Talmud’s words. Joseph may find himself in a spiritual abyss—in the house of Potiphar, tempted to promiscuity. Yet, it does not matter. His unique skill was to be able to “open his eyes” and perceive the Divine right there with him, thus rejecting the seduction of Potiphar’s wife. As the Sages put it: “He saw the image of his father Jacob in the window.” In the midst of depravity, he can perceive the visage of his saintly father. Hence, in Joseph’s territory, you need not be located in the environment of the Tabernacle to experience holiness. Even if you are far away, as long as you can lift your eyes and “see holiness” (by seeing the Tabernacle), as long as you can find the presence of the Divine in your present location, you are transported to holiness.
Open Your Eyes
Now we can truly appreciate the words Jacob uttered to Joseph on his deathbed:
“A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; the women strode along to see him. They made his life bitter and they quarreled with him; archers despised him.”
Joseph’s power was to reveal holiness within every reality, every experience and every culture. Wherever you were, even outside of the walls of holiness, when you “saw” Joseph, you become infused with holiness. For this he was misunderstood, despised, and hurt. The word in the Hebrew for “archers” are “baalei chitzim,” which can also be translated as the “masters of the walls” (mechitzos). Joseph was despised by those who believed that holiness must remain within the “mechitzah,” within the walls of Jerusalem and not be taken outward.
Who Was Right?
Who was right in this argument?
“These and these are the words of the living G-d,” as the Talmud describes the arguments in Torah. Judah was correct when it came to himself and his brothers; Joseph was correct when it came to his own life.
Joseph was given a multicolored coat by his father symbolizing his unique ability to expose himself to the many colors and shades of human society and reveal in them the oneness of G-d, who created all of mankind with all of its colors. Joseph can reveal the oneness within diversity. If you don’t possess that multicolored gift, you might indeed assimilate and be influenced negatively. But Joseph was given that multicolored coat, symbolizing the skill to bring the holiness of Judaism into the diverse market of human culture and ideas.
Throughout our history, we follow both Judah and Joseph.
We must protect ourselves and our children from harming influences without. In our efforts to enhance society, we do not want to become absorbed in it, being influenced rather than influencing. You can’t cast your child into an open world without the proper gear and immunity. You need to educate your child in a holistic fashion, giving him or her a powerful Jewish identity which can then tackle and integrate diversity.
Even as we grow older, each of us needs to frequently retreat into a world of pure holiness so that we can afterward go out into the world and behold and reveal the holiness that exist all around us.
That is why when we awake in the morning we spend time in prayer, meditation, Torah study and only afterward do we engage the world. If you want to be successful as a Joseph, you must have the foundation of a Judah.
The first words a Jew recites in the morning are “Modeh Ani,” I am grateful, Modeh being the same root as Yehudah (Judah). The opening words of the morning prayer are “Hodu Lashem,” give thanks to G-d (Yehudah, Judah, means thanks). Each morning you must spend time behind the “walls of Jerusalem,” symbolically speaking, in a sacred and sheltered island of transcendence, so that you can fortify your soul, strengthen your conscience, and align yourself with G-d.
But we are also pupils of Joseph. As Jews, we are responsible not only for the people in our own sheltered community, but for the entire Jewish people, even if they find themselves physically and ideologically far removed from our insulating walls. Furthermore, as Jews we are responsible for the entire world, bringing the wisdom, depth, and moral majesty of Judaism to all peoples. As Maimonides writes,Jews were given tha responsibility to influence the entire world and compel every non-Jew to observe the seven Noahide laws, to create a moral society. We must don the “colorful coat” of Joseph and address the rainbow of nations and cultures inspiring them to live up to their G-d given potential.
This is true in our personal lives as well. It is not enough to serve G-d in the insulated walls of the synagogue. The holiness must spread beyond the walls. Even when you are in your office, or on a business trip, or on vacation, you must be able to open your eyes and observe the presence of G-d—symbolized by the house of G-d in Shilo—right there and then, transforming your own present condition and reality into one of holiness and G-dliness.
We must live out Jacob’s words: “A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; the women strode along to see him.” Joseph represents that quality within us that whoever looks at us should be able to perceive moral beauty and G-d centeredness. The way we do business, the way we walk in the street, the way we interact with people, the way we treat our vendors, the way we live our day to day lives, can be one which inspires people to live more kind and moral lives.
The Merging of Judah and Joseph
The ultimate truth is that Joseph and Judah, in their deepest core, are one—and the two will one day converge,for in the ultimate scheme of things, the outer and the inner can unite to reveal the harmony of the entire cosmos, reflecting the oneness of its singular Creator.
That is why the prophet Zechariah predicts, that one day “perazos tashav Yerushalayim,” Jerusalem will become an open city. The holiness of Jerusalem will not need to be protected any longer, as it will spread and permeate the entire world, with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.