19 May NASSO: IT TAKES ONE MAN IN CHINA—OR MINNESOTA
The Nuremberg Trials
In the film “Judgment at Nuremberg,” American judge Dan Haywood sentences Ernst Janning, an important legal figure in Germany even before the rise of Hitler, to life in prison for condemning an innocent Jewish doctor to death in 1935. Janing pleads to Haywood that he was unaware of the magnitude of the Nazi horror and that he would have never assisted Hitler had he known what the monster was scheming.
“Those people, those millions of people,” Janing begged for his freedom, “I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it.”
To which Judge Haywood replied: “It came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”
100 Million? Big Deal
The story is told that before Mao-Tse-Tung (1893-1976), the founder and leader of the People’s Republic of China, brought the Revolution to China and installed the Communist system there, he was warned that millions of Chinese could starve until they got things working properly.
To which Mao responded, “If I have to lose 100 million Chinese peasants for the revolution, then it’s worth it.”
Indeed, during his leadership, from 1949 till 1976, it is estimated that 70 million of his own people perished.
This is one type of leader: one who can give up 100 million people, as long as his goals are accomplished. Joseph was taught by his father a vastly different message: One person is the world. Taking the life of one person is extinguishing the light of the entire world.
This message is conveyed with astounding depth in the weekly Torah portion, Naso.
The Seventh Day
In the listing of the offerings brought by the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel, in dedication of the newly erected Sanctuary, recorded in detail in Naso, the seventh leader is from the tribe of Ephraim.
On the seventh day, the leader was of the sons of Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud.
Which begs a great question:
The leaders of the tribes began offering their contributions on the first day of the month of Nissan, the day the Sanctuary was erected, which was on a Sunday. This means that Ephraim brought his offering on the seventh day of the week, on the Shabbos. But on Shabbos you are not allowed to bring an offering. On Shabbos you may not slaughter an animal, nor can you place meat in a fire, nor can you cook meat—all components necessary for an offering in the Sanctuary!
To be sure, when the Sanctuary stood in the desert, and the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, the korbanot (animal and meal offerings) offered on its altar came under two categories: A) “Individual offerings” (korbanot yachid) brought by private citizens, such as the “generosity offering” brought as a donation, the “thanksgiving offering” brought to express one’s gratitude for a personal salvation, or the “sin offering” brought to atone for a transgression. B) “Communal offerings” (korbanot tzibbur), such as the daily morning and afternoon offerings brought by the collective nation of Israel from a fund to which every Jew contributed an annual half-shekel.
Torah law forbids the bringing of individual offerings on Shabbat, but permits and obligates the bringing of communal offerings on the holy day.
The offerings brought by the leaders of the tribes were individual offerings, brought by private citizens, paid by their own money, based on their own volition, not communal offerings which are always brought on behalf of the entire people. So, here we face a fascinating question! How then can the leader of Ephraim be allowed to bring these sacrifices on Shabbos?
The Midrash Rabah on this verse raises this enigma.
The answer the Midrash gives is intriguing, if enigmatic.
Ephraim was a son of Joseph. The tribe of Ephraim carried the genes and legacy of Joseph. When the brothers of Joseph came to Egypt to obtain food from him, he told the caretaker of his home to “slaughter a slaughtering and prepare a meal,” which the sages understand to mean that he should cook and prepare all the food on Friday to be ready for the Shabbos.
Rabbi Yochanan states that it was Friday afternoon and Joseph told his people to prepare a Shabbos meal. [The word “hachen,” prepare, refers to a Shabbos meal, as Moses tells the Jews in the desert: “And it will be on the seventh day, they should prepare, v’heichinu, ahead of time, that which they will bring”. Thus, in the entire Torah, Joseph is the first person who is described as preparing a Shabbos meal ahead of time. This was before the Torah was given. So G-d said: “Joseph! You kept Shabbos even before it was given, I will pay you back, that your descendant will offer his sacrifice on Shabbos, which is not the case of ordinary individuals who cannot offer private sacrifices on Shabbos.”
Yet this is so strange. What is the logic behind saying that since Joseph kept Shabbos, and prepared for Shabbos on Friday, his great grandson would bring a sacrifice that ordinarily violates the sanctity of Shabbos? If anything, Joseph should be rewarded by descendants who increase in the sanctity of Shabbos.
What is more, the sages teach that all the Patriarchs observed the entire Torah before it was given, including Shabbos. What then was the uniqueness of Joseph?
I will present to you one possible answer, based on an address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Shabbos Parshas Metzora, 7 Nissan, 5741 (1981) and on 19 Kislev 5721 (December 8, 1960).
For this we have to recall the fateful story of Joseph and the uniqueness of his observing Shabbos in Egypt.
Joseph, an extremely handsome young man, Genesis tells us, attracts the lustful imagination of his master’s wife. She desperately tries to engage him in a relationship, yet he steadfastly refuses her. Then came the fateful day, “When he entered the house to do his work and none of the household staff was inside. She grabbed him by his cloak and pleaded ‘lie with me.’ He ran away from her, leaving his cloak in her hand, and he fled outside.”
Humiliated and furious, she used the cloak as evidence that it was he who attempted to violate her. Her husband, Potiphar, had Joseph imprisoned, where he spent the next twelve years of his life until, through an astonishing turn of events, he was appointed Prime Minister of Egypt. That is when his brothers came for food and he has the Shabbos feast prepared on Friday, since he observed the laws of Shabbos.
The Face of Jacob
The Midrash explains the meaning of the phrase that Joseph “entered the house do to his work and none of the household staff was inside.” What type of work did Joseph come to do?
The Midrash says that the “work” Joseph came to do was to yield to the advances of his master’s wife. After all of her unceasing pleas, Joseph at last succumbed. However, as the union between them was about to materialize, the visage of his father, Jacob, appeared to him. This caused Joseph to reject the powerful urge. He left his garment in her hand and he fled outdoors.
What was it about Jacob’s visage that inspired Joseph to deny the temptation?
The Lonely Slave
Let us reflect more closely on the psychological and physical condition of Joseph during that day when his master’s wife lured him into a relationship.
Joseph was a 17-year-old slave in a foreign country. He did not even own his body—his master exercised full control over his life, as was the fate of all ancient and modern slaves. Joseph had not a single friend or relative in the world. His mother died when he was nine years old, and his father thought he was dead. His siblings were the ones who sold him into slavery and robbed him of his youth and liberty. One could only imagine the profound sense of loneliness that pervaded the heart of this lad.
This is the context in which we need to understand Joseph’s struggle. A person in such isolation is naturally overtaken by extremely powerful temptations, and is also likely to feel that a single action of his makes little difference in the ultimate scheme of things.
After all, what was at stake if Joseph succumbed to this woman’s demands? Nobody was ever likely to find out what had occurred between the two. Joseph would not need to return home in the evening to face a dedicated spouse or a spiritual father, nor would he have to go back to a family or a community of moral standing. This act would not harm his prospects on getting a good shidduch (marriage partner), nor would it get him thrown out of his Yeshiva… He would remain alone after the event, just as he was alone before it. So what’s the big deal to engage in a snapshot relationship?
In addition we must take into consideration the power possessed by this Egyptian noblewoman who was inciting Joseph. She was in the position of being able to turn Joseph’s life into a paradise or a living hell. In fact, she did the latter, having him incarcerated in an Egyptian dungeon on the false charges that he attempted to violate her. If it was up to her, he would have remained there for life.
The Talmud described the techniques the woman used in order to persuade Joseph. “Each and every day, the wife of Potiphar would attempt to seduce him with words. Cloth she wore for him in the morning she would not wear for him in the evening. Cloth she wore for him in the evening she would not wear for him in the morning. She said to him, ‘Surrender yourself to me.’ He answered: ‘No.’ She threatened him, ‘I shall confine you in prison…I shall bend your proud stature…I will blind your eyes,’” but Joseph refused her. She then gave him a huge sum of money, but he did not budge.
Let us recall that this story took place before the giving of the Torah, when adultery became forbidden for Jews even at the threat of death. One may argue that in light of the death threats presented to Joseph by his master’s wife, it would have been halachically permissible, perhaps even obligatory, for him to engage in the union!
What, then, was the secret behind Joseph’s moral rectitude? What empowered a lonely and frail slave to reject such an awesome temptation?
“The visage of his father Jacob”! That is what gave Joseph the extraordinary fortitude to smack his impulse in the face and to emphatically dismiss the noblewoman’s lure.
But why? Jacob was living many miles away, unaware even of the fact that his son was alive. What was the magic that lay in his physiognomy?
The Talmud presents a tradition that the beauty of Jacob reflected the beauty of Adam, the first human being formed by the Almighty Himself. When Joseph saw the visage of Jacob, he was seeing the visage of Adam as well.
Adam, we know, was instructed by G-d not to eat from the fruit of “the tree of knowledge.” His disobeying of this directive altered the course of human and world history forever. Though he did something apparently insignificant, merely eating a single fruit from a single tree, this minuscule act still vibrates through the consciousness of humanity to this very day.
Why? Because every single human being is part of the fiber in which heaven and earth are interlaced. “Each person is responsible to say for me the world was created,” says the Mishnah. What this means is that there is something in this world which only I can repair and accomplish.
G-d’s dream was not to be alone but to have mankind as a partner in the continuous task of healing the world. Each of us was given our particular mission, and on this task the whole world depends. By whatever we do, we either advance or obstruct the drama of redemption; we either reduce or enhance the power of evil. Something eternal is at stake in every decision, every word, every deed performed by every single man, woman or child.
When Joseph saw the visage of (Jacob which reflected the visage of) Adam, he reclaimed an inner unshakable dignity; he remembered that he was a candle of G-d lit on the cosmic way. Seeing the visage of Adam reminded Joseph how a single act, performed at a single moment by a single man, had the power to change history forever.
At that moment, Joseph remembered, that Adam was not one man; Adam was the entire world. If something would happen to him, if he would die, humanity world die with him. Each decision he made impacted the planet. He could not deceive himself that his actions were unimportant. One move this or that way, would define the destiny of mankind.
This is what gave Joseph the fortitude he needed to withstand temptation. This is how he could keep Shabbos as the Prime Minister of Egypt, all alone, with no family or community support. For he realized the depth and significance of his life and decisions.
The greatest mistake in life is to think of yourself as insignificant. Not to realize the centrality of your existence in the cosmic plan. Not to appreciate the truth that you are G-d’s personal ambassador to the world. You are never alone, and you are never merely one small individual.
In the words of the Reb Yosef Yitzchak, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe (1880-1950):
Every individual is an entire community; he can create a community and bring life to a community.
Does one need better proof then Joseph’s eventual story? Here was one man who saved the entire world from famine!
Marianne Williamson’s remarks on the subject have become justly famous. She wrote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of G-d. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of G-d that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Rabbi David Lapin, from South Africa, once shared this experience.
As soon as I entered the rabbinate of South Africa, I became concerned about retaining my intellectual independence – something I am fiercely protective of – while serving as a community rabbi at the will of a synagogue’s board of directors. Therefore, I believed that I also needed to secure an independent source of income. And so I first went to work for an international commodities trading company, and later I founded the leadership consulting firm which I currently lead.
At about that time, an opportunity arose to join a company of commodity traders in Johannesburg, and this is what I did. But I was not sure I was on the right track. Was I right to divide my time between my business and my rabbinic duties? It seemed as if I had two full-time jobs and my family was paying a heavy price as a result.
There came a time when I felt I needed the opinion of someone much wiser than me, someone who had a global perspective that embraced modernity, history and the future. I decided to seek the advice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
In 1976 I came to New York, but I had not realized that to see the Rebbe one had to make an appointment many months in advance, and at first I was turned away. Only when I wrote a letter to the Rebbe in which I made the argument that my questions impacted the larger Jewish community – and which I insisted be presented to him – did he invite me to wait until he finished his appointments for the night when he would make time to see me.
I will never forget meeting the Rebbe. I recall that he got up from his chair as my wife and I came in, greeted us and insisted that we sit down. At that moment, I realized that we were going to have a real conversation – this was not going to be just a symbolic encounter.
Indeed, the meeting lasted about fifteen minutes, during which time I felt that he was looking right inside me and communicating with me on a level that transcends the mind, getting straight to the heart and the essence of being. In addition, I sensed a kindness and warmth – all at once I was in the presence of a great man, an intellectual genius, a leader of the Jewish people, but also a grandfather who cared about me. In short, it was an amazing experience.