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Mikeitz(Genesis 41:1-44:17)

Spiritual Sibling Rivalry

For 22 long years Jacob mourned Joseph. He was kidnapped at age 17 and rose to power in Egypt at age 30. He was reunited with his father at the end of the second of the years of hunger, adding another 9 years of separation, bringing the total to 22. During this entire time, Joseph was a mere six-day distance from Hebron, where Jacob lived. Why didn't he let his father know he was safe?

Another puzzling question: Why didn't Isaac - Jacob's father and Joseph's grandfather - reveal the secret? According to the chronology presented in Genesis, Isaac died twelve years after the kidnapping, and he was fully informed about what had transpired. (See Rashi, Genesis 37:35)

Finally, a third question: Why didn't God tell Jacob?

The Midrash provides the answer:

The brothers said: "Let us take an oath of silence between us lest someone tell our father Jacob what we have done." Judah said, "Reuben isn't present and this type of oath has to be made in the presence of ten people to make it binding." [There were 12 brothers, but Benjamin was too young and did not participate in the events that led up to the kidnapping; Reuben was missing, and they couldn't count the victim, Joseph, which left only nine people.] What did they do? They invited God to be the tenth participant to the oath not to inform Jacob ... Thus God, who is described by the Psalmist as Jacob's informant; "He informs Jacob about his concerns" (Psalm 147) did not report this matter to Jacob because He was bound by the oath. (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev 2)

 

* * *

 

JEWISH UNITY

Apparently, no one told Jacob that Joseph was safe because no one was allowed to tell; they were all sworn to secrecy. But we are still in the dark; by what authority did the brothers impose this oath of silence on their victim Joseph, on Isaac, and even on God Himself?

To answer this question we must explore the concept of Jewish unity. The end of the Shabbat is the high point of the Jewish week. In the Mincha service recited at this time, we say: "You are One and Your name is One; and who is like your people Israel, one nation on earth." Only when we are at the very spiritual pinnacle of the week, can we can grasp the association between the unity of Israel and the unity of God.

Recognizing the unity of God is very central to Jewish life. Twice a day a Jew is commanded to recite the Shema prayer, which is a statement concerning God's unity:

"Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." [Deuteronomy 6:4].

The interesting thing is that we actually recite this prayer to fulfill a different obligation altogether, the obligation to accept the yoke of the Kingdom of heaven on ourselves. In other words, the purpose of the affirmation of unity is not to establish that there is only one God rather than several Deities, but to assert that God is all there is. There is no other true existence besides His and we have no alternative but to accept His rule. In this way the affirmation of His unity is also an acceptance of His rule.

 

* * *

 

THE UNITY OF ISRAEL

When we say that Israel is one, we are making a similar statement concerning Israel. We are not saying that there is only one nation Israel; this is true of France or Spain as well. We are asserting that Jews can only exist as a unified entity. Their quality of Oneness is essential to their very being.

We need to explore the Jewish social contract in order to grasp this idea. Let us begin by looking at the genesis of the Jewish nation, the historic meeting with God at Sinai. As a prelude to the Covenant we signed with Him, God declared:

"You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6)

In a secular reality the success of a society is measured by how much its individual members benefit from engaging in social concourse; the greater the slice of the social pie that can be distributed to individual members in return for the investment of their energy, the more successful the society. Social harmony is a means to an end. The fruits of the co-operative efforts organized under the umbrella of the secular social contract are enjoyed by the members in their separate individual capacities. There is no collective payoff.

But according to the Jewish social contract, the reward of social co-operation is unity with God. We signed up to be a holy nation of priests, not to live well. Individual unity with God is a non-starter. In His statement of intent quoted above, God made it clear that He was bonding with the nation, not with individual Jews. The benefits of the Jewish social contract are available to the individual members of Jewish society only in terms of how much they blend harmoniously into the cohesive social group. Social harmony is not a means to an end the way it is in secular society where increased co-operation translates into the production of more goods to distribute to individual members. In Judaism harmony itself is the goal of social concourse. Only a unified Israel that can connect with God, and the Covenant with God is what the Jewish social contract is all about. The goal of the ambitious individual Jew is to attach himself to the overall unity of Israel. Individual ambition whose expression can only be attained at the cost of the unity of Israel must always be suppressed.

 

* * *

 

EXPRESSION OF THE SIMILARITY BETWEEN THE UNITIES

This essential similarity between the unity of God and the unity of Israel is so basic to Judaism that it is expressed in the actual word meaning One in Hebrew, echad. The word is spelled:

Aleph - with the numerical value 1.
Chet - with the numerical value 8.
Daled - with a numerical value 4.

That adds up to a total of 13 - Jacob, plus his 12 sons (including the 6 sons of Leah, the 2 sons of Rachel, and the 4 sons of the maidservants). This correspondence stresses the idea that the 'oneness' of Israel converges with the idea of the Oneness of God. The word for love in Hebrew, ahava, spelled aleph = 1, heh = 5, bet = 2, and heh = 5 also has a numerical value of 13. It is impossible to overemphasize the centrality of these concepts to the outlook of Judaism.

 

* * *

 

WHAT INDIVIDUAL AMBITION CAN DO

We find an example of how much damage a single individual's misdirected ambition can wreak in the story of one of Joseph's most illustrious descendants, Jeoboam ben Nevat, a member of the tribe of Ephraim, the first King of the Ten Tribes following the schism of Israel upon the death of King Solomon. Jeroboam was not a rebellious troublemaker. He was anointed to be king over the ten tribes by God's prophet as described in detail (1 Kings, Ch. 11):

"It happened at that time, while Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the way; he was clothed in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the field." (Kings 11:29)

The Talmud comments:

Just like a new garment has no defect, the Torah scholarship of Jeroboam was totally free of defects. Another interpretation of a new garment: they came up with new insights that no ear had previously heard. And the two of them were alone in the field: all other scholars were like blades of grass in comparison. Some say: the secrets of the Torah were revealed to them like an open field. (Sanhedrin 102a)

We are introduced to an obviously brilliant individual, similar in many respects to his illustrious progenitor, Joseph, far superior in ability to even the most talented Jews, clearly singled out to rule on the basis of merit.

Yet this same Jeroboam instituted the practice that ultimately caused the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Jewish independence. When he came to power, he calculated that if he allowed the Jews to continue the practice of the tri-annual pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, he would ultimately forfeit his kingdom. Only the kings of David's line are allowed to sit in the Temple; all others, including the Kings of Israel must stand. If he led his people on the tri-annual pilgrimage they would see the Davidian king, Rechavom, sitting on his throne in the Temple while he, Jeroboam, was forced to remain standing with the rest. He theorized that his people would ultimately return their allegiance to the house of David and cast him aside. On the other hand if he didn't lead the pilgrimage himself the people would also reject him for his lack of observance.

The Temple in Jerusalem, that supreme symbol of Jewish spiritual unity, was a symbol of his own lack of legitimacy. The upshot; Jeroboam replaced the Temple; he put soldiers on the roads leading to Jerusalem, and prevented Jews from making the pilgrimage to Solomon's temple. But the people he ruled over were fervent worshippers of God, as indeed was he, and they were hardly prepared to give up Divine service or their tri-annual pilgrimage to God's Temple. Jeroboam set up a Golden Calf in the North and South of the country as alternative pilgrimage sites (Talmud, Sanhedrin, 101b).

 

* * *

 

ALTERNATE PILGRIMAGE SITE

These Calves of Jeroboam are referred to throughout the Book of Kings as idols, but the term idol is applicable to them in precisely the same fashion as it fits the original Golden calf after which they were modeled. Just as that Golden calf was built to re-establish contact with God, so were the calves of Jeroboam. They are referred to as idols because their erection was forbidden; the fact that the people who served them did so with the purest of intentions could not elevate their worship and give it the status of true Divine service. Once the Temple was erected in Jerusalem, it became strictly forbidden to offer sacrifices to God at other sites (see Talmud, Megilah 10a).

The reason for defining the worship of God at alternative sites as idolatrous is that such acts of worship undermine the spiritual unity of the Jewish people. As Moses told the followers of Korach who all coveted Aaron's job and desired a turn at being the high priest; it is having a single Temple, a single altar, and a single High Priest that allows Israel to maintain its perfect unity with God (Rashi, Bamidbar 16:6). The physical expression of the unity between God and Israel is the Temple in Jerusalem. Any attempt to duplicate it actually refutes the very idea of such unity.

Jeroboam, being a great scholar surely knew all this much better than we. But it was God Himself who told Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39) that He preferred him to the Davidian Kings; that He would give him ten out of the twelve tribes to reign over and leave the Davidian king in Jerusalem with a single tribe only for the sake of the memory of His beloved David. In Jeroboam's mind, the establishment of the alternate pilgrimage sites was necessary to carry out God's will. The way he saw it, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was irreconcilable with the continuance of his rule, and God clearly wanted him to rule.

Jeroboam made the mistake of thinking that there are circumstances in which some value could be placed above the supreme importance of Jewish unity in the eyes of God. This cannot be so by definition. Without spiritual unity Israel cannot bond with God. Without such a bond the Jewish people stands for nothing. Jeroboam's mistaken priority was a product of his lack of objectivity when it came to his own ambition. God wanted him to rule over the ten tribes but still maintain spiritual unity by affording recognition to the centrality of the Temple in Jerusalem. By creating spiritual disunity, Jeroboam ultimately caused his own downfall as well as the severance of Israel's connection with God.

 

* * *

 

INDIVIDUAL SUPERIORITY MUST TAKE A BACK SEAT TO UNITY

The brothers observed these same character traits in Joseph. They recognized and acknowledged his superiority to them in all areas, intellectual as well as spiritual, but for them, the preservation of Jewish unity was the highest value. In their unanimous judgment, when push came to shove, Joseph would place the actualization of his own great spiritual potential above the principle of unity. He would do this for the best of motives, with the common good in the forefront of his mind; what was the best for him was bound to be the best for everyone.

That is why he had to be cast out. Only a unified Jewish people could become one with God, the sole purpose of the entire existence of the Jewish people. A person who places the attainment of his own spiritual excellence above the principle of unity, no matter the level of his greatness or the purity of his motives is a threat to the very essence of what the Jewish people stand for. They were of the opinion that their father would never agree to cast Joseph out; it was he who had singled him out and created the monster in the first place by placing Joseph on a special pedestal. Jacob had to be left out of their decision.

When they took the decision to banish Joseph, they took the leadership of Israel into their own hands. Because their decision was based on their concern for the maintenance of unity God recognized their authority. The leadership passed from Jacob to the next generation. God also felt Himself bound by the new consensus. The sale of Joseph was not a hotheaded crime of passion, but a deliberately considered decision taken by the leadership of the Jewish people in an area that lay within their jurisdiction.

God remained neutral. On the one hand, the Divine Providence was busily advancing Joseph's career in Egypt, but on the other hand, God followed the majority decision to ostracize Joseph and obeyed the order to impose silence that was part of the edict. Indeed, even Joseph adhered to the oath of silence. The path back to acceptance was not through Jacob, who was no longer making the decisions. To rejoin his family, Joseph had to demonstrate his dedication to Jewish unity to his brothers, who constituted the present leadership.

 

* * *

 

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE UNITY DIVIDE

But the concern over motivations was not entirely one sided. Joseph had some concerns about his brothers' commitment to Jewish unity as well. When he observed that Benjamin had taken his place in his father's affections and did not show up with the rest of his brothers, he wondered if his brothers' treatment of him had been prompted by their mistrust of his ambition or whether this mistrust was merely an excuse to cloak the unwillingness of the sons of Leah to allow the sons of Rachel to occupy the place within the commonwealth of Israel that was rightfully theirs in the Divine scheme of things.

As Jewish history shows, the descendants of Rachel, beginning with Joseph himself who held the reigns of physical power and set up the conditions of the Egyptian exile, the tribes of Ephraim [representing Joseph] and Benjamin, generally occupied the important management positions in the Jewish commonwealth. The Jewish leader of the conquest was Joshua, a member of the tribe of Ephraim. The first king of Israel was Saul, a Benjaminite.

When the schism occurred and Israel split into two separate kingdoms following the reign of Solomon, Jeroboam of the tribe of Ephraim became the ruler of the larger portion, and this part of the country and the ten tribes who inhabited it remained under the control of different dynasties of Ephraimites until their exile by Sancherub. The physical resources of the Jewish nation were under the control of Ephraim throughout the history of the Jewish monarchy, stretching over the entire first Temple era.

But even the other half of the schism designated David's remnant was unable to survive without the participation of Rachel's children. The tribe of Benjamin stayed with Judah following the split, ensuring the presence of one of Rachel's children in the kingdom of Judah as well. The Temple, symbolic of the flow of Divine energy into Israel, stood in Benjamin's portion of Israel, and the Tabernacle that preceded it stood in the portion of Joseph. The principle is clear; one of Rachel's children in must be in physical control of the earthly expression of the spiritual unity between God and Israel at all times.

The analyses of the data demonstrates the following; the unified Jewish people can only function smoothly if the children of Rachel occupy the position that we would define as the Chief Executive Officer in the corporate entity of Israel. It is they who must be entrusted with the executive power of the Jewish people. Joseph was not convinced that his brothers, led by Judah, were willing to do this. He wanted to observe how they reacted to a threat to his brother Benjamin's security and so he put them to a test that they passed with flying colors before he revealed his identity.

 

* * *

 

DIVISION OF POWERS

The moral leadership of the Jewish people was formally handed over by the dying Jacob to Judah. Jacob designated Judah as the spiritual symbol of Jewish unity, the moral focus of the spiritual union between God and Israel. The spiritual leadership of Israel is in the hands of Judah, and specifically the descendants of David.

But while Judah is in charge of Israel's spiritual might, it is Joseph who controls the earthly manifestation of spiritual power. Both Judah and Joseph possess a claim to Jewish royalty. For the Jewish nation spiritual relationships are always supreme; it is only the king who is the symbol of Israel's spiritual unity with God, who comes from the line of Judah that is allowed to sit in the Temple. It is he who is God's representative. But he has to surrender the management over Israel's physical resources to the king that represents Joseph in order to successfully express the unity between God and His people in the world.

The relationship between Judah and Joseph is often complex and touchy. If they are in perfect unity, Israel prospers, but if they are at odds with each other, their rivalry often causes severe problems, up to and including total corporate dissolution of the Jewish people as an independent physical entity.

"'You are my sheep, the sheep of my flock, you are Adam, and I am your God,' declares the Lord God." (Yechezkel Ch. 34)

The Talmud interprets: "You Israel are collectively called Adam ..." (Yevomas 61a)

The collective Israel is a single human being. Through the unity that comes from its bond with God, achieved through its allegiance to His Torah, the Jewish nation achieves collectively the sharp focus of identity that is normally a product of individual consciousness, a level of oneness that only a group whose ambitions are purely spiritual can attain.

 

* * *

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

Every individual has a head and a heart - thoughts and emotions. Only when the head and the heart are in harmony does the latent power buried in human beings express itself in all its majesty. For the Jewish people to attain this type of majesty, both Joseph and Judah must recognize their proper place. That is what happens in this week's Torah portion ? presented as the model that the Jewish people should always follow.

The division of powers between the children of Rachel and the children of Leah, between Judah and Joseph is our particular version of the proper way to separate the 'church from the state'. The Jewish people must always embrace both under the umbrella of their religious covenant, but it is essential to separate the management. The head and the heart must work together but should not be confused with one another.

Published: November 30, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 3

(3) Rox, January 9, 2009 11:38 PM

Concise and well-said description.

"[...]Judah and Joseph is our particular version of the proper way to separate the 'church from the state'..." That's the most brilliant explanation of this I've read so far, as this was always difficult to understand for me. It makes the functions of these two powerful individuals very clear. Thanks.

(2) Chaim Lebowitz, December 8, 2007 6:35 PM

Why did Yakov add Epraim and Menashe just before his death

Great article! I just want to add one point. According to what you wrote, the jewish nation is made up of the number 13, which means oneness. This, you wrote, is started at the founding of our nation by Yakov and his 12 sons. I thought that this could be the answer why Yakov added Ephraim and Menashe only at the end of his life, and not during the 17 years that he lived together with them, because only after his passing is there a need to add one more tribe, to continue the make-up of the number 13.

(1) George Bernhardt Jr., December 3, 2002 12:00 AM

A great lesson on the only way to correctly unify the nation of Israel.

I have been studying for several months now on the promises given to the early patriarchs and how they were to affect the creation of the nation of Israel as recorded in the Torah, not that which we see today. I have enjoyed many of your articles in the past, but this one just stands out for it helped me to more clearly understand the roles between the sons of both Leah and Rachel. It helped me see that there are indeed two parts to the nation: the spiritual and the physical, and for the unity developed by HaShem thousands of years ago to occur the 'proper' leaders from the 'correct' tribes have to be in place. A fact that I doubt was even thought about in the recent elections, and then they wonder why they cannot seem to work together. Thank you for your most excellant article.

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