Bereishis, 41:55: "When all the land of Egypt hungered, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread. So Pharaoh said to all of Egypt, "Go to Joseph. Whatever he tells you, you should do."

Rashi, 41:55: sv. Whatever he tells you, you should do: Because Joseph told them that they should circumcise themselves.

As Viceroy, Joseph controlled all the food that was stored in Egypt. In return for providing the people with food during the famine, Joseph demanded that they circumcise themselves. The commentaries ask why Joseph made this demand given that non-Jews are not commanded in circumcision.(1)

Rav Yerucham Levovitz offers a fascinating explanation.(2) He begins by quoting a verse in Vayigash in which the Egyptians acknowledge what Joseph had done for them: "And they said, 'you have saved our lives..." (3) The Midrash tells us that later they were acknowledging that Yosef saved their lives in Olam Habah, the Next World, as well as in Olam Hazeh, this world, meaning that he had helped them in both the physical and spiritual spheres.(4) The commentaries on the Midrash explain that the way in which Joseph saved them spiritually was through forcing them to undergo brit mila.(5) The reason that this helped them despite the fact that they remained non-Jews is that the orlah (foreskin) that is removed is the source of great spiritual impurity and removing it even benefits non-Jews. Based on these sources, Rav Yerucham suggested that the reason Joseph forced them to circumcise themselves was the following: he had helped them so much in the physical realm, literally saving their lives by providing for them in the famine, but he felt that if he was helping them so much in Olam Hazeh, then how could he not also help them in Olam Haba?

The basis of Rav Yerucham's explanation is that the ultimate way to help one's fellow man is to help him in the spiritual sense. This concept is discussed by the commentators on the Mitzva of 'Love Your Neighbor'. The Ben Ish Chai argues that, given its centrality to the Torah, a very significant part of this Mitzva is overlooked by many people. He writes that whilst many people recognize how it requires a person to help his fellow in terms of his physical well-being, they are less aware that it also obliges him to help his fellow's spiritual health. Indeed he argues that helping his friend in the spiritual realm (ruchniut) is a far greater fulfillment of the mitzvah than benefiting him in the physical realm (gashmiut).

He explains: "When one helps his friend in a physical sense, he expresses his care for his friend's body, however, man's body merely consists of a combination of blood and flesh! The main aspect of a person is his Godly aspect, his soul, and the soul gets no benefit from kindness in the physical sense. However, if one rebukes his fellow and prevents him from transgressing God's mitzvot, then he bestows a great kindness on his friend's soul, and love for one's fellow's spiritual side is far more important than love of his physical being." (6) The Ben Ish Chai teaches that in order to most effectively fulfill the mitvzah to love one's neighbor he cannot limit his kindness to the help in gashmiut, rather he must strive to help his ruchniut to an even greater degree.

In a similar vein, the Orchot Tzadikim tells us that there are three main types of giving: Giving of one's money; giving of one's body and giving of one's wisdom. He goes on to discuss all three but he ends the chapter focusing on the giving over of Torah to others: "One must be especially giving with his Torah wisdom; to teach all men knowledge and to draw their hearts to heaven. This is the greatest of all the types of giving - giving to another to bring him to the life of the World-to-Come." (7)

Based on these sources, we have seen how kindness in the spiritual realm is on a higher level than on a physical realm. Thus, Rav Yerucham explained that Yosef was on such a level where he felt that his incredible kindness in providing for the Egyptians' food was lacking if not complemented by providing for their souls as well.

This lesson has great application in our daily lives. There are a number of ways of helping others in the spiritual realm. The Ben Ish Chai mentioned the greatness of rebuking others, however, in this generation, it is very difficult to rebuke in the correct way and therefore there is the risk that rebuking can do more harm than good. A less threatening way of helping others spiritually is by sharing one's Torah with them; Indeed there are many sources in the Rabbinic literature that indicate that teaching Torah is a fundamental part of each person's purpose in life: The Gemara(8) says that one who learns and does not teach is like a myrtle tree in the desert. The Maharal explains that the myrtle is the most pleasant smelling tree and it is in the world for people to benefit from its pleasant smell. A myrtle that is in the desert does not fulfill its purpose because no-one can benefit from it. So too, Torah is there to be taught over to others and one who does not do so cannot fulfill his purpose in life. He writes: "The main aspect of the Torah is wisdom that by its very nature is there to teach others and if it is not taught over then it is a waste, because the essence of wisdom is to be given over to everyone." (9)

Similarly, the Mishna in Pirkei Avot states: "If you have learnt much Torah, 'al tachzik tova' to yourself, because that is why you were created." (10) The simple understanding of this Mishna is that a person should not be proud of his achievements in Talmud Torah because learning Torah is his purpose in life. However, many commentaries suggest a different explanation. They explain the Mishna to mean that if a person has learnt much Torah he should not keep its goodness for himself, rather he should teach it to others - why? Because his purpose in creation is to learn and teach." (11)

There are many ways in which a person can share his Torah with others; he (or she) can strive to develop chavrutot (study partners) with people on a lower level of learning. There are numerous outreach organizations, Yeshivas, shuls etc who are in need of people to take out a short time from their schedule in order to teach those less learned than themselves. A mere phone call to one of these organizations may be all the effort necessary to find a suitable chavruta. Moreover, one need not restrict himself to teaching people face to face; with the added technology available now, one can easily learn with someone in another country on the phone or other mediums. Furthermore, the written medium is another effective way of teaching many people at the same time by writing a short Dvar Torah on the Torah Portion or some other topic. It is also important to note that teaching Torah need not be limited to formal settings - there are countless opportunities to share Torah wisdom with others in one's daily interactions in life, whether it is with colleagues at work, with the taxi driver, or with friends.

We have seen how Joseph strived to excel in 'spiritual' kindness as well as 'physical kindness' - may we all merit to emulate his holy example.


1. See Yefat Toar, Shelah HaKadosh for approaches to this question.

2. Daat Torah, Bereishit, Biurim, p .242.

3. Bereishit, 47:25.

4. Bereishit Rabbah, Mikeitz, 90:6.

5. Eitz Yosef, Matnos Kehuna, ibid.

6. Divrei Chaim, quoted in 'Penini Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Kedoshim, p. 108.

7. OrchotTzadikim: Shaar Nedivoos.

8. Rosh Hashana, 23b.

9. Maharal: Chiddushei Aggadot 23b. Also see Nesiv Torah Ch.8 for a lengthier discussion of this inyan.

10. Avot, 2:9

11. Avot, 2:9: Medrash Shmuel. See Medrash David, Lev Eliyahu, Parshas Tazria-Metzora for an identical explanation. It was also heard from R.Zev Leff Shlita in the name of the Klausenberger Rebbe.