The essence of what galus means and what a difference a Yosef hatzadik brings to the table can be summed up in one pasuk: "Vayaker Yosef es echav v'heim lo hikiruhu." I thought I posted this once, but now I can't find it and can't find the original source either (I thought it was the Igra d'Kallah, but can't find it there.) In Parshas Beshalach when the mon starts to fall the Torah tells us that, "VaYiru Bnei Yisrael vayomru ish el achiv mon hu, ki lo yad'u mah hu..." Why does the pasuk mention specifically that the people said to each other, "Vayomri ish el achiv...," "What is this mon?" -- wouldn't it just suffice to just tell us that they didn't know what the stuff was? The answer is that it was not the food that perplexed people, but it was each other. When you eat spiritual food and absorb spiritual energy, suddenly the world looks like a very different place. When Bnei Yisrael ate the mon, "Vayiru Bnei Yisrael," they suddenly saw each other in a different light than before, "VaYomru ish el achiv," they said to each other, "Who are you?" I thought you were my grumpy neighbor who leaves his garbage cans in the street, but now I see a shining neshoma in front of me! Things work the opposite way as well unfortunately. The darkness of galus and cheit can cover over the neshoma so that it is hidden away and unseen. The brothers had seen Yosef in all his glory, but now that they came down to Mitzrayim, they could not recognize him -- the galus distorted and blocked their vision. But not Yosef hatzadik -- Yosef can see just as clearly in the darkness of Mitzrayim as he could beforehand. He recognized who his brothers were. Yosef symbolizes the power to see the pnimiyus, the inner meaning of things, even in the bleakest of situations.
The Sefas Emes repeats this yesod again
and again in his torah on the parsha. When Pharoah has his dream
of the fat cows and the skinny cows, the Torah tells us that the skinny
cows ate the fat cows and leaves it at that. However, when Pharoah
tells Yosef of this same dream, he editorializes and adds that "lo
noda ki ba'u el kirbena," the fat cows were invisible once eaten --
the skinny cows showed no weight gain, no mark that they now had those
fat cows inside. Rashbam writes that upon awakening and having a
chance to reflect on what he saw, Pharoah added additional details
that he did not take note of when he first had the dream. Sefas Emes,
however, explains that Pharoah's description, those added details, are
revealing of his entire world view. In Pharoah's mind the dark years
completely swallow up the good and leave no trace behind. Yosef,
however, saw things in a different light. Those fat years could be
used as years of preparation -- their presence could and would be felt
during the lean years.
"V'ha'ra'av haya al kol plei ha'aretz
vayiftach Yosef as kol asher bahem vayshbor l'Mitzrayim..." (41:56)
The simple pshat in the pasuk is that Yosef opened the storehouses
of grain, but do we really need to know the detail of opening stores? Sefas
Emes explains that the pasuk is telling us something more profound: Yosef
opened "bahem," that which was within them -- he was able to
reach into each person and draw out that hidden spark even in the bleakest
time of famine. Yosef's message was that there is something deeper inside each person -- and he was able to draw it out.
When his brothers come down, Yosef wants them to eat with him. Chazal darshen Yosef's instructions,
"tvoach tevach v'hachein," as a reference to preparing a Shabbos
meal. In other words, Yosef's brothers came on erev Shabbos and were
going to eat a seudas Shabbos with him. Achronim (e.g. see Maharil
Diskin) ask how this can be. The pesukim tell us that the brothers
left the next day to return home. If they arrived on erev Shabbos
while Yosef was preparing for Shabbos, that would mean they were going to leave on Shabbos.
What of the issur of techumin, of mechameir, of shevisas beheima?
The Sefas Emes cleverly answers that the Midrash is not speaking
of erev Shabbos. The gemara (Beitzah 16) tells us that Beis Shamai
used to prepare for Shabbos every day by setting aside the best items he
found that day for Shabbos. Yosef followed this same practice. When
he went shopping on Sunday and found a nice roast, he set it aside and put
it in the freezer for Shabbos. If he went back to the store on Monday
and found a better roast, he put that one in the freezer and designated
it for Shabbos. Yosef lived with Shabbos every day -- not just one
day a week. Shabbos may reveal itself on only one particular day,
but b'pnimiyus, beneath the surface, Shabbos is with us all the time.
In his bracha to sheivet Yosef in Parshas
Zos HaBracha Moshe Rabeinu refers to Hashem as "retzon shochni s'neh."
Why here, in connection with Yosef and no where else, does Moshe
allude to the image of Hashem appearing in the burning bush? What
does Hashem's appearance in that form to Moshe have to do with sheivet
Yosef? R' Meir Goldvicht answered this question by referring to the
Sefas Emes' explanation of the burning bush in Parshas Shemos. Moshe
sees a "sneh bo'er b'eish," a bush on fire, and then the Torah
tells us that he turned to see, "Madu'a lo yivar ha'sneh," why
the bush was not on fire. The pasuk seems to be almost a contradiction
in terms: On the one hand it tells us that Moshe saw the bush on fire,
on the other hand it tells us that he turned to to see why the bush was
not burning. We would have expected the pasuk to say, "madu'a lo
u'kal ha'sneh," that Moshe turned to see why the bush was not consumed
by the fire that was burning, not why "lo yiv'ar ha'sneh!" The
Sefas Emes explains that the fire Moshe saw symbolized the pnimiyus within
each and every Jew. What Moshe could not understand is if such
a fire indeed burns, then where is it -- why does this bush look dry and
covered with thorns on the outside as if nothing is going on? Moshe
had to understand what the Jew in galus he was coming to redeem was
all about. What he needed was a little of Yosef's perspective --
the ability to see the fire that rages within, the potential, the spark,
even while on the outside all remains invisible. When it came time
to give his bracha of sheivet Yosef, Moshe called upon that symbol of the
burning bush, that perspective, that he himself inherited from Yosef.
It is this perspective that takes account
of what is beneath the surface that unlocks the meaning of Yosef's words
to his brothers at the moment he chooses to reveal himself. At first,
when Yosef tells the brothers that he is alive, they are dumbstruck and
left speechless. Imagine the grief, fear, shock, they must have felt.
So Yosef continues, "Ani Yosef achi'chem asher michartem osi
Mitzrayma" -- "I'm Yosef whom you sold into slavery." Talk
about rubbing salt into their wounds! From the continuation of their
conversation it seems that Yosef wanted to comfort his brothers and re-establish
a positive relationship with them. So why did he need to remind them
that they had sold him into slavery? The Sefas Emes reminds of the
gemara in Shabbos which darshens
Hashem's response to Moshe's breaking the luchos. "Asher shibarta," explain Chazal, means "y'yasher
kochacha she'shibarta." Here too, the word "asher"
used by Yosef means "y'yasher kochachem." Instead of berating his
brothers for selling him into slavery Yosef was giving them a big "ya'asher
koach!" Yosef was telling his brothers that whatever they might
have been thinking, b'pnimiyus it was Hashem's plan and not theirs that
governed his life, and everything worked out for the best (see Maharal in Gur Aryeh on the 10 donkeys sent by Yosef.)
So I've beaten you over the head with torah of the Sefas Emes basically telling you not to look at things as they appear -- that there is a pnimiyus, a deeper meaning, a hidden plan and subtext, to everything that occurs. The tzadik, the person who wants to rise above the bleakness of galus, needs to attain that perspective. On the one hand, in the abstract, this is all intellectually quite enjoyable -- it's a wonder and a pleasure to see how the Sefas Emes weaves the theme through torah after torah, drawing his message from pesukim and Chazal, adding to and refining his message. On the other hand, I write this a few days after someone walked into a school and shot tens of innocent children. My brain tells me that in light of this torah b'pnimiyus there must be some meaning to what happened -- that there is no such thing as "senseless" violence so long as there is hashgacha pratis in the world -- but to be honest, I have to wonder and doubt whether anyone in their heart can truly feel that way. And even while I know the Sefas Emes also teaches that the greater the good, the greater the darkness that must exist to conceal it in galus, it is truly hard to think of what kind of goodness can come about only through the slaughter of innocent children. And the fact that such an event serves some instrumental good, i.e. it can inspire others to act better in certain ways, cause others to think about life in a different way, is not really sufficient an answer, at least not to me. As I understand the Sefas Emes (and torah of others who follow in the same derech), the good that exists b'pnimiyus is inherent in the thing itself; it is not just an outcome that is incidental. So should we just forget the past few paragraphs? I'm not willing to say that either. Without the belief that there is a deeper meaning or value to all that happens one is left with a picture of reality worthy of Kafka or Camus, with little room for hope or optimism. And yet, we dare not cheapen or wash away the suffering experienced by so many by passing off the optimistic belief in a deeper pnimiyus as easy to come by, as easily digested. Saying b'pnimiyus all is good should not result in a solopcistic denial of the reality of suffering and evil. Perhaps it is only an ultimate geulah that can help us reconcile the abstract torah with the reality of pain and evil. Perhaps it requires a deep level of emunah. For now, kashya. Or perhaps teiku.