Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sefas Emes on Yosef, galus, geulah - and a perspective on suffering

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 occursThe 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.       


  1. Anonymous10:46 PM

    >>> The brothers had seen Yosef in all his glory, but now...they could not recognize him

    HAD the brothers really seen Yosef in all his glory, seen him as Yaakov's righthand man rather than as a schemer dressed with distinction, then they'd have recognized him later in his royal glory, fully decked out as Paroh's right hand

    (or, from a different angle,) the brothers had
    seen Yosef in all his corrective glory, taking the ketones ha'pasim to've been a mussar device employed by Yaakov, based on gadlus ha'adam: 'a man so dressed as you are now, beni, doesn't talk lashon hara; that would be beneath him'; so long as Yosef wears that garment, he is reminded, like tzitzis reminds, to guard his ways (his tongue) {& so we have Yosef's "hineni!" at the end of 37:13-- between Yaakov's remark to start the pasuk & Yosef's exclamation, he'd gone to don the ketones! meanwhile, the brothers were upset that the lashon hara was 'rewarded' with a special piece of clothing}; in Mitzrayim, the brothers saw Yosef dressed in attributive glory, for having helped solve the the hunger problems of Egypt & the world, & thus they cannot recognize him, as the 2 types of glory don't appear the same...

    >>> He recognized who his brothers were.

    he knew (early on) the enduring, acknowledging,
    penetrating character of 'Jewish' guilt...

    >>> the good that exists b'pnimiyus is inherent in the thing itself

    when adam ha'rishon considered the inner nachash
    during the animal parade*, did he temporarily lose his composure? see the snake schematically as a value-added challenge? or observe the other biped detachedly**, simply naming what he saw without emotional involvement? did he see good "inherent in the thing itself"?
    evil b'pnimiyus was good, before the cheit, & will be good again, once it's
    stuffed back in the bottle/nachash; meaning current evil is "good" inasmuch as it derives
    from that original evil, is good in substance, though not in form (loose in the world), or to put it more Hebraically, evil is itself in galus from gan eiden, "covered with thorns on the outside" as if nothing good is in it...

    *or was it an animal line-up, whereat adam was meant to finger the nachash as the one & only
    perp ('guilty' of being poisonous, & the most cunning, & even of being merely suspicious)?

    **detachment of consequence, if adam thus failed to warn Chava of a most serious lurking threat, if he stood idly by her blood, as it were (omission for which he was forced to stand idly by her monthly menstrual blood [that came with the curse of the first woman, Eruvin 100b],
    when that which should've remained pnimi trickled out into the open)...

  2. Anonymous11:49 PM

    I agree with everything you say. But at the end of the day, how are you going to act and why? It is proper to be bitter and focus on your question. But after some period of time, you can't let someone else's death kill you. You have to return to seeing the world as good and start implementing whatever lessons you learned from what happened. This doesn't do any injustice to the victims.