Parshat Vayigash: God’s Decree Will Not be Thwarted

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28 Dec 2006
  1. Part One: The day after
  2. Part Two: Parshat Va’yey’gash 5765

Part I: The Day After

Devarim 28:10

וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ה’ נקרא עליך ויראו ממך

“And all the world’s nations will see that the name of God is upon you and they will fear from you…”

Tractate Berachot 6a

“Rabbi Eliezer the Great says this refers to the head set of tefillin”

What does this mean?

The eighth day of the miracle of oil had passed. The Maccabee soldiers returned to the front for another five years of military struggle, the rabbis of the Sanhedrin were deeply involved in determining the spiritual implications of the events, and the ruling class of Hellenists were in a frenzy to leave the country before the onslaught of the fanatical religious-right elements who were now in power.

In historical retrospect where did it lead?

The Rambam (hilchot megillah ve’chanuka chap. 3,1) after relating the events which lead up to the revolt, states that following the military victory, “… Jewish sovereignty was restored for more than two hundred years until the destruction of the second Temple.

One who is sensitive to the writing style of the Rambam, can feel a real sense of pride in his words, “Jewish sovereignty was restored for more than two hundred years.

With this sense of legitimate pride for the accomplishments of the Hasmoneans, let us compare where we stand today relative to what they did.

There are three cardinal criteria for measuring the strength of a nation – Area, Sovereignty and Social cohesion through common language; and in Hebrew all three begin with the letter SHIN:

SHETACH: We control more area today than our ancestors did in the two hundred years following the Hasmonean commonwealth, even if we do not include the Sinai Peninsula, which Menachem Begin gave to the Egyptians.

SHILTON: Jewish sovereignty today is much more stable than in those times, when civil war was rife among the various factions

SAFA: Ivrit is the dominant language in all sectors of society. The people of Medinat Yisrael have ingathered from 150 different nations with myriads of languages and dialects, yet we have adopted the language of the Bible as the basic tool of social unity. In the vast majority of Yeshivot the language of study is Ivrit, as it is in our atomic reactor and in our submarines.

Now this is what Rabbi Eliezer the Great meant:

On the left side of the head set of tefillin, the leather is folded and pressed to form the Hebrew letter SHIN, but instead of the common three headed Shin this one has four heads.

Each stands for a degree of accomplishment which draws us closer to the final redemption:

But the last SHIN has yet to be achieved; it is the SHIN of the שכינה –shechina, the ultimate Godly spirit which descends on the Temple Mount in order to close the circuit which permits the flow of sanctity between the worlds.

This last SHIN is very close to fulfillment because soon the majority of Jews in the world will be living in Eretz Yisrael, which, according to many sources, is a prerequisite of rebuilding the Bet HaMikdash.

May we all merit to take part in the glorious future of our nation.

Part II: Parashat Vayigash

This parasha has all the ingredients of a best-selling novel or blockbuster movie: sibling rivalry, jealousy, attempted murder; a thrilling, life-threatening scene in a pit of serpents, an unexpected rescue, degradation in the slave market, a beautiful seductress and her jealous husband; incarceration for life, a surprise release, ascent to international fame and power, and then sweet revenge.

These are the elements in the story of Yosef and his brothers. A great book, a better movie, a great bedtime story. What is it doing in the Holy Torah?

The question becomes even more enigmatic in view of the first Rashi in the Torah, which defines the purpose of the book of Bereisheet.

Rashi quotes Rav Yitzchak of the Midrash, who states that since the Torah is the God-given book of law for Am Yisrael, it should begin with the first mitzva revealed to Moshe – calculating the months, years and leap years, but not with the story of creation. For these two reasons:

1) There were no human witnesses to corroborate the fact of creation. And if this may sound “strange” to the ear of a religious Jew, please be informed that this is the reason given by Chacham, Rav Yehuda HaLevi, author of the Kuzari, for basing his belief in Judaism on the mass exodus from Egypt where there were millions of witnesses and not on the act of creation where there were none.

2) The story of creation does not contribute in any way to resolving the great scientific mysteries of the ages, ie., the age of the universe; did it all begin with a big bang; is the universe infinitely expanding, or will the force of gravity eventually overcome the force of expansion, and in another hundred trillion years all matter in the universe will return to its primordial, infinitesimally small size of unimaginable mass?

Rav Yitzchak explains that the Torah begins with the fact that God created the world for one “simple” purpose: to let us know that since God is the Creator and hence the master of all – people, angels and things – He has the right to give Eretz Yisrael to whom He wishes. Since He chose to give the Land to the Jewish nation, no one may oppose this choice.

Rav Yitzchak explains: “…in the event the nations will point an accusing finger at us for “stealing” the Holy Land, we will reply that God created the world, and for a time gave Eretz Yisrael to the Canaanites, but retrieved it from them and gave it to us.

God’s intention is that when the goyim condemn us for our chutzpa in remaining alive and even returning home, we should not be deterred in our determination to reclaim every centimeter of Biblical Eretz Yisrael.

Now, as stated above, the story of Yosef and his brothers seemingly has no place in a book dedicated to assuring that Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jewish nation!

I would suggest that the opposite is true – the story of Yosef was included in the book of Bereisheet to give credence to the first Rashi in the Torah – that God’s gift of Eretz Yisrael to us is eternal and indisputable.

Yosef had two visions that he would one day rule the Jewish people. We are informed in parshat Vayeishev that his brothers were jealous to the point of intense hatred, but Rashi tells us that “aviv sha’mar et ha’davar” – his father Yaakov knew it was a true decree from God and waited for it to become reality.

Ya’akov knew from personal experience something his sons were not aware of, because they did not experience it in their own lives. It was a lesson Ya’akov learned from his mother, Rivka, when she convinced him to circumvent his brother Esav, in order to receive their father’s blessing. The question is: How did Rivka enter into such a moral dilemma by going against her husband’s expressed wishes, in addition to the fact that the chances for her plan to succeed were dim?

I would say, that when Rivka was suffering unexplainable pains in her pregnancy, she went “to ask of God“. She was informed that she will give birth to twins, who will be the progenitors of great rival nations, and the older (Esav) will serve the younger (Ya’akov). Rivka knew that since this is a decree from God, no force in the world would be able to deter its realization. The moral base for Rivka’s act and her absolute confidence that it will succeed was founded on the revelation that this is God’s decree.

Ramban, in his commentary on Bereiheet 37:15, puts it very succinctly:

הגזירה אמת והחריצות שקר

G-d’s decree is true (absolute), and human efforts to thwart it are false (can never succeed)“.

When Ya’akov heard Yosef’s dreams, and as Rashi states, “he waited for their realization“, Ya’akov was acting in accordance with the lesson he had learned from his mother, that God’s decree could not be averted by the actions of man. (This explains why Ya’akov was in such deep mourning when he was informed that Yosef was dead. While many people who, unfortunately, lose a child, eventually return to “normal” life, it was not just the loss of a beloved son that affected Ya’akov. It was the theological dilemma: how is it possible that God’s decree that Yosef will reign over his brothers would no longer be realized?)

The end of the story confirms the lesson of Rivka and the principle stated by Ramban – that God’s decree will be realized, and no manner of human effort can negate it. Eventually, Ya’akov lives to see Yosef as master over his brothers, and the brothers learn that despite their “best” efforts to rid themselves of the threat imposed by Yosef’s presence in the family, God’s decree will be done!

God commands Moshe to record the story of Yosef and his brothers as a completion of what was stated by Rav Yitzchak in the first Rashi of the Torah; that is, since the Holy Land of Eretz Yisrael, with Yerushalayim as the “gateway to heaven”, is decreed by God to belong to the Jewish nation, no power on earth or in heaven can negate this decree.

So, even when the seeming reality today has the small number of Jews in Eretz Yisrael politically isolated, militarily outnumbered, surrounded by Islamic insanity, threatened by world wide anti-Jewishness, and abandoned by millions of our brothers who prefer to stay away and leave the few of us to fulfill G-d’s decree, that decree will be realized. And the Bet Hamikdash will adorn the “top of the mountain” (words of Yeshayahu), and Eretz Yisrael will extend to the banks of the Euphrates and the Nile, and the Land will be filled with Torah study, as in the days of King Chizkiyahu (Sanhedrin 94b) and the spirit of God will embrace every Jew in the holy land.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.