I hope this message finds you well.
I am sharing this message with you in the shadow of the continued New York Times focus on the Hasidic community. We must be clear that we – no less than the editors and writers of the Times – are adamantly opposed to fraudulent behaviors but, given their recent performance, have little basis for confidence in the accuracy or balance of their copious accusations. Most important, their obsessive coverage is portraying the Hasidic community – already the most frequent victims of antisemitic attacks – as foreign and strange, “othering” them and elevating the risk of expressions of hostility towards them.
The Orthodox Jewish community is segmented and includes a broad spectrum of approaches to living Torah, with full faithfulness to the core principles of our faith and to the eternally binding nature of Halacha. Even as each segment works to perpetuate and to grow in its own derech, it does well to support and strengthen the communities and institutions of others similarly committed to theirs.
Isolation and integration are alternate religious pathways with long histories within Klal Yisrael. Some opted to live a segregated existence walled off to the extent possible from the surrounding culture, while others chose to engage positively and impactfully with general society. Our Parsha demonstrates how the practitioner of one of those approaches can still be a champion of the other.
Yaakov was known as a dweller of tents, understood by our Sages as referring to the yeshiva of Shem and Ever (Rashi to Bereishit 25:27). Unlike Eisav who was a man of this world, Yaakov was a man of the next, preferring to live quietly in the sanctuary of study created and symbolized by Shem rather than pursuing worldly conquest (Yalkut Shimoni 110). Yosef himself started life as Yaakov’s prized pupil, studying with him within his sacred tent (Rashi to Bereishit 37:3), but Yosef would eventually leave the tent for the palace, conquering the world as a man filled with the G-dly spirit (Bereishit 39:3, 41:38), assertively occupying the leadership of Egypt both materially and morally (Rashi to Bereishit 41:55).
Yosef was not a renegade, rejecting the path of his father, quite the opposite. In leaving the sequestered tent of study and prayer, Yosef was assuming the role that Yaakov had once sought for himself at the urging of his mother, Rivkah. As her husband Yitzchak was preparing to grant Eisav the position of agricultural mastery and political domination, Rivkah summoned Yaakov from his sacred tent and instructed him to stand in for Eisav and claim those roles for himself. Rivkah understood that these blessings were not natural to Yaakov, yet the alternative – that these blessings would go to Eisav – was intolerable. And while Yaakov followed her guidance and stood in for those blessings, he did not truly claim them. Time after time he ran from those who challenged him – be it Eisav, Lavan, or Shechem – rather than standing up to them. At times he even denied any real claim to the blessings he had “stolen” (Rashi to Bereishit 32:5).
Those blessings were what his son Yosef – not as a renegade but as the heir to Yaakov’s role – would ultimately claim: “The blessings of your father surpassed the blessings of my parents… may they come upon the head of Yosef.” (Bereishit 49:26)
Yosef’s vision went far beyond the tent. Yosef came to Egypt to rule the world, to use his position of material power and agricultural mastery to positively reshape the morality of the world’s greatest superpower. He was what Rivkah had envisioned when she encouraged Yaakov to stand in for Eisav for those blessings, embracing the encounter with the world to transform it spiritually and morally.
Yet, as successful as he was in his engagement with society, Yosef does not try to win his father and brothers over to his integrated approach. Instead, from his palace throne Yosef advocates for the preservation of the sacred tent of Yaakov, guiding his father and brothers about how to approach Pharaoh for a haven for their family to establish themselves according to their values, incompatible as they were with those of the Egyptians (Bereishit 46:34). Yosef of the capital advocated for Yaakov and Yehuda of the Goshen ghetto. He recalled his precious early days studying in that tent with his father and sought to support its reestablishment in the exile.
The visionary, cosmopolitan, and courageous Yosef understood the power of the relatively still, small voice of Torah and spirituality of the sacred tent, as removed as it was from the public square he so dominated.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Moshe Hauer