Tag Archives: vayigash

Vayigash: Are You Willing to Save Someone’s Life?

joseph-and-pharaoh“Now when the news was heard in Pharaoh’s house that Joseph’s brothers had come, it pleased Pharaoh and his servants.”

Genesis 45:16

Pharaoh was delighted when he heard that Joseph’s brothers had come to Egypt. He immediately made provision to bring the entire family to Egypt so they could survive the famine in safety and comfort. He provided wagons for the move. He promised them the best of the land of Egypt.

Pharaoh’s warm welcome of Joseph’s brothers reveals an important detail about Joseph’s time in Egypt.

“What Pharaoh Heard”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

This commentary from FFOZ comes with the following “Thought for the Week:”

When we are wronged by someone, it is natural to tell others about it. We want to tell others about how it happened to garner their sympathy and support. Somehow it makes us feel better to know that others are aware of the injustice committed against us. We seek out sympathy and commit a small act of retaliation.

It’s very human that when we feel we’ve been wronged by someone, to want to get even in some way. Usually, we get even by doing the same to them as we believe they’ve done to us (whether the damage the other person has done to us is real of just perceived makes no difference apparently).

I write periodically on something called Lashon Hara or the Jewish concept of wronging someone in speech (which can be spoken, written, or any other form of communication). I’ve even based the Comments Policy for this blog on that principle.

As the FFOZ commentator writes, what we say and how it is perceived can have hurtful and even dire consequences:

Joseph loved his brothers and his family so much that he could not bear the thought of having them defamed. He did not want Egyptians saying to one another, “Did you hear about the nasty thing that Joseph’s lowlife brothers did to him?” Joseph kept the entire episode to himself. The only thing he ever said about his past was the vague explanation, “I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews” (Genesis 40:15). His love for his brothers compelled him to protect their reputation.

Instead of emulating Joseph, who was concerned about protecting the dignity of his loved ones, it seems we do just the opposite. A husband and wife are eating out at a restaurant when the husband drops his cup, spilling his beverage on the table. Embarrassed, the wife rolls her eyes and says to the stranger sitting at the next table, “He is such a klutz.” A man is out with his friends when they begin discussing the foils of marriage. All in good fun, the man complains to the guys about his wife’s bad habits. Everyone laughs. Why would we sell out the people we love like this? The wife shows more concern for the opinion of a stranger in a restaurant than she does for the dignity of her husband. The husband has higher regard for a few laughs from his buddies than he does for the reputation of his wife.

It’s one thing to read about a “Bible principle” and another thing entirely to behave out of that principle with unerring consistency. Reading about Joseph and his brothers makes a nice story, but most of the time, we don’t think to apply what we’ve learned to our day-to-day living. Reading the story of the wife casually defaming her husband in public brings the principle home. If anyone you’ve loved has embarrassed you in front of your friends, family, or strangers, even if what they said is true about you, then you know what I mean.

Here’s another example:

“The Torah ideal is to greet each and every person with a pleasant facial expression.” (Tomar Devorah, ch.2) When you greet someone in a friendly way, you never know what a positive effect you will have. A certain individual who greeted everyone with a smile and kind words was approached by someone and told, “You saved my life.” The person went on to tell how he’d suffered a number of serious setbacks and was contemplating suicide. He felt totally alone and depressed and felt that no one cared about him. Then this fellow greeted him with a sincere smile and a cheerful voice. This immediately lifted up his spirits and he was resolved to continue living.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Quoted from Gateway to Happiness, pg 26
Found at Aish.com

whispererI don’t know what Joseph felt about his brothers or why he didn’t “spill the beans” about their attempt to kill him to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, or anyone else in his sphere of Egyptian companions. Maybe he really did continue to have love for them in his heart, in spite of how they felt about him. Perhaps he just didn’t want the Egyptians to harbor any more disdain for the Hebrews than they already did. Regardless of the reason, even though Joseph would have been telling the truth if he revealed the terrible acts of his brothers to Pharaoh, he chose not to do it, keeping the matter to himself, and even forgiving his brothers, though they hardly deserved it.

When a spouse says something to revealing about his or her “other half,” depending on what it is, the person being spoken of can at least feel embarrassed if not ashamed or humiliated. As we see from Rabbi Pliskin’s example, how we treat another person, even if it’s simply greeting a stranger with a smile, can make a tremendous impact.

There are more than enough “moral police officers” on the web and particularly in the blogosphere who choose to point accusing fingers at others rather than greeting them (virtually speaking) with a “smile.” Especially since we cannot actually face the people we address on the Internet, we have no idea what good or evil we are doing to them and how they will respond. Most of the time, all we know is that they remain silent or they “bark back” at us if we have insulted or embarrassed them in some way.

But like the man in Rabbi Pliskin’s commentary, we don’t know how far we can push someone, especially if they are already on an emotional brink. We can knock someone over or we can pull them back, just by how we speak to them or about them.

James, the brother of the Master, said (James 3:8) that the tongue is “a restless evil and full of deadly poison'” We have been given the gift of speech (and writing, and other forms of communication) to bless and not to curse. Paul said (1 Thessalonians 5:11) that believers should “encourage one another and build up one another”, and New Testament scholar and author Mark Nanos, in his book The Mystery of Romans said Paul expressed his heartfelt desire that believing Gentiles should support and encourage even the non-believing Jews in the synagogue, rather than denigrate them for being “weak” and “stumbling” in faith.

If it is true that we have a duty to support even unbelievers so that they should come to faith, then what we say and what we do becomes incredibly important. We can not only save someone’s life in this world by how we greet them, we can be an instrument to bless or curse their souls.

The FFOZ commentary for this week’s Torah portion ends this way:

A woman was having a hard time at the Messianic synagogue she attended in the southern United States. She was involved in a heated conflict with some other members. This went on for some time. Frustrated with her congregation, she told her unbelieving friend about the problems she was having. Eventually the leadership arbitrated the situation. She made peace with the people. Some time later, she invited her unbelieving friend to attend a service. Her friend said, “Are you crazy? After the way you talked about those people and that place, I wouldn’t set foot in there.”

Joseph never told the Egyptians about the incident with his brothers because it was none of their business. By maintaining discretion, he was protecting the name and reputation of God in Egypt. Had he told his sad story to everyone, the Egyptians would have had cause to say, “If that’s how the followers of your God behave, I want nothing to do with Him or your religion.”

FallingI’ve heard it said that “you can’t unring a bell.” Once you have said or done something harsh or hurtful to another human being, you can never take it back. Just imagine all of the regret buried within you for all of the things you’ve said and done to sin against other people and against God over the years.

Fortunately, God is in the business of forgiving, but it’s not certain that all of the people you and I have hurt in our lifetimes will be willing or able to forgive us. But while we can’t change the past, we can make a new future starting right now. Have a care what you say and what you do. Greet others with a smile. Withhold a harsh criticism, even if what you could say is factual. Consider that God loves even the sinner and the apostate.

You may never know whose life you may save by either speaking a good word or withholding one that is evil. One day we will all have to give an accounting for how we’ve lived our lives and every action we have committed. What will you say to the King when it’s your turn? Will you attempt to justify hurting others, or be blessed by him for your kindness and compassion?

Advertisements

Vayigash: Will the King Show Us Mercy?

king-davidAnd Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph!”

Genesis 45:3

The Chofetz Chaim comments that from the time the brothers first came to Egypt to get food — when Joseph spoke with them roughly and accused them of being spies — they were puzzled about what exactly was happening and why it was happening. In both encounters with Joseph they had many questions about their experiences. As soon as they heard the words, “I am Joseph” all their questions were answered. The difficulties they had in understanding the underlying meaning of the events — why Joseph accused them of being spies, yet treated them well, accused them of lying and stealing, but gave them a banquet, insisted on bringing the younger brother to Egypt, etc. — were now completely clarified.

Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, when the entire world will hear the words “I am the Almighty” at the final redemption of the Jewish people, all the questions and difficulties that people had about the history of the world with all of its suffering will be answered. The entire matter will be clarified and understood. Everyone will see how the hand of the Almighty caused everything ultimately for our benefit.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Vayigash based on
Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Referenced by Rabbi Kalman Packouz
at Aish.com

The brothers of Joseph discover a startling reality. The ruler of the Egyptians who has been treating them harshly all of this time is really their brother Joseph. In an instant, all the cruelty they showed him, including trying to murder him, must have come to the forefront of their conscience.

Before this, the Egyptian ruler had the power to do anything to them, imprison them, make them slaves, even kill them, but “it wasn’t personal.” That is, the sons of Jacob were no more or less significant to an Egyptian ruler than anyone else.

Now they not only discover that this man has the power of life and death over them, but that he is their brother, who they left for dead, who almost surely has a personal motive for seeking revenge. The brothers knew they had no right to appeal to Joseph for mercy, for they had not showed him mercy. They could only hope that in the years he ascended from slavery and imprisonment to being a viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in power and authority, that he had learned wisdom and compassion and would be willing to offer them something they did not deserve: mercy and the continuation of their very lives.

Now look at what Rabbi Pliskin had to say from the above-quoted text:

Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, when the entire world will hear the words “I am the Almighty” at the final redemption of the Jewish people, all the questions and difficulties that people had about the history of the world with all of its suffering will be answered.

How much of the non-Jewish world will tremble at the feet of God when they realize the Almighty has appeared at the final redemption and that He is not at all pleased with how His people Israel have been treated?

Over the long march of centuries since Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, since Joseph confronted his brothers, since Moses, Aaron, and Miriam liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and set them before God at Sinai, and on and on across history, every people, tribe, and tongue throughout the Earth has been seeking to kill the Jewish people, God’s splendorous treasure, the apple of His eye.

This includes the Church of Jesus Christ. How confusing it will be in those days to be a Christian who has harbored hatred toward Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel, and to be confronted by an angry Jewish King. How strange it will seem to many Christians who have loved Israel but continued to deny the validity of the Torah, the Temple, and the adherence of Jewish people to a Jewish way of life for those Gentile believers to be faced with a Jewish King who upholds the “Jewishness” of his people Israel.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

Woman in the darkI used to think this was an injunction for believers to show kindness and compassion for all of the needy people around us (and I still think we should), but almost a year ago, I heard a good and kind Christian man in a Sunday school class interpret this statement as the duty we Gentile believers have to take care of all the needy of Israel.

And if that statement is true, then woe be to the many, many Christians past and present who have utterly failed to do so because those needy people were “just Jews.”

In the case of the brothers of Joseph, their kinsman who was also ruler and King over them was merciful after all:

Now do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure Your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.

Genesis 45:5-8 (JPS Tanakh)

But was it for Jacob’s sake that Joseph spared his brothers? And for whose sake shall the King of Israel spare those among the nations and particularly those among the Church who have treated his little ones poorly?

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

Mark Nanos in his book The Mystery of Romans defines the “weak” and “stumbling,” relative to Paul’s letter to the Romans, as the Jews in the synagogues of Rome who had not yet come to faith in Messiah. I’ll write a detailed “meditation” on this topic in a few days, but Nanos understands Paul’s admonition to the “strong,” the Gentile believers, as failing to uphold their responsibility to encourage the stumbling Jewish people, resulting in them stumbling even further away from faith. Paul never gave up on the stumbling, and he would have sacrificed everything for them.

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:3-5 (NASB)

It was the Master himself who called his people Israel “lost sheep” (Matthew 10:6, 15:24) and who are we to disdain those “sheep,” for it is obvious that even in their unbelief, God loves them with a great intensity and will violently protect them, even from those of us who are so arrogant as to believe their Father has cut them off from His care and compassion.

bk_kotelPaul says that all of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26), though we in the Church cannot fathom this. But though the Jews have always been few in number (Deuteronomy 4:27) and suffered exile and dispersion (Leviticus 26:33), yet they shall be redeemed and live in peace (Micah 4:1-4), for God has declared that Israel shall eternally be a nation before Him (Genesis 17:7, Leviticus 26:43, Deuteronomy 4:26-27, 28:63-64).

It is within the power of the Jewish Messiah King, Yeshua, Jesus, to judge his Gentile Church and to cast out those of us who have failed in our duty to his people Israel in opposition to the prophesies and the commandments. The patriarchs were terrified of their powerful and very human brother for the vengeance he could exact upon them. How much more should we be terrified of an infinitely powerful and eternal King?

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:31 (NASB)

Tremble and sin not, reflect in your hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah.

Psalm 4:4 (from the Siddur, nighttime blessings)

Let the world that has always hated the Jewish people learn to repent before it’s too late, and let each Christian who has hated or dismissed the Jewish people lie in his or her bed and tremble and be utterly silent before their King whose hand will always uplift Israel and whose greatest desire is to save his precious nation and redeem her as he has promised.

Good Shabbos.

Vayigash: Settling Into Prosperity and Captivity

jewish-handsIn 468 CE, Rabbi Amemar, Rabbi Mesharsheya and Rabbi Huna, the heads of Babylonian Jewry, were arrested and executed 11 days later. The Jewish community of Babylon had existed for 900 years, ever since Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Israel, destroyed the Holy Temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon. Seventy years later, when the Jews were permitted to return to Israel, a large percentage remained in Babylon — and this eventually became the center of Jewish rabbinic authority. Things began to worsen in the 5th century, when the Persian priests, fighting against encroaching Christian missionaries, unleashed anti-Christian persecutions which caught the Jews of Babylonia in its wake. Eventually the situation improved, and Babylon remained as the center of Jewish life for another 500 years.

-Rabbi Shraga Simmons
“Today in Jewish History, 7 Tevet”
Aish.com

Thus Israel settled in the country of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; they acquired holdings in it, and were fertile and increased greatly.

Genesis 47:27 (JPS Tanakh)

It’s hard not to compare these two events. Both of them describe different points in the process of the Jewish people going down into a land not their own and then making themselves comfortable there and thriving. As we see in the Babylonian example, the “good times” don’t last forever, but from Jacob’s point of view, this isn’t readily apparent. In fact, he had assurances that dwelling in Egypt was the right thing to do.

So Israel set out with all that was his, and he came to Beer-sheba, where he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God called to Israel in a vision by night: “Jacob! Jacob!” He answered, “Here.” And He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

So Jacob set out from Beer-sheba. The sons of Israel put their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to transport him; and they took along their livestock and the wealth that they had amassed in the land of Canaan. Thus Jacob and all his offspring with him came to Egypt: he brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons, his daughters and granddaughters — all his offspring.

Genesis 46:1-7 (JPS Tanakh)

God’s blessing upon Jacob as we see above, is the beginning of the process of Israel dwelling in Egypt, multiplying greatly, and thriving there. However, the other end of the story is hardly so pleasant.

A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.” So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the [Egyptians] came to dread the Israelites.

The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites the various labors that they made them perform. Ruthlessly they made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks in the field.

The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, saying, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.”

Exodus 1:8-16 (JPS Tanakh)

rabbi-prayingThe irony in making the above comparisons, is that the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet is just a few days away.

The Fast of the Tenth of Teves marks the day that Nevuzadran, the Babylonian general, laid siege to Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the first Holy Temple. The siege lasted almost three years until the city walls were breached and the Temple was destroyed. This was the beginning of a long line of disasters on the Jewish people, including the first exile, and the destruction of the second Temple.

This day is commemorated by refraining from eating or drinking from sunrise to nightfall.

While the last sentence of this week’s Torah portion is one of hope and prosperity for the Children of Israel, it is ominously foreshadowed by what we know will occur after the death of Joseph and his brothers. This is the fate of the Jewish people that we’ve seen enacted again and again across history since the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 CE and to this very day, when the Jews settle in an area, develop a robust and prolific community, and then are persecuted, robbed, maligned, murdered, and exiled.

On his blog, my friend Gene Shlomovich posted an extremely telling example of how Christianity in the “bad old days” expected and enforced Jewish conversion to Christianity. I invite you to click the link I just provided and read the whole story. It’s not a pretty picture, and many Jews chose to be tortured and die rather than to abandon the God of their Fathers and the Torah of Truth, and replace them with the “lure” of the “Goyishe Jesus.”

What am I saying here? That Christians are perpetually bad and that Jews should do anything in their power to blame the church for the hideous way it has historically treated Jewish people? Is that what the upcoming fast is all about? Not according to Rabbi Raymond Beyda

The purpose of fasting almost 2500 years after the events of the destruction took place is to awaken our hearts today to repentance. Our sages teach that anyone who lives at a time when there is no Bet Hamikdash must realize that had he or she lived when the Temple stood that his or her behavior would contribute to its destruction. Should we mend our ways and remove from our lives the behavior that brings destruction we will bring about the construction of the third Temple — the one that will never be destroyed — and the coming of Mashiah speedily in our days. May we all spend the day productively contributing to that end — Amen.

This is not to excuse the church for its crimes or to pardon any of the peoples and nations who have harassed and abused the Jewish people over the long centuries, but we must separate history from current events. Yes, hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel is still rampant in our world and there are many accounts in the media that indicate it is on the upswing. However, there are also many churches that have significantly revised and improved their (our) understanding of Jews and Judaism, and they (we) have repented and seek to understand our “Jewish roots,” while also honoring that God created a unique covenant people and nation in Israel who remain unique and special to the current day.

But the Jewish people have only one nation, Israel. While, in most parts of the world, Jews are welcome, and flourish, and are fully integrated within the countries and societies where they dwell, we see from history that there is such a thing as being too integrated, and certainly assimilation takes Jews to the point of no longer being recognizably Jewish. What the ancient church attempted and failed to do by force is now being accomplished voluntarily.

Judaism is being destroyed by assimilation and integration, which in effect, means Jews are, without realizing it, renouncing all that it is to be a Jew for the sake of national, social, and cultural belonging. But for those Jews who fully retain their unique ethnic, covenant, and halakhic identity as Jews, the danger they face living in the nations is the same danger the Jews faced in 468 CE in Babylon, and the same danger they faced in the 1930s in Germany.

joseph_egyptAnd it’s the same danger we find them facing this week as Jacob and his family settle comfortably in Goshen, which is in Egypt, and ruled by Pharaoh. Today, as we read Vayigash, Pharoah, King of Egypt knows Joseph and seeks to continue the profitable relationship between Egypt and Jacob’s family. Tomorrow, a new Pharoah will arise who does not know Joseph. That’s the way it’s always happened. Jews believe it will happen again.

According to the Talmud, as the Messianic era approaches, the world will experience greater and greater turmoil: Vast economic fluctuations, social rebellion, and widespread despair. The culmination will be a world war of immense proportion led by King Gog from the land of Magog. This will be a war the likes of which have not been seen before. This will be the ultimate war of good against evil, in which evil will be entirely obliterated. (Ezekiel ch. 38, 39; Zechariah 21:2, 14:23; Talmud – Sukkah 52, Sanhedrin 97, Sotah 49)

What is the nature of this cataclysmic war? Traditional Jewish sources state that the nations of the world will descend against the Jews and Jerusalem. The Crusades, Pogroms and Arab Terrorism will pale in comparison. Eventually, when all the dust settles, the Jews will be defeated and led out in chains. The Torah will be proclaimed a falsehood.

“End of Days”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series
Aish.com

Israel and her people, the Jewish people, will be rescued when Moshiach comes. But until then, we in the church have a responsibility to make sure the Holocaust or anything like it does not happen again in our towns, in our cities, and in our nations. In solidarity, we can also fast on the Tenth of Tevet, which this year is on Sunday, December 23rd.

Peace be upon Jerusalem and may the Messiah come soon and in our day.

Good Shabbos.

Vayigash: Descent and Ascent

Judah approaches Joseph to plead for the release of Benjamin, offering himself as a slave to the Egyptian ruler in Benjamin’s stead. Upon witnessing his brothers’ loyalty to one another, Joseph reveals his identity to them. “I am Joseph,” he declares. “Is my father still alive?”

The brothers are overcome by shame and remorse, but Joseph comforts them. “It was not you who sent me here,” he says to them, “but G-d. It has all been ordained from Above to save us, and the entire region, from famine.”

The brothers rush back to Canaan with the news. Jacob comes to Egypt with his sons and their families—seventy souls in all—and is reunited with his beloved son after 22 years. On his way to Egypt he receives the divine promise: “Fear not to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation. I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again.”

Joseph gathers the wealth of Egypt by selling food and seed during the famine. Pharaoh gives Jacob’s family the fertile county of Goshen to settle, and the children of Israel prosper in their Egyptian exile.

Parashah in a Nutshell
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash
Chabad.org

Most of the time, when we study this Torah portion, we focus on the positive events that are depicted, such as Joseph finally revealing his identity to his brothers, the forgiveness and grace he shows them, in spite of their past cruelty to him, and especially the long-awaited reunion of Joseph with his grieving father Jacob. The Children of Israel are conducted to Goshen in Egypt and given the fat of the land, prosperity, and safety.

But what about all of the suffering?

As joyous as the reunion between Joseph and Jacob is (Genesis 46:28-30), there were the decades of grieving and terrible sorrow that Jacob suffered. He believed all this time that Joseph, his most beloved and cherished son, was dead. Once made Viceroy of Egypt, at any time, Joseph could have ordered that a message be sent to his father to comfort and reassure him. But no message was sent. Jacob remained in anguish, even as Joseph ruled.

While God reassured Jacob that He will go down into Egypt with him (Genesis 46:1-4) and we read that Israel is given “the choicest part of the land of Egypt” (Genesis 47:11), what about the harsh and horrible centuries to come, after the death of Joseph, when a “new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) and Pharaoh oppressed Israel with burdensome labor and slavery (Exodus 1:13-14)? What about the murder of all of the male Israelite newborns (Exodus 1:22)? What of the cries of their mothers?

There is a saying in Kabbalistic circles that “for every descent there is an ascent.” We can certainly apply this to every time we have experienced disappointment and even tragedy that ultimately has resulted in a great benefit to us. The first thing that I think of is the “descent” the disciples of Jesus felt at his crucifixion and how all hope was lost to them (Luke 24:11). Even though Jesus had told them that he would be “handed over” and killed (Matthew 26:2, Mark 10:33, Luke 24:7), their faith melted like a snow cone in an Arizona heat wave. There are times in all our lives when only the barest shred of faith separates us from abject despair and the longing for death.

In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was imprisoned by the czarist government on charges fabricated against him and the chasssidic movement.

When he was brought before his interrogators, the first question they asked him was: “Are you of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov’s people?” Rabbi Schneur Zalman later related that he knew that if answered “no” he would be immediately released; nevertheless, he refused to disassociate himself from the Baal Shem Tov.

His 52 days of imprisonement in the Peter-Paul fortress in Petersburg were the most agonizing days of his life. He was forced to explain the basic tenents of Judaism and chassidism to the coarse Cossack minds of his questioners. He wept when he was asked “What is a Jew?”, “What is G-d?”, “What is the relationship of a Jew to G-d? Of G-d to a Jew?” – to hear these questions issuing from their vulgar mouths tore his heart to shreds.

One question in particular caused him great pain. It was Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s custom to interject the expression “af” in his prayers, as did the Baal Shem Tov. His enemies misconstrued this to mean that he was beseeching the Almighty to pour His wrath (‘af’ in Hebrew) upon the czar and his government. To explain to the Russian officials the Baal Shem Tov’s customs and his lofty reflections during prayer was torture to Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s soul.

Here too, Rabbi Schneur Zalman could have satisfied their queries with all sorts of answers. But his connection with the Baal Shem Tov, whom he called his ‘grandfather in spirit’, was so dear to him, that he refused to disclaim it in even the slightest detail, even if only for appearances sake.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Inseparable Souls”
Once Upon a Chassid
Chabad.org

This Chassidic tale illustrates the faith of a holy man but it also addresses his descent and his non-apparent ascent. While Rabbi Zalman was released after 52 days, Rabbi Tauber does not reveal the ultimate fate of this tzaddik. We can infer however that he was not elevated to a high ranking position in Czarist Russia as Joseph was in Egypt. Though he was finally freed from incarceration, where was his ascent?

During his journey to Egypt, Yaakov had a vision in which G-d reassured him: (Genesis 46:3-4) “Do not fear to descend to Egypt,” and promised “I will descend to Egypt with you and I will surely have you ascend.” Although Yaakov realized what he could achieve in Egypt, he was reluctant to descend there. For prosperity in exile even prosperity that is used to create a model of spiritually oriented existence is not the goal of a Jew’s life.

A Jew’s true life is in Eretz Yisrael and more particularly, Eretz Yisrael as it will exist in the Era of the Redemption. This is the promise Yaakov received from G-d that his descendants would be redeemed from Egypt and live in Eretz Yisrael together with Mashiach.

Why then did Yaakov descend to Egypt? Because he appreciated that the Redemption must be brought about by the Divine service of man. The establishment of a spiritually oriented society amidst material prosperity provides man with a foretaste of the Redemption, and prepares the world for the time when redemption will become manifest. Yaakov’s life in Egypt was dedicated to this purpose.

The theme of redemption is underscored by the Haftorah, which speaks about the ultimate union of Yosef and Yehudah: (Ezekiel 37:21-22) “I will take the children of Israel from among the nations… and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land…. No longer will they be two nations, no longer divided into two kingdoms.” And it promises: “And My servant David will be their prince forever,” for it is in the Era of the Redemption that the selfless striving for unity will receive the prominence it deserves.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Inspiring Change”
In the Garden of Torah
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash
Chabad.org

The ascent for Rabbi Zalman and indeed the ascent for Joseph and Jacob and for the grieving and heartbroken Apostles and for us is the same. To one day live in peace under the wings of the Maschiach; the Messiah. We Christians have that promise as well through faith in him who is our light. Though we descend with no ascent in sight, perhaps no ascent even within our mortal lifespan, we will ultimately dwell with our King and our Lord and eat at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11).

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. –Micah 4:3-4

Amen and Good Shabbos.