Monday, January 16, 2006

Parashat Vayigash - The Man Who Wasn't There


As I was walking on the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
Oh, how I wish he’d go away.

Nursery Rhyme

Describing the aftermath of a violent storm that uprooted trees and laid waste to a village, novelist V.S. Naipaul writes, “The readiest emotion is anger.” This is the response to blind and unemotive forces of nature. As we come to the end of the Yosef narrative, we see Yosef’s life begin to coalesce into a whole, into a continuum where events lead inexorable into further events, into further events… and thus is Destiny fashioned.

Yosef’s life is a sequence of events for which the readiest of responses would naturally be Anger. Yosef, running off to make sure his brothers are safe, is tossed down a pit by those brothers, who then proceed to have a picnic while he screams in terror. He is sold into slavery and is sexually abused, first by master – Pharaoh’s Chief Butcher (or perhaps his Executioner) – then by his master’s wife, then by Pharaoh himself. He is thrust into this by the actions of his own dysfunctional father, who creates havoc within the family unit. Yaakov blatantly favors one wife, at the expense of the others. He blatantly disregards his own daughter, very nearly at the expense of all their lives. And he blatantly favors his youngest son, setting up a situation in which Yosef’s brothers can not but despise him.

If ever a man had cause for anger and resentment, it is Yosef. And, if ever a man achieved greatness (as opposed to being born great – like Abraham – or having greatness thrust upon him – like Yaakov) it is Yosef. Yosef achieves his own greatness, and he achieves it unaided. G-d spoke clearly to Abraham, to Yitzhak and to Yaakov. G-d will speak in face-to-face conversation with Moshe. But G-d says not a word to Yosef, but leaves him to work things out for himself. From a purely human perspective, Yosef is perhaps the greatest figure in TaNaCh, for he achieves his greatness on his own, with nothing but his own vile existence and his own perceptive insight to guide him.

When Reuven returns to the well, at 37:30, to find Yosef gone, he utters the sentence ha-yeled ‘einenu – The child is not. And this word – ‘einenu – He is not, will define Yosef for the rest of his days.

What does it mean to be “Not”? To not be present? Why is the Man Who Wasn’t There so very troubling?

The Gemara says that giving in to one’s own anger is Idol Worship. This sounds like neat homiletics, and it needs teasing-out if we are to read the true depth of it.

The Hebrew word for Anger – ‘af – literally means “nose”. The image is, perhaps, one of a snorting bull preparing to charge, or of a fire-breathing dragon shooting flames of ire and wrath.

But the word ‘af has a meaning at once simpler, and more profound. For it is through the ‘af that we receive life. At Bereshit 2:7 we are told that G-d fashined the first human from dust from the ground, va-yipach be-‘apav nishmat chayim – and G-d blew into the human’s nose the soul of life. As the Ba’al HaTanya expresses, it is through the nose that we receive G-d’s actual breath. This, the Tanya says, is not metaphoric, but G-d has imparted some actual part of G-d’s own self into us, the Divine Spark, through the process of imbuing us with life.

Thus, when we give into our own anger, we are blowing that very G-dly spirit out, spewing it out upon the world. And there is no power greater than the power of G-d. No force more destructive than the power of G-d unleashed with wanton rage. No power more destructive to those around us, nor any act more self destructive than losing the very Divine life-force that makes us human.

Idol Worship is characterized by asking for outcomes. One prays to an idol in order to obtain some thing, or in order to prevent some disaster from befalling. If it works, good. If not, we must pray harder next time, we must sacrifice something more precious. Our own children, perhaps.

Torah, on theother hand, is li-shmah – for its own sake. There is no more fundamental difference between ‘Avodah zara and ‘Avodat HaShem. And when we allow our own anger to guide our actions, we are worshiping the most egregious of all idols. For Anger is the most fundamental of appetites. It is a passion that seeks to fulfill itself for no good outcome. Unlike sexual passion – which leads to procreation – unlike appetites for food and drink – which sustain the body – Anger fills no creative, no life-sustaining function. It is pure and self-consuming appetite. Once vented, there is an irremediable void, and life-force has been expended for no good outcome.

We have discussed the notion of Greatness: of those, like Yaakov, who have Greatness thrust upon them. Of all the Great Men of Torah, perhaps none is so great as Yosef. For Yosef achieves his Greatness fom a human point of departure, and his humanness remains the base throughout his troubled life. It is his humanity, his wisdom and his personality, that make of his life, not a life of trouble and sorrow, but a life of achievement.

In Tibetan Buddhism there is a key practice known as Tong-Len, which essentially means “Giving and Taking”. It is a form of meditation in which the practitioner consciously draws in Evil and, through an inner focus, transforms the Evil into pure Good, which is then released back into the world. The imaginative aspect of this practice is to view the in-breath as a thick and putrid sludge of Evil, to view the holding of the breath as the transformative engine whereby the meditator’s own body filters out all impurities, and to view the releasing, the out-breath, as a sending forth of pure Goodness into the world.

How does one accomplish this? How do we overcome our own Anger. Especially when, like Yosef, we are more than justified in our rage?

Yosef has learned one thing – perhaps it is the gift that came to him when he experienced the boundless anger his own brothers felt towards him. Yosef has learned that there is, in fact, not “justifiable” anger. Anger must never be given its head, for it is a purely destructive force. It is the assertion that “I” am more important than anything else. And if I will give vent to my rage against my own family, why would I not also give vent to my anger, even against G-d? Even, in fact, against myself? And so Yosef recognizes that, to achieve the transformation the world so sorely needs, we must remove that “I” – that irascible, that self-justifying, that angry and wounded Self – from the equation.

We must become The Man Who Wasn’t There.

‘Einenu. He isn’t.

Time and again, Yosef is referred to with this name. Yosef is not master of his own fate. Fortunately for him – and for Klal Israel – he soon recognizes that no one is. ‘Einenu – he is not. Time and again, Yosef is able to remove his Ego, his Self from the situation and to deal from the perspective not of emotion, but of wisdom. Not of anger, but of insight.

At 37:33 Yaakov says tarof toraf Yosef – translated as “Surely, Yosef has been torn [by wild anmals].” In legalistic Hebrew, the word taraf can also mean Taken by force, seized in payment of an outstanding debt. And what debt is Yosef required to repay? Is it, perhaps, that of his own father? Or is it, in some larger sense, that Yosef foreshadows the Suffering Servant of Isaiah?

Yosef, the man who has spent his entire life working on himself. Yosef, who recognizes all too clearly the danger of giving in to appetites, who has experienced like no one else the full fury of the appetites of Mizraim. And when his brothers appear before him for the first time, in Parashat Miqqetz, Yosef chides them. At 42:9 Yosef says, “You have come to see the nakedness of the land.”

He is not accusing his brothers of being spies. That is merely the surface meaning, and it is false. But Yosef is saying: I see your anger, your appetites, your unexamined Selves are still bound up within you. I see that you have not begun to work on yourselves, not as I have. You have lived long years since you cast me down the pit, but you have learned nothing from that experience. All experience is good, if it leads to a good outcome. But only I have profited from all of this.

Yosef says: I saw the fruits of Anger, gagged their bitter juices and choked as the pulp and skin and rotten seeds were crammed down my throat. And I learned from that experience that no person dare fall victim to Anger. That, as justifiable as Anger may be, there is ultimately no Justice in it. But you – Yosef goes on – you are still slaves to your whims and appetites.

It is not for nothing that the story of Yehuda and Tamar is interposed within the Yosef narrative. For it is Yehuda who, through the teachings of the wise Tamar, arrives at the realization that appetites are destructive. That without self-mastery, we are nothing. It is Yehuda who, through learning to master himself, becomes capable of pleding himself to Yaakov for Binyamin’s safety. Who becomes able to stand and argue before Yosef. Who is ultimately worthy to lead Klal Israel.

And what is Yosef saying to his brothers? They have come to a market town. Like so many other traders and sellers and buyers, they are on the road and far from home. What will happen during their brief stay in Mizraim need not be talked about on their return. Mizraim – what happens here, stays here. And Mizraim is a nation of sexuality, of appetite and lust. ‘Erva – sexual impropriety. You have come to see the lewdness of this lewd nation, Yosef tells his brothers. You have not worked on yourselves at all, but even as you are looking for the best bargains on grain, you are thinking how you are going to spend your free afternoon with the local harlots. Have you learned nothing?

And his brothers do not get it. They reply – We are the sons of one man, and there is our youngest at home, and then there is The Man Who Isn’t There. They can not avoid mentioning him. Oh! How they wish he would go away!

At the beginning of chapter 45, Yosef can restrain himself no longer, and he reveals himself to his brothers. Yosef has given in to weeping before, but in secret. Now, as he makes himself known to his brothers, he gives full voice to his weeping. In a powerful and poetic moment, the text says (45:2) “And he gave over his voice to weeping, and Egypt heard, and the House of Pharaoh heard.” The act of weeping is variously described in Chumash as lifting up the voice. Here, and only here, we see a man who gives over his voice entirely to Weeping, and the resulting image is of Yosef’s weeping resonating over the land itself, as though not merely the woman at their kneading-boards, not merely the farmers in their fields or the laborers bearing their tools, but the very sand and rocks, the waters of the Nile, the dust of the air – all, all hung suspended, struck dumb and still by the force of Yosef’s weeping.

Notice that the only other one to weep is Benyamin. Yosef’s brothers are stock still as he weeps upon their necks. Even his father does not respond in kind when, at 46:29, Yosef comes running to embrace him and to weep upon him on his arrival in Goshen. Clearly, their guilt is too great to allow them to give vent to feelings of joy, of relief. Their feelings remain pent within them. Only Binyamin – who had no part in his brother’s tragedy – can weep freely on being reuinted with Yosef. And only Yosef, the man who has purged himself of petty anger, can weep freely at the sight of his long-lost family.

Yosef tries to educate his brothers, but he appears not to hold out too much hope. When he sends them back to bring Yaakov down to Mizraim, his one word of parting is (45:24) Do not fight among yourselves on the way.

But the outcome of all this will be that Yaakov and Yosef are reunited. And this is where the foundation will be laid for Klal Israel. Up until now, Bnei Israel have been exactly that: the sons of one man, Israel. A family, however dysfunctional. The definition of a family is biological. “We are all the sons of one man,” they say over and over again, as though that means anything. But we have seen they have no allegiance to one another. None, until Yehuda steps forward and tells Yaakov, (43:9) I will be an assurance for him. People are a family by accident. To become a nation, people require a common identiy, must have allegiance to one another. To that end, Yaakov is brought down to Mizraim in order to teach Yosef. And it is both a Teaching and a Learning for both of them.

In Parashat VaYeshev, when Yosef is taken down to Mizraim, it is by Ishmaelites who pass by at 37:25 bringing nechot u-tzri va-lot – “spicery and balm and ladanum.” The second of these – Tzri – is an ingredient of the incense used in the Beit HaMikdash. It would appear that all three are also used in the process of embalming corpses, as practiced by the Egyptians.

When Yaakov is preparing his sons to return to Mizraim, orders them to take back the money that was found in their sacks. He also sends with them a gift for the Man – for Yosef – consisting of (43:11) balm and honey, spicery and ladanum, pistachios and almonds. Yaakov sends the three objects that first accompanied Yosef to Mizraim – items that are used for enjoyment, but not nourishment – but he mixes with them fruits of the Land of Israel. Items that are nourishing as well as pleasing to the senses. Devash – date honey, as well as pistachios and almonds. He is reaching out to Yosef. Yosef, you have made your own way in the world, and no man has risen higher than you; yet, you need Torah to perfect yourself. I, on the other hand, have learned so much Torah, yet I have not had the courage or the wisdom to perfect myself as a human being. Yaakov recongizes that now, together, he and Yosef will be able to merge their greatnesses to a new and transcendent greatness.

Yosef, like all who truly achieve greatness, sees his entire life as of a piece, as a continuum leading to a Destiny. We see it on his first being reunited with his brothers in the marketplace. They bow down to him, and rather than feeling a sense of anger, or of revenge, he recalls his dreams of childhood and recognizes that they have begun to come true. For Yosef it is a clear sign that his life is coming to its apex.

At 45:8 he tells his brothers, It was not you who sent me here, but G-d. The Rambam rephrases this: You did not sell me here, rather, G-d sent me here. Yosef reads his ultimate Destiny in every occurrence of his life.

Now, reunited with his father, Yosef will have the opportunity to learn the basic things a father must teach his son, and that Yaakov neglected to teach Yosef. The first seventeen years of Yosef’s life were an emotional disaster – created by Yaakov – which resulted in Yosef being sent to Mizraim. Now, for the last seventeen years of Yaakov’s life, father and son are reunited.

I often hear Jews tell me, “I don’t need Torah to be a good person.” And it’s true. One must agree: it is possible to become a good person without Torah. We have seen Yosef elevate himself by dint of his own insight. No, we do not need Torah to become good people. We need Torah to perfect ourselves. As Jews, there is an avenue open to us that, while not closed to anyone, is accessible only to those who embrace it. As the Gemara teaches, Torah will perfect us, only to the extent we extinguish ourselves for its sake. A Jew who embraces Torah will improve, no matter how far that Jew has progressed along the path of Humanity. A Jew who rejects Torah will never attain full human potential, as hard as they may toil in the fields of Secular Humanism and social awareness.

Yaakov spent his childhood and youth in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber, learning Torah behind its walls. But his Torah was sterile. ChaZaL exhort us over and over again to go out into the world, lest our Torah rot and putrify, and lest our rotten Torah rot out our souls too. Rather, we must take Torah into the world. We must live a life of Torah – openly, freely – seeking to perfect ourselves at all times. As much as Yaakov will teach Yosef the greatness of Torah, so Yosef will reveal to Yaakov the greatness of a man bent on not falling prey to the whims of emotion, of appetite. Of transforming destructive evil into creative good.

Yosef has lived the life of the Beinoni – the “In-Between Man” of the Tanya. While living surrounded by the rages and passions and desires and yearnings and desperate appetites and wrath and ravings of the world, Yosef has kept his actions free of taint. He has purged his actions of anger, of vengefulness, of appetite and guile. In his behavior he makes it clear that he wants only the very best for his brothers, as he did for the whole world when he was Chief Stweard of Mizraim. Now, his father’s Torah will hold up a mirror to that greatness and show Yosef the path to ever-greater transcendence. Together, they will transcend the mere bonds of birth and create a community based on love for one’s fellow. Based on Yehuda’s value of all Israel standing as guarantors for one another. This will be the end of the family of Yaakov, and the beginning of the Nation of Israel.

Yours for a better world.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Parashat Miqqetz - I Wake to Sleep


I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I can not fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

(from “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke)

Va-yehi miqqetz shnatayim yamim – Bereshit 41:1. “And it was at the end of two years.” Mi-qetz, meaning “from the end”. Shnatayim, meaning “a pair of years.” Or – the words are spelled identically –: “And it was, upon awakening from a pair of sleeps…” Mi-qetz, meaning, “upon awakening”, and Shnatayim, a pair of sleeps. Twin sleeps. The sleep of Yaakov, wherein the sleeper sees vivid images, potent visions. Yet, upon waking, he does not know whether they were prophecy, or mere dreams. Now recast in the twin dream-sleeps of Pharaoh, sleeps from which he wakes twice.

Chapter 41, verses 1-4, recount the dream of the fat and the lean cattle. At verse 4, “and Pharaoh woke.” 5-7 recounts the dream of the fat and the lean stalks, whereupon, “and Pharaoh woke, and behold: a dream.” Two wakings, two sleeps, but only one dream.

Here begins the complex process of reuniting Yaakov and Yosef. Both father and son have had immense gifts of power foist upon them, and both have struggled and erred in trying to wield that power. Both, indeed start out unaware of the power that dwells in them. Yaakov, who never is quite certain whether G-d has made him a promise, or whether he is merely imagining things. Yosef, who foolishly shoots off his mouth, spilling his dreams before his brothers, swaggering before Potiphar’s wife and bragging that he is the most important man in the household – so important there is nothing he can not possess, except her. If the sin of Mizraim is taking what one sees, Yosef’s own version of this is that he speaks what arises in his mind, without an intervening process of contemplation.

The narrative parallels and inter-echoings of the Yaakov / Yosef story proliferate. Yaakov’s own life outside of Canaan is bracketed by a pair of dreams: the dream at the beginning of Parashat Vayetze, and the dream at the end of the Parasha wherein, Yaakov recounts to his wives, G-d tells him to return to Canaan. Yosef’s seven years plus seven years are foreshadowed in the two times seven years his father must slave for his two wives. Both father and son rise to prominence in a land ominated by another, and remain under the control of that other. Both men are separated from their own fathers for twenty-two years. Yosef is seventeen years old when he is sold into slavery in Mizraim. Yaakov is reunited with his son and spends the laft seventeen years of his life with Yosef in Mizraim. In both narratives, there is a significant – and nearly fatal – delay of two years. In Yaakov’s case, it is his settling in Shechem, rather than returning directly to his father’s side. In Yosef’s case, it is the two years spent in prison in Mizraim.

Yaakov’s successes happen at night. The whole of Parashat Vayetze is read, Midrashically, as a single long night, as a sustained dream. It opens at sunset, and closes at sunup. Yaakov’s twin awakenings are in space – he returns after his extended Night of the Soul and is astonished to run into a pack of angels, and he names the place Mahanaim. Yosef’s successes occur by day. He does not live in the world of dream, but in the retelling and the interpreting of dreams. His twin awakenings are in time – At the end of two years of days. Together – and only together – they are complete.

The Zohar quotes the word Qetz – the same root – from the Book of Job, 28:3. The first three verses of this chapter are images of the various metals yielded up by the earth – brought forth from below ground: silver, gold, iron and copper. These are, of course, the four metals representing the stages of the soul in Plato’s Republic. The bringing-forth from below ground is equivalent to the emergence of the philosopher from the darkness of the cave into the sunlight. From the relatively easy state of ignorance, to the highly confusing state of wisdom. The difference between Ignorance and Wisdom is characterized by the seeming simplicity of recognizing objects in the shadows of ignorance, versus the confusing diversity of the world when revealed by the light of day. Is equivalent to Yosef emerging from the hole where he has languished for two years. The Lubavitcher Rebbe points to the fact that Rashi, commenting on Yosef’s release from prison (41:14) emphasizes the use of the Hebrew word Bor – Pit, as being the same as the Pit into which Yosef’s brothers threw him, in that there was no water in it. Water, the image of Torah, was lacking from both the Pit in which Yosef almost died, and the Prison in which he likewise might have wasted away. The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that, in one sense, Yosef’s brothers are bringing him down to their own level – while they were masters of Torah, Torah did not dwell in their hearts to the extent it dwelled in Yosef’s. In another sense, the salvation of Mizraim, which was ultimately to be the salvation of Bnei Israel, and the creation of ‘Am Israel, was contingent on Torah, on Yosef being restored to the Light of Day. A visionary needs light. A Jew needs Torah. In the Pit, there was neither. Yosef must be brought forth.

Why is Yosef brought forth, after all? Pharaoh is troubled by his dream and calls to his side all the counselors and magicians of Egypt. At 41:8 we are told, “no one would interpret them [the dreams] for him.” The text is always translated to state that no one knew how to interpret. But that is not what it says.

Clearly, the advisors and magicians know full well what Pharaoh’s dream means. Indeed, Pharaoh calls his wise men together, but does not demand an interpretation – the text tells us that Pharaoh was troubled by his dream, not that he did not understand its meaning.

Pharaoh is the temporal ruler, but also a divinity of Egypt. The Nile is the eternal divinity of Egypt. When the temporal divinity faces the Eternal Divinity, it is clear which shall dominate. Pharaoh is troubled because he knows he is faces forces he will not be able to control. And which of Pharaoh’s advisors wanted to be the one to step forward and tell Pharaoh, “Obviously, you’ve only got seven years left before you lose control of the kingdom”? But the word Poter – Interpret – is also used Talmudically in the sense of resolving a difficulty. Pharaoh was not looking for an interpretation – everyone knew the throne was precarious, and that a couple of years of bad weather would spell disaster for the royal house. No, he was looking for a way of preventing this from happening. For, in the world of agrarian Egypt, watered only by the Nile, a poor harvest – followed by social disaster – was a certainty. The issue confronting Pharaoh was not whether there would be a calamity, but how to prevent the consequences from destroying the social structure. And, especially, how to hold onto the throne.

It took a bold, a daring and brilliant upstart to hit on the solution. Someone with a sharp wit and nothing to lose.

When, at 41:9, the Cupbearer addresses Pharaoh, he gives us an insight into the tenuousness of earthly power. Why did Pharaoh throw the Cupbearer and the Baker into prison? And why into the prison belonging to the Chief Butcher? The Butcher, the Baker, the Royal Wine-Maker… what are we to make of this? The story suggests a palace intrigue, in which intimates, close members of Pharaoh’s household, who were attendant upon Pharaoh’s person, conspired together to do away with the monarch. Who would replace him on the throne? We know that this was not the only time in Egyptian history that this occurred. The Gemara quotes the tradition – also brought down in the Zohar – that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was not an hereditary king; that he was a military man who, after defeating the enemies of Mizraim, took the throne.

This fits nicely with what we know – or believe we know – about the Hyksos dynasties that ruled Egypt for over a century, culminating in the Egyptian victory and the final expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt in 1567 BC. The Hyksos invaders had established dynasties ruling Egypt with what appears to have been a relatively enlightened attitude, maintaining the Egyptian language, culture and religion. Still, their presence irked the people of the land, and Egyptian nationalist and ethnic feeling brewed resentment that culminated in the successful military campaign of Ahmose I. It is likely that the Pharaoh of Yosef’s time was a Hyksos ruler, and consequently a man wise enough in the ways of statecraft to value an alliance with another obvious foreigner – valued it, indeed, to the extent of ordering Yosef to bring his extended family to settle in Egypt, where they could form a Fifth Column of support for the Throne. There is another aspect of this relationship, mirrored in the history plays of Shakespeare: hereditary kings – even those, like Prince Hal, of the first generation – wear their royalty differently from those who – like Hal’s father, Henry IV – took the throne by force. Hal, after becoming King Henry V, is permitted a long philosophical ramble on the vagaries of war – this while standing on the battlefield at Agincourt. But he would never have echoed his father’s famous line: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. The Hyksos King understands the intricate chess game of power and statecraft; the successor, who took the throne by force, sees every man as a potential assassin.

And so Yosef is brought forth from the dungeon. In a scene to be replayed in the Esther narrative, he is shaved and bathed and dressed and dragged before Pharaoh, where the powerful sexual aspect of the story resurfaces. Pharaoh gives Yosef his ring. He then takes a special gold collar and places it around the neck of the nubile virgin – at 41:42 the gold chain is given with the definite article: clearly this is a symbol of known significance: Yosef is Pharaoh’s private property. Rashi blows this point wide open with his commentary on 41:45 – that Potiphar desired Yosef for himself for sex, and that Potiphar emasculated himself in despair after Pharaoh married Yosef to Osnat.

The name Pharaoh gives to Yosef – Tzaphnat-Pa’neah – is generally believed to be untranslatable. Rashi says it means “He explains hidden things,” but also says it is a hapax legomenon and can not be fully translated. The second part of the name – spelled Peh, Ayin, Nun, Het – is possibly linked with the word spelled Peh, Nun, Het, Yud, Aleph, derived from a Persian word meaning “Protection”. As to the first part of the name, the Gemara in Gittin (58a) recounts the story of a woman named Tzaphnat bat Peniel. “Tzaphnat,” meaning Bright. The Gemara says, because all men stared at her beauty, which is the paradigm of Yosef, Yefeh Toar – Beautiful of Form. Yosef, who is so beautiful that the Koran tells of women slicing their hands in a daze as they stare at him. Yosef, who is described at more than one place as Beautiful. Yosef, son of Yaakov. And the mysterious woman in the Gemara is Bat Peniel – the daughter of Peniel. Peniel, the place where Yaakov wrestles with the Man and is renamed Israel, and where he limps from the luxation in his thigh. Yosef is renamed Protected Beautiful Woman. The image of Yosef as Pharaoh’s concubine is too blatant. Yosef has been completely transformed, moreso than any man in history. He has changed his name, his clothing, his language, his sexual identity, his family. He has changed his nation. When his first son is born, Yosef severs the final link by naming him Menashe: “Because G-d made me forget all my hard toiling and all my father’s house.” He names his second son Ephraim, “Because G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” And of course, the word for Affliction – ‘Onyi – is also the word for Rape, raising again the sexual brutality of Mizraim.

Yosef’s transformation is complete. And, as will happen with us as a nation, it is only when something has been completely destroyed that it is ready tobe redeemed. Yosef’s transformation and destruction have been accomplished. No sooner does he name his second son that the famine begins, and the next phase of his story begins, the beginning of his redemption.

Of the balance of the Parasha, we shall mentionm only one incident. There is ample narrative depth here to dwell profitably on this one Parasha for years. We will focus only on one action: the imprisonment of Shimon.

At 42:19, Yosef tells his brothers to pick one of their number to remain behind as hostage, while the others go tyo Canaan to bring back Binyamin. Why, then, at verse 24 does Yosef himself select Shimon?

The first answer is straightforward. Halachically, it is prohibited for Jews to select one of our own number for a punishment. If an army besieges a city and their leader calls out, “Send forth one of your citizens, and we will take that one and depart,” the inhabitants of the city are prohibited from selecting one of their number to be sacrificed. But if that same general calls out, “Send forth Ploni ben Amoni,” the inhabitants are permitted to expel him and buy their own survival with this victim.

Similarly, Yosef’s brothers would not be permitted to select one of their number to be bound. So Yosef mst make the selection for them.

But on a more profound level, Yosef says: I recognize you for what you are. You are the brothers who forget your own brothers. If I take one of your number, you will merely go back to your father and say, “We lost Yosef, and now we lost another one.” Alone among the Brothers, Shimon and Levi treat one another as brothers; they treat their sister, Dinah, as a sister. The other eight were also her brothers; why did only Shimon and Levi take revenge for the actions of Shechem?

By imprisoning Shimon, Yosef sets the stage for the Redemption. Though his immense power did not provent hiim from suffering tremendously, yet through his own suffering, he has learned to wield that power within the scope available to him. And, while it has not prevented him from suffering for many years, the ultimate outcome appears to make it all worthwhile. For, humans live for Moments. We have an ability to retroactively make the suffering, the years of wandering aimlessly, of loss and hardship and pain and rejection – of amking all that appear as prologue to our Moment of Glory. And now Yosef’s Moment comes. The brothers bow down to him in the marketplace and Yosef knows, with a clarity never granted to his father, that his dreams were, in fact, prophetic. He must rethink his entire life and read into every incident a greater level of meaning. And with that re-examination comes the beginning of Wisdom.

Shimon was the one who cast Yosef into the pit, Rashi tells us; - is it for this that Yosef imprisons him? Is it merely to take revenge? Rather, it is only through separating Levi from his brothers, from the one person in the family to whom he has a bond of love and identity, that Yosef can ensure that Levi will become the savior of Klal Israel. Amram and Yocheved come from Levi. Moshe, Aharon and Miriam come from Levi. Without the Tribe of Levi, there will be no Klal Israel. There will be no Kohanim, no Leviim, no Mishkan. No Beit HaMikdash. No Korbanot, no Yom HaKippurim. There will be no People to lead out of Mizraim – nor any leaders to lead them.

As Yaakov recognized, the working-out of Destiny requires two things: a clear Vision of that Destiny – the gift of prophecy, perhaps – and a willingness to throw oneself into working to make it come about. The desire to make a reality of a dream. Yaakov and Yosef are two men full of dreams. They are two men who live in a deep well of prophecy. Yet they also live in the world. The Zohar says that a dream uninterpreted is like a letter unopened: the message is there, but has no effect until it is read. But even Prophecy is merely a signpost. It says: if you take this road, this will be your destination. But it requires that we actively take the road.

Otherwise it is a letter that has been read, but not acted on.

Yours for a better world.