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Monday, December 22, 2014

Oded in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Vayigash

In this week's Torah portion, Judah confronts Joseph, who he believes is the viceroy of Egypt. Judah tells him (again) about everything his father Jacob has been through: his loss of Joseph, how attached he is to Benjamin, etc. Almost immediately after that moment, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. The words used by Joseph, however, are quite enigmatic. "Ani Yosef HaOd Avi Chai?" "I am Joseph, is my father still alive?"

After all the talk about Jacob, including Joseph's own questions about his father, how can Joseph possibly be asking them if their father is still alive? Perhaps the question is simply rhetorical, as in, "how could my father possibly still live after such suffering?" Perhaps the question is referring to Jacob's spiritual life (as discussed in the past weeks)? Or perhaps this is not a question at all.

One way of punctuating the sentence would be: Ani Yosef, HaOd Avi, Chai. I am Joseph, the "Od" (the "more, the extension, addition to") my father, is alive. This interpretation would be in line with the interpretation of the first verse of the Torah portion of Vayeshev: Eleh Toldot Yaakov: Yosef. "These are the generations of Jacob: Joseph. Joseph is the continuation of Jacob. Their lives parallel each other in many incredible ways. These parallels are explored extensively by the Midrash: both had brothers that wanted to kill them; both had to go into exile, etc.

Another way of punctuating the verse would be as follows: Ani Yosef: HaOd. Avi Chai. I am Joseph, the "Od." My father is alive [now]. Jacob had the confidence to face Eisav once Joseph was born. Joseph was fundamental to his confrontation of Eisav. Perhaps once Joseph was lost, Jacob felt lost not just because he lost his son, but because his son was so important in Jacob's ability to fight the forces of evil and death. That is why, now, Jacob would become alive again. That is exactly what happened. What Jacob heard the news, the Torah states: Vatechi Ruach Yaacov, the spirit of Jacob became alive. Next week's portion is called Vayechi, "and Jacob lived."

The words used by Jacob when hearing his son was alive are: "Rav, Od Yosef Bni Chai," usually translated as "Enough! My son Joseph is still alive!" Rashi reads Rav and Od together, interpreting to mean, Rav Od Li, I have enough happiness and joy because my son Joseph is still alive. Interestingly, Jacob's words include "Rav" (which is the word Eisav used to Jacob when acknowledging the birthright. See Korach in the Parasha, here). When Jacob's children tell him the news they also state "Od Yosef Chai."

The word Od is intrinsically connected to Joseph. It goes back all the way to his mother Rachel's naming him. At the time, she states, "Yosef Li Ben Acher," may [Hashem] and to me one more son. Joseph embodies the idea of "adding," of expansiveness, of Od. Od also appears to be related to one of the names of Mashiach Ben Yosef, Oded. (See previous post about this here)

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov also gives great importance to the word and the concept of Od. In what is arguably the basis for all his other teachings (Torah Reish Peh Beis (#282)), Rebbe Nachman connects Od to the concept of finding good points in others and in ourselves. He takes this from a verse in the Book of Psalms: "Od Me'at v'Ein Rasha," "a little more and there is no evil person." If you find some little good in a person, you can change the scale of justice and bring that person to the side of merit, where they are no longer evil. Rebbe Nachman also interprets another verse from the Psalms, "Azamra L'Elokai b'Odi," "I sing to my G-d with my Od," to mean that through judging ourselves favorably we can come to sing to G-d. 

Every Jew has this spark of good, this Od, this Yosef HaTzadik within us that can tip the scales of justice in our favor and bring us to life, true life, in which we are constantly increasing and growing. That is the message of Joseph, who is connected to the attribute of Yesod (today was Yesod shebeYesod shebeGevurah), and is also one of the fundamental guiding principles of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his life: he was never satisfied with past accomplishments; he was always looking to grow, to "increase in holiness." This is also the message of Chanukah, in which, every day, we add more light until one day, hopefully soon, we will light up the entire word and darkness will no longer prevail.

Chodesh Tov and Chanukah Sameach!!!

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