Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Desert in Words: Yosef, Mashiach Ben Yosef, Bittersweetness and the Torah Portion of Vezot HaBracha

B"H

When reading Moshe's blessing for the tribe of Yosef, there is one word that immediately stands out: Meged. It is repeated five times in a blessing that is itself only five verses long. Meged means "sweet," or "sweet fruits." It appears in Tanach also in Shir HaShirim, and Rashi states that it's used a metaphor for the sweet reward of keeping Hashem's commandments.

Looking at Moshe's blessing alone it is hard to understand the need for such repetition. However, in the context of Yaakov's blessing to Yosef (as well as to Yosef's sons Efraim and Menashe) it becomes easier to understand why Meged is indeed repeated so often.
As with the other tribes as well, there are incredible parallels between Moshe's blessing and Yaakov's. In addition, Moshe's blessing is also related to Yaakov's blessing for Ephraim and Menashe. We could spend pages and pages drawing parallels between these blessings, and how they in fact complement one another. Below, the verses for both Yaakov and Moshe's blessings (five verses each) are laid out, and then each verse is paired up to show just how similar the blesssings are.

Returning to the importance of the repetition of the word Meged in Moshe's blessing, there is also one aspect of Yaakov's blessing that truly stands out. Every verse in Yaakov's blessing is extremely positive, but there is one verse that recounts Joseph's suffering:

23. They heaped bitterness upon him and became quarrelsome; yea, archers despised him.

Rashi notes, in relevant part: "His brothers heaped bitterness upon him (Joseph), [and] Potiphar and his wife heaped bitterness upon him by having him imprisoned."

Despite the other amazing blessings that Joseph received, one cannot but remain with a certain "bitter taste" about Joseph's life and legacy. Embittered by his own brother, and then by the masters of the household he had served so loyally and exceptionally.

Moshe comes to take away this bitterness by blessing Joseph with sweetness - five times, one for each verse of Yaakov's blessing (and his own).

Also, there appears to be a reference to the cause of Joseph's "bitter" encounters: his two dreams. The first one was agricultural, in which he saw his brother's sheaves bowing to his. The second, astrological, where not only his brothers' stars bowed to him, but even the sun and the moon as well. After the dreams, Jacob sends his son to Hebron, which is described as a deep valley, even though it was in fact a mountain. (Bereshit 37:14, See Rashi)

Moshe now endows these moments with sweetness. He speaks of the sweetness of the heavens as well as the "deep," the sweetness of the sun and the moon's yield, of the crops of mountains, hills, and of the land as a whole.

Moshe, who is from the tribe of Levi, originally one of the main instigators against Joseph, now comes to fix the past and sweeten it.

At the same time, Moshe's blessings may actually also be a reference to the future, concerning the progeny of Joseph and the times of Mashiach. In Zechariah, we find the following passage:

10. And I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplications. And they shall look to me because of those who have been thrust through [with swords], and they shall mourn over it as one mourns over an only son and shall be in bitterness, therefore, as one is embittered over a firstborn son.

11. On that day there shall be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the Valley of Megiddon.

Rashi - as one mourns over an only son: As a man mourns over his only son. And our Sages expounded this in tractate Sukkah (52a) as referring to the Messiah, son of Joseph, who was slain.

Moshe's blessings and emphasis on the word Megged may in fact be a prayer on behalf of Mashiach Ben Yosef, one that may mitigate the circumstance surrounding his death and even spare him of his fate altogether:


R. Isaac Luria (Ari-zal) notes that the descendant of Joseph, by being the precursor of the ultimate Mashiach, is in effect kissey David, the "seat" or "throne" of David, i.e., of Mashiach. Thus when praying in the daily Amidah, "speedily establish the throne of Your servant David," one should consider that this refers to Mashiach ben Yossef and beseech G‑d that he should not die in the Messianic struggle.16 As all prayers, this one, too, will have its effect.[1]

May we all do our part, and may we all merit to truly live in the times of Mashiach, immediately, in our days.

 ----//-----
 
 
Here are Yaakov's blessings regarding Ephraim and Menashe:

15. And he blessed Joseph and said, "God, before Whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, walked, God Who sustained me as long as I am alive, until this day,

טו. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶת יוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמַר הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלְּכוּ אֲבֹתַי לְפָנָיו אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק הָאֱלֹהִים הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי מֵעוֹדִי עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:

16. may the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land."

טז. הַמַּלְאָךְ הַגֹּאֵל אֹתִי מִכָּל רָע יְבָרֵךְ אֶת הַנְּעָרִים וְיִקָּרֵא בָהֶם שְׁמִי וְשֵׁם אֲבֹתַי אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ:


Yaakov's blessing to Joseph is as follows:

22. A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; [of the] women, [each one] strode along to see him.

כב. בֵּן פֹּרָת יוֹסֵף בֵּן פֹּרָת עֲלֵי עָיִן בָּנוֹת צָעֲדָה עֲלֵי שׁוּר:

23. They heaped bitterness upon him and became quarrelsome; yea, archers despised him.

כג. וַיְמָרֲרֻהוּ וָרֹבּוּ וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ בַּעֲלֵי חִצִּים:

24. But his bow was strongly established, and his arms were gilded from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob; from there he sustained the rock of Israel,

כד. וַתֵּשֶׁב בְּאֵיתָן קַשְׁתּוֹ וַיָּפֹזּוּ זְרֹעֵי יָדָיו מִידֵי אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב מִשָּׁם רֹעֶה אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל:

25. from the God of your father, and He will help you, and with the Almighty, and He will bless you [with] the blessings of the heavens above, the blessings of the deep, lying below, the blessings of father and mother.

כה. מֵאֵל אָבִיךָ וְיַעְזְרֶךָּ וְאֵת שַׁדַּי וִיבָרֲכֶךָּ בִּרְכֹת שָׁמַיִם מֵעָל בִּרְכֹת תְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת בִּרְכֹת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם:

26. The blessings of your father surpassed the blessings of my parents, the ends of the everlasting hills. May they come to Joseph's head and to the crown (of the head) of the one who was separated from his brothers.

כו. בִּרְכֹת אָבִיךָ גָּבְרוּ עַל בִּרְכֹת הוֹרַי עַד תַּאֲוַת גִּבְעֹת עוֹלָם תִּהְיֶיןָ לְרֹאשׁ יוֹסֵף וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו:

Now, Moshe's blessing (Devarim33):

13. And of Joseph he said: "His land shall be blessed by the Lord, with the sweetness of the heavens with dew, and with the deep that lies below,

יג. וּלְיוֹסֵף אָמַר מְבֹרֶכֶת יְהֹוָה אַרְצוֹ מִמֶּגֶד שָׁמַיִם מִטָּל וּמִתְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת:

14. and with the sweetness of the produce of the sun, and with the sweetness of the moon's yield,

יד. וּמִמֶּגֶד תְּבוּאֹת שָׁמֶשׁ וּמִמֶּגֶד גֶּרֶשׁ יְרָחִים:

15. and with the crops of early mountains, and with the sweetness of perennial hills,
 
טו. וּמֵרֹאשׁ הַרְרֵי קֶדֶם וּמִמֶּגֶד גִּבְעוֹת עוֹלָם:

16. and with the sweetness of the land and its fullness, and through the contentment of the One Who dwells in the thornbush. May it come upon Joseph's head and upon the crown of the one separated from his brothers.
 
טז. וּמִמֶּגֶד אֶרֶץ וּמְלֹאָהּ וּרְצוֹן שֹׁכְנִי סְנֶה תָּבוֹאתָה לְרֹאשׁ יוֹסֵף וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו:

17. To his firstborn ox is [given] glory. His horns are the horns of a re'em. With them, he will gore peoples together [throughout all] the ends of the earth these are the myriads of Ephraim, and these are the thousands of Manasseh."
 
יז. בְּכוֹר שׁוֹרוֹ הָדָר לוֹ וְקַרְנֵי רְאֵם קַרְנָיו בָּהֶם עַמִּים יְנַגַּח יַחְדָּו אַפְסֵי אָרֶץ וְהֵם רִבְבוֹת אֶפְרַיִם וְהֵם אַלְפֵי מְנַשֶּׁה:



Looking at the similarities between the verses of the two blessings, one could pair up each verse as follows: 

22. A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; [of the] women, [each one] strode
along to see [Shur] him.   כב. בֵּן פֹּרָת יוֹסֵף בֵּן פֹּרָת עֲלֵי עָיִן בָּנוֹת צָעֲדָה עֲלֵי שׁוּר:

17. To his firstborn ox [Shor] is [given] glory. His horns are the horns of a re'em. With them,
he will gore peoples together [throughout all] the ends of the earth these are the myriads
of Ephraim, and these are the thousands of Manasseh."   יז. בְּכוֹר שׁוֹרוֹ הָדָר לוֹ וְקַרְנֵי רְאֵם קַרְנָיו בָּהֶם עַמִּים
יְנַגַּח יַחְדָּו אַפְסֵי אָרֶץ וְהֵם רִבְבוֹת אֶפְרַיִם וְהֵם אַלְפֵי מְנַשֶּׁה:

[The references to Ephraim and Mannasseh parallels also the blessings previously made to them by Yaakov: "may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land."]


23. They heaped bitterness upon him and became quarrelsome; yea, archers despised him. 
כג. וַיְמָרֲרֻהוּ וָרֹבּוּ וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ בַּעֲלֵי חִצִּים:

14. and with the sweetness of the produce of the sun, and with the sweetness of the moon's
yield,   יד. וּמִמֶּגֶד תְּבוּאֹת שָׁמֶשׁ וּמִמֶּגֶד גֶּרֶשׁ יְרָחִים:


24. But his bow was strongly established, and his arms were gilded from the hands of the
Mighty One of Jacob; from there he sustained the rock of Israel,   כד. וַתֵּשֶׁב בְּאֵיתָן
קַשְׁתּוֹ וַיָּפֹזּוּ זְרֹעֵי יָדָיו מִידֵי אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב מִשָּׁם רֹעֶה אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל:

16. and with the sweetness of the land and its fullness, and through the contentment of
the One Who dwells in the thornbush. טז. וּמִמֶּגֶד אֶרֶץ וּמְלֹאָהּ וּרְצוֹן שֹׁכְנִי סְנֶה


25. from the God of your father, and He will help you, and with the Almighty, and He will
bless you [with] the blessings of the heavens above, the blessings of the deep, lying
below, the blessings of father and mother.   כה. מֵאֵל אָבִיךָ וְיַעְזְרֶךָּ וְאֵת שַׁדַּי וִיבָרֲכֶךָּ בִּרְכֹת שָׁמַיִם מֵעָל בִּרְכֹת
תְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת בִּרְכֹת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם:

13. And of Joseph he said: "His land shall be blessed by the Lord, with the sweetness of
the heavens with dew, and with the deep that lies below,   יג. וּלְיוֹסֵף אָמַר מְבֹרֶכֶת יְהֹוָה אַרְצוֹ
מִמֶּגֶד שָׁמַיִם מִטָּל וּמִתְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת:


26. The blessings of your father surpassed the blessings of my parents, the ends of the
everlasting hills. כו. בִּרְכֹת אָבִיךָ גָּבְרוּ עַל בִּרְכֹת הוֹרַי עַד תַּאֲוַת גִּבְעֹת עוֹלָם

15. and with the crops of early mountains, and with the sweetness of perennial hills
טו. וּמֵרֹאשׁ הַרְרֵי קֶדֶם וּמִמֶּגֶד גִּבְעוֹת עוֹלָם:


26 (b) May they come to Joseph's head and to the crown (of the head) of the one who was
separated from his brothers.    תִּהְיֶיןָ לְרֹאשׁ יוֹסֵף וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו:

16(B) May it come upon Joseph's head and upon the crown of the one separated from his
brothers.   תָּבוֹאתָה לְרֹאשׁ יוֹסֵף וּלְקָדְקֹד נְזִיר אֶחָיו:




[1] J. Immanuel Schochet, “Mashiach in Jewish Law,” Appendix II, citing (Pri Eitz Chayim, Sha'ar Ha'amidah:ch. 19; and Siddur Ha-Ari; on this blessing. The Ari's teaching is cited in Or Hachayim on Leviticus 14:9, see there (and also on Numbers 24:17, where he relates this prayer to the next blessing of the Amidah); and see also Even Shelemah, ch. 11, note 6. Cf. Zohar II:120a (and Or Hachamah there), and ibid. III:153b) Available at: http://www.chabad.org/library/moshiach/article_cdo/aid/101747/jewish/Appendix-II.htm#footnote16a101747




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