Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Joseph and Judah in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Bereshit

As is usual with all Torah portions, the name of the first is derived from the first word used in it: Bereshit, translated as "In the beginning." Much has been written about how the Torah begins with the letter Beit, the second letter, and not the first, the Alef. Beit signifies duality and multiplicity. The word that translate as beginning is Reishit, from the word Rosh, head. Therefore, despite Judaism's tremendous emphasis on the unity of G-d, and how the whole world is One, and we discussed in previous posts the importance of having only one leader, one head, the Torah itself begins with a word that can be easily understood as "Beit Reishit," two heads, two beginnings. The answer to why the Torah begins in simple: although G-d is absolutely One, by creating the world G-d introduced an element of duality and multiplicity.
Rashi's opening comment also appears to delve into this aspect of two beginnings by asking why the Torah does not actually begin in a different place, in the beginning of the discussion of G-d's commandments:
1. In the beginning of God's creation of the heavens and the earth.

RASHI - In the beginning:  Said Rabbi Isaac: It was not necessary to begin the Torah except from “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded, (for the main purpose of the Torah is its commandments, and although several commandments are found in Genesis, e.g., circumcision and the prohibition of eating the thigh sinew, they could have been included together with the other commandments). Now for what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, "The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it (this we learn from the story of the Creation) and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.  
The beginning of Rashi's second comment on this verse again points to the theme of  duality. G-d created the world for the sake of two "firsts:" the Torah and Israel.
In the beginning of God’s creation of: Heb. בְּרֵאשִית בָּרָא. This verse calls for a midrashic interpretation as our Rabbis stated: [God created the world] for the sake of the Torah, which is called (Prov. 8:22): “the beginning of His way,” and for the sake of Israel, who are called (Jer. 2:3) “the first of His grain.”
The theme of duality is present in the Talmud (where there is a disagreement as to whether the world was created in Tishrei or Nissan) as well as in the Jewish calendar itself. While Rosh Hashanah is in Tishrei, the head of the months is actually Nissan. The source for Nissan being the head of the months is actually the verse quoted by Rashi:
2. This month [Nissan] shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year. (Exodus 12:2)
The duality between Tishrei and Nissan appears to relate to the contrast of the role of Hashem portrayed primarily as the One that creates us, judges and forgives us based on how we kept the Torah, and of Hashem as the One that redeems us, collectively and individually, and brings us to the Promised Land.
Rashi's first comment therefore can be understood as hinting to both beginnings, Tishrei and Rosh Hashanah. 
Rashi's second comment is also related to this duality. While it is more common to place Israel ahead of even the Torah itself in terms of importance, Rashi first mentions the Torah, the blueprint of creation and the standard by which we are judged in Rosh Hashanah, and only then mentions Israel, which became a nation in Nissan at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. 
This duality in the Jewish calendar is reflected in the Jewish people itself and in their two prototypical leaders: Judah and Joseph. Judah represents Nissan. Tishrei is represented by Ephraim, the son of Joseph (his other son, Menashe represents the following month, Cheshvan). Judah is first and foremost a leader of the people, while Joseph's leadership is more detached, in a sense more connected to the Torah itself.
The tension, balance, and contrast between Judah and Joseph is very apparent in the way the Torah places the very parallel stories of Joseph and Judah side by side,[1] as well as in the depiction of their direct confrontation, in the Torah portion of Vayigash.[2] Even the names of these two tribes are similar, because Joseph sometimes is called “Yehosef,” carrying the first three letters of G-d’s name, Hashem, just like Judah.
This balance and tension has continued throughout our history, most notably with King David and King Shaul, the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel (also called Ephraim in the Torah), and even eventually with the coming of two Mashiachs, ben David and ben Yosef, also known as Mashiach ben Ephraim.
 
The following are excerpts from the Kabbalah of Time's appendix, further discussing this duality: 
The Jewish calendar actually has two beginnings, one in Tishrei, on Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year, and the other in Nissan, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the head of “the head of the months.”  There is even a debate in the Mishnah regarding which of these days is linked to Creation (because, as mentioned above, Rosh Hashanah actually celebrates the creation of man, on the sixth day, the creation of the world would have been five days prior, either on the 25th of Elul (as is the final ruling) or the 25th of Adar). Both in the months of Nissan and Tishrei, Tachanun, supplication prayers, are not said. 
There are also various important parallels and contrasts in both these sequences. For example, both Passover and Sukkot fall on the15th day of the 1st or 7th month, depending from which month the counting begins. Similarly, Tu B’Av and Tu B’Shvat fall on the 15th day of the 5th or 11th month, depending on which sequence is followed.  
Interestingly, there is a custom to use the twelve days preceding Tishrei, from the eighteenth of Elul (Chai Elul) to Erev Rosh Hashanah to atone for the twelve months of the year, with Chai Elul representing Tishrei and Erev Rosh Hashanah representing Elul. In contrast, in the thirteen days from Rosh Chodesh Nissan to the thirteenth of Nissan, it is the custom to read the offerings brought by the princes of the tribes during in honor of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Each tribe brought their sacrifices on a different day. As explained previously, each tribe represents a different month, and the sequence of tribes’ offerings goes according to the months of the year, beginning with Judah (Nissan) and ending with Naftali (Adar I) and Levi (Adar II).
It is also fascinating that the Alter Rebbe’s birthday is on Chai Elul, the first of the twelve days, representing Tishrei, while the birthday of the grandson he raised, the Tzemach Tzedek, is on Erev Rosh Hashanah, the last of the twelve days, representing Elul itself. Furthermore, the Tzemach Tzedek’s yahrzeit is also on the last day of the reading of the princes, the thirteenth of Nissan. The yahrzeit of the Rebbe Rashab, the Tzemach Tzedek’s own grandson, is on the second day of Nissan, at the very beginning of the reading of the princes.
In Kabbalah, another difference between Tishrei and the ensuring “winter months” and Nissan and the accompanying “summer months” (both of which have twenty six weeks) is that Tishrei represents the concept of Ohr Chozer (reflective light), while Nissan represents Ohr Yashar (direct light). On Tishrei, we initiate our return to G-d, and G-d responds accordingly – that is why the month is spelled with the last three letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in descending order, mirroring/reflecting the first three letters in ascending order. On Nissan, G-d is the one that initiates the relationship, taking us out of bondage, independently of (or even despite) whether or not we merit it. This contrast is connected to the kabbalistic concepts of Ita'aruta de L’tata (arousal from below) and Ita'aruta de L'Eila (arousal from above), and which of the two come first.
It is interesting to note that in the “winter months,” from Tishrei to Adar, the animals in Perek Shirah comprise of birds, flying insects, and water animals, while those from Nissan to Elul are all land animals. From Tishrei on, we must first ascend to G-d, and in turn he descends to us. From Nissan on, Hashem first descends to us, and only then do we ascend to Him.
Rabbi Moshe Wolfsohn explains that this division is reflected even in the current differences between Chassidic and Lithuanian/non-Chassidic. Similar differences seem to exist between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and baalei teshuvah (those who return to G-d, acknowledging their mistakes) and tzadikim gemurim (righteous one, who never sinned in the first place). Joseph is the prototype of the tzadik gamur, while Judah of the baal teshuvah.
The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the Holy Chariot, Hashem’s holy throne, has a lion on the right (the symbol of Judah) and an ox on the left (the symbol of Joseph). The same prophet Ezekiel, in the haftorah reading for Vayigash, is told by G-d to collect one stick for Judah and one for Ephraim, and to join them together, symbolizing that in future Yosef and Yehudah will become completely united.[3]
The Jewish calendar also contains another duality and synthesis: its days are counted in accordance with the cycles of the sun and the moon. While the West’s calendar (based on the Roman one) is purely solar, and the Islamic calendar is purely lunar, the Jewish calendar has aspects of both. Each month in the Jewish calendar follows the moon, yet, as mentioned in Week 22, the Jewish year often contains two Adar months. This way, Passover always occurs in the spring, and all other months correspond to particular seasons accordingly. Here also, Joseph appears primarily associated with the year as a whole (countering Esau), while Judah appears to be primarily connected to the lunar months (countering Yishmael).
 



[1] Genesis, Ch. 37 - 39

[2] Genesis, 44:18

[3] Ezekiel 37:15; See Rabbi Matis Weinberg, Patterns in Time, on Chanukah

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