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Sunday, October 30, 2011

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




Friday, October 28, 2011

The Desert in Words: "Eclipse" in Leadership and the Torah Portion of Haazinu

In the Torah portion of Haazinu, we come across a very interesting verse:
And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun. (Devarim 31:44)
There appears to be an obvious contradiction/question within the verse itself: Who actually spoke the words of the song? Was it Moshe or was it Moshe and Yehoshuah together?
In order to answer this question, it is important to look into the previous Torah portion, Vayelech, which serves as an introduction to the song Haazinu itself. G-d's commandment regarding the song was not just to Moshe, but to Moshe and Yehoshuah together (Devarim 31:16-30):
14. And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, your days are approaching [for you] to die. Call Joshua and stand in the Tent of Meeting, and I will inspire him. So Moses and Joshua went, and stood in the Tent of Meeting. (…)
19. And now, write for yourselves (plural) this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel.
Rashi - this song: [This refers to the passage beginning with] הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם [until] וְכִפֶּר אַדְמָתוֹ עַמּוֹ (Deut. 32:1-43).
Yet, we see that it was not Yehoshua who wrote down the song, but Moshe:
22. And Moses wrote this song on that day, and taught it to the children of Israel.

23. And He [Rashi states that this refers to G-d] commanded Joshua the son of Nun, and said: "Be strong and courageous! For you shall bring the children of Israel to the land that I have sworn to them, and I will be with you."

24. And it was, when Moses finished writing the words of this Torah in a scroll, until their very completion,
Moshe, in the conclusion to the Torah portion of Vayelech, further states:
28. Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, and I will speak these words into their ears, and I will call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses against them.
29. For I know that after my death, you will surely become corrupted, and deviate from the way which I had commanded you. Consequently, the evil will befall you at the end of days, because you did evil in the eyes of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands.
30. Then, Moses spoke into the ears of the entire assembly of Israel the words of the following song, until their completion.
We are left with at least a couple more questions. If Moshe is still the leader and the one that ultimately performs Hashem’s commandment, why is Yehoshuah included at all in the commandment, as why does verse 31:44 imply that he was also the one that spoke the song to the Jewish people? And if Yehoshuah is also the one commanded to act, why doesn’t he do so?
Now let us examine Rashi’s comments to our initial verse:
And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun. (Devarim 31:44)
He and Hoshea the son of Nun: It was the Sabbath upon which there were two leaders, authority was taken from one and given to the other. — [Sotah 13b]
Rashi continues:
Moses appointed a meturgeman [literally, an interpreter, here a spokesman] for Joshua, [to relay to the public what Joshua said,] so that Joshua could expound [on the Torah] in Moses’ lifetime, so that Israel would not say [to Joshua], “During your teacher’s lifetime you did not dare to raise your head!” - [Sifrei 31:1]
Rashi further notes, still under the same verse:
And why does Scripture here call him Hoshea [for his name had long since been changed to Joshua (see Numb. 13:16)]. To imply [lit., to say] that Joshua did not become haughty, for although he was given high status, he humbled himself as he was at the beginning [when he was still called Hoshea]. — [Sifrei 32:44]
Even though (as we mentioned in the last post) there can only be one leader, Rashi states that for this "Sabbath" there were actually two. The word Sabbath is particularly appropriate here, because just as the Sabbath is the culmination of the previous week and the foundation of the next, so too here, it was the culmination of Moshe's leadership and the foundation of Yehoshua's.
Rashi does nevertheless state that Moshe was the one that spoke the words of the song. It appears that, out of awe and reverence for his teacher, Yehoshua could not bring himself to act in any way that could make him comparable to Moshe. Yehoshua’s reluctance is so strong, to the point that Hashem Himself, exclaims (as cited above) ""Be strong and courageous! For you shall bring the children of Israel to the land that I have sworn to them, and I will be with you." (Devarim 31:23) Moshe therefore appointed someone to amplify Yehoshua's words so that he could expound on the words of song and that all could hear him, further empowering Yehoshua as the new leader.
It would seem odd that Rashi comments that Moshe made Yehoshua speak in public in order to counter those that would say, "During your teacher’s lifetime you did not dare to raise your head!" After all, that is exactly what a person is supposed to do when one is before his teacher! Not only that, we actually learn this particular lesson from Joshua himself, who previously answered a single question in front of Moses, ultimately causing him to remain childless. Here however, the situation is quite different because Yehoshua is no longer only the disciple of Moshe, but actually already the leader himself. For this brief moment, Moshe and Yehoshua’s leadership eclipsed (literally, given that Moshe is compared to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon).
Finally, Rashi notes that despite this empowerment, Yehoshua humbled himself, just as he was at the beginning of his tutelage. It is not just that Yehoshua had become the leader and humbled himself, but that he was made to play a leadership role while Moshe, the greatest prophet of all time, was still alive and well. Despite the potential for Yehoshua, even if for a split second, to see himself as higher than Moshe, he nevertheless saw himself simply as Hoshea, which was his name before Moshe’s blessing, which changed his name to Yehoshua. Yehoshua knew that he owed everything to Moshe: not only his name, but also the very essence of who he had now become as the leader of the Jewish people.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Desert in Words: Being Strong and Courageous and Connected to the Head. (Nitzavim-Vayelech)

B"H
We're playing a bit of catch-up here, due to the high holidays and the entire month of Tishrei. Let's begin by addressing a theme that appears in Nitzavim as well as Vayelech.
The Torah portion of Nitzavim begins with the following verse:
You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, (Devarim 29:9):
In Hebrew, the exact wording is רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, [lit., “your leaders, your tribes,”], which leads Rashi to comment as follows: “The leaders of your tribes.” Some suggest that Rashi's comments are necessary given that the leaders themselves are obviously part of their respective tribe. While that may be true, perhaps there is also a deeper point Rashi is trying to make, which is that when it comes to the "head," it makes little sense to speak of more than one. There is only one head. That head is the tribe, as Rashi notes in a different place, "HaNassi Hu HaKol," the head of the tribe is everything.
We see this in Rashi's discussion of apparently repetitive verses found in Vayelech, which are also repeated in the Book of Joshua. In Vayelech, Moshe urges the Jewish people as follows:
Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be dismayed of them, for the Lord, your God He is the One Who goes with you. He will neither fail you, nor forsake you." (Devarim 31:6)
He then immediately urges Joshua in a similar manner:

7. And Moses called Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous! For you shall come with this people to the land which the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them. And you shall apportion it to them as an inheritance. (Devarim 31:6)
Towards the end of the Torah portion, he again urges Joshua:
And He commanded Joshua the son of Nun, and said: "Be strong and courageous! For you shall bring the children of Israel to the land that I have sworn to them, and I will be with you." (Devarim 31:23)
Rashi compares the two times that Moshe addresses Joshua, and draws a contrast between the two:
for you shall come with this people: Heb. כִּי אַתָּה תָּבוֹא אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה [as the Targum renders:]“For you shall come with this people,” [hence, the אֶת here means “with.” Accordingly, Moses’ statement of leadership role to Joshua can be understood as follows]: Moses said to Joshua, “The elders of the generation will be with you, [for] everything should be done according to their opinion and counsel.”
Rashi continues:
In contrast, however, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Joshua,“For you shall bring (תָּבִיא) the children of Israel to the land which I have sworn to them” (verse 23). [God’s statement of leadership role to Joshua here means:] “You shall bring them [even if it is] against their will! Everything depends [only] upon you; [if necessary,] you must take a rod and beat them over their heads! There can be [only] one leader for a generation, not two leaders for a generation.”- [Sanh. . 8a]
While Joshua is told to take advice from the elders as a whole and to follow their opinions and counsel, he must also understand that he is the one in charge and the one that is ultimately going to be held accountable.
[As an aside, it is interesting that Rashi goes as far as stating that if necessary, Joshua is to take a rod and beat [the Jewish people] over their heads, because Moshe himself was punished for apparently much less than that, taking a staff and hitting a rock, instead of speaking to it. It comes to teach us that Moshe was not necessarily wrong in principle by hitting the rock, it's just that this was not what G-d had commanded.]
In the Book of Joshua, the repetition of the verse "be strong and courageous" is said to represent two different aspects of life altogether:
Be strong and have courage; for you will cause this nation to inherit the land that I have sworn to their ancestors to give to them. (Joshua, 1:6)
RASHI - Be strong and have courage: in worldly pursuits, as the Scripture states: “For you will cause this nation to inherit the land.”
Just be strong and very courageous to observe and do in accordance with all of the Torah that Moses My servant has commanded you. Do not stray therefrom right or left, in order that you succeed wherever you go. (Joshua, 1:7)
RASHI - Just be strong and very courageous: in Torah, as the Scripture states: “To observe and to do in accordance with all of the Torah.”
We also see that Joshua strength and courage as the head of the Jewish people is ultimately for the purpose of being connected to his head, Moses.
There is a very important application of the above in our daily lives, especially as the Torah portion of Nitzavim (as usually Vayelech as well) always comes before Rosh Hashanah. There is something to be learned from all the sages, all the Tzadikim, and there is certainly a way to do everything according to their will. Yet, at the same time, there must be one ultimate head of the generation, just as we observe only one head of the year. We also cannot choose to have one leader and apply a set of standards for "religious" considerations and another for worldly matters. Ultimately, they both stem from the same place, and we must have a single leader (and set of principles) to guide us in both areas of life.
Again, that is not to say that we are not supposed to learn from all the sages (and from every individual, as stated in Pirkei Avot). Similarly, this is also not to say that there is not a hierarchy in leadership, just as each tribe had a leader, who in turn was ultimately subservient to their leader, the head of the entire generation. Ultimately even the head of generation is but simple and completely nullified and subservient slave in the hands of the One and Only. The King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.
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