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Friday, December 10, 2010

Rachel in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Vayeshev

In honor of the birth of Levanah Rachel bat Shimon Yehezkel, may she grow up healthy and happy, to a life of Torah, Chuppah, and Maasim Tovim.

The Torah portion of this week introduces us to one of the most central figures in all of Torah: Joseph. His story begins with the tension that existed between him and his brothers, a tension that Joseph himself helps fuel by telling them of two of his dreams that portray him as superior and the center of attention. The first dream involved sheaves bowing down to him, and the second involved stars. In the second dream, not only do the brothers (the stars) bow to him, but even his father and mother (sun and moon).[1][1] Jacob reprimands Joseph for the dreams, yet keeps them in mind and awaits their fulfillment. 

Jacob's reprimand is particularly harsh in that it makes reference to Rachel's passing (Joseph's mother), stating, "will I and your mother bow down to you," as if alluding to the fact that it could not be fulfilled. Here is the original text, with Rashi's commentary in grey:

9. And he again dreamed another dream, and he related it to his brothers, and he said, "Behold, I have dreamed another dream, and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me."
ט. וַיַּחֲלֹם עוֹד חֲלוֹם אַחֵר וַיְסַפֵּר אֹתוֹ לְאֶחָיו וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה חָלַמְתִּי חֲלוֹם עוֹד וְהִנֵּה הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְהַיָּרֵחַ וְאַחַד עָשָׂר כּוֹכָבִים מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לִי:
10. And he told [it] to his father and to his brothers, and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will we come I, your mother, and your brothers to prostrate ourselves to you to the ground?"
י. וַיְסַפֵּר אֶל אָבִיו וְאֶל אֶחָיו וַיִּגְעַר בּוֹ אָבִיו וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מָה הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתָּ n.,הֲבוֹא נָבוֹא אֲנִי וְאִמְּךָ וְאַחֶיךָ לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְךָ אָרְצָה:

And he told [it] to his father and to his brothers: After he told it to his brothers, he told it again to his father in their presence.
ויספר אל אביו ואל אחיו: לאחר שספר אותו לאחיו חזר וספרו לאביו בפניהם:

his father rebuked him: because he was bringing hatred upon himself.

ויגער בו: לפי שהיה מטיל שנאה עליו:
Will we come: Isn’t your mother (Rachel) already dead? But he (Jacob) did not know that the matters referred to Bilhah, who had raised him (Joseph) as [if she were] his mother (Gen. Rabbah 84:11). Our Rabbis, however, derived from here that there is no dream without meaningless components (Ber. 55a/b). Jacob, however, intended to make his sons forget the whole matter, so that   they would not envy him (Joseph). Therefore, he said,“Will we come, etc.” Just as it is impossible for your mother, so is the rest meaningless.
הבוא נבוא: והלא אמך כבר מתה. והוא לא היה יודע שהדברים מגיעין לבלהה, שגדלתו כאמו. ורבותינו למדו מכאן שאין חלום בלא דברים בטלים. ויעקב נתכוון להוציא הדבר מלב בניו שלא יקנאוהו, לכך אמר לו הבוא נבוא וגו', כשם שאי אפשר באמך כך השאר הוא בטל:

11. So his brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter.

יא. וַיְקַנְאוּ בוֹ אֶחָיו וְאָבִיו שָׁמַר אֶת הַדָּבָר:
awaited the matter: Heb. שָׁמַר. He was waiting and looking forward in expectation of when it (the fulfillment) would come. Similarly,“awaiting (שׁוֹמֵר) the realization [of God’s promise]” (Isa. 26:2), [and]“You do not wait (תִשְׁמוֹר) for my sin” (Job 14:16). You do not wait. [From Gen. Rabbah 84:12]
שמר את הדבר: היה ממתין ומצפה מתי יבא, וכן (ישעיה כו ב) שומר אמונים וכן (איוב יד טז) לא תשמור על חטאתי, לא תמתין:

Again, there are many questions here: Why does Joseph tell the dreams, knowing that they would probably incense his brothers further? If Jacob awaits the dreams' fulfillment, why would he want to negate it in any way, since it is well known that dreams are fulfilled according to their interpretation?

The first question is dealt extensively by many commentaries. There are many answers, the most prominent one perhaps is that these dreams were prophetic, and a prophet is not allowed to withhold prophecy under the penalty of death.

As noted above, Rashi addresses the second question, stating that Jacob spoke in this way to try to deflect some of the hatred that his brothers were feeling. Still, his answer seems particularly harsh, in light of how traumatic it must have been for Joseph to lose his mother at a young age, as well as how traumatic it must have been for Jacob himself.[2]

Certainly, Joseph was well aware about his mother’s fate. Jacob did not need to emphasize that. Perhaps Jacob’s question about whether Rachel would come with them to prostrate herself to the ground was not simply rhetorical, but was actually alluding to something much deeper.

Joseph’s dreams portray him as a foundation for his brothers, but one dream is related to physical matters (sheaves), while the other, the one that includes his parents, is related to spiritual ones. Perhaps, on a deeper level, Jacob’s question had to do with how Rachel would remain alive in this world on a spiritual level.[3]

Our sages state that Yaakov Avinu Lo Met, "Jacob our father did not die." Just as his offspring are alive, so is he. As long as his message is alive, he is still alive. If this was true of her husband, it certainly should be true about Rachel Immeinu as well. She also did not die. Spiritually, both Jacob and Rachel are alive today, because their children are alive, and so is their message. In general, we say that the righteous are even more alive after their death than before. (Tanya)

Rashi states that Bilhah brought Joseph up like his mother. Perhaps what is key here is not that she treated him like her own child, but that she behaved like Rachel, a true emissary of Rachel. Bilhah had been so influenced by Rachel that she kept her ways. (That would also help explain why Jacob did not move his bed to Leah’s tent, even after Rachel’s passing)

In Kabbalah, Rachel represents Malchut, which is also what the moon represents. The sun represents Chochmah, and Jacob is the sun.[4] Malchut is the ability to take something powerful and abstract and reflect it in such a way that can be absorbed, that can be brought into the reality of this physical world.

However, in order for Malchut to be able to perform its task, it must first be subservient to Yesod. The sefirah of Yesod, is the foundation for all the other sefirot, including Malchut.

Perhaps, on a deeper level, Jacob now understood that through Joseph, who represents the sefirah of Yesod, all the other Divine attributes and all their spiritual work and legacy for the future, including Jacob’s and Rachel’s, would now be able to emanate and be brought down all the way down into the most physical aspects of this world (Artzah, to the ground) and elevate the world in its entirety.

To this, Jacob was very much looking forward.

[1] The connection between the sons of Jacob, the Tribes, and the constellations is quite strong, as each constellation represents one of the Tribes, and the Jewish people are promised to be as numerous as the stars.

[2] It was fairly recently pointed out to me that Rashi's commentary is alluded to in the actual words said by Jacob, read in slightly different way (because the Torah has no punctuation, and is considered to be one long name of Hashem):  אֲשֶׁר  חָלָמְתָּ, contains the words רחלָ מְתָּ, Rachel is dead.

[3] The statement taken from אֲשֶׁר  חָלָמְתָּ, would then use all letters, and be the one to be asked rhetorically:  ? אֲשֶׁ רחלָ מְתָּ, “Has the fire of Rachel died? [Of course not].” The fire of the person stays long after the person is gone, just like Rebbe Nachman stated about himself, “my fire will burn until the coming of Mashiach.”

[4] Likutei Moharan, Chapter 1; although Jacob is also connected to Tiferet.

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