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Home » Vayigash

Vayigash: O’ The Circuitous Trail Of Love

Submitted by on December 20, 2009 – 2:29 amNo Comment | 4,400 views

A Perplexing Concealment

Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. Unbeknownst to them the sale worked to his advantage when remarkable circumstances led to his appointment as viceroy of Egypt. Under Joseph’s guidance Egypt collected vast storehouses of foods and was well prepared when a terrible famine struck the region. From far and near people streamed to Egypt to purchase provisions for their families. Joseph’s brothers, his former nemeses, were also among the horde of hopeful customers.

Joseph immediately recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Capitalizing on his anonymity Joseph proceeded to teach them a lesson. He accused them of being spies and promptly imprisoned them. He then allowed them to go home on the condition that they return with Benjamin, but to ensure their eventual return he imprisoned Simon; one of the key architects of his sale.

After the brothers returned with Benjamin Joseph continued to harass them. He framed Benjamin for a crime he did not commit and threatened to incarcerate him. Judah approached Joseph with a heartfelt plea. He professed a deep love for his brothers and an abiding concern for the welfare of their father who might not survive the loss of Benjamin. Judah effectively threw down the gauntlet. Either Joseph releases Benjamin or the brothers would make war against the mighty Egyptian empire.

The Dramatic Revelation

Seeing the deep bond that his brothers had forged with each other, Joseph banished all bystanders and tearfully revealed his identity. Overwhelmed by this sudden revelation the brothers were unable to believe their good fortune. Joseph eventually convinced them and the brothers finally embraced.

This story raises an interesting question. We understand Joseph’s objective in hiding his identity and orchestrating the series of challenges against his brothers, who had closed their heart to him many years earlier; he wanted to fan their spark of brotherhood and provoke latent stirrings of love within them. What baffles us though is the manner in which he revealed himself. the circuitous trails of love - innerstreamThe sudden and radical reversal from a stern, unyielding official to a searing heart of brotherly love overwhelmed his brothers and put them in a temporary state of shock. Why did he not ease them into the new information and slowly condition them to the amazing truth?

When Joseph saw his brothers his heart went out to them. He wanted to embrace them and cry on their shoulders as he eventually did, but he knew he had a mission to accomplish first. With iron clad discipline Joseph donned a mask of indifference while a storm of conflicting emotions raged within him. One can only imagine the vast inner strength that such discipline demands, yet he undertook the effort willingly for the sake of his brothers.

Joseph’s love for his brothers was true and absolute. He yearned to embrace them, but true love does not permit selfish indulgence. True love demands that we set our own urges aside and do what most benefits our beloved. Joseph therefore set his yearning aside and orchestrated events that would reveal the true bonds of their brotherhood. This way, his brothers would learn not only how to appreciate his love, but also how to reciprocate it.

However, Joseph had a problem. He knew that despite his admirable intentions the brothers would hardly appreciate the difficulties he put them through. Rarely are students grateful to the teacher for the hardships they were made to endure despite the lessons they were taught. This obstacle might prevent them from appreciating his love for them. It was for this reason that Joseph unveiled his true identity in so dramatic and sudden a fashion.

The Principle of Restraint

It is a well established principle that the act of restraint is more difficult than the act of release. Let us consider the construction of a dam. Engineers must carefully calculate the sheer weight and water pressure of the raging river and construct a dam capable of withstanding the force of impact. Beneficiaries of the dam, who frolic in the calm pools downriver, are completely oblivious to the engineer’s creativity and tenacity. It is only when they trek upstream and discover the true force of the river’s flow that they appreciate the strength of the dam.

It is similar with a student who learns from a master. The master must condense the depth and breadth of his knowledge to accommodate the student’s limited capacity. However, the student, who is ignorant of the master’s true knowledge, is incapable of knowing, let alone appreciating, the extent of the master’s generosity; for all he knows this is the extent of the master’s knowledge. It is only when the student hears the master teach his fellow masters that the student can appreciate the depth of the master’s devotion to him.

It would have been far easier, far more natural and far more enjoyable to the master, to teach the subject as he understood it. However, to enable the student to grasp the material, the master willingly dummed down the information and withheld the full flow of his knowledge. This piece of knowledge touches the student deeply as he reflects on the lengths to which the master went for his sake. (1)

This will help us understand Joseph’s sudden revelation of his identity. Had he slowly reveled his identity they would not know the depth of his love and the extent of his sacrifice. With this dramatic reversal he illustrated the depth of his own feelings. Now they would appreciate how difficult the last few weeks had been for him. Now they would know the extent of his love; he reigned in his own feelings, difficult as it was, to benefit them. They would no longer resent him for what he put them through; on the contrary they would now be grateful for his love and respond in kind.

Concealment in Creation

Before creating the world G-d concealed Himself from it; one can live a full life without once considering the possibility of a creator.  Jewish mystics taught that He did this so we would be ale to exist; faced by the infinite profusion of his awesome power and exquisite beauty we would melt in ecstasy and be absorbed by His existence. No creature would be able to exist independently from G-d.

This concealment helps us appreciate the profundity of G-d’s love for us. To enable our existence He went to the great length of harnessing his infinite radiance; an effort that required more energy than would have expended in release.  He did this for us, yet we would know nothing of it if we remained clueless to His existence. G-d therefore allowed a glimpse of Himself at Sinai and in the Temple. He also gave us the Torah through which we can engage in a relationship with Him. It is the circuitous tale of love.

Like the glimpse of Joseph’s love did for his brothers, the Torahs provides us with an amazing opportunity to reflect on G-d’s love for us and to be grateful for it. (2)

Footnotes

  1. This is akin to two people in tight embrace. The
    tighter their embrace the less they are able to see into each other‘s
    eyes and read the deep love that they express. They therefore pull back
    from time to time. This enables them to study the other’s facial
    expressions and adoring looks. Then, with a fuller appreciation for the
    depth of the other’s feeling, the lovers embrace again. In a similar
    sense, when the master teaches he is engaged with the student and the
    student is unable to appreciate the breadth of the master’s knowledge
    and the depth of his devotion. When the student overhears the master
    expounding to his peers and learns of the vast distance in knowledge
    between them (akin to lovers pulling back from each other’s embrace) he
    discovers the true extent of the master’s sacrifice (and therefore
    devotion) for him. See Zohar I p. 31a.
  2. This essay is based on Sefer Mamaraim, 5670 pp. 49-57.
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