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Home » Vayigash

Vayigash: Longing for G-d

Submitted by on December 5, 2013 – 3:17 pmNo Comment | 4,738 views

The Bank Manager

Suppose you were a bank manager responsible for the bank’s cash. Would you lock the money in the vault at the end of each day or store the money in your desk till the end of the month and bring it all to the vault at once? Most would secure the money each day and not risk losing it. It is also easier to lock away a little at a time than to lock away a huge amount at once. Yet Joseph behaved differently.

And Joseph collected all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan with the grain that they were buying, and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house.”[1] If you look carefully you will see that he first collected all the money and only later, when the entire sum was collected, did he deliver it to Pharaoh. Why did he do that?


Kesef, the Hebrew word for money is a homonym; it has two etymological meanings. In its common usage Kesef means money, but in poetic Hebrew it means longing.[2] Hebrew is G-d’s tongue and every word is precise. When one word carries two meanings, there is a connection between them. The link between money and longing is that we procure the items for which we long with money.

The highest form of human longing is for G-d. Though this sounds crass, the fact is that G-d is also obtainable with money. Of course we don’t mean that G-d is susceptible to bribery. We mean that when we spend our hard earned money on a Mitzvah, rather than ourselves, we establish and affirm our attachment to G-d.

Joseph collected all the monies from all the countries in the region and gave it to Pharaoh. When the Jews left Egypt they took this great wealth along with them.[3] When we consider the linguistic ramification of this endeavor we find that the monies Joseph collected represented the passions and longings of the regional tribes. When the Jews marched out of Egypt to receive G-d’s mandate at Sinai they took all these monies with them. Mystically speaking this means that they took the emotional charge and energy of the collective longinglonging - innerstream that Joseph had gathered and converted it into the highest form of human longing – a longing for G-d.

Laundered Longing

We now understand why Joseph first gathered the money into his own home and only later delivered it to Pharaoh.

The passions of the ancient tribes were crass and sinful. Their yearnings and desires, though in the instance of this grain purchase were for survival, were generally speaking immoral and inappropriate for Sinai. If these desires were to be sublimated into a longing for G-d they would have to be laundered first. When he took the money into his home, Joseph also absorbed the powerful charge of their yearnings into his soul and laundered it.

Joseph was a paragon of virtue; even in the immoral and depraved environment of Egypt, Joseph remained righteous. If there was one Jew who could be assaulted by the seduction of sinful pleasure and material gain and not be spiritually corrupted by it, it was Joseph. Before depositing these powerful energies with Pharaoh, Joseph wanted to launder them and remove their sinful and immoral sting, less Pharaoh utilize these energies for his own purposes.

Now that they were properly laundered Joseph could deposit them with Pharaoh and rest assured that they would remain intact and unsullied until the time for redemption would arrive. Pharaoh would not touch these energies because they were useless to him. He would be unable to utilize it for self-aggrandizement and physical pleasure because Joseph had laundered them. He would equally be disinterested in utilizing them for enhancing his yearning for G-d because Pharaoh never cared for G-d.

Thus the energies were available and intact for the Jews to collect upon their exodus from Egypt.

Jewish Longing

We now also understand another curious aspect of this Biblical episode.

When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to purchase food Joseph returned their money to them. Isn’t returning Pharaoh’s money to them without Pharaoh’s consent a form of theft?

In light of this essay we understand that it is not. The entire purpose of collecting these monies for Pharaoh was so that the laundered monies would be kept in safekeeping until the exodus. However, his brothers’ monies were not derived from sinful longings and lusts. His brothers were righteous and their longings were sublime and G-dly. There was no need for Joseph to launder these longings and thus no need for Pharaoh to hold them for the Jews in safekeeping.

These emotional energies remained with the tribes and their descendants. It is what gave the Jewish leaders the impetus to lead a nation in bondage and what gave them the strength to believe in their own redemption. These longings could not be given to Pharaoh to hold for they were needed by the Jews in Egypt before their redemption.

They never once abused these sublime yearnings and converted them into longings for physical pleasure. This particular longing remained pure and gave them the endurance they needed to hold out. It is in the merit of those longings, that Joseph sent back to his brothers, that their descendants survived the bondage in Egypt and lived to collect Joseph’s treasures and gift.[4]

[1] Genesis 47: 14.

[2] See for example Genesis 31: 30.

[3] Genesis 15: 14.

[4] This essay is based on Shem Mishmuel 5674.

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