Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Read 'Em and Weep

In this week's parsha (Torah portion), Vayigash, we find several instances of people crying. In Bereishis (Genesis) 45:14, Yosef (Joseph) and his brother Binyomin (Benjamin) fall on one another's neck and weep. Rashi explains that Yosef and Binyomin were crying because of the future destruction of the beis hamikdash (temple), which would take place within their territory in the Land of Israel. Similarly, in the very next verse, it is recorded that "Yosef kissed his brothers and cried over them." In this instance, however, Rashi does not explain that they were also crying over the destruction of the beis hamikdash.

To explain the difference between the two situations, the Aish Kodesh brings support from the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah 28a, where it states, "Commandments were not given to provide enjoyment." Rashi, in his commentary on the Gemara, explains that commandments were given to Israel as a yoke on the neck. This, then, is an explanation of the symbolism found in the account of Yosef and Binyomin. When the two cried with one another, they did so on each other's necks, showing that they mourned the instances of Jews throwing off the yoke of the mitzvos that would happen after the beis hamikdash would be destroyed.

The Aish Kodesh explains that each Jew carries the yoke of the mitzvos on their neck, as we go through life with a specific Divine task. We are required to learn Torah and observe the mitzvos everyday, and are charged to have holy thoughts and speech. The Aish Kodesh says that even at times when we are physically prevented from observing certain mitzvos, we must put forth even greater effort, as we still have the yoke of the mitzvos. In a time of complete catastrophe, when suffering is overwhelming and the world seems to be turned completely upside down, people can not only come to abandon certain mitzvos, but they can shrug off the entire yoke of the mitzvos altogether.

When Yosef was once again reunited with his father Yaakov (Jacob), the Torah records (Bereishis/Genesis 46:30) that Yosef cried on his father's neck, but it does not say that Yaakov cried on the neck of his son. Rashi notes that while Yosef cried, Yaakov was reciting the Shema (the group of verses that are of central importance in Judaism). The Aish Kodesh explains that Yosef came to his father, and began to cry on his father's neck, mourning the future plight of the Jewish people. Yosef also knew that his father, as well as the rest of the people, were now coming into Mitzrayim (Egypt), which would result in an eventual enslavement that would introduce the Jewish people to great levels of tumah (impurity). Yosef, therefore, wanted to know how the Jewish people would survive their time in Mitzrayim, and persevere to reach Har Sinai, where they would receive the Torah. Yaakov, to answer his son's deepest yearning for understanding, began to recite the Shema, showing Yosef that the people would survive by a constant returning of their souls to G-d. This is because the recitation of the Shema, when it is recited carefully and with great intent, serves to rededicate ourselves to Divine service, echoing the words of the sefer Ma'or v'Shamesh, which states that one who recites the Shema properly during shacharis (the morning prayer service) will find his avodah (Divine work) successful throughout the day.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely written. I read this a few times to understand and also a few new words to look up, but I must say I do enjoy your entries they open my mind and help me to discover a new level of life and understanding. Thanks for who you are and how you help me grow. Love Ya MOM