Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Vayigash.

Being an Entrepreneur

The conflict between Joseph and his brothers (led by Judah) was the conflict between a spiritual tradition and a new worldliness, between a community of shepherds and an entrepreneur. The brothers could not accept that a person can lead a worldly existence without becoming worldly, that a person can remain one with G‑d while immersed in the affairs of the most depraved society on earth.

In this conflict, Joseph was to emerge the victor. The spiritual seclusion that characterized the first three generations of Jewish history was destined to end; Jacob and his family moved to Egypt, where the “smelting pit” of exile was to forge their descendants into the nation of Israel. As Joseph had foreseen in his dreams, his brother and his father bowed to him, prostrating their approach to his. Jacob had understood the significance of these dreams all along, and had awaited their fulfillment; Joseph’s brothers, who found it more difficult to accept that the era of the shepherd was drawing to a close, fought him for twenty-two bitter years, until they too came to accept that the historic challenge of Israel was to be the challenge of living a spiritual life in a material environment.

Nevertheless, it was Judah, not Joseph, who was chosen by Jacob to establish the house of learning that was to serve as the source of Torah knowledge for the Israelites in Egypt.

The Jew lives in a material world, but his roots are planted in the soil of unadulterated spirituality. In his daily life he must be a Joseph, but his education must be provided by a Judah.
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Reaching Beyond

Joseph embracing Benjamin. (Art by Yoram Ranaan)
Joseph embracing Benjamin. (Art by Yoram Ranaan)

In Joseph’s act of feeding his family in a time of famine, despite all their wrongs towards him, he has given us the power to reach beyond the surface of our fellow Jew, with all its superficial failings, and to penetrate to the core of his being and respond to its fundamental holiness. And when we treat another Jew in this way, we arouse that core of holiness in him, and in ourselves as well, so that in time it breaks through its coverings, and the essence of our soul stands revealed.
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The Purpose of it All

This Torah reading tells us how Jacob and his family made their journey from the Land of Israel to meet Joseph in Egypt. Jacob was understandably hesitant about leaving the Holy Land, and it was not until he received a pledge of assurance from G‑d that he resolved to do so. But why did G‑d want want this? And why does He want us, Jacob’s descendants, to continue living in the different Egypts of our widespread Diaspora?

The Jews were created with a mission: to make this world a dwelling for G‑d. Within the material substance of the world are contained sparks of G‑dliness. Every piece of food we eat, every person we meet or situation we encounter is maintained by G‑dly energy. Our mission is to tap that energy and use it for a positive purpose. For example, when we recite a blessing before or after eating and use the vitality that the food generates for a G‑dly intent, we fulfill G‑d’s objective in creating that food.

It’s like a fruit and a peel. The fruit — in the analogue, the G‑dly spark — is what is of primary importance, but for that fruit to exist in our material world, it needs a peel — the material substance of our world.

This is the intent of the Jewish people in the world — to refine the world by highlighting the existence of this spiritual dimension, to show — ourselves and others — that there is a fruit beneath the peel. For this purpose, the Jews have wandered from continent to continent and from land to land, seeking to reveal the G‑dly life-force hidden in these places.

This process began with Jacob’s descent to Egypt.
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Empathy & Action

This week’s Torah reading relates that after Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, “he fell on the neck of his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin fell on his neck.” Why were they both crying? Rashi, writes that their tears are to be understood as future-oriented. The term “neck” is an allegory referring to G‑d’s Sanctuary. Joseph was crying about the destruction of the Temple which would be built in the tribal heritage of Benjamin, and Benjamin was crying for the destruction of the Sanctuary at Shiloh which would be erected in Joseph’s tribal heritage.

Why were Joseph and Benjamin weeping about the destruction to take place in the other’s territory? What about the destruction to take place in their own territory?

Crying doesn’t change anything. It soothes a person’s feelings and releases the tension. It does not however change the situation. Therefore, when it comes to one’s own problems, crying is not the answer. One must do something.

When it comes to another person, one can point out the need for change and one can offer advice and assistance. But since ultimately, it is in the hands of the other person, often there is nothing more to do than cry.

However, when, one’s own future is at stake, what is necessary is deed and action. We must build anew, tapping the essential positive potentials that each one of us possess and bringing them to the surface.
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When You Least Expect It

After being elevated to second in command of Egypt, Joseph saved the entire region by storing grain during the seven years of plenty, in preparation for the seven years of famine. The Talmud records that the wealth Joseph accumulated for Pharaoh from the sale of that grain filled three treasure houses, bolstering Egypt’s position as a world superpower. Two centuries later, this power was invested back into the Jewish people, when Pharaoh not only freed them from slavery, but opened Egypt’s coffers and gave of its manpower to help expedite their exodus.