main postsMiketz

Miketz: Getting to Know You

מאת גמלאי עיריית טבריה

(Excerpted from Rabbi Ginsburgh's soon-to-be-published book, "The Inner Dimension.")


Hatred stems from a lack of understanding of the other;
its rectification lies in a profound recognition of their essence

The Torah portion of Miketz lies at the heart of the action-packed suspense story of Joseph and his brothers. The hero of the story, the righteous Joseph, transforms from a downtrodden slave into the all-powerful ruler of Egypt. Unaware of Joseph’s true identity, his brothers, who sold him into slavery, approach him with great submission. Joseph devises a plot against them, accusing them of espionage.

From Hatred to Love

In the previous Torah portion, the burning hatred of Joseph’s brothers almost resulted in bloodshed. It could only be resolved by transforming it into love. Joseph rectified the situation by implementing an ingenious scheme. Like a talented movie producer, he maneuvered his brothers step-by-step until they admitted their regret and took responsibility for Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin. They realized that their encounter with the harsh Egyptian ruler was atonement for selling Joseph into slavery. Joseph retained his mask of severity until the moment was ripe to reveal his identity.

Transforming Hatred into Love

Hatred results from a lack of understanding and true appreciation. Jacob loved Rachel’s attitude to life and was attracted to her down-to-earth approach. He “despised” Leah because he did not appreciate her hidden, theoretical perspective. Similarly, Rachel’s son, Joseph was despised by his brothers who were born to Jacob from Leah. Joseph was an enigma to them.

Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. He stood out with the distinctive clothing his father had made especially for him. He informed Jacob of his brothers’ activities and disclosed his dreams that suggested he would rule over them. This did not match his brothers’ preconception about which brother was their leader. Joseph’s philosophy on life was incomprehensible to them. Their misunderstanding metamorphosed into hatred.

Chassidut teaches us that there was an inherent difference between Joseph’s Divine service and that of his brothers. Joseph’s brothers paved their way through the physical world by doing their part (such as shepherding their flocks) and remained connected to God. Yet, they did not represent their cause to outsiders. Judah “descended” from his brothers, but almost lost sight of all light until he reached rock-bottom. Only then did he acknowledge his mistake. In contrast, Joseph was unwittingly hurled into the lowest levels of reality; yet he remained faithful to his source. In his most desperate moments, Joseph shone like the Chanukah candles that illuminate the dark winter nights. First, he was thrown into a pit infested with snakes and scorpions;[1] then he was sold into slavery. In Egypt, he was soon incarcerated in jail. Joseph’s pit became deeper, darker and more frightening as time went on. Yet, he stood erect in the face of adversity and became a shining example of righteousness for all generations.

Rectification: True Appreciation

Verbal declarations of eternal love do not suffice to resolve hatred. Its rectification must come through true knowledge and appreciation of the other.

After twenty-two years of separation, Joseph still recognized his brothers, “But they did not recognize him.” Recognizing his brothers was the first step to rectifying their hatred. Even if Joseph erred by informing Jacob of their deeds all those years ago, he now identified with them as his brothers. His appreciation ran deeper than superficial acknowledgment. He gradually educated them to appreciate him too. At first, Joseph could not reveal his true identity. The knowledge would have been a superficial piece of information that could not breach the wall of alienation. Joseph realized that before his brothers became aware of his identity, they would have to appreciate his true worth. This would lead to mutual understanding and love.

Superficial Information

In Kabbalah and Chassidut, recognition corresponds to da’at (the sefirah of knowledge).

Nowadays, we have easy access to an enormous amount of knowledge about any subject under the sun – just “google” the right word for it. Information is a powerful tool that we can utilize in many ways, but this type of knowledge is not essentially good unless it inspires us to change for the better. Equating more knowledge with bettering mankind has led some to become addicted to gathering increasingly more information, paying homage to anyone who knows more than they do on a particular subject (their smartphone, for example). The abundance of information available today does give rise to more virtuous individuals.

Information brings us into contact with superficial facts about the object of our interest. Under these circumstances, the soul similarly participates at a superficial level, without emotional involvement. In Chassidut, a relationship constructed solely from this type of “shopping list” information is referred to as “back-to-back.” Armed only with this type of computerized data, one social faction may alienate themselves from another because it appears to threaten their existence. The same is true of partners in a marriage. The result is poor human relations and marital disharmony.

We cannot understand or appreciate another individual until we interact with him or her face to face.

Inner Knowledge

The soul participates in a deeper knowledge that lies beneath the bare facts. Through it, one connects to the more profound levels of another’s soul. When one begins a new acquaintance with a person, or with a new realm of knowledge, the facts are significant. Together with this superficial knowledge, one must also listen, sense and integrate the essence that lies beyond the sea of data.

This relates to knowledge of the Divine. In every Torah meditation, we must penetrate the inner aspects by perceiving the meaning that underlies the words. Reaching a deep level of knowledge results in a genuine bond between the individual who knows and the object of his knowledge. In this way, knowledge of God is not just another gigabyte of data in my microchip, but a deep and vital connection with God Himself. Chassidut refers to this deeper level of knowledge as “perception” (הֶרְגֵשׁ).

In the realm of human relations, too, loving someone does not rely on dry-bones information about him or her. We can take in all the information we need with a superficial glance, but it may not bring us closer to love. Developing an inner appreciation of the other automatically dispels any sense of alienation and nurtures the deep love that emerges. As we stand face to face, my heart faces your heart. At this level, soul touches soul. I know and sense that beyond all that I know about you lies your superconscious source. Only by connecting to you at that level can I truly begin to understand you. Such genuine knowledge manifests as a profound sense of identification with the other and true compassion for them. The initial decision to penetrate the layers of data until we feel compassion for the other ignites the spark of true love. This allows us to reach an inner knowledge of the other and access their inner self.

Essential Knowledge, Appreciation and Marriage

Inner appreciation reflects a close interaction between my inner-self and the inner-self of the other. I can understand them and identify with them with my own “perception.” Yet, as deep as my inner knowledge of the other may penetrate, a distance remains that cannot be bridged. Our connection remains a meeting of two different people, albeit face-to-face. The problem with such a relationship manifests if the other is depressed or detached from his relationship with me. When someone loses his or her will to live a fruitful and productive life, communication between us may cease, and there will be no way to connect with him or her. In such a case, all the compassion and empathy that I can muster cannot navigate the chasm. Such an individual has lost his own knowledge of his inner self. The Talmud states, “Whoever has no knowledge, it is forbidden to have compassion on him”[2]; my own knowledge of him no longer has access to his inner being.

To connect to someone under these circumstances, we must rise to an even higher level of essential self-knowledge. By becoming aware of my own essence, I experience myself and the other as one unit. Just as I understand myself better than anyone else does, through a sense of total unity with them, I can understand the other. This type of knowledge bridges any breach that exists between two people. Through such knowledge, not only do I become aware of your super-conscious, I reach directly into the innermost root of your soul, to touch the infinite, where you and I are totally at union. By revealing the essential “non-local” bond between us, I reach out to you wherever you are. Even if you have deteriorated to the lowest depths and it seems that all hope is lost, God is there with you, “If I reach the depths, here You are.”[3] Our inherent connection with God unites us, even when no other means of communication is available.

Reaching this point of essential self-knowledge begins from a decision to descend towards the other to tap into the lowest possible common denominator. This motivation allows us to interact at the lowest level, yet rise from that point to discover the truest, most essential point of knowledge and descend once more to manifest that unity in practice.

Joseph’s recognition of his brothers was this type of essential self-knowledge. This is alluded to in Rashi’s interpretation, “When they were handed over to him, he recognized that they were his brothers and felt compassion for them.”[4]

In conclusion, true recognition manifests as compassion and love. This level of compassion reaches out even to those who have completely estranged themselves from any connection. This is a most profound level of inner knowledge that even a face-to-face relationship cannot achieve.

These same three levels of recognition (superficial, perceptive and inner knowledge) manifest in three distinct types of marital relationship:

  • A relationship based on superficial knowledge implies a list of rights and obligations that include what I must do for you and what you must do for me. This is the level of standing back-to-back.
  • Perceptive knowledge breeds true love between the couple. Each spouse understands the other and truly identifies with him/her (face-to-face).
  • Essential knowledge of the other manifests in a sense of absolute unity that reaches out to embrace even a spouse who is estranged and detached from their partner, to connect to them with an essential bond. This relationship is “face-to-back.” Eventually, the one with their back to the other will turn around and face him in true love.

Joseph aspired to this third level of “essential recognition.” He bridged the gap between himself and his brothers by uniting with them unconditionally until they reached a mutual understanding of him. The Tzemach Tzedek[5] explains that Rachel alluded to this talent at Joseph’s birth, when she prayed, “May God add me another son.”[6] This was Joseph’s talent to turn “another” into “a son” by recognizing them while they were estranged from him.

The consummate rectification of fraternal (and marital) disharmony crowns the process of reconnecting all the tribes of Israel. When we know and appreciate one another from a point of inner recognition and inherent understanding, we will merit the ultimate redemption.

[In the structure of the ten sefirot, da’at (the sefirah of knowledge) is situated on the middle axis, directly above tiferet (the sefirah of beauty), the inner power of which  is compassion. Da’at contains two perspectives; da’at elyon (higher knowledge) and da’at tachton (lower knowledge). The lower perspective of knowledge descends to beauty-compassion, and further descends to unite with malchut (the sefirah of kingdom). By the power of uniting tiferet with malchut, lower da’at rises back up, reaching the inner quality of knowledge, yichud (unification). Relating to the other through compassion thus activates the inner power of da’at, allowing it to rise to keter (the sefirah of crown), i.e., the super-conscious power of the soul, from whence it draws down new knowledge, thus constantly revitalizing its connecting energy.

This process is true in Atzilut (the World of Emanation), the source of all Jewish souls. However, da’at tachton alone cannot connect to the lost individual who has descended to the lower Worlds.

In Kabbalistic terminology, Joseph “drew the bowstring” to reach essential self-knowledge. The power of his da’at descended to yesod (the sefirah of foundation), situated below tiferet (the sefirah of beauty). The inner quality of yesod is truth; more specifically, this refers to self-verification, i.e., self-fulfillment in sanctity. Reaching yesod afforded Joseph’s da’at the power to descend to malchut (the sefirah of kingdom) of Atzilut and below, into malchut of the three lower Worlds of Creation, Formation and Action (Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah).

The further back one “draws the bowstring,” the higher one’s da’at rises, reaching beyond the inner point of self-knowledge to the essence of knowledge.

Corresponding to the height reached by one’s da’at, yesod descends ever lower to connect to the lower realms in sanctity and redeem them. From there, da’at continues to rise ever higher to keter (the sefirah of crown) and infinity.

It was this power that enabled Joseph to reach out to his estranged brothers and rectify their relationship with him.]

[1]        Genesis 37:24.

[2]        Berachot 33a.

[3]        Psalms 139:8.

[4]        Rashi, Genesis 42:8.

[5]        Or Hatorah Vayetze 220:1.

[6]        Genesis 30:24.

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