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Parashat Vayeshev 5784: Aliyah by Aliyah


Parashat Vayeishev 5784: Aliyah by Aliyah




First Reading: Countering Jealousy

“His brothers were jealous of him….”

Mourning and Repentance

After the sale of Joseph, when the brothers brought him Joseph’s special robe, soaked with blood, Jacob understood that Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal. The Torah tells us about how Jacob coped with losing his beloved son: “He tied sackcloth around his waist, and he mourned for his son for many days”[1] (וַיִּקְרַע יַעֲקֹב שִׂמְלֹתָיו וַיָּשֶׂם שַׂק בְּמׇתְנָיו וַיִּתְאַבֵּל עַל בְּנוֹ יָמִים רַבִּים).

Mourning is not just about being upset. The misery of mourning provides a rectification. What did Jacob think when the brothers brought Joseph’s coat covered in blood? Certainly, he blamed himself alone for what had happened. He probably also had an inner sense that somehow Judah was responsible for the whole story, but externally he placed all the blame on himself. He knew that the whole story was caused by the exceptional affection he had shown Joseph, setting him apart from his brothers. Jacob knew that everything we experience in life is by Divine providence and is meant to help us rectify our actions. So, when the brothers chose to tell him that Joseph died by showing him his blood-drenched robe, Jacob understood that this was Divine Providence guiding him in understanding the cause of Joseph’s death. Thus, Jacob’s mourning was at its core, teshuvah—a repentance and rectification of his actions and earlier state of mind that had sequestered him from his brothers and caused the “wild animal,” i.e., Judah, to devour him.

Let us see another point that highlights the relationship between mourning and repentance. One of the laws of mourning is that a mourner is, in principle, prohibited from learning Torah. However, this raises a question: learning Torah is one of the 613 commandments of the Torah (it is a de’orayta), while mourning is a rabbinical commandment (a de’rabbanan). How then can mourning override learning Torah? The answer is that since the essence of mourning is to bring the mourner to rectification through repentance and repentance is a commandment from the Torah, it can indeed displace, during the mourning period, the commandment to learn Torah. Jacob is described as, “An earnest man, dwelling in tents [of study].” Jacob is considered the pillar of Torah, and it is specifically he that can teach us about the need to nullify his very essence, his essential state as the pillar of the Torah and its study, all to mourn for many days and to repent. Indeed, the Hebrew word for “mourning” (אַבֵלוּת) is alluded to in the statement made later by Joseph’s brother when they came to accept responsibility for their actions, “But, indeed we are guilty”[2] (אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים אֲנַחְנוּ). From this interesting allusion, we learn that one of the purposes of mourning is to bring us to the point where we can accept responsibility. Our inherent lowliness is meant to apply especially in our relationship with other Jews. But this is not the case when dealing with other nations. There, our inherent lowliness fosters a regal and holy attitude that highlights our having been elevated and made responsible by the Almighty for bringing peace and goodness to all of humanity.

How Hatred Becomes Jealousy

Jacob’s mourning began with, “He tied a sackcloth around his waist” (וַיָּשֶׂם שַׂק בְּמׇתְנָיו), which in Hebrew phonetically alludes (notarikon) to the name of our parashah, Vayeishev (וַיֵּשֶׁב). This is the first and therefore most essential occurrence of the word “sackcloth” in the Torah. The Hebrew word for “sackcloth” is pronounced “sack,” clearly indicating that the English word, “sack” is a word borrowed from Hebrew.

What is the connection between wearing sackcloth and Jacob’s mourning, as explained above? The two letters that comprise the word “sack” (שַׂק) in Hebrew are the initials of the two words “hatred” (שִׁנְאָה) and “jealousy” (קִנְאָה), referring to the same hate and jealousy between Joseph and his brothers that Jacob saw himself as the cause for. Let us take a closer look at how the brother’s hatred for Joseph developed into jealousy.

In discussing the relationship between the brothers and Joseph, the Torah mentions their hate for him three times. Later, it states once that they were jealous of him. The first time, when the brothers saw that, “their father loved him [Joseph] over all his brothers,”[3] their reaction was, “His brothers hated him, and they could not speak peacefully with him.”[4]

The second mention of their hatred occurs when Joseph tells them that he dreamt about them. Even before he has a chance to tell them the content of his dream, the Torah describes that “They hated him even more.”[5] Why was their hatred intensified merely because Joseph had dreamt about them? Dreams can be a form of dominance. If someone says, “I dreamt about you,” it can certainly be interpreted as condescending and emphasizing their control over you. It is as if the person told you that, “You are nothing more than part of my dream; I am the true reality, and you are just a dream in my reality.” Joseph then proceeded to relate the dream after which we hear that, “their hatred for him increased further because of his dreams and his words.”[6] The content of the dream had indeed verified for his brothers that Joseph sought to rule over them.

After the third description of the brother’s hatred for Joseph, the Torah does not mention it again. Instead, it noted that “they were jealous of him.”[7] Their jealousy was an outgrowth of their hatred. Their hatred developed into jealousy.

Industriousness vs. Jealousy

One way of thinking about jealousy is that becoming jealous is the opposite of being industrious. Being industrious requires us to have faith that through hard work and effort, it is possible to achieve anything. But we become jealous of someone when they seem to possess something that we do not. The brothers were not jealous of Joseph because he was wealthier or more beautiful than they were. They were jealous because he had indeed attained a higher spiritual level, thanks perhaps to Jacob’s endearing mentorship. But the truth is that every Jew should feel that “the world was created for my sake,”[8] and therefore every one of us can truthfully attain the highest spiritual level, the greatest relationship with the Almighty, and be knowledgeable of the entire Torah. We must have faith that this success only depends on our efforts, both physical and spiritual.

So, industriousness is the opposite state of mind from jealousy. We become jealous because we are not industrious; otherwise, we would have worked hard and succeeded as did the person we are jealous of. The Torah’s message is that by expending the effort diligently you can acquire all that is truly your part in the world.

Thus, when Jacob mourned and repented, he began by putting on a sack, alluding to hatred and jealousy. He tied the sack around his loins because the loins are a symbol for effort and industriousness. The area of the body most associated with an industrious attitude is the waist (for example “gird your loins”). Jacob’s message to himself and to his children was that one should serve God with industriousness and effort.

(Based upon a class given on the 20th of Kislev 20, 5769)


Second Reading: The Faculty of Might

“Now, let us go and murder him, and cast him into one of the pits. We shall say a wild animal killed him and we shall see what will come of his dreams.”

Every parashah in the Torah is divided into seven readings (aliyot). These seven readings correspond to the seven emotive attributes or the seven sefirot from loving-kindness to kingdom, respectively.[9] Thus, the second reading is replete with words, images, and descriptions that illustrate the second sefirah of the emotive sefirot, might (gevurah). Let us see how.

In the second reading of Vayeishev, the brothers’ hatred for Joseph manifests in action—they decide to kill him. This is not a case of self-love, where the sons of Jacob are indifferent to their brother, but about hatred leading to an action requiring force and harsh judgment and ultimately seeking to murder.

Joseph is sent by his father to the environs of Shechem, a city whose painful history has not been forgotten from last week’s Torah portion. As Rashi comments, Shechem is a place prepared for exacting punishment. It is filled with an air of harshness. It is there that he encounters the angel Gabriel, the archangel associated with the sefirah of might (gevurah). As Joseph nears his brothers, they plotted against him,  conspiring to find a legal pretext to kill him. Machinations such as these are considered a corruption of the sefirah of might because they use its ability to argue and litigate as one searches for a crooked and winding way to overcome an adversary.

Their original plan was to throw his body “into one of the pits,” and the pit symbolizes the void created when God’s Presence is contracted by might.

God’s Might Awakens

After the brothers plan to kill Joseph, the dreamer, we hear them saying, as if to seal their arguments: “and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” However, the sages[10] hear these words differently, because what need did they have to utter this redundant statement!? Instead, the sages state that it was the Holy Spirit who spoke these words as if to challenge them. They thought they could overcome Joseph’s Divine destiny with their strength and God was now confronting them with his Divine might, as if to say: “Let us see whose word will stand in the end. Who is the more powerful, you or I.”

If we follow the plain meaning, then this statement is a cynical one and all cynicism belongs to the might of the soul, the source of laughter and judgment that unite in cynical statements.

Reuben's Rescue Attempt

Reuben’s attempt to save Joseph also originates in the machinations of the sefirah of might. He too proposes to throw Joseph into the pit, but unlike the brothers who suggested killing him and then throwing him in, Reuben proposes to throw him alive into the pit so that he can return later to save him. But his motivation is itself a deprecated form of might since he was fearful that he, being the eldest of the brothers would be the one blamed for Joseph’s death.

Hidden Love

Despite their hatred, there is hidden love within it – wonderfully hinted at in the brothers' words, “they said to one another, here comes this dreamer”[11] (וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו הִנֵּה בַּעַל הַחֲלֹמוֹת הַלָּזֶה בָּא). The initial of the four consecutive words in bold spell “love” (אַהֲבָה). Additionally, the value of these four words (אָחִיו הִנֵּה בַּעַל הַחֲלֹמוֹת) is 26 squared, or the value of God’s essential Name, Havayah (the Name of compassion), or 4 times the value of “love” (אַהֲבָה), 13, squared, implying that the average value of each of these four words is “love” (אַהֲבָה), or 13 squared!

The hidden love in the brothers’ hearts empowers Joseph to forgive them, as he realizes that “God meant it to turn out good.”[12] This hidden love is also present in his brothers as hidden love. By seeing this, Joseph reveals to his brothers the secret of the hidden love for God in every Jewish heart, which he proceeds later to reveal to them in the symbolism locked into his silver goblet being placed in Benjamin’s pack.[13]

(from Amudeha Shiva, pp. 192-193)

Third Reading: Why Jacob Loved Joseph

“He refused to be comforted saying, ‘No, I will go down to the grave in mourning for my son.’”

The parashah’s first verse reads, “These are the descendants of Jacob, Joseph….” Joseph is the archetypal soul of the sefirah of foundation, and the first example of this is in Jacob. What the verse implies is that all of Jacob’s children, all the Tribes, were born through the spiritual conduit of Joseph’s soul. This is true even though Joseph was not the first child born to Jacob. Thus, the first verse is saying that all the descendants of Jacob are in a sense, Joseph.

The next verse reads, “And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons because he resembled him the most, and he made him a fine woolen robe.” Why does the Torah switch from Jacob to Israel?

Chasidic teachings posit that the name Jacob represents his status as an “intermediate,” a beinoni, a state that Jacob retained even after having won in his struggle against Esau’s archangel. But his name “Israel” indicates his superior status as a tzaddik, a righteous individual. So, what we have is that Jacob’s descendants are related to his status as a beinoni, but when it comes to love, there Jacob is represented as a tzaddik. In fact, the original Hebrew for Joseph’s resemblance to Jacob is the word זקנים, whose value is 207, the same as “light” (אור). Joseph is all light and Jacob’s revelation, the light of his love, passes through Joseph, and to manifest that light, Jacob makes Joseph a special robe.

Did Jacob Regret His Favoritism?

Now, we know what terrible trouble came to pass because of this special robe. because of this special garment,  great trouble for the Jewish people. But, in the end, was it worth it? Did Jacob regret what he had done, causing the Egyptian exile, and later in history, the 10 martyrs executed by the Romans? All because he favored Joseph over his other sons. Does it say anywhere that Jacob did teshuvah for this? I cannot recall there being a source that answers these questions in the affirmative. We must ask ourselves how can this be? It seems clear that Jacob made a mistake here.

One of the most pressing issues is Chinuch—how to raise our children. We have talked about this a great deal and written several books on the topic. The classic example of a failure in upbringing is what Jacob did here regarding Joseph, by making him a special robe. Everyone must be careful not to make the same mistake. However, every person has a point of self-sacrifice in his life, an issue to which he or she is willing to absolutely dedicate himself. Jacob’s issue was bringing up his sons. If what he did with Joseph was such a big mistake, we should find that he spent a great deal of time repenting for it. And yet, what a wonder, we do not find that he regretted what he did.

Essential Love

Therefore, we must acknowledge that from an inner perspective, the revelation of the very essence of Jacob’s love, as it was revealed in his love for Joseph, mitigates any consequences. This is not just any love, as we have seen; it is the revelation of love associated with his name Israel, the love of a father for his son. It is worth it, in any case, to reveal the essential substance of love, be what may.

From this, we learn that the special conjunction of these two names, Israel and Joseph, reflects this essential and substantial love between parents and children. Indeed, the value of these two names together (ישראל יוסף) is the same as the value of the phrase, “embodied substance” (עצמות בגוף).

Now if we contemplate how Jacob’s essential love for Joseph might be extended to our situation now, we could think about how God loves us today. When Mashiach comes, the Almighty will choose among us and say that a particular person is the one who really understands Me, this person can reveal my substance. But an attitude like this might be a setup for another negative outcome like in Jacob’s case. On the one hand, Jacob did not regret his behavior, on the other hand, we must say that the lesson has been learned.

The solution would be that God should show his essential and substantial love to every single Jew and not pick a favorite. We too need to learn from this lesson that the way to bring up our children is to show each of them our essential and substantial love. As we said, this type of love stems from Jacob’s greatest stature. Jacob is the foundation of the Father principle in Kabbalistic terminology, so he knows exactly what it means to be a father. He revealed his essential love for Joseph to give us a lesson for posterity that this type of love exists. We then must express this type of love to every one of our children, regardless of whether they resemble us or not.

Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David

We know that there are two Messiahs in our tradition: Mashiach the son of Joseph and the Mashiach the son of David. One of the differences between them pertains to our topic. The Mashiach son of Joseph is like his forefather, Joseph; he grew up in as a spoiled child in his parent’s home—spoiled because of his parents’ treatment.

The Mashiach son of David is exactly the opposite. He too takes after his forefather. What was David’s upbringing like? Among his brothers, David was considered the black sheep of the family—he was ostracized. He had the opposite type of life from Joseph’s. Where Joseph felt that he was chosen and special, David felt left out and unwanted.

Nonetheless, it is the Mashiach son of David who will rectify favoritism. How so? Once the essential and substantial love was given to Joseph, it set a precedent and the Mashiach son of David’s role is to ensure that every child be given the same type of love, the same type of attention that Joseph received. One of the great principles regarding Mashiach is the verse, “He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents”[14] (וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל אֲבוֹתָם). What David achieves is to have the same level of love, and even higher, Yishai (David’s father), be given to him. The letters of David’s father’s name, Yishai (ישי) are the initials of the phrase, “together, the Tribes of Israel”[15] (יַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל). Once Yisahi learns from Jacob/Israel how to love the black sheep in his family with the same intensity that he loves his best children (those that resemble him the most), the child who was an outcast will become the Mashiach.

This is one reason why two Messiahs are needed. The love given to Joseph needs to be given to an adopted son. David is like an adopted child who grew up distant from his family. The Ba’al Shem Tov also adopted children, orphans, out of his love for them. He said that this is how God loves every Jew, like an old man who has a single child that is born in his old age. That is how God loves each of us, and this love is the substantial love that Jacob/Israel gave Joseph.

In truth, not only should our substantial love be given to all our children, but the further a child is from us, the stronger this love should be to the point that the furthest child is the one who will become Mashiach and will bring us the complete and true redemption, speedily in our days.

(from a class given on the 25th of Av, 5772)



Fourth Reading: Sweetness Hides Itself

“Judah saw her, but mistook here for a prostitute because she had covered her face.”


Transforming the Bitter into Sweet

This account of Judah’s complex relationship with Tamar requires careful examination. Turning our focus to Tamar, who actively initiated the episode, we will meditate on her name.

In Hebrew, “Tamar” (תָּמָר) is a date palm, the seventh and final species with which the Land of Israel is blessed.[16] It is also the root of the word “exchange” (תְּמוּרָה). Alternatively, we can divide the name Tamar into two words, Tam-mar, meaning “complete” (תָּם) and “bitter” (מַר). This alludes to the completion or end of bitterness. Like a date palm, which can turn an arid wilderness into a flourishing oasis, Tamar knew how to transform that which is bitter into that which is sweet. The date palm thrives on salt (bitter) water, transforming it into a honey-sweet fruit. Some of the events in this story are bitter pills to swallow, beginning with Er and Onan’s sins and their subsequent deaths, and concluding with Judah’s questionable behavior.

Tamar’s act presents a clear example of turning the bitterness of death into the ultimate rectified sweetness of redemption. The light of Mashiach is the sweet fruit that emerges from bitterness. Tamar is the origin of Mashiach’s level of consciousness, which transforms “darkness into light and the bitter into sweetness.”[17]

Sweetening a Bitter Thought

The Maggid of Mezritch,[18] the disciple and successor of the Ba’al Shem Tov, explains,

The meaning of Tamar (תָּמָר) is ‘the end of bitterness’ (תָּם־מַר). A foreign thought is bitter, but in truth, it is innocent (תַּמָה).

Sometimes foreign thoughts trouble an individual during his prayers. In the better case, these may be thoughts about his business or family matters. In the worst case, sinful reflections enter his mind. At that moment, he must understand that this irritating thought has a positive root and source,

…He realizes that this [thought] originates in the holy letters; it is merely their order that is foolish.

The Maggid means to say that the source of all thoughts is in the sacred Hebrew letters—the building blocks of creation. If a specific thought appears foolish and sinful, it is because we have combined the letters incorrectly. The root of the initial thought remains pure and holy, but it is as if we have wrongly assembled the puzzle. One example of such a letter combination that is turned from good into evil is in the verse in our Torah portion, “Er, [עֵר] Judah’s firstborn was evil [רַע] in God’s eyes.”

When an individual realizes that his improper thoughts are a misinterpretation of something good,

He can enter the world of transformations, and from these combinations, other words can be formed; from words of folly emerge words of Torah.

A foreign thought is bitter and evil, but recognizing its source elevates it to its root, to the “world of transformations” in which the puzzle, so to speak, can be reconstructed, and the folly sweetened.

Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe (the Maggid’s youngest and dearest disciple) writes[19] that this method of elevating foreign thoughts is a type of service that should be undertaken only when a person is a tzaddik (righteous). However, the directive given to the general population is to ignore or expel the improper thoughts. Nevertheless, the realization that foreign thoughts are rooted in a positive source is something to which we can all relate. As we approach the final redemption, this service of the righteous will become increasingly available to all individuals.

The explanation offered by the Maggid shines a new light on the story of Judah and Tamar. Judah thought the woman he met was a prostitute (קְדֵשָׁה), but in truth, she was his righteous and holy (קְדֹשָה) daughter-in-law. He thought that Tamar had become pregnant illegitimately, but in truth, she was pregnant with Judah’s own child. Tamar, who covered her face, was like an improper thought that masks its true source. The moment Judah realized the truth, all the bitterness turned into sweetness.

We too can transform the bitterness of improper thoughts into sweetness, if, instead of being overwhelmed by them, we recognize them as misleading interferences, the source of which is pure and holy.


(excerpted from The Inner Dimension on parashat Vayeishev)



Fifth Reading: Learning Management from Joseph

“And it was from the time that [Potiphar] appointed [Joseph] over his house and all that he owned, that God blessed the house of the Egyptian because of Joseph.”

The three major arenas of interaction that characterize the corporate environment are:

  1. Interaction between the company and its employees.
  2. Interaction between the company and its markets.
  3. Interaction between the company and its investors.

Any broad strategy for corporate success needs to address the dynamic governing each of these spheres.

The fundamental strategy that we wish to put forth is founded upon the three principles of Involvement (מְעוּרָבוּת), Quality (אֵיכוּת), and Flow (זְרִימָה). It will become clear from the following discussion how each of these principles can serve to guide a corporation in negotiating its diverse interactions and together help maximize profitability and success.

The three dimensions of corporate activity identified above center around personnel (employees), product (markets), and capital (investors). Thus, our formula can be easily summarized as consisting of personnel involvement, product quality, and capital flow. Before we proceed to elucidate each of these components in light of Chasidic thought, let us consider two places in the Torah where the significance of these three principles is hinted at.

The first is a phrase that appears in the book of Proverbs, where the Torah refers to itself in the following words: “God created me as the beginning of His way, the most primal of His works from the outset of time”[20] (הוי' קָנָנִי רֵאשִׁית דַּרְכּוֹ קֶדֶם מִפְעָלָיו מֵאָז).

The words kedem (קֶדֶם, “the most primal”) and mifal (מִפְעָל, “work”) possess connotations that render them particularly relevant to a discussion of corporate enterprise. The word kedem, which literally means the “fore,” also denotes “progress” or “advance.” The word mifal implies any creative enterprise, and in modern Hebrew is used specifically to mean a manufacturing plant. Together, these two words evoke the following association from the above verse: “To advance an enterprise (לְקַדֵּם מִפְעָל), promote me’az (מֵאָז)”[2]—i.e., work on Involvement (מְעוּרָבוּת), Quality (אֵיכוּת), and Flow (זְרִימָה), whose initials spell me’az (מֵאָז).

The Three Appearances and the Composition of the Word Me’az

The word me’az appears only three times in the Pentateuch, suggesting a correspondence between those appearances and the individual principles of Involvement, Quality and Flow.

The first two principles can be said to correspond to the two appearances of me’az in the Book of Exodus. Its first appearance[45] is in context of Moses’ hesitation to accept the responsibility of redeeming Israel from Egypt: “I am not a man of words, neither was I yesterday or the day before, or for as long as You have been speaking with Your servant…”[21] (וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־יְהוָה בִּי אֲדֹנָי לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי גַּם מִתְּמוֹל גַּם מִשִּׁלְשֹׁם גַּם מֵאָז דַּבֶּרְךָ אֶל־עַבְדֶּךָ כִּי כְבַד־פֶּה וּכְבַד לָשׁוֹן אָנֹכִי).

Moses’ attempt to defer responsibility, which certainly did not stem from indifference to his fellow Jews’ plight, can be seen as reflective of his wish not to actively interfere in a Divine enterprise. His overt concern was that involving himself in the process of redemption might encourage an element of self-interest—a concern that God rejected.

The second appearance of the word me’az relates to the seventh plague visited upon the Egyptians, that of hail: “The hail was very heavy—fire flashing in the midst of the hail—such as had not fallen on the land of Egypt since it had become a nation” (וַיְהִי בָרָד וְאֵשׁ מִתְלַקַּחַת בְּתוֹךְ הַבָּרָד כָּבֵד מְאֹד אֲשֶׁר לֹא־הָיָה כָמֹהוּ בְּכָל־אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מֵאָז הָיְתָה לְגוֹי).

It is quite obvious that the word me’az is here used to establish the unique quality of that particular occurrence in nature.

The final principle associated with me’az—that of Flow—can be tied to the first appearance of the word me’az in the Torah, “And it was from the time that [Potiphar] appointed [Joseph] over his house and all that he owned, that God blessed the house of the Egyptian because of Joseph” (וַיְהִי מֵאָז הִפְקִיד אֹתוֹ בְּבֵיתוֹ וְעַל כָּל־אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ־לוֹ וַיְבָרֶךְ יְהוָה אֶת־בֵּית הַמִּצְרִי בִּגְלַל יוֹסֵף).

This verse underscores Joseph’s providential rise to success through the skill he demonstrated in managing the financial affairs of his Egyptian master. In accordance with his ability to inspire confidence and trust, Joseph became the quintessential model of the successful man (אִישׁ מַצְלִיחַ) who goes from “strength to strength.” In his story we find an explicit correlation between economic achievement and the word me’az.

Me’az and the 3 Principles

The three letters that comprise the word me’az (מֵאָז) can themselves be seen as symbolic of our three principles:

Mem (מם), corresponding to Involvement (מְעוּרָבוּת), is symbolic of “water” (מַיִם), that medium which possesses the ability to mix or blend with other essences without altering their fundamental identity (and which corresponds to the Divine attribute of loving-kindness.

Alef (אלף), corresponding to Quality (אֵיכוּת), is the supreme letter of the alefbeit (and the initial letter of “truth” [אֱמֶת] whose three letters represent the beginning, middle, and end of the entire alef-beit) and is explicitly used as a symbol of quality in the Mishnah, for example in the word “alpha” (אַלְפָא), indicating “top-grade.”

Zayin (זין), corresponding to Flow (זְרִימָה), also suggests the idea of “livelihood” (as in the word for “sustenance” [מְזוֹן]), symbolic of the sustained flow of blessing from above that is achieved through man’s efforts below.

In the book of Psalms, the expression “from harvest to harvest” (מִזַּן אֶל זַן), whose initials spell me’az (מֵאָז), evokes the image of flowing prosperity, while at the same time eliciting an association with the phrase “from strength to strength” (מֵחַיִל אֶל חַיִל), expressive of the spiraling flow of success.


Involvement “…for as long as You have been speaking with Your servant.” mem
Quality “…for as long as it had been a nation.” alef
Flow “…from the time that [Potiphar] appointed [Joseph] over his house…” zayin


(from The Dynamic Corporation)


Sixth Reading: Marriage and Kinship

“And as she spoke with Joseph each day, he did not heed her to lie beside her, to be with her.”

Relationships Based on Love and Brotherhood

Of all the model relationships inspiring one in the search for a spouse, the archetypal bond between Adam and Eve best expresses the superconscious affinity one should hope to achieve in marital union. The initial letters of “Adam” (אָדָם) and “Eve” (חַוָּה) spell “brother” (אָח), alluding to the hidden kinship (אַחֲוָה) between souls that brings them together.

In the Song of Songs, the primary designation of affection used by the poem’s “lovers”—symbolic of God and His beloved people of Israel—is one of “brother” and “sister.” Five times the young maiden is referred to by her beloved as “my sister.” In another verse,[22] the maiden herself expresses the wish that her beloved be to her like her brother, intimating her desire for the kind of kinship that exists between those whose souls derive from a common root. She says, “Were it that you could be as my brother, nursing at my mother’s breasts; I would find you outside and kiss you, nor would anyone scorn me.”

In this prayer, we find an expression of the desire to experience and display affection without the carnal shame primordially associated with such longing. Such affection, which we call “brotherhood” (אַחֲוָה), represents the superconscious foundation of “love” (אַהֲבָה). Brotherhood, unlike marital love, is generally free of the oscillation and impermanence that characterize love’s pursuit. It is constant and unwavering, anchored in a realm beyond the heat of emotion or the sobriety of reason. Brotherhood is based upon the visceral connection shared by those who possess a common organic identity, that unanimity-of-being experienced by the original man and woman before they were severed from each other into individual selfness.

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

The nearest the Torah comes to expressing a referent for a brotherhood-like relationship is through the word “kin” (שְׁאֵר), which generally refers to immediate blood kin but in at least one instance alludes to one’s wife in particular.[23] In that reference, which appears in the laws proscribing the defilement of a priest by contact with a dead body, the priest is specifically permitted to care for the body of his wife, who is described as, “his flesh, close to him” (שְׁאֵרוֹ הַקָּרוֹב אֵלָיו) as well as other immediate kin. The Rabbinic sources on the verse (Torat Cohanim) go as far as to say, “There is no meaning to ‘kin’ other than one’s wife,” alluding to the profound identification between man and wife that can only be expressed in terms of physical kinship (evoking the verse: “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”[24]). The brotherhood implied by the relationship of kin perseveres even in the face of the normally severe laws prohibiting ritual defilement, whereas the bonds of physical love are suspended in the face of the impurity associated with the menstruant woman.

The deep identification between husband and wife reflected in the relationship of kin is evoked by the root itself, which means "a remnant.”  Man and wife are remnants of a greater primordial union binding their two souls together. Yet, each of these “remnants” possesses the power of “immortality” (הַשְׁאָרָה)—a word that is cognate with “kin”— as their destinies remain bound together for all eternity.

This idea is reflected in our sages’ interpretation of the verse which speaks of Joseph’s resisting the temptations of his master Potiphar’s wife:

“And as she spoke with Joseph each day, he did not heed her to lie beside her, to be with her.”[25]

According to the sages, the phrase “to lie beside her” implies “even without physical relations,” whereas “to be with her,” suggests that they would remain together “in the world to come.” Lying together, without physical relations, can be understood as alluding to their being buried beside each other (the verb “to lie” is often used in Scripture as a referent for burial), the common custom for man and wife. Hence both phrases reflect the eternal bond of brotherhood, an idea supported by the midrash, which states that Potiphar’s wife raised Joseph’s future spouse Osnat, the daughter of his sister Dinah, suggesting a surrogate bond of brotherhood between them.

Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay

[1]. Genesis 37:33.

[2]. Ibid. 42:21.

[3]. Ibid. 37:4.

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Ibid. v. 5.

[6]. Ibid. v. 8.

[7]. Ibid. v. 11.

[8]. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5.

[9]. The study of this correspondence in full for each of the seven readings of all the parashot in the Torah is the topic of HaRav Ginsburgh’s series, עמודיה שבעה.

[10]. Tanchuma 13.

[11]. Genesis 37:19.

[12]. Ibid. 50:20.

[13]. Ibid. 44:2.

[14]. Malachi 3:24.

[15]. Deuteronomy 33:5.

[16]. Deuteronomy 8:8, the date-palm is referred to as “honey.”

[17]. Zohar 1:4a and Tanya ch. 10.

[18]. Or Torah on Vayishlach.

[19]. Tanya, ch. 28.

[20]. Proverbs 8:22.

[21]. Exodus 4:10.

[22]. Proverbs 8:1.

[23]. Leviticus 21:2.

[24]. Genesis 2:23.

[25]. Genesis 39:10.

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