Genesis - Bereisheetmain postsVayigash

Parashat Vayigash 5784: Aliyah by Aliyah

First Reading: Connecting Joseph and Judah

“Judah then approached him [Joseph]…”

Living In-touch with Time

There is a well-known idiom that one should live one’s life in touch with the times (לִחְיוֹת עִם הַזְמָן). What this means is that a person should live in conjunction with the week’s Torah reading, with the weekly parashah. Every year, in every Jewish congregation, a portion of the Pentateuch called a parashah, is read publicly on Shabbat. Over an entire year—from the holiday of Simchat Torah to the next holiday of Simchat Torah—the public reading of the entire Pentateuch is completed. So, to live in touch with time means to be aware of the eternal spiritual and practical message contained within the weekly parashah. A person who wants to live spiritually needs to connect his life with the weekly parashah and find guidance and focus from the parashah.

Parashat Vayigash describes the reunion of Joseph with his family. Earlier, the Torah described how for 22 years, Jacob, Joseph’s father had not seen him (after Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery). Jacob thought Joseph had been killed. When in parashat Vayigash he is finally told that indeed Joseph is still alive, he says, with tremendous excitement, “Joseph, my son, is still alive” expressing his extreme joy.

After the public Torah reading, a portion of the books of the Prophets, called the haftarah, is also read. The haftarah read in conjunction with Vayigash is from chapter 37 of the Book of Ezekiel. In it, God instructs Ezekiel to take two tree branches, one symbolizing the House of Judah and the other the House of Joseph and to join these two branches together. Then by a miracle, God unites the two branches into one. This prophecy symbolizes how the two kingdoms of the nation at that time, the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was governed by the descendants of Joseph, the tribe of Ephraim (which is why at times, as in this particular prophecy, they are referred to as Ephraim), will unite. The Kingdom of Judah was the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and thus they were more committed to learning Torah and performing its commandments than were the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom, the kingdom of Ephraim.

Similarly, today there are Jews who are more observant and Jews who are less, even though all are Jewish. Although presently the Jewish people are two kingdoms, when the Mashiach will come, these two “kingdoms” will unite to become one tree.

Understandably then, one of the central phrases in this prophecy, which makes up the haftarah of parashat Vayigash is, “the tree of Joseph” (עֵץ יוֹסֵף). One of the links between the parashah and the haftarah is that this phrase has the same value as what Jacob said when he heard the good news about Joseph, “Joseph, my son, is still alive” (עוֹד יוֹסֵף בְּנִי חַי). They both equal 316. This is a very important allusion to the special affinity between parashat Vayigash and this particular prophecy of Ezekiel’s that was chosen as the reading in the prophets for parashat Vayigash.

The Two Dimensions of Mashiach

The sages identify Joseph as representing the Mashiach, the son of Joseph. The Mashiach that we are all awaiting, who will rectify the entire world, has two dimensions to his character, one from Joseph and the other from David, who is from the tribe of Judah. Each of the tree branches appearing in Ezekiel’s prophecy represents one dimension of the Mashiach.

The tree of Joseph represents the dimension in which the Mashiach engages in discourse with science to integrate it into the Torah. But this is a very difficult task and is spiritually dangerous and can hurt this aspect of the Mashiach. For this reason, the sages state that the Joseph dimension of the Mashiach is always in danger of dying, as it were. But the David dimension of the Mashiach, the Mashiach son of David, represents the political power of peacemaking that relates to the construction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a process that follows the integration between Torah and science achieved by the Joseph aspect of the Mashiach. The David aspect of Mashiach is always called alive.

One of the central themes of the Kabbalah of the Arizal is the elevation of the sparks. Our toil in our present reality to elevate the sparks is what gives the Mashiach son of Joseph—the Joseph dimension of Mashiach—the power to complete his task, allowing him to finally unite with the David dimension of Mashiach. This is the same unification as the one described in Ezekiel’s prophecy. Indeed, the gematria of Ezekiel’s name (יְחֶזְקֵאל) is the same as Joseph (יוֹסֵף), hinting at the special affinity between the two figures.

Joseph’s Flock

As we know, the two kingdoms were not exiled at the same time. First, the Northern Kingdom was conquered and its inhabitants, known as the Ten Tribes, were exiled by the Assyrian Empire. Then, some 60 years later, the Southern Kingdom, the kingdom of Judah together with the tribe of Benjamin (and individual members of the Ten Tribes that were not exiled and remained in the Land of Israel) were conquered and exiled by the Babylonian Empire.

The Jewish people today are mostly descendants of the Southern Kingdom, which is one of the reasons that we are called Jews, a shortened form of Judah. Ezekiel’s prophecy thus predicts that in the future unification under the Mashiach, the Ten Tribes that were exiled separately will be reunited with Judah (and Benjamin). This alludes to the fact that there are many people dispersed around the world today, who though they are not identified as Jews, have some distant kinship with the Jewish people. This manifests as a special feeling of affection that these individuals have for the Jewish people and for the Torah. All these individuals around the world are thus related to Joseph.

The tree of Joseph constitutes many people who though they are not Jewish on a physical level, connect to Judaism spiritually, and the spark that lies at the heart of their affinity with the Jewish people and with the Torah is still alive. Indeed, says Ezekiel, these will come together under Joseph’s tree and will be united with Judah’s tree so that they make one tree over which the Mashiach, whose soul is the soul of David, the king of Israel (who is very much alive), will rule.

In Ezekiel’s prophecy, the united sovereignty over these two unified trees is described as their having, one king (מֶלֶךְ), one shepherd (רוֹעֶה), and one president (נָשִׂיא). The king must be both a shepherd and a president. Being a shepherd means guiding each individual in the flock and providing him or her with the spiritual and physical sustenance they require. The role of the president in respect to the Mashiach encapsulates his role as the one who teaches the entire world Torah (not just the Jewish people), both the body of the Torah—i.e., the commandments—and the soul of the Torah, its inner dimension comprising the secrets and the Divine effluence that resides within the Torah, as it pertains to every individual.


(from a class given on the 6th of Tevet, 5771)


Second Reading: Joseph and the Jewish Body

“I am Joseph; does my father yet live?”


In the Torah portion of VaYigash (read during the month of Tevet), Joseph discloses himself to his brothers: “I am Joseph; does my father yet live?”[1]  Joseph, the brother who was gone for 22 years, from the age of l7, and was thought to have assimilated amongst the Gentiles, reveals himself suddenly to his brothers as a proud Jew, faithful to the traditions of his father, Jacob, and the Patriarchs.

Joseph symbolizes the spark alive in the heart of each Jew, even one that appears to have assimilated amidst a foreign culture, estranged from the traditions of Israel. Though “I sleep” in exile, “my heart is awake.”[2] This is Joseph’s spark. “Every person has his day” and a time will come, and the spark of Joseph will be revealed for all to see: “I am Joseph, does my father yet live?”

Rachel called her first-born Joseph (Yosef), saying, “God shall add [yosef] to me another son.”[3] In Chassidic writings, it is explained that the special quality embodied by Joseph is the ability to favorably influence a Jew, who has affiliated with those outside the fold and therefore appears externally as “another,” to return to openly being a son to his Father in Heaven.

By Divine Providence and design, Joseph was sent to Egypt before his brothers to prepare the way for his family by implanting in the land of Egypt the power of Jewish survival, which would become critical during the long exile in Egypt. Joseph’s soul hides in the recesses of his family’s souls while they, the Israelites, are in exile, and it awakens them to leave their exile. We see this in the final verses of the Book of Genesis, when Joseph reveals to his family the phrase that will serve as a password of sorts heralding the redemption from Egypt. He says to them, “God [Elokim] will surely remember you”[4] and these are the words that Moses hears from God when sent on the mission to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.[5]

In the Zohar it is stated that Joseph’s revelation before his brothers foreshadows God’s revelation to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai: “I am Havayah your G-d who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a house of slavery.”[6] The awakening to depart from Egypt, which is the secret of Joseph’s revelation to his brothers, is really the manifestation of God’s essence within the Jewish People. With an awakening from below (with the initial desire from the Jewish People to be redeemed), a complementary desire is aroused from Above, from God, to deliver His people. Essentially the two are one and the same.

“I Will Sing Praises to My God While I Exist”

When the brothers returned to Jacob, they brought good tidings: “Joseph is still alive.” In turn, Jacob declared, “Joseph my son is still alive.”[7]  Significantly, the three excited pronouncements: “I am Joseph; is my father still alive,” “Joseph is still alive,” and “Joseph my son is still alive” share the word “still” (עוֹד). Let us focus on this word and uncover its deeper meaning.

From the verse, “I will praise God while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I still exist”[8] (אָשִׁירָה לַהוי' בְּחַיָּי אֲזַמְּרָה לֵא-לֹהַי בְּעוֹדִי), the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, learns[9] that “life stems from God’s essential Name, Havayah, while the body, referred to by the word “still” [בְּעוֹדִי] stems from His Name Elokim.” Thus, we see that the word “still” (עוֹד) refers to the body of a Jew, which is subordinate to a Jew’s soul, or life, which stems from the Name Havayah.

The Divine soul of a Jew is “truly a part of God above.”[10]  Therefore, it is not surprising that the soul has eternal existence. However, regarding the body of a Jew, we unexpectedly learn that in any situation—even when it goes down to Egypt, “the nakedness of the land”—it lives and thrives.  In the body of the Jew, there is an essential spark (in addition to the pure soul placed within) that enlivens and sustains the body: this spark is none other than the spark of Joseph, the secret of “God [Elokim] will surely remember you.” Indeed, Joseph’s special relationship with God’s Name Elokim is noted when he replies to Pharaoh at his most crucial moment, “…it is not me. God [Elokim] will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”[11]

Infinite Power of Generation

The first expression of excitement (“when Joseph made himself known to his brothers”): “Is my father still alive?” refers to the body of Jacob, the elderly father. Afterward, the excitement concerns the body of the son, Joseph, which also has been able to survive and thrive: “Joseph is still alive;” “It is great; Joseph my son is still alive.”

According to Kabbalah, Jacob is the archetypal soul of the sefirah of beauty (tiferet), which is associated with the torso or body, in the supernal form. Joseph is the archetypal soul of the sefirah of foundation (yesod), the site of the holy covenant of circumcision made between God and Abraham. In the Introduction to the Zohar, a section known as Patach Eliyahu foundation is described as “the end of the body” (סִיּוּמָא דְגוּפָא). Thus, we find that both Jacob and Joseph hint at the body—the “main part of the body” and “the end of the body.” In the Zohar, there connection is described as “the torso and the site of the covenant, are considered one.”[12]

Even though the Jewish people are the progeny of Jacob, based on the verse, “These are the offspring of Jacob; Joseph…,”[13] Chassidic writings explain that all the progeny of Jacob were born via the power of Joseph—including Jacob’s other sons, born before Joseph). Joseph, as the archetypal soul of foundation, “the end of the body,” the organ of procreation, manifests the power of procreation in him and that is why he is described as “still Joseph lives,” i.e., the body’s power of procreation is alive. As stated, Joseph’s power is to both procreate physically and spiritually, by adding many “sons” who are considered to have been lost. The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that Joseph’s “power of the infinite” to procreate reflects the essential vitality of the bodies of the Jewish people, which allows each to generate and give birth not just to infinite generations of offspring, but offspring who are all different, illustrating infinite variety.

The closing verse of the Torah portion of Vayigash reads, “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt in the land of Goshen, and they took possession of it and grew and multiplied exceedingly.”[14] The power to be fruitful and multiply (exceedingly, beyond all measurement and limitation) is the special power of Joseph, whose name is cognate with the Hebrew word for “addition” (tosefet) as in the saying, “What God adds greatly exceeds what was in the beginning” (תּוֹסֶפֶת מְרֻבָּה עַל הָעִקָּר). In the words of the Alter Rebbe, “A Jew should make another Jew.”

The Time of Year

Parashat Vayigash is always read in the month of Tevet, which the sages describe as, “the month when one body enjoys another.” Although this usually refers to the pleasure derived from physical nearness between husband and wife, in our context it refers to the pleasure Jacob (the main part of the body) received when realizing that Joseph (the end of the body) was still alive. This is to enable the begetting of numerous Jewish progeny–the Hosts of God–until “all the souls in the body will be finished” at which time the redeemer will appear.

The Alter Rebbe, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe’s day of passing is on the 24th of Tevet. The Alter Rebbe used to say that in the future, “the soul will be nourished by the body.” There will be a reversal of nature: the essential (the soul) will become incidental while what was once incidental (the body) will become essential. This is the real secret of “Joseph is still alive”: the od of Joseph (which is in each Jew) will live eternally, while the soul (the aspect of, “I will praise God while I live”) will receive its principal vitality from the body which will live forever.



Third Reading: The Secret of Tears

“He fell upon Benjamin’s neck and wept and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.”


The story of Joseph and his brothers reaches its climax in Parashat Vayigash when Judah approaches Joseph and surrenders himself as a servant in place of Benjamin, so that Benjamin can return home to Jacob unharmed. When Joseph sees Judah’s dedication to protecting Benjamin and his remorse for wishing to harm Joseph so many years ago, he is unable to contain his tears and weeps before his brothers saying, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” Joseph’s revelation to his brothers was accompanied by weeping. It is not the first time that we read of Joseph weeping, nor the last. A few verses later we read how Joseph “…fell upon Benjamin’s neck and wept and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” All in all, the verb “and he wept” (וַיֵּבְךְּ) appears seven times in the Torah concerning Joseph—more than any other Biblical figure.

Joseph in Egypt was famed for his great wisdom. Practically speaking, he was a king; a ruler who governed a land and its people with the same restraint with which he controlled his own inclinations. Although one might imagine that such a wise and influential man would be stern and unsympathetic, here it becomes clear that Joseph could be deeply emotional. Normally, he controlled his emotions, directing them with restraint, but he was by no means cold or removed.

But is weeping merely a release of pent-up emotions or does it signify something more?

The First Weepers

As with any concept that we meditate upon in-depth, to discover the real meaning of tears, we need to analyze every phenomenon of weeping in the Torah, beginning with the first instance.

Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden, was the first to weep in the Torah. Banished from Abraham’s household, she wandered through the wilderness with her son Ishmael. After their water supply was drained, she left the child under a bush and walked away to avoid seeing his inevitable death. As the tragic moment approached “she raised her voice and wept.”[15] Hagar’s weeping was an expression of her total despair and dejection. The Torah’s inner dimension explains that the impure husks thrive on depression and tears whereas holiness has an affinity to those who serve God with joy. The first appearance of many phenomena in the Torah is often negative and unrefined. This is true in the case of Hagar's weeping too.

Abraham also wept when Sarah died, “Abraham came and eulogized Sarah and wept for her.”[16] Weeping over his wife’s death is a proper reaction; indeed, Jewish law encourages shedding tears upon hearing that a virtuous individual has passed away. The mourner’s tears express respect for the deceased and stimulate emotional healing for the bereaved. When a loved one passes away, it is not a time to resolutely hold back one’s tears. If social norms tend to encourage such restraint, they need to be reconsidered.

The third person to weep in the Torah was Esau. When he learned that Jacob was the recipient of Isaac’s blessing in his place, “Esau raised his voice and cried.”[17] Like the first appearance of weeping, this first appearance of the word “and he wept” (וַיֵּבְךְּ) is also an expression of deep despair.

In its next appearance, weeping swings back to the side of holiness. When Jacob met Rachel, “He raised his voice and wept.”[18] This is a new expression of tears. In each of the three previous examples, weeping was related to some type of loss, but Jacob’s weeping was an expression of intimacy. Fleeing from Esau’s death threat, Jacob suddenly encountered a kindred soul, a member of his own family, and like someone who has met a long-lost brother, he burst into tears.

The two brothers, Jacob and Esau finally meet in an emotionally charged reunion after years of separation; and they weep together. “Esau ran towards him [Jacob] and hugged him and fell upon his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”[19] However, in this case, it is unclear whether Esau’s kisses and tears were truly whole-hearted, as Rashi comments.

From this point onwards, weeping remains in Jacob’s family, as if it has found its natural abode. Jacob wept when he believed that Joseph had been devoured by a wild animal; “His father wept for him.”[20] This indicates another type of weeping―in sympathy for someone else’s sorrow.

Influential Tears

Joseph was like his father Jacob in many ways, including his characteristic tears. Every one of Joseph’s encounters with his brothers is accompanied by weeping. At first, Joseph conceals his tears and turns aside to weep (twice in the previous parashah). Now, as Judah pleads with him, he allows himself to weep out loud, kissing his brothers and weeping, like Jacob when he first met Rachel.

So far, we have seen four types of weeping:

  • negative weeping in despair
  • the positive weeping of bereavement
  • weeping as an expression of intimacy
  • weeping in sympathy with another person’s sorrow.

Joseph’s weeping does not fit into any of these categories. It is an expression of profound compassion, as stated explicitly the second time Joseph weeps, “Joseph made haste because his compassion for his brothers overwhelmed him and he felt a need to weep, and he entered the room and wept there.”[21] The connection between compassion and weeping is clear; a merciless stone-hearted individual will never weep. But what arouses one’s compassion will move a sensitive person to tears.

There is a fine line between self-pity and real compassion. Tears of self-pity are passive. They serve to inflate the individual’s ego with self-centered thoughts about how deprived and unfortunate they are. This egotistic tendency may become so powerful that it causes the individual to turn against others by blaming them for his misfortune. Ultimately, self-pity can deteriorate into turning against the Almighty Himself.

True compassion motivates the individual to actively influence the situation in some way for the better, whether by helping or through prayer, etc. Joseph represents the masculine sefirah of foundation, which transmits all that it receives to the feminine sefirah of kingdom. Thus, Joseph’s tears are a form of influence.

Tears Lodged in the Heart

So far, we have related to tears of sorrow and sadness as negative, following the directive that we should “serve God with joy.” However, there are exceptions to this rule. There are many positive references to weeping in the Bible and in the sages’ teachings, even when they relate to an individual’s unfortunate circumstances. In the book of Psalms, for example, King David often refers to his tears.

Refining our sadness is one of the main topics that the Alter Rebbe deals with in the Tanya. He distinguishes between negative sadness in the sense of morbid depression, and positive sadness, which he describes as bitterness. Positive sadness results from a heart broken by our distance from God. When the heart cries because of this distance, our tears purify it and lead to constant refinement through repentance.

Paradoxically, this type of bitter sadness does not contradict our sense of joy, as stated in the Zohar (and quoted in Tanya) “Weeping is lodged in one side of my heart, and joy is lodged in the other.” The heart is capable of bearing these two contradictory emotions at the same time. As a result, the rectified individual can weep out of bitterness while simultaneously rejoicing that God is with him at all times. Tears wept from this paradoxical state originate from the highest, super-conscious level of the soul; the singular one, where all opposites unite. Indeed, “the singular one” (יְחִידָה), and “weeping” (בְּכִיָה) have an identical numerical value of 37. Similarly, the numerical value of “living one” (חַיָה)—the second super-conscious level of the soul—is 23, which is the numerical value of “joy” (חֶדְוָה).

Tears of Revelation

Weeping relates to the essence of revealing a secret that is hidden in the future. The Zohar explains that when Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept, he was crying over the destruction and exile of their descendants, the Ten Tribes. Similarly, when Joseph and Benjamin wept on each other's necks, Joseph wept for the two Temples that were destined to be built and later destroyed in Benjamin’s land inheritance. Benjamin also wept for the Shiloh Tabernacle that would be erected in Joseph’s territory and would be destroyed.

Similarly, the Zohar relates that when Rabbi Akiva heard the hidden secrets of the Song of Songs from his teacher, Rabbi Eliezer the Great, “his eyes poured with water.” Such weeping results from the revelation of one’s soul-root; the “singular” level of the soul, where the deepest Torah secrets are hidden. When Jeremiah describes the final redemption, we find a similar type of weeping:

Behold, I bring them from the northern land and gather them from the loins of the earth; among them are the blind and the lame, the pregnant [woman] together with the birthing [woman]; a great company, together they shall return here. They will come weeping, and with supplications I will lead them, I will conduct them along rivers of water, upon a straight road upon which they will not stumble; for I have become a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn.

The tears of the future redemption are the tears of the reunion between the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven, tears of intimacy and arousal of great compassion, influential tears, tears of the revelation of the innermost secrets.


(from The Inner Dimension, based on a class given on 30th of Kislev 5772)


Fourth Reading: Pursuing Pleasure Properly

“Israel said, ‘How great, my son Joseph is still alive! I will go and see him before I die.”

The Anger Test

One of the important teachings of the Mei HaShilo’ach is based on the sages’ saying,

One should always aggravate his good inclination against his evil inclination…if he defeats him, that is good, and if not, he should engage in Torah study…. If he defeats him, that is good, and if not, he should read the Shema Yisrael prayer…. If he defeats him, that is good, and if not, he should remember his day of death.”[22]

This teaching was taught by the Mei HaShilo’ach in reference to parashat Vayigash; his yahrzeit, the 7th of Tevet always occurs during the week of parashat Vayigash. Moreover, its topic is positively using anger to overcome the evil inclination, and anger (or righteous indignation) is the special soul sense of the month of Tevet. Let us now delve into this beautiful and timely teaching.

The Mei HaShilo’ach explains this four-part teaching as follows: Every time that a person has a thought or a wish, a desire or expects to experience joy from a particular event or item, he should analyze it with four soulful tests that build on one another. Testing his expected desire or wish in this way will reveal if it originates from holiness or if it includes some sort of personal interest from which he should sever himself. A person seeking to serve God fully should be asking himself, “Are the joys and wishes in my life truly what God wants from me? Or are they just the product of my personal whims and cravings” If he finds that he is self-absorbed, he can rectify the situation by nullifying his own will before God’s will.

The first step of the test is described by the sages’ words, “One should always aggravate his good inclination against his evil inclination.” Contemplate the fact that attaining or fulfilling a desire or lust in this world, i.e., our present reality, can only be temporary and fleeting. Even holy joy in this world has an evanescent element. Ours is the “world of falsehood.” Today we are here, tomorrow we are not. This contemplation helps us identify the fact that the thought or desire we have is not truly for the best and we can reject it. If however we still feel an attraction, then we know that the thought or desire has passed the first test and we can continue to the next one.

The second test is “engage in Torah study.” The Torah is the spice needed for the evil inclination. It reveals that anything that we can attain in a forbidden manner can also be attained in a holy manner. “Everything that the Compassionate One prohibited, He allowed something similar.”[23] In this test, we should think: If my desire is positive, then I will certainly find a way to satisfy it within the Torah. If the desire is then nullified, good. If the desire persists, we move on to the third test.

The third test is “read the Shema.” There is a touch of pride in the study of Torah. A person may feel that he knows Torah, he is even quite the Torah scholar. But when saying the Shema, we are all literally the same—like the round circular dance of the tzaddikim. This completely nullifies pride. If after nullifying our pride, the desire is nullified, that is good. If not, we proceed to the fourth and final test of its origin.

The fourth test is: “Remember the day of death.” The first stage of this analysis is to employ the awareness that every person ultimately dies. The next step is to generate the feeling that I am literally dying at this very moment (this is the inner intention of bending over with the head on the arm in the Tachanun prayer, according to Kabbalah). If after this, I still have the same desire, it is a completely blessed wish, from the side of holiness. Then we can proceed to fulfill the desire, to enjoy it boundlessly with “assertiveness and through material extension”—two foundational concepts found in the teachings of the Mei HaShilo’ach.

Jacob’s Test

Rabbi Leiner uses the principle behind these 4 tests to explain Jacob’s reaction to hearing that his beloved son, Joseph, was still alive. After twenty-two years of disconnect, Jacob feels tremendous joy at the prospect of seeing his son again. However, to do so, he realizes that he will have to, in his very old age, travel to Egypt and leave the Land of Canaan, because Joseph would not be able to abandon his duties as viceroy to come and visit him. In addition, Jacob wants to determine if this joy and his anticipation and desire to see his son stem from natural fatherly feelings or if it is completely from the side of holiness, which goes beyond nature to add a Divine dimension to nature. Jacob had spent his entire life with apprehension about committing a sin that would distance him from holiness. So, Jacob proceeds to apply these four tests.

First Jacob says, “I will go and I will see him [Joseph] before I die.”[24] Jacob reminds himself that everything in this world is transient. This is the first test. Later, the Torah relates, “And he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.”[25] This refers to his engaging in Torah study, the second test, for the Torah was given “from the mouth of might,” and Isaac is the archetypal soul of the sefirah (or attribute) of might.

Next, the dramatic meeting between Jacob and Joseph happens. Joseph falls on his father’s neck and cries. Rashi comments that even though Joseph cried on his father’s neck, “But Jacob did not fall on Joseph’s neck and did not kiss him, and our rabbis said, that he was reciting the Shema prayer.”[26] This is the third test, as we saw earlier. Finally, after this, Jacob says to Joseph, “I will die this time, after I have seen your face, that you are still alive.” This is the fourth test. Now Jacob returns to the starting point. “I will die this time” parallels his words during the first test, which were, “before I die.”

After he has successfully passed all the tests, he returns to his initial emotion of joy, with even more intensity. The words “after I have seen your face” are added here. I see your face literally means (in Hebrew) that I see your internal qualities. I see that you have remained righteous and sense that all is in line with the inner dimension of God’s will.


(adapted from Sod HaShem LiYerei’av, Milchemet HaYetzer)

Fifth Reading: Where is the Seventieth Soul?

“The total of Jacob’s household who came to Egypt was seventy souls”


In Pardes Rimonim,[1] Rabbi Moses Cordovero summarizes various methods for performing gematria—numerical calculations on the Torah text. One of these he dubs “numerical number” (מִסְפַּר מִסְפָּרִי) and it involves calculating the value of a number by writing it out in Hebrew. For example, the value of “10” would be the value of the word for “ten” (עֲשָׂרָה), which is 575. This is based on how the Torah writes the names of the numbers. In our reading, there are many numbers written as words. Let us see what we can learn from them.

Let us begin with a well-known question. The fifth reading includes a list of the members of Jacob’s family who traveled to Egypt. The Torah ends the list by noting there were 70 souls. But, if we count carefully, we see that only 69 names are listed. Who is missing? An even more careful examination will pinpoint the problem to Leah’s descendants, which are said to include 33 souls,[2] but only 32 are listed. It is this observation that led the sages to identify the concealed 70th soul (the 33rd from Leah) with Yocheved,[3] who was born as they entered Egypt. Interestingly, Yocheved (יוֹכֶבֶד) is hinted at in the first word of our reading, which introduces the entire list, “And these” (וְאֵלֶּה), as the two words have the same numerical value, 42.

Another option presented by the commentaries[4] is that the missing soul is not among Leah’s 33 descendants, but part of the general list with 70 souls. In that case, the commentaries identify the missing soul with Jacob himself.

If we calculate the numerical number of all the numbers spelled out as words in our reading, we will find: “Leah thirty-three” (לֵאָה שְׁלֹשִׁים וְשָׁלֹשׁ) equals 1352; “Zilpah sixteen” (זִלְפָּה שֵׁשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה) equals 1297; “Rachel fourteen” (רָחֵל אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר) equals 1086; Bilhah seven (בִּלְהָה שִׁבְעָה) equals 419; Jacob sixty six (יַעֲקֹב שִׁשִּׁים וְשֵׁשׁ) equals 1438; Joseph two (יוֹסֵף שְׁנַיִם) equals 556, and finally “Jacob seventy” (יַעֲקֹב שִׁבְעִים). The sum of all these is 6752, which is the product of 422 and 16, where 422 is the value of “seventy” (שִׁבְעִים)!

One final point: adding 422 and 16 gives us 438, the value of the names of Jacob’s four wives: “Leah Zilpah Rachel Bilhah” (לֵאָה זִלְפָּה רָחֵל בִּלְהָה).


(from Einayich Breichot BeCheshbon, pp. 242-245)


Sixth Reading: Jacob and Adam

“Jacob replied, ‘The years of my life have been few and hard…’”


Question: If Jacob’s goal is to see that everything is for the best, why did he say to Pharaoh “The years of my life have been few and hard…?”

Answer: This is a good question, which we thought about when we gave the lesson this evening. All the Patriarchs rectify something from the sin of the first man, Adam, during their lives, but the one who is closest to Adam and who rectified his essence is Jacob (about whom it is said that “the face of Jacob resembles Adam’s face”). Adam lived 130 years after the sin separately from his wife, afraid to bring children after he sinned and after his first son killed his second son. This itself was a terrible sin. During these years, Adam violated the covenant, and all the demons and harmful spirits in the world were born from Adam in these 130 years.

Jacob had to toil to rectify these years and turn them into good (since everything is for the best). In his first 130 years, he rectified those 130 years and since in those years he had to toil to rectify the years of the first man, it is said about them that they were “few and hard.” Afterward, he reached the good years, the final 17 years of his life, which were spent in Egypt. 17 is the value of “good” (טוֹב).

Going back to Adam, after 130 years of being separated from Eve, he repented and returned to her and Seth was born, from whom humanity was established, and therefore for Jacob our father these were the 17 good years.


(from a class given on the 4th of Kislev, 5777)

[1]. 30:8.

[2]. Ibid. 46:15.

[3]. See Rashi on Ibid.

[4]. Rashbam on Ibid.

[1]. Genesis 45:3.

[2]. Song of Songs 5:2.

[3]. Genesis 30:24.

[4]. Ibid. 50:24 and 25.

[5]. Exodus 3:16. See also Ibid. 4:31.

[6]. Ibid. 20:2

[7]. Genesis 45:28

[8]. Psalms 146:2.

[9]. Sha’ar HaYichud VeHaEmunah ch. 6.

[10]. Tanya, ch. 2.

[11]. Genesis 41:16.

[12]. Zohar 3:223b.

[13]. Genesis 37:2

[14]. Ibid. 47:27.

[15]. Genesis 21:16.

[16]. Ibid. 23:2.

[17]. Ibid. 27:38.

[18]. Ibid. 29:11.

[19]. Ibid. 33:4.

[20]. Ibid. 38:35. According to Rashi, it was Isaac, Jacob’s father (who was still alive when Joseph was sold into slavery), who wept in sympathy with Jacob’s pain. Although Isaac knew that Joseph was alive, he was not permitted to reveal the secret to Jacob.

[21]. Ibid. 43:30.

[22]. Berachot 5a

[23]. Chullin 109b.

[24]. Genesis 46:28

[25]. Ibid. 46:1.

[26]. Ibid. 46:29.

Related posts

Q&A: Am I Jewish?

Gal Einai

Q&A: Can’t Wake Up in the Morning

Gal Einai

Parashat Vayeshev 5784: Aliyah by Aliyah

Gal Einai
Verified by MonsterInsights