Reconnecting with Joseph's Tree

A speical address for Gal Einai students in Mexico given on 7th of Tevet, 5771 (Monday, December 13, 2010)

Shalom to everyone,

We are going to say a few timely ideas especially focused for the benefit of our growing community of students in Mexico.

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 the course of 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.

So right now, as we speak, we are leaving the influence of the Shabbat of parashat Vayigash, which 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 that 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 at learning that Joseph is still alive.

Following the public Torah reading, a portion of the books of the prophets is also read. This is called the haftarah. This week’s haftarah reading is from the Book of Ezekiel. The particular selection from Ezekiel (ch. 37) is a prophecy in which God instructs him 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 more connected to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and to the keeping of the Torah and the performance of its commandments than 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. As much as in this world 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 thehaftarah of parashat Vayigash is, “the tree of Joseph” (עֵץ יוֹסֵף). The phrase mentioned earlier that Jacob said when hearing that Joseph was alive is, “Joseph, my son, is still alive” (עוֹד יוֹסֵף בְּנִי חַי). One of the special techniques used in Kabbalah is gematria, translating letters and words into numbers. The amazing thing is that the value of these two phrases, the one from the parashah, the other from its haftarah reading, is exactly the same. They both equal 316. Obviously 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.

Since our words are being transmitted specifically for our community of students in Mexico, let us add that interestingly this is also the value of “Mexico” (מֶקְסִיקוֹ) in Hebrew!

Now it says that Joseph also alludes to 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 in order to integrate it into Torah. But this is a very difficult task and is actually 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 is connected with 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 the 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.

As we know, the two kingdoms did not exile at the same time. First, the northern kingdom was conquered and its inhabitants, known as the 10 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, were conquered and exiled by the Babylonian empire. The most straightforward conclusion is that the Jewish people today are descendants of the southern kingdom alone, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, 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 10 tribes that were exiled separately will be reunited with Judah (and Benjamin). This alludes to the fact that there are dispersed around the world today many people, who though they are not identified as Jews, have some distant kinship with the Jewish people. For some this even reflects in a special feeling of affection that they have for the Jewish people and for the Torah. All these individuals around the world are thus related to Joseph.

So, we can now better understand the numerical equivalence between the phrases, “the tree of Joseph,” and “Joseph, my son, is still alive” (עוֹד יוֹסֵף בְּנִי חַי) and “Mexico” (מֶקְסִיקוֹ). The tree of Joseph constitutes many people who though they are not Jewish on a physical level, connect to Judaism spiritually, and that the spark that lies at the heart of their affinity with 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 has to 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 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 each and every individual.

So once again, we want to wish all those viewing our broadcast all the necessary blessings. Specifically, all those viewing in Mexico should know that even if they are not Jewish, they have a special affinity to Joseph, who like them disappeared for some time and then was suddenly rediscovered living in Egypt and acting as Pharaoh’s viceroy. Joseph’s tree symbolizes the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and just like the Tree of Life, it too is destined to ultimately attain eternal life.

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