By Simon Jacobson
December 6, 2001
Just as Jacob desired to settle in tranquility,
the agony of Joseph pounced upon him
Rashi in the opening of this weeks Torah
Just as we are about to settle down, another
tragedy strikes. As things seem to be getting back to
normal (whatever normal is), 25 more innocent lives
have been viciously torn from us in the streets of Jerusalem
How eerily reminiscent is this rude awakening
of our weekly Torah portion: Just as Jacob returns to Israel
and is ready to settle down, a new tragedy strikes. In their
envy, Jacobs sons sell their brother Joseph, telling
Jacob that he was killed. Joseph ends up in prison in Egypt.
Jacob believes his son is dead.
Jacob has struggled all his life. Even prior
to birth he and his twin brother Esau clashed two nations
locked in perpetual battle. After taking Esaus birthright
and blessings, he escapes Esaus wrath, only to go from
the frying pan into the fire, spending twenty miserable years
with his corrupt uncle and father-in-law Laban. However Jacob
comes out a stronger and greater man, and finally confronts
Esau. They reconcile for the moment, but then part ways, as
they recognize how much more work needs to be done before
the two Jacob/Esau forces of spirit and matter can achieve
peace (see previous weeks articles).
Finally, after all his hardships and struggles
the 100 year old Jacob comes back home and wants to settle
down in peace. But that is not to be. As Rashi cites the Midrash:
Jacob desired to settle in tranquility, but the agony
of Joseph pounced upon him. For when the righteous wish to
settle in tranquility, G-d says: Is it not enough for
the righteous what is prepared for them in the World to Come,
that they also ask for a tranquil life in this world?
Jacob the tzaddik (righteous person) will not
have peace in this world.
Why not? Because a tzaddik a real person
is never an island unto himself. The destiny of an
individual is intertwined with the destiny of the world. If
the world is suffering so is he. He cannot be at peace when
there is no peace around him.
And the world was not yet at peace. As Jacob
tells Esau in last weeks portion, you know
that the children are weak and I have responsibility for the
nursing sheep and cattle. If they are driven hard for even
one day, they will die
Please go ahead of me
will lead my group slowly, following the pace of the work
ahead of me, and the pace of the children. I will eventually
come to you, my lord, in Seir. Jacob is telling
us that there is much work to be done to resolve the inherent
tension between the material and the spiritual. Before it
is resolved, this tension will only escalate in the generations
to come. This historical evolution of the wars between Jacob
and Esaus (and Ishmaels) descendants is documented
at the end of last weeks Torah portion.
Now, a chapter later, following these chronicles
of Esau which consists of a detailed list of the nations
that would descend from him, concluding with Magdiel, father
of Rome come the chronicles of Jacob in this weeks
portion. The tension between the two cosmic forces of Jacob
and Esau is reflected and plays itself out in microcosm in
Jacobs home and family. If the world is not at peace
than our homes will inevitable be affected in kind. And vice
versa: Divisiveness in the family brings divisiveness around
us. The way to repair the world is to repair the rift at home.
How we build our home will affect how we build our world.
Peace at home brings peace in the world.
The lesson today is clear:
Just as we are about to settle down, another
tragedy strikes, teaching us that there is no room for complacency;
important work needs to be done, both in our personal lives
and homes and in the world at large. And as long as we dont
do it, trouble looms. No enemy from without can attack you
if there is no enemy within.
Before September 11 we may have thought that
these terrorist murders were isolated events in the Middle
East - that they were Israels problem. Today
however, we know better. Killing innocent people whenever
and wherever is an assault, an atrocity against all
innocent people. Many excuses can be proffered for killing
innocent civilians. It infuriates me to no end when I hear
people protest terrorist attacks, and then add: but...
But we need to review the causes that would bring
them to do this; But we need to understand their
frustration. Every crime has a root no doubt: childhood
abuse, mental illness, rage, grievances, legitimate or not.
Yet murder is murder, crime is crime. As such it can never
be tolerated in a civilized society.
The attack on any person, on any nation, of
any persuasion Jew, Christian, Muslim or atheist
is an attack on all of humanity. Period. If you cannot control
yourself due to your grievances than lock yourself
up or have yourself locked up in an institution for people
who are out of control. Period.
So, just as we were about to settle down, we
grieve again. We must remember that evil that attacks other
innocent people even of they are abroad is an attack on all
of us, on our homes and families. Does anyone doubt that at
any moment America can be attacked G-d forbid
by the same lurking evil?! We must not become apathetic again;
we must always remember that problems outside always are connected
with problems within. All these experiences teach and drive
us to do what we must on the home front and abroad and not
wait for more innocent people to suffer. As long as we do
not awake we will be held hostage by the uncertainty ahead
of us and we will be controlled by circumstances instead of
taking control of them.
The question is: What are we to do? How do we
take control? What peace do we need to build at home that
will help bring world peace?
The answer lies in a deeper analysis of the
rift between Joseph and his brothers. Why were Josephs
brothers so angry with him to the point that they wanted to
Jacobs eleven sons saw Joseph as a formidable
threat to G-d and to fulfilling the Divine purpose of life.
Each of the twelve tribes has a unique personality reflecting
twelve vital aspects in life. Judah was designated to be the
leader. His descendants the House of David were
given kingship. When the brothers heard that Joseph dreamt
that he would be their leader they saw this as mutiny against
the Divinely ordained leadership of Judah. They foresaw the
split that the children of Joseph would create in their mutiny
against the house of David, the Kingdom of Israel that would
break away from the Kingdom of Judah. To preempt this tragedy
they felt that Josephs mutiny deserved death.
Why is Judah the appropriate leader and not
Joseph? Judah (from the word hodaah, acknowledgment)
embodies faith and humility: the single most important ingredient
in a true leader. He does not see himself as great, only as
transparent channel of a Higher Will completely dedicated
to serving his people. His ego and personality do not stand
in the way between the people and G-d. Without absolute faith,
humility and selflessness, leadership and the power that it
wields is just plain dangerous.
Chassidic thought applies this to our personal
lives: Judah is action and implementation (maaseh),
Joseph is scholarship and knowledge (Talmud). Josephs
great virtue, as his name implies, is the power of growth
through wisdom and scholarship. For all its strengths scholarship
without humility, knowledge without action, reason without
faith, leads to arrogance and ultimately can become destructive.
An absolute commitment to truth is built upon the unwavering
foundation of faith.
The brothers however were mistaken in one critical
regard: Timing. True, a perfect world would have Judah as
its leader (Moshiach son of David), but while we still live
in an imperfect world, where there is a dichotomy between
matter and spirit (Esau and Jacob), ignorant faith can be
even more dangerous. The passion of absolute faith without
knowledge, humility without the direction of wisdom, action
without first studying, can become misguided and misdirected,
to the point of harming others in the name of ignorant faith.
Thus, the need for Josephs leadership, to temper and
balance the passion of Judah - wisdom to direct and guide
ones actions, knowledge to channel the power of faith.
Josephs leadership (Moshiach son of Joseph) prepares
and refines the world for the ultimate leadership of Judah
(as related in the haftorah of the Vayigash portion).
This is the inside story and deeper significance
of Jacobs heartbreaking loss of Joseph and his inability
to live in peace:
Jacobs encounter and reconciliation with
Esau makes him aware of the hard work to come in refining
the world. Jacob recognizes that we must go slowly,
following the pace of the work ahead of me. After
the Torah lists the chronicles of Esau - which testify to
the nations that would confront each other confirming Jacobs
fears - Jacob finally returns to Israel (Canaan), the land
and home of his parents. He wants to live in peace, but he
is quickly reminded with the tragedy of Joseph that as long
as the world is not at peace he will not be at peace.
is going on? Didnt Jacob
suffer enough? He had to escape Esau, live by his corrupt
uncle Laban, returns and confronts Esau by now Jacob
is worn down and wants to live in peace. What does G-d do,
he sends him yet another trauma!
Because the refinement of Esau is far from complete,
the world is not yet ready to be at peace with G-d. So neither
is Jacob. The selling of Joseph is a result and symptom of
the pre-existing problems.
At the same time, the remedy lies within the
illness. Josephs clash with his brothers teaches us
how the repair and healing begins. We must begin by repairing
the rifts in our homes the rift between faith and reason,
knowledge and action, humility and scholarship. We must teach
ourselves and our children that it is not just enough to know
what is right, but to do what is right. On the other
hand: faith and belief need to be internalized through study
and education. The fusion of Joseph and Judah must be complete.
When we achieve the union in our personal lives
and within our families, then we have the power to refine
the world, and unite Jacob and Esau.
So when we see more violence around us, we need
to remember that it is telling us that we must do something.
The world will not be at peace until we finish the work we
need to do. Death, violence, terrorism continues to haunt
us as long as we do not repair the problems at the root.
It tells us that in order to heal the world
we must first ensure that it does not contaminate our family.
The divisiveness outside of your home, between Esau and Jacob,
Ishmael and Isaac, and Esau and Ishmael must not be allowed
to infect peace in your home. As Esau goes to war with Ishmael
and Ishmael is attacking Israel, we must not allow this attack
to cause hostility between Jacobs children, to begin
fighting with each other. No enemy from without can attack
you if you stand unified as a family. Our father [G-d]
blesses us when we are united as one. Indeed, divisiveness
within allows attacks from without. We must stand strong and
united together with one voice of determination against your
You cannot negotiate with people that call for
your destruction. In last week's Torah portion Jacob rejects
Esau's offer to live side by side with him, as does Sarah
regarding Isaac and Ishmael. They clearly understood that
until the world is perfected in the time of Moshiach, separation
is necessary for peace.
But people are not always wise. They begin to
bicker with each other, until they can end up selling their
own brother into slavery
The unity that must be achieved is between our
understanding and our action. When under attack people must
unite and act accordingly with decisive resolution and with
no ambiguity. They must declare for all to hear: We are a
land with laws. If you want to live in this land you must
abide by them or leave. This is the way any normal civilized
country behaves - its first and primary priority is to protect
After the Torah portions discuss the struggles of Ishmael
and Isaac, and then Esau and Jacob, this week the war stage
moves from the global to the local, from the street to the
home, from Ishmael, Esau and Jacob, to Jacobs family.
To repair the world we must begin by repairing ourselves and
our relationships. We must integrate our beliefs and our actions,
our faith and wisdom. We must make peace with our brothers
When we achieve harmony at home shalom
bayit and end the divisiveness between each other,
we are then empowered to go out and bring harmony to the world
at large. To integrate matter and spirit, and make peace between
Ishmael, Esau and Jacob all children of the one Abraham,
under one G-d.