There was famine in all the lands
hunger spread over the entire area
all countries came
to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain; because the famine was so
severe in all the earth
This weeks portion, Genesis 41:54-57
Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt. And
Jacob said to his sons: Why should you display yourselves?
Why are you showing off before the children of Ishmael and the
children of Esau and giving the impression that you are sated,
for at that time they still had food (Rashi). I have heard that
there are provisions in Egypt, descend there and buy food. Let
us live and not die
Joseph gathered all the silver and gold of
the world and brought it to Egypt
when Israel ascended
from Egypt they ascended with it [the treasures]. It remained
with them until Rechovom son of [King] Solomon. Sishak King
of Egypt seized it from Rechovom
Zorach King of Kush seized
it from Shishak, Assa seized it from Zorach and appropriated
it to Hadrimon son of Tabarimon. The children of Amon seized
it from Hadrimon, Yehoshofat seized it from Amon and it remained
stored until Ochoz. Sancheriv seized it from Ochoz, Chezikoyohu
seized it from Sancheriv and it remained stored until Tzidkiyohu,
the Chashdaim seized it from Tzidkiyohu, the Persians seized
it from the Chashdaim, the Greeks seized it from the Persians,
the Romans seized it from the Greeks. And it still remains stored
- Talmud Pesachim 119b
And so the war continues. Caves in Afghanistan
are being bombed. Suicide bombers continue their unholy work
in the streets of Israel. Anthrax in America still remains a
mystery. A chilling videotape just released captures the incomprehensible
demonic faith of these religious fanatics, how truly foreign
they are from us and the difficulty we face without any frame
As much as we try some more successful
than others to return to our normal lives, the shadow
of the unknown hangs over us. Will there be another terrorist
attack G-d forbid? What will happen when America goes into the
next stage of this war? Will Iraq be next? How will the Muslim
world react to America as the war escalates? The questions go
on and on. If youre a thinking person, and who can afford
not to be one today, you are aware now more than ever before
in your life that what we dont know far outweighs what
we do know.
Hence, a profound uncertainty that has to haunt
every investment, every move, every choice that we and people
around us make.
I have not found better recourse today than to
turn to the Bible. For the last 14 weeks since September 11,
I have been writing a running commentary paralleling the events
of our times with their Biblical roots. The uncanny relevance
of the weekly Torah chapters with current events is consistently
So back we go to the videotape. Back we go to
the unfolding saga in these weekly Torah portions that outline
for us in graphic detail the seeds of todays events and
what we can do about them in our personal and political lives.
Where is the story holding in this weeks
There is no peace in the world. Jacob and Esau
have parted ways because they cannot yet live in peace (see
previous article, The
Big Confrontation). There is no peace at home.
Jacobs family is torn apart by his sons selling their
brother Joseph into slavery.
G-dliness is hidden in the world and is restlessly
awaiting to be revealed. The world is therefore trembling.
The G-dliness that Abraham began revealing into the universe
is slowly taking hold, but Jacob is right in recognizing that
much work still needs to be done in refining the world and
making it a comfortable home for G-d. Meanwhile Jacob suffers
as his family is torn asunder with Josephs disappearance.
Microcosm/macrocosm: The battle without is reflected in the
battle within. We must first refine and reconcile the warring
factions within our family and our psyche, before we can begin
to do so in the world around us (see
last weeks article).
But therein lies also the remedy and cure. In
the strangest of ways, the selling of Joseph begins the healing
and refinement process.
What happens next?
After Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers,
he ends up in prison in Egypt (last weeks portion). This
weeks portion begins: At the end of two years, Pharaoh
dreams. These dreams free Joseph from prison as he is
summoned to interpret them. He interprets them as foretelling
the great 7 year famine that would follow 7 years of plenty,
and he suggests that Egypt hoard food during the first 7 years
that would serve them during the upcoming famine. Pharaoh in
turn appoints him viceroy of Egypt, second in command only to
Pharaoh. Joseph heads the effort of gathering all the grain
during the plentiful years, which allows Egypt to subsequently
become the dominant superpower as the surrounding countries
become dependent on Egypt for their sustenance, and they expend
all their money and valuables in the purchase of food during
What is the story behind all this?
Joseph son of Jacob is the one who begins the
work of refining the material world, the birur of Esau.
[This explains why upon Josephs birth Jacob is ready to
return and encounter Esau (Genesis 30:25 and Rashi), because
Joseph has the power to begin Esaus refinement]. In Kabbalistic
and Chassidic terminology: Jacobs power in the Divine
world of Atzilut (world of unity) is carried by Joseph into
the lower divisive worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyah.
And this work begins in Egypt, with Josephs
ascent to power and leadership.
To better understand this, let us return to
Abraham, great grandfather of Joseph. You may recall (and
if you dont please see previous article Abrahams
Vision) Abrahams vision about the events
to come. Abraham was told that his descendants will
be foreigners in a land that is not theirs for 400 years
and they will ultimately leave with great wealth.
He is shown the future great empires that would control and
terrorize the world, each in their own way: the Babylonian,
Persian, Greek, Roman and Ishmaelite empires.
These empires represent the different stages of
refinement (birur) that we achieve throughout the generations.
Everything in our material existence contains Divine sparks,
i.e. spiritual energy, and we are charged with the mission to
redeem and elevate these sparks, and thereby refine the material
universe and transform it into its true purpose: a vehicle for
Beginning with the enslavement by the Egyptian
empire the archetype and root (head) of all
the exiles and empires each subsequent empire symbolizes
another stage of refinement in integrating G-dliness into the
material world. The process concludes with the refinement of
the last two powers, Edom (Esau) and Ishmael, which leads to
the Messianic age a world where there is no more destruction
and terror and all children of Abraham serve the One G-d of
Abraham in peace and harmony.
With Josephs descent into Egypt Abrahams
vision begins to be realized. Josephs work of gathering
and selling grain the most valuable commodity of its
time represents the work of refining Egypt and the world
at the time, by gathering all the wealth and elevating it. This
prepares the ground for the next generation of Abrahams
descendants to do their hard labor under Egyptian enslavement
of actually refining the land and leaving with great wealth
taking with them all the wealth that Joseph accumulated
during his tenure as leader and more.
202 divine sparks were refined and elevated during
the Egyptian bondage. As the archetype of all exiles to come,
this 202 refinement process empowers all generations to come
to endure, prevail and elevate their respective sparks in their
respective time, under each of the world empires to come.
Because the stakes are so high and the work so
difficult, much preparation is necessary to launch the effort
of reconciling G-d and the material universe integrating
matter and spirit, Esau and Jacob the work begins internally
in Jacobs home and family.
Jacob and Esau embody the war between two nations,
two global forces that would be in a perpetual conflict. Jacob
realizes this and understands the need to do the work slowly,
at the right pace.
Everything that happened to Jacob happened
to [his son] Joseph. Just as his father Jacob had to build
his family in corrupt Charan by Laban before he was ready to
encounter his brother Esau, so too Joseph built his family in
Egypt before encountering his brothers who sold him into slavery.
In order to facilitate the refinement of the Divine sparks within
Edom (Esau), and to start the reconciliation process between
earth and heaven, matter and spirit, Jacob does his work as
a shepherd in Charan and builds his family there. Then he is
ready to face Esau.
But even after he reconciles with Esau, the work just begins.
Joseph is the one that begins the real work. He is sold into
slavery, and the rift between him and his brothers must be repaired.
This is the inside story of Joseph and his brother in these
weeks Torah portions.
The refinement process begins with Josephs work in Egypt.
Abraham's vision is beginning to be fulfilled -- his children
would be enslaved in a foreign land not theirs. But no one expected
that it would happen this way -- brothers selling their own
flesh and blood. Yet, when you think about it, it couldn't have
happened any other way. As discussed in last week's article,
problems in the world reflect problems at home and vice versa.
Just as the repair has to come from within the family so to
does the fracture. Had the brothers not sold Joseph he would
never have ended up in Egypt. Had he not ended up in Egypt,
Jacob and his family would not have been saved from the great
famine. Had they not gone down to Egypt the Jewish nation would
not have been born, the Torah not given, etc.
So the selling of Joseph, as reprehensible as it was, is actually
the beginning of salvation and redemption. The brothers sincere
intention was to rid the world of a mutiny that would fracture
and destroy the world; they considered Joseph's usurp as a challenge
against the very essence of transforming the world into a G-dly
home (see last week's essay). Though their timing was off and
Joseph needed to become leader before Judah would, they ultimately
achieved the goal, albeit in the most painful way: By selling
Joseph he ends up becoming not only a leader over them but a
leader of the world. And he is in the position to influence
and elevate the world.
Josephs leadership sets the tone and gives direction for
the work to come in refining the wealth of sparks in Egypt,
and is empowers the next generation to endure and ultimately
refine the land of Egypt, and then leave with great wealth as
promised to Abraham.
This in turn imbues the generations to come with
the fortitude they would need to grow through their trials and
No peace at home. No peace in the world. Treasures abound beneath
That was then.
Today, after all the thousands of years of work
in refining the world, this final confrontation between Ishmael
and Esau will free the treasures stored for the last 2000 years
in Rome, descendant of Esau, which originated with Joseph 3533
years ago when he came to power in Egypt and began accumulating
the wealth of divine sparks, the wealth that the Jewish people
left with during their Exodus from Egypt.
Today we will reap the fruit of all the hard years
of work, as the prophet Micha says, as in the days when
you left Egypt, I will show you wonders. Wonders and great
treasures held secure and protected for the day when we are
worthy of receiving them.
We must ask ourselves today: Are we doing all
we can to earn these treasures back?
You can now order the tape of Rabbi Jacobsons
elaborate class on this topic.
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We need to join together as never before to nourish the
grass roots awakening that has consumed this nation and
its gravitation to faith and G-d, and transform it into
a permanent spiritual transformation. Our calling today
is to demonstrate leadership and light up the way in which
to forge ahead amidst this tragedy, and these new, challenging
Our sages teach us that by intensifying our charitable
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We look forward to working together with you in this divine
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Phillip, Jason, Neria, Shoshana, Chani, Sarah, Yael, Eli
and of all us at The Meaningful Life Center
Helping You Redefine What Truly Matters
Our hearts, condolences and prayers go out to all the
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Join us in creating a passionate spiritual revolution
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