Small Jars; Big Results
When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the overseer of his household, ‘Bring these men to the palace. Slaughter an animal and prepare it. These men will be eating lunch with me’ – this week’s Torah portion (Genesis 43:16)
Why does the Torah make such a fuss about the meal that Joseph served his brothers?
It all goes back to Jacob’s dislocated hip.
The Midrash explains that when Esau’s angel (the “stranger”) touched Jacob’s hip socket, he struck at all of Jacob’s descendants, referring to all the suffering and persecutions that the children of Jacob would endure at the hands of the children of Esau. But despite their horrible suffering, and deep wounds, they would prevail.
One of the consequences of Jacob’s wound was the selling of Joseph into slavery by his own brothers. How was it possible that such great men, the tribes and children of Jacob, forbearers of the entire Jewish nation, should stoop to petty jealousy driving them to first want to kill their own brother and then settle on selling him as slave?
Jacob’s eleven sons saw Joseph as a formidable threat to fulfilling the Divine purpose of 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 Joseph’s 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). Joseph’s great virtue, as his name implies, is the power of growth through wisdom and scholarship. But 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.
Thus, Jacob’s children saw Joseph’s dreams of grandeur as a threat to the Divine plan.
However, they were mistaken. Joseph’s leadership was a necessary prerequisite to Judah’s kingship. Joseph, representing scholarship, is necessary before we can merit the humility of Judah. In a perfect world Judah is the 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 Joseph’s leadership, to temper and balance the passion of Judah: Wisdom to direct and guide one’s actions, knowledge to channel the power of faith. Joseph’s 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). (see The Selling of Joseph)
This dichotomy between knowledge (Joseph) and implementation (Judah), between scholarship and faith, is reflected in Esau’s guardian angel displacing Jacob’s hip socket. The hip connects the higher part of the body with the lower part. When the angel displaced Jacob’s hip he severed the connection between mind and action.
The entire encounter of Joseph and his brothers is all about reconnecting the two forces of Joseph and Judah. So, when Joseph saw his brothers return with Benjamin he immediately ordered lunch to be served. Slaughter an animal and prepare it. These men will be eating lunch with me. The Talmud explains (Chulin 91a) that Joseph’s instruction “prepare it” meant to “remove the displaced (sciatic) nerve (gid hanasaha) in front of them [his brothers].” Joseph was making a point that his brothers see how the meat was being prepared for them in way that they could eat it, fulfilling the mitzvah of gid hanasha, not to eat “the displaced nerve on the hip joint to this very day because he [the angel] touched Jacob’s thigh on the displaced nerve” (Genesis 32:33).
Joseph was reminding them about the schism caused by Esau’s angel, which was also the root of Joseph and his brother’s battle.
When the brothers realized what was happening they became frightened. They began to understand their grave error (as they later acknowledge “G-d has uncovered our old sin” – 44:16) in selling Joseph; how it was another terrible expression of the split between faith and reason (Judah and Joseph).
Yet another manifestation of the displaced hip is when the Greeks defiled the Holy temple and the pure olive oil used to kindle the menorah (as mentioned above: Esau’s angel affected Jacob’s descendants in all generations). The Arizal teaches that Chanukah came to repair the wound in Jacob’s hip caused by Esau’s angel (the level of hod) (Siddur HaArizal, Kol Yaakov. See Pri Etz Chaim, Shaar Chanukah ch. 4).
The 16th century sage and mystic, the Shaloh (Drush Tzon Yosef), explains that this is alluded to in the words “kaf yereicho” (the upper joint of Jacob’s hip): The word “Yereicho” is also used to describe the base of the menorah (Exodus 25:31). “Kaf” (chof, peh) reversed is the word “pach” (cruse), referring to the cruse of pure oil discovered on Chanukah. Chanukah helps repair Jacob’s wound. The cruse of pure oil (“pach”), which represents the pure essence of the soul, transforms the dislocated hip (“kaf”); kindling the menorah with pure oil, reconnects the “base” of our beings – our actions (Judah) – with our branches and higher faculties (Joseph).
The plot thickens: Jacob’s battle with Esau’s angel came after Jacob returned across the river (after crossing his family and all his belongings) and “remained alone” to retrieve some “small jars” that were left behind (Chulin ibid. Cited in Rashi).
The Midrash explains the significance of these “small jars”: “From where did Jacob get this jar? When he picked up the stones from under his head and returned them in the morning, he found a stone that had a jar of oil in it, and he used it to pour on the top stone. When it refilled itself, Jacob knew it was set aside for G-d. He thus said, ‘It’s not right to leave this jar here’” (Yalkut Reuveni. See Sifsei Kohen al HaTorah. Birchat Shmuel Parshat Miketz 39d).
Twenty years before Jacob returned to face Esau, on his way to Charan, Jacob fell asleep after sunset on Mount Moriah with a stone under his head. There he had his famous dream of a ladder reaching into heaven. G-d shows Jacob the rise and fall of nations to come, the persecutions and redemptions of his children. G-d blesses and promises him “I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil. I will not turn aside from you until I have fully kept this promise to you.”
Jacob awoke and realized that this must be the place of “G-d’s Temple,” the “gate to heaven.” In thanksgiving to G-d’s promise Jacob took the stone he had slept on and built a monument to commemorate his prophetic vision: “Jacob got up early in the morning and took the stone that he had placed under his head. He stood it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it” (Genesis 28:11-18).
Now, twenty years later, when Jacob realizes that “small jars” with miraculous oil remain on the other side of the river, he returns to retrieve them – “It’s not right to leave this jar here.”
Another Midrash takes this a step further: G-d said to Jacob, “In the merit of endangering yourself for a small jar, I will repay your children with a small jar to the Hasmoneans [the miracle of Chanukah]” (Tzeidah LaDerech).
Because Jacob returned for the “small jars” of pure oil , and in doing so battles Esau’s angel all night long, Jacob’s children are repaid 1431 hundred years later with finding pure oil in exactly the same holy place where Jacob found oil the morning following his dream!
And though Jacob was wounded in the process – reflecting the fractured world in which we live – he prevailed over the angel, and ultimately was healed. So too, through the discovery of the “jar” (“pach”) of pure oil on Chanukah and kindling the flame after sunset, we conquer the darkness and repair the dislocated hip (“kaf”).
Everything that happened to Jacob happened to [his son] Joseph. Joseph was “sent” to Egypt in order to redeem the “jars” – to begin the refinement process of the nations, including Esau (see Joseph’s Treasures). Joseph, as a good son of his father Jacob, recognized the wound that had ruptured his relationship with his brothers. He therefore prepared a meal with his brothers to remind them of the work that needs to be done to heal the injured hip, connecting the higher with the lower.
Indeed, the Mordechai (cited in Matah Moshe sec. 996) says that the lunch meal Joseph shared with his brothers alludes to the Chanukah meal (see Shaar Yissachar, Chanukah). Perhaps it can also said that with this meal (which was initiated by Joseph when he first saw his brother Benjamin) Joseph imbued Benjamin (and his descendants, King Saul and later Mordechai) with the power to repair Jacob’s wound, as explained in the Zohar how the prophet Samuel (who anointed King Saul) repaired the wound (Zohar I 21b. II 111b-112b. Explained in the Ramak’s Pardes, Shaar Yerech Yaakov. Arizal – Likkutei Torah and Sefer HaLikkutim Samuel I 10. Kanfei Yonah 53. Kol Bochim Eicha 4:18, cited in Shaloh Mesechta Megilah). Benjamin was also the cataylst and bridge that reunited Joseph with Judah and his brothers.
We thus see how seemingly unrelated events in the lives of Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, transpiring in different times and places, all come together in a fascinating mosaic telling us one story: How we can transcend our wounds and reintegrate our lives.
Everything that happened to the patriarchs is an indication for their children. All the events come to teach us about the future…they were shown what would happen to their descendants.
Jacob’s wrestling with Esau’s angel through the night represents the battles through all forms of darkness in our own lives, until the dawn of redemption. Throughout the night of exile – in all its shapes and forms, external and internal, physical and psychological – we have fought and continue to fight many battles against those that would try to extinguish spiritual light.
Often, very often, we “remain alone” and have to fight a lonely battle. At times we may feel resigned and demoralized: Is anybody watching over us? Does anybody care? Or are we trapped in our own existential solitude, left to struggle all alone? And if so, why should we bother? Why make the effort to retrieve “small jars,” why search out a seemingly trivial detail?
Our forefather Jacob battle teaches us that life’s challenges are often experienced “alone.” But that is precisely the ultimate purpose of our lives – to cross the river and redeem the pure oil of the soul that is concealed in the “small jars.”
We may like to score great achievements; we may prefer to gravitate to major events and dramatic experiences. But often we will encounter “small jars” – nothing very substantial or glamorous. We may meet a lonely soul in need of help. Perhaps a little child who can use a smile, or an older person lying in a hospital bed.
Always remember that the “small jars” contain potent energy, pure oil, perhaps the most potent energy of them all. And it may well be that the entire purpose of your existence is to uncover the “small jars” that will come your way.
By returning for the “small jars” of undiminished oil, Jacob battled the angel all night long and prevailed. He thus imbued us with the power to fight and win our battles, until we reveal the ultimate light of personal and global redemption.
So, next time a “small jars” situation comes your way that may not seem very significant, remember: The jar contains powerful fuel. Go redeem it. “It’s not right to leave this jar here.”
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Question for the week: What suggestions do you have to deal with loneliness?