How Low Can You Bow? – Parashat Mikeitz

December 11, 2017 at 4:56 AM , , ,

“….And he had him ride in his chariot of second rank, and they called out before him, ‘Avrech – The king’s patron’ – Appointing him over the entire land of Egypt….” – Bereishit 41:43

״….וירכב אתו במרכבת המשנה אשר לו ויקראו לפניו אברך ונתון אתו על כל ארץ מצרים….״ – בראשית מא, מג


Rashi cites an alternative interpretation for the word avrech– אַבְרֵךְ, saying that it is related to the Hebrew word for knees, בִּרְכַּיִם, and denotes kneeling. This means that the Egyptians merely kneeled before Yosef, but did not fully prostrate themselves before him.

We find, however, that Yosef’s brothers “prostrated themselves before him with their faces to the ground (42:6).” According to the above interpretation brought by Rashi, why didn’t Yosef’s brothers merely kneel before him as the Egyptians did?

This distinction reflects the Kabbalistic understanding of Yosef‘s position as “supplier for all the people of the land (42:6),” according to which Yosef supplied his generation not only their food, but also their spiritual needs. In the context of the relationship with G-d that Yosef cultivated in the individuals coming before him, the different bowing patterns before Yosef reflect the varying degrees of “surrender” to G-d that he instilled within them.

When kneeling, one lowers his body and bows his head in reverence yet keeps his posture upright, maintaining his sense of self-worth. When prostrating, however, one’s head, body and feet are equally aligned, expressing total selflessness.

In terms of a relationship with G-d, prostrating signifies that every aspect of one’s identity, including his inner thoughts and feelings, are completely surrendered to G-d’s will. Such was Yosef’s own level of inner devotion to G-d, and he likewise inspired the same in his brothers (who were holy individuals in their own right,) as expressed by their full prostration.

The Egyptians, however, were not capable of assimilating such a high level of Divine worship (according to the opinion that they only kneeled before Yosef.) Yosef’s spiritual impact on the Egyptians was limited; he brought them to “kneel” in reverence and acknowledgment of G-d’s existence, but not to fully surrender themselves to His will.

—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 5, p. 211


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