Surviving or Thriving?

December 20, 2017 at 2:30 AM , , ,

“…And he saw the wagons that yosef had sent to carry him, and the spirit of Yaakov their father revived. and Yisrael said: “it is much; yosef my son is still alive; i will go and see him before i die.” – Bereishis 45:26-27

וַיַּרְא אֶת הָעֲגָלוֹת אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַח יוֹסֵף לָשֵׂאת אֹתוֹ וַתְּחִי רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם: וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל רַב עוֹד יוֹסֵף בְּנִי חָי אֵלְכָה וְאֶרְאֶנּוּ בְּטֶרֶם אָמוּת – בראשית מה, כו-כז

According to the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 94:3), Yosef gave his brothers a sign to relay to their father in case he doubted that Yosef was alive. Since the Hebrew word for “wagon” and for “calf” are spelled the same, עגלה, Yosef sent wagons with his brothers, to allude to the last topic he and Yaakov had studied together, the laws of Eglah Arufah, the calf that is decapitated to atone for an unsolved murder (see Devarim 21). Thus, when Yaakov saw the “wagons,” says the verse, “his spirit was revived.” For not only was he now certain that Yosef was physically alive, upon seeing that Yosef was still “living” with the Torah they had studied together twenty-two years earlier, he realized that Yosef was spiritually alive as well. Accordingly, Yaakov’s words in the following verse, “It is much; Yosef my son is still alive,” are likewise explained by the Midrash as expressing amazement at Yosef’s spiritual strength: “The power of my son is great; since he endured so much suffering and yet he still stands in his righteousness – he is greater than me.”


Despite the common theme of these two verses, we traditionally separate between them in the public Torah reading. The words “the spirit of Yaakov their father revived” conclude the third portion of the reading, and the next verse opens the fourth portion of the reading. This tradition underscores the twofold nature of Yosef’s spiritual greatness that amazed Yaakov.

The first verse describes Yaakov’s “revival of spirit” upon recognizing that Yosef had withstood the challenges he faced and had maintained his attachment to the Torah. That feat alone, however, was something that Yaakov too had accomplished. As Yaakov famously said, “I lived with the wicked Lavan, but I observed the 613 Commandments—I did not learn from his evil ways” (Rashi on Bereishis 32:5).

More remarkable, however, was Yosef’s second achievement: not only had his environment not impacted him, he had impacted his environment. He was the ruler of Egypt, and yielded his power over the Egyptians to influence them spiritually as well (see Rashi on Bereishis 41:55). Of this second aspect, Yaakov said—in what we read as a separate portion of the reading—“The power of my son is great… he is greater than me.”

—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 30, pp. 222-228


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