A man should never treat one son better than his other children, for, because of the two selayim of material Ya’akov gave to Yosef more than the rest of his brothers, they became jealous of him and caused our fathers to go down to Egypt. (Shabbos 10b)What makes this statement so remarkable is that, among all the opinions regarding the Jewish exile in Egypt, the above opinion is not mentioned. The Talmud asks:
Why was Avraham punished so that his children were oppressed for 210 years in Egypt? Because he made use of talmidei chachamim [for war], as it says, “He armed his trained servants ...” (Bereishis 14:14); Shmuel said: Because he thought to question the word of God, as it says, “How do I know that I will inherit the land?” (Nedarim 32a)According to another opinion, our “sojourn” in Egypt was due to the fact that Avraham migrated to Egypt during the time of famine in Canaan (Bereishis 12:10). He should have trusted in God’s salvation, and avoided exposing himself and his righteous wife to the depths of immorality of Egyptian society. (Ramban, Parashas Lech-Lecha 12:10.)
Hence, the first opinioned cited in the Talmud regarding Yosef and his brothers is not echoed by subsequent Talmudic statements. However, there is a simple way to resolve this problem: slavery in Egypt was inevitable since the days of Avraham; the cause to initiate that slavery was decided in Yosef’s days.
Indeed, we see from elsewhere in the Talmud that our slide down into Egypt could have occurred in more than one way:
Ya’akov should have gone down to Egypt in metal chains, but his merit saved him. (Shabbos 89b)Nevertheless, there is still a problem to resolve. It is true that jealousy is a powerful emotion, and that it led to the death of Hevel at the hand of his brother Kayin, but can we not assume that the sons of Ya’akov struggled for reasons far more profound?
The first mention of the brothers in the Torah in any way that catches our attention is in the story of Dinah and Shechem. (Bereishis 34:25)
Ya’akov had been away from home and Eretz Yisroel for thirty-four years, chased away by his brother and nemesis, Eisav, for taking the latter’s brochos (Bereishis 27:1). However, after spending fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem and Eiver, and twenty years with his uncle and father-in-law, Lavan, and eleven children later, Ya’akov had decided the time had come to return home, even if it meant a historical confrontation with Eisav.
What should have been a duel-to-the-death ended peacefully for Ya’akov, and he moved on past Eisav and his people and stopped in Shechem (Shechem had also been Avraham’s first stop within the borders of Eretz Yisroel 184 years earlier (Bereishis 33:18)). It was here that Ya’akov and his family pitched their tents and set up camp.
However, what should have been the peaceful part of his journey ended in unmitigated disaster, and it was here that Ya’akov’s troubles truly began.
The Torah relates how Dinah, Ya’akov’s daughter (from his wife Leah), left the security of her father’s camp and went out to scout the surrounding land. This put her within eyeshot of Shechem ben Chamor, the son of the ruler of Shechem, who, without regard for the sanctity of Ya’akov’s family, forced his way with Dinah, and only then decided to marry her.
This prompted a confrontation between Ya’akov and Chamor, which Ya’akov was prepared to take “sitting down.” As painful as it had been for this holy man to face the family responsible for the terrible atrocity and violation of their sanctity, for which he knew they were punishable by death, Ya’akov also knew that the time was not right to avenge his people. Instead of taking Shechem and his people to task for his loathesome act, Ya’akov acquiesced to their request and made peace. The cost: bris milah of all of Shechem’s inhabitants.
However, not everyone in Ya’akov’s camp agreed to the arrangement. Shimon and Levi, two of Ya’akov’s sons had revenge in mind while their father made peace, and on the third day after performing their bris milah, while they were healing and at a time of weakness, Shimon and Levi carried out the plan and successfully wiped out the entire city.
Though there might have been halachic basis for Shimon and Levi’s act of zealousness, to Ya’akov their act had been totally unacceptable. (Bereishis 49:5) In fact, the midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 80) says, they ended up causing more problems than they tried to solve, for the nations of the land took up arms to avenge what happened in Shechem. It had only been a miracle that spared Ya’akov and his family from war.
Though any other parent might have questioned the Divine Providence of what happend to his daughter, Ya’akov, being the loyal servant of God that he was, took everything in stride. In wisdom, he avoided confrontation with Shechem, and for a good reason too, for, the Talmud ominously states:
Shechem is a place set aside for punishment (muchan l’puranos); the Shevatim were damaged there; Dinah was violated there, and there the kingdom of Dovid divided. (Sota 11a)On the other hand, Shimon and Levi could not swallow what happened to their sister at the hands of Shechem, and were compelled to respond in kind. Perhaps they felt that the “punishment” referred to above was meant for Shechem and his people. However, as Ya’akov feared and history revealed, the punishment-in-waiting has been for the Jewish people.
It must be pointed out that it is an unusual concept that a single city should be “set aside” for punishment, and as an instrument of Divine judgment. However, it is equally strange that a single person should also exist for the same reason:
Memuchan was Haman; why was Haman called Memuchan? Because he was set aside for punishment (muchan l’puranos). (Megillah 12b)Or even an entire nation:
The Canaanites heard ... (Bereishis 21:1). He heard that Aharon had died and that the Clouds of Glory had lifted ... Amalek is a “punishing strap” for Israel always ready for punishment. (Rashi)Judaism doesn’t believe in coincidences. We understand that the rabbis of the Talmudic period wrote with ruach hakodesh (holy spirit). Therefore, it is safe to assume that in writing this about both Shechem and Haman, they signalled to the generations a very important conceptual connection between the two. Somehow, like Haman, Shechem was a barrier between the Jewish people and the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding.
The truth is, this might be indicated in the Hebrew word shechem itself, which means “portion,” or “division” (see Rashi on Bereishis 48:22); inherent in the name Shechem is the idea of divisiveness. (See the Pri Tzadik, Parashas VaYishlach, 9.) No wonder Shechem is the place where Yosef was taken away from his family, and the kingdom of Dovid HaMelech was torn asunder.
However, within Shechem itself is an allusion not just to any divisive force, but to the disturbingly divisive power of Amalek, alluded to by the possuk:
He [God] has said, “Because the hand is upon the Throne (kais) of God [yud-heh] it is a war for God with Amalek in each generation.” (Shemos 17:16)The existence of Amalek is analogous to the division of God’s Holy Ineffable Name (the Tetragrammaton Name that is not said the way it is written), or, at least, our perception of it. The doubt that Amalek causes, either directly or indirectly, results in the appearance of a separation between the “yud-heh” and the “vav-heh” of God’s Name. Therefore, when we recite the following tefillah before doing a mitzvah:Why is “Throne” written “kais” and not “kisei”? And why is God’s Name divided in half [yud-heh]? The Holy One, Blessed is He, swears that His Name will not be whole nor His Throne whole until the name of Amalek is completely eradicated. (Rashi)
I hereby do this (mitzvah) to unify the Holy One and His Presence, in fear and in love, in order to unify and make whole the name “yud-heh” with “vav-heh” in the name of all of Yisroel.we are not just focussing our attention on the mitzvah, but we are actually going to war against Amalek!, and rectifying what went wrong in Shechem.
Shechem is written: shin, chof, mem. If the shin and the mem are joined together, they spell the word shem which means “name,” a common pseudoname for God Himself. Unfortunately, in the word shechem, the “Name” is divided: the shin and the mem are separated by the letter chof.
This might not have seemed significant, had the letter chof not represented the number twenty, and had the number twenty not been so closely related to vision, or rather, the lack of it. And as we will soon see, the problem with Shechem, and all that occurred there had everything to do with a lack of vision.
What significance does the number twenty have?
The Talmud tells us that there are three things that cannot be higher than twenty amos: eiruv (Eiruvin 3a), sukkah (Sukkah 2a), and the menorah (Shabbos 22a). Why not, asks the Talmud, which answers: the eye cannot see well past twenty amos. Since each of these three mitzvos must be visible, they must be kept within that eyes’ optimum range. [The eiruv informs the Jews at which point the Private Domain ends and the Karmelis or Public Domain begins, at which point carrying on Shabbos becomes forbidden; the roof of the Sukkah must be visible to remind us of the Clouds of Glory; the menorah is meant to publicize the miracle of Chanukah, and therefore it must be visible to the public.] Therefore, the letter chof and the number twenty represent the point at which vision fails.
However, what if one’s eyesight can’t even reach twenty amos? What if the eiruv is built larger, and therefore recognizable from a greater distance? What if the roof of the sukkah is visible even twenty-one amos high? What if a larger menorah is used? Can all of these then be higher than twenty amos?
The answer, of course, is no—the halacha is the halacha. However, perhaps in the case of the twenty-amos it is so for conceptual reasons as well as physical reasons. Perhaps, though the physical eye can operate past the twenty amah limit, the mental eye cannot. After all, is this not what Amalek tries to do, to blind the mind’s eye?
Belief in God and Divine Providence requires intellectual clarity, without which a person falls into the trap of seeing nature as being divorced from God. According to the midrash, it was, and still remains Amalek’s life’s goal to undermine Jewish belief in God and His constant involvement in even the mundane aspects of daily life. Judging by the historical evolvement of the Jewish nation, Amalek has been very, very, successful.
This is what the Shema, said twice a day by the devout Jew, comes to counteract:
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.The Shema makes at least two crucial statements. [According to the Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah, the aleph and the ches of Echad allude to the upper nine sefiros, and the dalet refers to the tenth sefirah, Malchus. The word echad, therefore alludes to the unity of all of creation once the Shema is understood and internalized (Kadosh, Sha’ar 7, Perek 6).] The first is implied by the command to “hear,” which, the rabbis explain, means hear and understand in your heart of hearts. This is a command to achieve intellectual clarity with regard to what is about to be said, that is, the content of the the second statement, which is the most important of all and which defines the historical struggle of the Jew. This is why the Talmud states:
If you only fulfill the saying of the Shema morning and night, you will not fall into the hands of your enemies. (Sota 42a)It is well known that God uses different names to refer to Himself in the Torah, and Kabballah (The esoteric aspect of Torah) explains to us what each of those names mean. With respect to the Shema, the Ineffable Name refers to the aspect of God who created everything, and Who is unchanging; nothing we do can affect Him. He is the Life Force of all that exists—the Soul within all souls within creation (Nefesh HaChaim).
However, this aspect of God is not always revealed; this is the concept of hester panim—the hiding of God’s “face” referred to in the Torah (Devarim 31:18) (and associated with Purim). This does not mean that God withdraws His Providence from creation, God forbid; it means that God withdraws the ability to perceive His hand in daily life, making it appear as if nature has a life of its own. We refer to that level of revelation as Elohim. As it is pointed out in many places, the name Elokim (aleph, lamed, heh, yud, mem) is equal in gematria to the word ha-teva (heh, tes, bais, ayin), which means, “the nature.”
We can see this distinction between these two aspects of God’s revelation elsewhere in the Torah, at the end of Parashas VaYeirah (Bereishis 22:1), when God tested Avraham the tenth and final time.
After commanding Avraham to bring Yitzchak up as an offering, God told him:
Go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering, upon one of the mountains which I will show you. (Bereishis 22:2)Avraham left for the Land of Moriah with no previous indication of where he was to offer Yitzchak up to God; that information was to be revealed to him at a later time. Sure enough, on the third day of his journey, Avraham “lifted up his eyes” and saw the Divine sign: a mountain encompassed with fire from earth to heaven and the Clouds of Glory hovering above it (Bereishis Rabbah 56:2).
The midrash says that Avraham had been uncertain as to who was to accompany him from that point onward. Aside from Yitzchak, Avraham had brought along Yishmael (his son from Hagar), and Eliezer, his trusted servant. Perhaps even Yitzchak was unworthy to complete the journey to Har HaMoriah, the future location of both Temples. Therefore, Avraham decided to perform a test: anyone who saw the miracle would accompany him up the mountain.
When Avraham asked Yitzchak what he saw in the distance, he answered, “The Divine Presence.” However, when he asked Yishmael and Eliezer what they saw, they answered, “Nothing.” Therefore:
Avraham told the men, “You stay here (peh, heh) with the donkey, while the boy and I go there (chof, heh), prostrate ourselves and then return to you.” (Bereishis 22:5)In gematria kollel (a form of gematria in which an extra number is added to the total of the letters for the word itself, signifying that the concept is “rooted” on a higher level of reality), the numerical value of the word “here” (peh, heh) is 86 (80+5+1), and of “there” (chof, heh) is 26 (20+5+1). The numerical value of Elokim is also 86 (1+30+5+10+40), and the numerical value of the Ineffable name, 26 (10+5+6+5). Hence, the simple Hebrew words for “here” and “there” in the above possuk are really Kabballistic symbols for different perceptions of God.
Accordingly, Yishmael and Eliezer were told by Avraham to remain behind with Elokim, the aspect of God that is veiled behind the natural world. The fact that they couldn’t perceive the miracle was indicative of their present level of spiritual awareness, and of the need to leave them behind when going the final distance to meet with the more revealed aspect of God. However, the fact that Yitzchak could see the Divine Presence hovering over Har HaMoriah indicated that he too was fitting to continue with his father.
Thus the name Elokim doesn’t only stand for the aspect of God that is judgment-oriented; it also alludes to the level on which God interacts with most of His world: the natural, less obvious level. On the other hand, the Ineffable Name alludes to God as He relates to His creation above nature, in a miraculous way. The truth is, even with regard to the Ineffable Name itself, we acknowledge this dual reality:
“This is My Name forever (lamed, ayin, lamed, mem).” (Shemos 3:15); it is written le-alam (lamed, ayin, lamed, mem, as opposed to, lamed, ayin, lamed, vav, mem), which means to be concealed ... It is written, “This is My Name forever” (to be concealed), and then it is written, “This is My memorial ...” The Holy One, Blessed is He, said, “My Name should not be said as it is written ...” (Kiddushin 71a)The way the Name is pronounced is according to another Name (h”bst) that refers to a lower level revelation of God in This World. Hence, Avraham named the place of the Akeidah: God will be seen, because, as a result of the Akeidah, he pierced through this level of revelation to a much higher one.
From this we see that God relates to us according to how we relate to Him. This lesson is inherent in the Shema, which exhorts us to not be fooled by nature and the rest of the world, to see Elokim and Hashem as One—to unify the two Names within our minds and our hearts.
In fact, the entire Yom Kippur service—all of the fasting, the praying, the introspection—comes down to this very message, encapsulized by the three words:
After spending an entire day in fasting and praying to rise above nature (on Yom Kippur, as opposed to other fast days, we fast because we resemble angels who do not require food), we confirm our growth by screaming out from our promordial depths our belief that God rules nature, that history has a course, and that there is a master plan for creation being fulfilled whether we can sense it or not. All of this is projected from the words: Hashem is Elokim.
At this stage of history, ever since Adam was expelled from Gan Aiden, this is not something necessarily visible to every physical eye. As the sea split for the Jews, and they miraculously made their way to freedom across instantly dried land, the Egyptians still felt confident enough to pursue them at the risk of their lives. Couldn’t they see the miracle? What about the Pillar of Fire that stood between them and the Jewish people at night, and the Pillar of Cloud that protected the Jews by day?
The answer is that the Egyptian people, like Yishmael and Eliezer before them, lived on the level of Elokim, of nature. They could witness phenomena, like two omers of munn remaining two, but they could not witness miracles, such as one omer of munn becoming two before their very eyes, because of a few words, such as “For the honor of Shabbos.”
Such miracles require the mind’s eye to be properly working before they can be perceived; theirs were covered by the intellectual doubt of Amalek. For the Egyptians, and all of the rest of mankind that has never quite been able to get a handle on Divine Providence, the miraculous hand of God was outside the “twenty-amos” range. They all have lacked da’as—the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding.
It is this spiritual growth and intellectual realization, which flows from Yom Kippur, that are the impetus to move toward and into the holiday of Sukkos. It is Sukkos which emphasizes our need to become less reliant on nature and more conscious of Divine intervention, once we move into our thatched-roof huts for a week, roofs whose height must not exceed twenty amos.
If so, then it becomes easier to posit why the Talmud saw fit to introduce an aggaddic discussion about Yosef’s sale—in Shechem for twenty pieces of silver—immediately after the halacha of not placing the menorah higher than twenty amos:
Rav Kahana said: Rav Nachman bar Munyumi elucidated in the name of Rebi Tanchum: A Chanukah light placed higher than twenty amos is unfit, just like [the roof of a] Sukkah and [an eiruv in] an alleyway ...This is a simple, but powerful midrash. It is telling us that, in spite of the fact that Yosef’s brothers saw him as an enemy of the future Jewish nation (Bereishis Rabbah 84:16); in spite of the fact that they judged him guilty and punishable by death; in spite of the fact that they had resolved to do away with him forever, with, what they had believed had been the blessing of God (according to Tosfos HaRosh, the brothers included God in an oath to not reveal to Ya’akov what actually occurred to Yosef), a miracle occurred for him: he was not killed by poisonous crawling creatures with whom he had been sharing the pit (Midrash Aggaddah, 37:24). It was an earlier version of Daniel in the lion’s den.
... Rav Kahana said: Rav Nachman bar Munyumi elucidated in the name of Rebi Tanchum: Why does it say, “The pit was empty and was without water ...” (Bereishis 37:24)? If the pit is empty, do I not know that it was without water? Why does the Torah say that it “was without water”? [To teach that] there wasn’t any water, but there were snakes and scorpions. (Shabbos 22a)
Why did the brothers not see this? Would it not have made a difference to their final decision? Could Divine intervention not have counted as a merit to re-try Yosef? Why didn’t the brothers notice that God was looking out for Yosef? Why, even the Arabs who came to purchase Yosef from his brothers had been spice merchants! Normally Arabs dealt in oil, which gives off a putrid smell:
Why did the possuk make known what they [the Arabs] were transporting? To show you the reward of the righteous; for, normally the Arabs transported tar and naptha whose smells are bad; for this one [Yosef] spices were arranged, to save him from the bad smell. (Rashi, Bereishis 37:25)Thus, though Yosef’s life had taken a turn for the worse, nevertheless, the hand of God was still very much involved. Very much involved, indeed! For, as the Torah shows us, the sale of Yosef was the first stage in his rise to power as second-in-command to Paroah himself, making him the second most powerful man in the entire world at that time (just as he had dreamed he would!).
However, the brothers had been oblivious to the whole thing. What they saw with their eyes they could not see with their minds, so powerfully were they connected to their points of view. Perhaps this is what the Talmud is alluding to by juxtaposing the midrash above with the halacha to place the menorah within twenty amos of the ground. After all, the brothers sold Yosef for twenty pieces of silver—in Shechem, of all places.
After all, what were the brother doing back at the “scene-of-the-crime,” so soon after Shimon and Levi had wiped out all of its inhabitants? Perhaps had Yosef met his brothers elsewhere, then they might have had a better chance to view Yosef through their minds’ eyes, and of avoiding the next twenty-two years of turmoil and suffering, caused by the mistaken sale of their brother.
But then again, that’s the way it had to be once the brothers had chosen to see history and their roles within God’s master plan the way they had. And because of this, the Jewish people descended for 210 years into the “iron furnace” of Egypt, to become forged into a nation.
For two selayim of material? Yes, and no, for what Ya’akov gave to Yosef more than his brothers was a higher level of da’as, a closer connection to the Fifty Gates of Understanding, and a clearer vision of how Hashem is Elokim. Ya’akov looked at Yosef as his spiritual heir, and therefore formed a very deep intellectual and spiritual bond with him. According to the Talmud, Yosef was also supposed to have had twelve sons like his father as well. (And would have, had it not been for the episode with the wife of Potiphar (Sota 36b)!) And, at the point of reunion, at the time Yosef had sent the wine back to his father, wine “that pleases the Elders,” he also alluded to the last section he and his father had learned together:
He [Yosef] gave them a sign [for their father] by revealing what they had been learning at the time they had become separated from each other: the section of the heifer whose neck must be broken [eglah arufah]. This is what it means, “And he [Ya’akov] saw the wagons [aggalot] Yosef had sent ...” (Bereishis 45:27), and why it doesn’t say, which Paroah had sent. (Rashi, Bereishis 45:27)We will see later how the eglah arufah, the heifer whose neck must be broken when a dead body is found outside a city (Devarim 21:1), contains an allusion to the subjugation of Da’as Elokim.
Without this high level of da’as, the brothers were without the necessary intellectual tool to take the extra gift of two selayim of milas (material) in stride, and overcome their pangs of jealousy and hatred. Denied this by their father, the midrash reveals, the important issues became trivialized, and a small and petty crisis festered until it became a catastrophe, affecting generations to come.
Above all, the midrashim are teaching us how exceedingly dangerous it is to court the intellectual blindness of twenty.
Understanding the meaning of the number twenty, and its couterpart, the letter, chof, we can better interpret the following possuk:
The life of Sarah was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiryat Arbah, which is Chevron in the Land of Canaan, and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah, and cried (ve-livkosah). (Bereishis 23:2)The commentators ask why the letter chof in the word “and he cried for her” is smaller than the rest of the letters of the word (whenever the Torah changes the size of a letter, it is signalling a message). The midrash explains that the small chof indicates that, though Avraham mourned the loss of his beloved wife Sarah, he didn’t cry excessively.
However, there is another midrash that, perhaps, indirectly explains the usage of the small chof in light of this discussion. After Moshe complained to God about the increased suffering of the Jewish people in Egypt, as a direct result of his demanding the release of the nation, God answered him:
“What a shame about the ones who are lost and are not to be found. Many times I revealed Myself to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov as El Shaddai, and they never questioned me, nor did they ask, ‘What is Your Name?’ I told Avraham, ‘Arise, and walk the length and width of the land that I am giving to you.’ (Bereishis 13:17). Yet, when he wanted a place to bury Sarah, he couldn’t find anything until he purchased land for four hundred shekels! (Sanhedrin 111a)The name of God referred to above is also a name used for a lower level of revelation of God in the world, like Elokim. When Moshe came back and asked God for His Name, he was in fact asking God to make His presence more manifest in the world. He wanted it to be impossible for Paroah, and the Jewish people, to deny the Divine Providence in the upcoming redemption.
However, God’s response to Moshe was, “It’s a shame!” Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov had to confront situations all the time that could easily have been misconstrued as My abandonment of them and as the cancellation of My promises to them. However, even when My hand wasn’t visible to them, they never doubted that all was for the good, and that all I did for them would end up fulfilling promises made to them. What was such an example of Avraham’s belief that “Hashem is Elokim”? When he had to buy a piece of land that he would later own to bury his righteous wife!
If so, then, perhaps the small chof in the possuk indicates this, and shows us how Avraham overcame the intellectual doubt and blindness that results from the hidden hand of God; perhaps the smaller chof is telling all of Avraham’s descendants that, in the mind of Avraham, Hashem and Elokim were one. Avraham was a man who saw with his mind’s eye, as well as with his actual eyes, and for that reason, was not subject to the visual limitations of twenty.
Interestingly enough, at this very place in the Torah, there is a direct allusion to Queen Esther, and Purim:
The life of Sarah was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years ...For, as Rebi Akiva pointed, the 127 years of Sarah’s life were the merit for the future Queen Esther to rule over the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of Persia! (Bereishis Rabbah 58:3) This was the same Rebi Akiva who was called the “root” of Torah Sh’b’al Peh (Pri Tzadik, Tu B’Shevat, 2), the same Akiva ben Yosef who was tortured to death by the Romans in “payment” for the sale of Yosef! (Musaf Service, Yom Kippur; The Ten Martyrs) and, whose life expired with the word One on his lips:
When Rabbi Akiva was taken out for execution, it was time for the recital of the Shema, and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the kingship of heaven. His students said to him,The basis of Rebi Akiva’s belief was that Hashem and Elokim are One, which is called Emunas Yisroel (Faith of Yisroel), (Leshem Shevo V’Achlamah, Dayah, 1:6:4:13) because it something that is not always perceiveable to the human eye. Emunah, or true faith in God, is not born out of intellectual blindness, but from a vision projected onto the mind’s eye, and it is this that gives the faithful Jew the courage to hang on to his belief when the rest of the world, and even some from his own people, turn their backs on God and His Providence.
“Our teacher, even at a time such as this one you accept upon yourself the kingship of heaven?!”
He answwered them, “All the days of my life I have been troubled by the possuk in the Shema, ‘And you shall love the Lord your God... with all your soul,’ which I interpret to mean ‘even if He takes your soul away from you. ’ I asked myself, ‘When shall I have the opportunity to fulfill this?’ Now that I have the opportunity to do so, to give up my life for God, should I not do it?” He prolonged the word One, and died while saying it...
The ministering angels said before the Holy One, Blessed be He, “He should have been from them that die by Your hand, O Lord.”
He replied to them, “The righteous person’s portion is in the World-to-Come.”
A voice went forth and proclaimed, “Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, that you are destined for the life of the World-to-Come!” (Brochos 61b; Menachos 29b)
Rebi Akiba’s advantage was that he could see history unfolding through his mind’s eye, an ability he learned from his mentor, Nachum Ish Gam Zu, called this because he always fended off despair with the phrase gum zu l’tova—this too is for the good (Ta’anis 21a).
What Nachum Ish Gam Zu meant was, even when the Presence of God seems missing, it is not; it is only hidden. “This too is for the good” wasn’t Nachum’s way of avoiding reality—it was his mental key to seeing into reality, to pierce the veil of nature and reveal the hidden hand of God. It was Nachum’s, and his closest student, Rebi Akiva’s goal to prove that the master plan for creation was always alive and well, though, perhaps, working covertly.
An Amalekian perspective tries to prove just the opposite. It tries to use the gap between the revealed hand of God and the hidden one as a proof that God is not there. It tries to use disasters, especially those that happen to the Jewish people, as proof positive that the Bris, the Covenant made with Avraham Avinu, is over. This is why:
For, as the Shema states, such belief is tantamount to idol worship, because to divide the Name of God is to imbue the lower physical world with independent powers. After all, if God’s not running the universe, and breathing fresh life into existence every single moment, then who is? There are only two possible answers, one of which is the Shema, and the other of which falls into the category of idol worship.
Thus, the main battle against Amalek, especially today, is an ideological one: [The Talmud states that Sancheriv confused all the nations (Brochos 28a), which resulted in intermarriage of the peoples of his time. Hence, there is no pure-bred Amaleki today, and the mitzvah is to destroy any person who lives by an Amalekian ideology (Rav Gershoni).]
The mitzvah of eradicating Amalek which is the battle against the physical Amalek is incumbent upon all Jews. However, to completely fulfill this mitzvah it means to do battle against the evil “Other Side” (Sitra Achrah), which is Amalek’s Upper Root ... (Leshem Shevo V’Achlamah, Dayah, 2:4:22:4)In other words, the battle against Amalek is a battle for da’as, for Da’as Elokim. Perhaps this helps to explain why the age for bringing the machtzis-hashekel, a symbol of such da’as, was twenty years and older. The shekel itself, the Torah tells us, was equal to twenty gerahs, and we learn this from a possuk that just happens to allude to the sale of Yosef:
Take five shekels a piece for each of them for the count, according to the holy shekel of the sanctuary which is equal to twenty gerahs. (BaMidbar 3:47)Furthermore, this explains why twenty years of age is the Divinely-designated time that a Jew is punishable for his actions (though a child is obligated to keep the mitzvos from the age of Bar Mitzvah and Bas Mitzvah onward, he, or she, is not punishable for any of his or her transgressions until the age of twenty). [Perhaps this is why Ya’akov could only remain with Lavan for twenty years altogether, after which his da’as would be eroded away.] Only at the age of twenty can a man or woman be considered at a sufficient level of intellectual and spiritual maturity to be able to take full responsibility for their actions. Hence:This is for the firstborn who were yet to be redeemed among the Israelites ... since the selling price of Yosef, the firstborn of Rachel, was twenty pieces of silver. (Rashi)
Until the age of twenty, the Holy One, Blessed is He, sits and waits for a man to become married; as soon as he reaches the age of twenty and doesn’t marry, He says, “This man does not want to marry—may his bones decay!” (Kiddushin 29b)For, the whole point of the husband-wife relationship is for the sake of da’as, as the Torah says,
Adam knew his wife ... (Bereishis 4:1)It was the intellectual short-sightedness of Yosef’s brothers that blinded them to the mistake they had been making in Shechem that fateful day. It had been a mistake they had quickly come to regret, especially once they had seen that their father, Ya’akov, had refused to be comforted over the loss of his son, Yosef.
[This is not as superficial as it sounds; according to Kabballah, it is the proper zivug (the union of the “male” and “female” parts of the lights) that rectifies all of creation. Perhaps this also why the fine for violating a maiden is fifty pieces of silver]
For this reason, the midrash tells us, the brothers did not drink any wine for the entire twenty-two year period Yosef was missing. It wasn’t until Yosef, then disguised as the Viceroy of Egypt, invited them to dine with him in Egypt that they broke their drinking-fast and imbibed wine at a seudah (Rashi, Bereishis 43:34).
Could this meal have been the precursor for the future Seudos-Purim? This many not be as far-fetched as it sounds, since, at this very seudah there is an allusion to Purim, when Yosef gave his brother Binyomin five times more gifts than the rest of his brothers. The Talmud asks the obvious question:
Is it possible that the very source of that righteous person’s suffering would be his own stumbling block (i.e., why would he incite more jealousy)? For, Rava bar Mechasyia said in the name of Rav Chama bar Guria, that Rav said: A man should never treat one son better than the others, for, because of the two selayim of material Ya’akov gave to Yosef more than the rest of his brothers, they became jealous of him and it eventually led to our fathers going down to Egypt. Rebi Binyomin bar Yafes answered: He [Yosef] was hinting that in the future his [Binyomin’s] descendant would wear the five pieces of clothing of kingship, as it says, “Mordechai went out with blue clothing of the kingdom ...” (Esther 8:15). (Megillah 16a)Why here? What did Yosef see that made him use the power of Ruach Hakodesh to allude to an event that wouldn’t occur for another eleven-hundred and seventy-eight years? Furthermore, why would the very same passage in the Talmud within which the above quote is found discuss the destruction of the Bais HaMikdosh, only to return back to the story of Yosef, and how he sent wine that “pleases the da’as of the Elders” to his father back in Canaan?
It all fits together. Amalek comes to intellectually blind the Jew. His opportunity is our lack of connection to the sod of Torah, and nature is his “instrument” of confusion. When Haman told Achashveros that the “Jews were sleeping,” he wasn’t implying that they were walking around with their eyes closed; he was referring to their mind’s eye. And, as mentioned earlier, the name Amalek can be read: ayin-malak, which means, “severed ayin” (i.e., 70, or “eye”).
It might also be pointed out at this point that Shimshon, the famous judge who erred through his eyes, and, as a result, had his eyes poked out by the Pelishtim, ruled for twenty years (Sota 9b).
Thus, an Amalekian view is one that excludes a vision of direct and obvious Divine Providence, a weak spiritual vision alluded to by the number twenty and the letter chof. The chof set between the shin and the mem in the name Shechem indicates that Shechem was an ideal setting for Amalek to do his work, which is why it was a place set aside for exile and punishment for that is the very cause of exile and suffering.
However, there is another very important principle to remember: whatever possesses the potential for anti-holiness must, by definition, possess potential for tremendous holiness. The fact that Shechem contains such powers of divisiveness indicates that somewhere within Shechem there is the power to unify. Indeed, the possuk said immediately after the Shema, and at the end of Yom Kippur:
alludes to this very potential. For, the words formed from the combination of the first letter of each word are:
The number thirty-six first and foremost alludes to the Hidden Light of Creation that shone for thirty-six hours before God hid it (Yerushalmi, Brochos 60b). However, it also alludes to the thirty-six tractates of the Talmud Bavli (B’nei Yissachar), Torah Sh’b’al Peh, that the midrash says brings one to this Hidden, Great Light (Tanchuma, Noach, 9). It alludes to the thirty-six that is the sum total of the word aiyeka, which God posed to Adam after he ate from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah. [(Bereishis 3:9): 1+10+20+5=36. If the letters are switched around, the words aiyeh chof—where is twenty—can be formed.]
Thirty-six also alludes to the thirty-six tzaddikim in every generation upon whom the world stands. (Sukkah 45b) It alludes to the thirty-six crowns that were placed upon Ya’akov Avinu’s aron while on its way for burial in Eretz Canaan. (Sota 11a)
The number is also connected to the thirty-six years Ya’akov had lived outside of Eretz Yisroel after fleeing Eisav. The Talmud states that the modesty of Rachel, Ya’akov’s wife, led to the eventual birth of Mordechai; (Megillah 13b) she died at the age of thirty-six; it alludes to the thirty-six years that passed before Moshe’s (who was born with this Light (Sota 12a)) birth after the Egyptian oppression began, and a number of other thirty-sixes that hint to the Ohr HaGanuz—the Hidden Light of Creation, the light of the Fifty Gates of Understanding.
Thirty-six also alludes to the thirty-six candles of the menorah ignited over eight days, [Interestingly enough, Ya’ir ben Menashe died in the battle of Ai because, says the Talmud (Sanhedrin 44a), the Jewish people became responsible for one another after they crossed the Jordan river. Literally, the name means, “He will illuminate, the son of Menashe,” which shares the same letters as the word, “hashemen,” which means “the oil.” As well, the same passage equates Yair ben Manashe to thirty-six people—half of the Sanhedrin!] which cannot be placed above twenty amos, which, the Talmud connects to the seventy sacrifices brought on behalf of the seventy nations during the holiday of Sukkos! (Shabbos 21b) In short, thirty-six is also a number that alludes to the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, and it is this da’as that is “buried,” albeit conceptually, in Shechem.
This duality is expressed by the fact that it was at Shechem that the Jewish people stopped to concretize their convenant with God. (Devarim 11:29) It was there that they camped upon entering the land after forty years in the desert. At Shechem they ascended Har Eival and Har Grizzim and pronounced the blessings for following the Torah, and the curses for straying from Torah (there were eleven curses, and as we have pointed out earlier, the number eleven is associated with da’as); at Shechem, which is also called Alonei Moreh—the Teaching Trees (Sota 32b)—the Jewish people were instructed to leave the Torah written on stones in seventy languages.
This is why Shechem was given to Yosef (who, like Mordechai, was saved because of his knowledge of seventy languages (Rashi, Bereishis 50:6)), and why he was buried there (Bereishis 48:22). It takes a Yosef, who has access to the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, to counteract Amalek and rectify Shechem. It was Yosef HaTzadik who could make the transition from the forty-ninth gate of understanding to the fiftieth, from the seventy to the seventy-first, from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah to the Aitz Chaim, for:
The fruit of the tzaddik is the Tree of Life. (Mishlei 11:30)a function of the Fifty Gates of Understanding (Pri Tzaddik, Shlach, 5).The refers to Yosef the Tzaddik, fruit of the Tree of Life. (Zohar Chadash, Chukas)
Thus, Hebrew is the seventy-first language, and the Jewish people are the seventy-first nation. (Yocheved, the mother of Moshe, was the seventy-first to be born into Ya’akov’s family (Bereishis 46:15, Rashi).) Seven corresponds to the seven days of creation and the physical, natural world; seventy, or forty-nine, amplifies this concept. As the seventy-first nation, we are expected to rise from the world within nature, to the world above nature, and in the process, to transform Shechem from being a place of punishment to one that can bring great light. What a “turnabout” that would be.
This is why Yosef, of whom the Talmud writes:
... For the eye that did not want to “consume” and to take pleasure from that which was not his, you will merit to eat an “eyeful”! (Zevachim 118b)was the one to carry on for Ya’akov, who is the trait of Tifferes, which, we already have said, is directly connected to the concepts of wine and da’as. There is a very deep and profound connection between Yesod, the trait of Yosef, and da’as itself, and the Fifty Gates of Understanding.
[This is referring to Yosef’s refusal of Potiphar’s wife’s many attempts to lure him into adultery (Bereishis 39:7). On the other hand, Yehudah fared less well, falling for Tamar who sat at the “Opening of the Eyes” (Bereishis 38:14). Elsewhere, the Talmud makes a comparsion between Iyov, who suffered, and Avraham who prospered (Babba Basra 16a). Iyov claimed to have made a “Covenant of the Eyes” (Iyov 31:1); yet, the Talmud claims that he violated that covenant by glancing at other women, while Avraham didn’t even look at his own wife! Avraham merited prophecy at the age of seventy, of all ages! The Vilna Gaon (Safra d’Tzniusa, 35c), speaks of the “Covenant of the Eyes.”]
It takes the Fifty Gates of Understanding to neutralize the negative forces of chof, or more importantly, utilize them in a positive way. It is the Fifty Gates of Understanding that extract the chof from between the shin and the mem, that obliterate the barrier between Hashem and Elokim, and allow the Name of God to become one, like so:
And on the day that this finally happens:
On that day Hashem will be One and His Name One. (Zechariah 14:9)However, until that historical moment arrives, the one that generations of Jews have been waiting for, the one that countless Jews have died to hasten; until Moshiach actually comes, the light buried within “Shechem” will remain a matter of Emunas Yisroel. Until this final and burdensome exile finally comes to a close, the light of thirty-six, and the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, will be visible only to the mind’s eye.
This is why (with the exception of Yom Kippur), Jews only whisper the second verse of the Shema, Blessed be the Name ... , to indicate that such unity, at present, is at best a hidden reality within the mind and heart of the faithful Jew (Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah, Kadosh, Sha’ar 7, Perek 6).
And this is why, when Ya’akov questioned the unity of the brothers just prior to his death (the Divine Presence left him when he began to reveal what would happend to the Jewish people in the end of days, and Ya’akov took this to mean that the brothers were unfitting to know the prophecy), they answered him with the words, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Tanchuma, VaYechi, 11)—the words of the Shema. It was their way of confirming to their father that the lesson of Shechem was real to them, and that they had taken the message to heart.
After all, the sum total of the letters of the names of all the sons of Ya’akov is equal to fifty ...
How did Ya’akov answer them?
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever!Ya’akov told them that, though they were being denied a glimpse of the future, all the darkness will one day end with great light. For holding fast to Emunas Yisroel, their descendants will merit the day when they will see the end of all the evil, and the time when God will remove the “glove” of nature that will conceal his hand, and:
On that day Hashem will be One and His Name One.The time referred to by Zechariah will be a time of Da’as Elokim, of achieving the da’as of our Creator and of the Seventy Elders, alluded to by wine and the number seventy. And the truth is, it won’t have been the first time in history that the nation will have achieved such a high level da’as, for all those who witnessed the spectacular splitting of the Sea and “lifted their eyes” (Sota 30b) uttered the famous words:
This is my God and I will glorify Him! (Shemos 15:2)Now that’s clarity. That’s a clarity associated with having the Presence of God dwelling right in the midst of the people, like in the time of the Mishkan. Indeed, this is, perhaps, indicated in the name Mishkan itself, which is spelled:He revealed Himself in His Glory and they were able to point at him, so-to-speak. (Rashi)
with the letter nun following the letter chof, and both of which follow a unified shin and mem.
This can help explain the supernatural plan of the Mishkan and surrounding Courtyard, whose opening was covered by a veil twenty amos in width.
Past this veil, one entered an area fifty amos by fifty amos, at the other end of which was the opening to the Mishkan itself. After this, if one crossed the entire distance of twenty amos, one found himself at the entrance to the Kodash Kodashim.
It was within this area, seventy amos from the twenty amos veil, that a tremendous miracle occurred: the Aron Hakodesh took up more space than it was physically allotted. (Megillah 10b) Maybe this is the deeper meaning of the words:
You shall make 50 loops on the end of the one curtain that is the outermost in the joining, and 50 loops on the edge of the curtain that joins to the second. You shall make 50 catches of copper, and put the catches into the loops, and join the tent together, that it may be one. (Shemos 26:11)The veil, twenty amos in width represents the blinded mind’s eye, confused by the world of nature. However, past the veil and through the fifty amos of the courtyard, corresponding to the Fifty Gates of Understanding, one moves beyond the natural world and enters the “Heichel,” the sanctuary of God’s world.
One—the Mishkan, the Jewish people, and the holy Name of God.
Then the number twenty symbolizes just the opposite; instead, it introduces a world of Divine revelation, which is why the combined name Hashem-Elokim occurs twenty times in the Torah. (Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah, Dayah, 2:4:9:4:5) In fact, the word Anochi, used in the Aseres HaDibros for the first an primal command to accept God as our God, is really the words:
That is, the Force behind all forces.
Even Dovid HaMelech (who had the plans drawn up for the first Bais HaMikdosh) and Shlomo his son (who executed the plans) echoed this concept when he constructed the D’vir (Sanctuary) in the first Bais HaMikdosh:
He prepared the Sanctuary within the house, within which to place the Aron Bris. Within the Sanctuary was twenty amos in length, twenty amos in width, and twenty amos in height ... (Melachim 1:6:19)Perhaps this is why the Aron HaKodesh had to spend twenty years in Kiryat Yearim before Dovid HaMelech was finally able to return it to the Heichel, after it had been stolen by the Pelishtim during Eli’s time. (Zevachim 118b. See Shmuel 1:7:1)
This then transforms the twenty from an instrument of blindness to one of vision, for the twenty amos of the Heichel puts a person a distance of seventy amos from the entrance, in a world of sod alluded to by the wine of Purim; at the door to a world above nature, the place of the Aron HaKodesh. This is why Avraham was the twentieth generations from Adam. In this world, the letter ayin and the number seventy are a reflection of the universe, of the Hidden Light of Creation,
“Gather for Me seventy men from the Elders of Israel ... ” (BaMidbar 11:16) ... We have already explained that this is a very important number, found often in the words of Chazal (i.e., there are seventy nations, seventy chief angels, seventy angels that surround the Kisei HaKavod, seventy on the Sanhedrin over which Moshe presided, etc.) ... This number incorporates all the Forces, which include from the Above Forces, of which there are seven, each containing ten. It is fitting that because of this number, the glory of the Shechina should dwell upon them (the Elders), and this is the sod of the seventy souls that descended with our fathers to Egypt, corresponding to the seventy chief angels that overpower Yisroel during a time of exile. (Yalkut Reuveni, BaMidbar 75)It also alludes to the inner essence of the individual (which is revealed through one’s outlook and perspective (Ta’anis 24a: A bride whose eyes are beautiful need not be examined for flaws (i.e., if her eyes express warmth, she may be assumed to have good character traits))), expressed by the word Neshama itself:
That is, “nun” is “there” (shumma)—the Fifty Gates of Understanding, which emanate from the same place as the Jewish soul, are there. And as far as God allows Amalek to go, He never lets him come this far.
Thus, within the Mishkan, Shechem is transformed from a place of golus (exile) to a place of geulah (redemption). In the Mishkan, the hidden light is revealed—the unity is achieved.
Ya’akov wanted to establish the Mystery of Unity below, and composed the twenty-four letters of, “Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom forever.” He didn’t make it twenty-five letters since the Mishkan had yet to be built. Once the Mishkan was built, the first word was completed ... With regard to this it says, “God spoke to him from the Appointed Tent, saying ...” (VaYikrah 1:1), which has twenty-five letters. (Zohar, 2:139b)Combined, the “Shema” and “Blessed be the Name ...” total fifty letters, and the unity found in the Mishkan, and later, the Temple. No wonder Achashveros was prepared to promise Esther up to “half the kingdom,” that is, up until a re-built Bais HaMikdosh, (Megillah 11b) up until a re-built prism through which the light and da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding could filter through and down to the seemingly forlorn Jewish nation. [As a side point, the Torah says that the valuation of a Jewish male, applicable from twenty years and up is fifty shekels of silver (VaYikrah 27:3).]
In fact, this is what probably concerned Haman the most. For, as the Talmud points out, there are three mitzvos incumbent upon the Jewish nation upon entering Eretz Yisroel: appointing a king, eradicating Amalek, and building the Bais HaMikdosh—in that order. (Sanhedrin 20b) Haman knew, or at least sensed, that building the Bais HaMikdosh was predicated on his annihilation.
This is where the chapter about twenty, fifty, and seventy ends, but it is precisely where the story of Purim begins.