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Chapter Six

The Shevatim

The entire story of Yosef and his brothers can be seen through the eyes of Chanukah and thirty-six. There are not many gematrios to speak of that allude to the wonderful world of thirty-six, perhaps because the entire story itself is such an allusion:
The tribes were involved with the sale of Yosef;
Yosef was immersed in mournful thoughts about his separation from his father;
Reuven was involved with mourning over his sin;
Ya'akov was mourning for Yosef;
Yehuda was busy taking a wife for himself (Tamar).
And the Holy One, Blessed is He, was busy creating the light of Moshiach.
Bereishis Rabbah 85:2
The midrash is not merely summarizing disconnected events of the day. Rather, what the midrash means to indicate is that all the events that occurred in the story of Yosef and his brothers, whether they realized it or not, were min hashamayim - directed by Heaven. These events would make possible the revelation of the light of Moshiach, the Hidden Light of creation, the light of the thirty-six candles of Chanukah. (B'nei Yisaschar says that every Chanukah at the time of lighting, the Hidden Light is revealed, and this is the light of Melech Moshiach.)

It is not unlike a dreidel which rotates when spun from the top. (Ta'amei HaMinhagim 859: The reason why we play dreidel on Chanukah, and why at Purim we use a grager, is because at Chanukah time the initiation was not from below, but from above ... For this reason we play dreidel and grip it from the top. At Purim time, they instituted fasts, sackcloth, and ashes, which was an initiation from below; thus we grip [the grager] from below.) In the case of the shevatim, the "spinner" was the Master of the Universe, and the body of the dreidel was Yosef and his brothers. But the brothers seemed to see the events of their lives differently, viewing themselves as the "spinners" - the ones in control. It was this perception that was the source of their errors and suffering.

The first such example of error due to misperception was the incident in Sh'chem. (Bereishis 34:1) After Ya'akov's daughter was violated by Sh'chem (the son of the ruler of Sh'chem), the brothers, understandably, were enraged; it had been a gross violation of the sanctity of the family of Ya'akov. However, when Sh'chem came with his father to Ya'akov's camp to make peace, and to marry Deenah, the brothers negotiated a settlement:

They said to them, 'We cannot give our sisters to a man who is uncircumcized; this would be disgraceful to us. We can only agree to do this if you become like us and every male circumcize himself ... ' Bereishis 34:14
As the Torah reports, the men of Sh'chem consented. However, to Shimon and Levi, this act was not "compensation" enough for the violation of their sister. On the third day after the milah, the day on which they were weakest, the people of Sh'chem were attacked and wiped out by Shimon and Levi.

Their act of zealousness was not met with approval by their father, who must have been equally if not more incensed at the violation of his daughter.

Ya'akov said to Shimon and Levi, 'You have confounded me and given me a bad reputation among the Canaanites and Perizites who live in the land. I have a small number of men. They can band together and attack me, and my family and I will be wiped out.' Bereishis 34:30

Confounded me ... The Canaanites had a tradition that they would be defeated by the sons of Ya'akov, but not until we increased and inherited the land;[and for this reason] they remain quiet. - Rashi

However, now they will think the time has come and attack us [while we are few in number]. - Sifsei Chachamim

It seemed that Ya'akov and his sons had two different approaches to the crisis. Whereas Shimon and Levi took the initiative to avenge the honor of the family and teach the world a moral lesson, Ya'akov decided to take the matter in stride. What happened to Deenah was min hashamayim. (The midrash (to which Rashi refers, 32:23) cites that, because Ya'akov hid Dinah from Eisav at the time of the confrontation just prior to the incident at Sh'chem, she was later violated.) Recognizing this and living with this reality was what Ya'akov perceived to be the true challenge of the moment.

However, the brothers did not apply the lesson taught at Sh'chem. They continued to take matters into their own hands, often taking an initiative that was not theirs to take. It was this boldness that led to their hatred and jealousy of Yosef, which was the catalyst to sell him into slavery.

Yosef was Ya'akov's prodigy for many reasons, none of to which the brothers could relate. In Yosef, Ya'akov saw the continuation of the spiritual legacy begun by Avraham and further cultivated by his father Yitzchak and himself; the brothers saw spiritual ruination and an instigator. While the brothers saw the "surface" of Yosef which seemed negative, (The midrash says that Yosef appeared to his brothers like a tattle-taling, self-centered, egotistical boy, a viewpoint that was totally incorrect but not unfounded, at least superficially.) Ya'akov looked beyond and saw only spiritual greatness. For this reason, the brothers conspired to rid Jewish ancestry of this "bad" seed, without first consulting their father .

When Yosef was sent by his father to inquire after the peace of his brothers who were out grazing the herds, he obeyed without second thought though he knew how his brothers felt towards him. Upon seeing Yosef coming in the distance, the brothers first thought to kill him. However, Yehuda's mercy prevailed, and they instead threw Yosef into a waterless pit:

... And the well was empty, there was no water inside it (Bereishis 37:24). From the fact that it says the well was empty, would it not be clear there was no water inside? Rather, it teaches you that there was no water, but there were snakes and scorpions. Shabbos 22a
What makes this midrash fascinating is that it is found in the only gemora that deals with Chanukah. And the author of this statement is the same author who stated just previously:
... Chanukah candles placed higher than twenty amos are possul [they do not fulfill the mitzvah since the eye cannot see clearly something placed at that height].
Perhaps there is another connection between the two Talmudic statements, one that answers another question: Why didn't Yosef's brothers see the miracle that Yosef survived in a pit full of snakes and scorpions? Had they recognized this miracle, perhaps they would have come to the realization that Yosef was more righteous than they had first thought; perhaps they would have changed their plans. The Talmud seems to allude to the fact that Yosef was in fact beyond their eyeshot - twenty amos below the ground, (The equivalent of thirty feet. The Hebrew word mayim is equal to the same mispar katan as thirty-six, i.e., nine.) and more deeply, beyond their mind's eyeshot. (In other words, so certain were they of their thinking, that it mentally blinded them to Yosef's fate. He might as well have been twenty amos away.) As Divine Providence would have it, a wagon train of Midianites passed by at that time, and the brothers decided to sell Yosef into slavery.
The brothers sat down and ate a meal. When they looked up they saw an Arab caravan approaching from Gilead. The camels were carrying gum, balsam, and resin, transporting them to Egypt. Bereishis 37:25

The camels were carrying ... Why does the verse reveal what they were carrying? To make known the reward of the righteous. For it was the way of Arabs to transport kerosene and tar which have a terrible odor; but for this [the sale of Yosef] spices were prepared which do not smell bad (i.e., God arranged that they carry spices knowing that Yosef would travel among them). - Rashi

This fact too was hidden from the eyes of the brothers. They acted with the full conviction believing that they were in the right, (They even bound God by an oath to not tell Ya'akov what they had done and that Yosef was still alive.) while Yosef was in fact on his way to become viceroy of Egypt. This was the beginning of the fulfillment of his dreams; he was assisting in the making of the light of Moshiach.

The Midianites, the Torah relates, sold Yosef to Potiphar, Paroah's chief butcher . It did not take long for Yosef to earn the full respect of his master, who quickly made him responsible over his entire house. The only problem was that Potiphar's wife also took notice of Yosef, for different reasons, but this too was min hashamayim:

Yosef was handsome (Bereishis 39:6)... He saw himself as a ruler and began to eat and drink [as one of royalty] and curled his hair. The Holy One, Blessed is He, said, 'Your father mourns [for you] and you curl your hair! I will sic a bear on you (i.e., the wife of Potiphar).' - Rashi
In the meantime, the brother who was Yosef's chief antagonist was faring just as badly. Yehuda had lost the respect of his brothers after they saw the impact the loss of Yosef had had on their father (it was Yehuda's decision to sell him). And if that was not enough, he was made to appear as a fool through the incident of Tamar.

Yehuda married a wife who bore him three children, Eir, Onan, and Shelah. The oldest son, Eir, married Tamar, a righteous woman. (She was the daughter of Noach's son, Shaim (Bereishis Rabbah 85:11).) However, Eir himself was not so righteous and deserved death from Heaven. After he died and left his wife childless, Yehuda told Onan to marry his brother's wife in order to prevent the end of his dead son's name. (After Mt. Sinai and the giving of Torah, it became a mitzvah to perform yibum, i.e., a man is to marry his brother's childless widow (Devarim 25:5).)

However, Onan was more like his brother than his sister-in-law, and he too angered God and deserved death. After Onan died, Yehuda was worried that Shelah too might suffer the same fate if he married Tamar. He instead instructed her to return to her father's house for a while until Shelah was older.

Time passed, and even though Shelah was now of an age to marry Tamar, Yehuda did not arrange it. Knowing that her fate lay with Yehuda's family, Tamar took the initiative to complete the process that Yehuda had started many years before.

Dressed as a harlot to attract Yehuda, Tamar positioned herself at crossroads near the place Avraham used to live, a place she knew every passer-by stopped to visit. Yehuda noticed her, but recognized her as a harlot and passed her by. But Heaven knew who she really was and asked, "From which union will kings arise if not from this one?" (Bereishis Rabbah 85:8)

Thus, even against his will, Yehuda was drawn towards the veiled Tamar. In a sense it was another act of "measure-for-measure," for one who does not recognize the hand of God becomes a pawn in His plan. Had Yehuda been more keenly aware of Divine Providence, he might have noticed that something unique was happening.

A deal was struck between Yehuda and Tamar for her hire: One kid goat from the flock. In the meantime, Yehuda was to leave his signet ring, his cloak and his staff as a pledge until he could make good on his word. Yehuda later went his way, unaware that, min hashamayim Tamar had conceived a child who would be the ancestor of Dovid HaMelech, and eventually, Melech Moshiach.

After Yehuda returned home, he sent the kid goat he had promised in exchange for the pledge he had left behind. The "harlot," however, was nowhere to be found. Afraid that further pursuit of her would lead to humiliation, Yehuda left well enough alone and went on with his life.

Three months later Yehuda was informed that Tamar was pregnant. Being the daughter of a priest, she was punishable by death, and the necessary arrangements were made to carry out her execution by burning. (I saw in a sefer some time ago that the burning was to take place on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev - the future day of Chanukah!) In the meantime, Tamar said nothing to reveal the father of her children (she was pregnant with twins).

At the last moment. Tamar sent the signet ring, cloak and staff to Yehuda saying, "The man to whom these things belong, he is the one who made me pregnant." Tamar reasoned that if Yehuda admitted that they belonged to him , then she would be saved. However, if he chose to remain silent, then she was prepared to die with her secret.

But Yehuda did not remain silent:

Yehuda recognized [the ring, cloak, and staff] and said, 'She is more righteous than I am. She did this, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.' Bereishis 38:26
Thus Tamar was saved from a fiery death, and Yehuda was forced to admit his error. But more importantly, the Master of the Universe brought creation one step closer to the light of Melech Moshiach with the birth of Peretz.

In Egypt, the "bear" hunted Yosef. Time after time, the wife of Potiphar sought Yosef, but to no avail. On one occasion, after Yosef refused his master's wife, she accused him of attacking her. To save face, Potiphar had no choice but to heed his wife and put Yosef in jail. This seemed a downturn in events as prison was a far cry from the lifestyle Yosef had enjoyed in the house of Potiphar. But this was an important step in elevating Yosef to an even higher position.

In prison, Yosef also earned the respect of his new master the prison warden. In the meantime, Divine Providence had Paroah's chief butler and wine steward thrown into the same cell as Yosef, and both servants dreamed. The next morning, they were in search of a dream interpreter; Yosef availed himself to explain the meaning of their dreams. For the wine steward, he interpreted favorably, predicting a return to his former glory. For the baker, however, he predicted capital punishment.

Up until that point, Yosef had performed well, ascribing his ability to interpret dreams to God Himself. But now Yosef added words that cost him two extra years in prison. He told the wine steward:

When things go well for you, please do a kindness for me and mention me to Paroah, and have me released from this prison. I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews. Here also I did nothing, and yet they placed me in this pit. Bereishis 40:14
But later the verse says,
... And the chief wine steward did not remember Yosef and forgot him. Bereishis 40:23

Forgot him ... Because Yosef depended upon him to remember him, he had to spend two extra years [in prison]. - Rashi

One might ask: Did not Yosef make a simple effort to free himself from prison? Was his effort so unreasonable as to constitute a violation of trust in God? Some answer this question by stating that as Yosef haTzadik, he should have not made even such a simple request; on his level of spiritual greatness, it was enough to trust entirely in God.

However, perhaps Yosef's error was something different. After all, why did Yosef feel compelled to explain how he arrived in prison, revealing that he was kidnapped and falsely accused? Was not all of that min hashamayim and therefore for the good? Perhaps, as much as Yosef knew that, it wasn't real enough on the level it could have been to him. The two extra years in prison made the hand of God in his life even more apparent than before. It prepared him to be the vehicle to teach this central theme of, "everything originates from Heaven," to his brothers, who still grappled with the issue.

After the two years passed, Paroah too dreamed, the famous dream. He dreamed of seven thin cows that consumed seven healthy cows and of seven poor stalks that consumed seven healthy stalks. No one in the entire kingdom was able to interpret the dream to Paroah's satisfaction, which reminded the wine steward of a young Jew in prison who had a knack for interpreting dreams accurately. After thirteen years, the time had finally come to fulfill Yosef's boyhood dream of becoming a ruler.

As the Torah relates, Yosef so satisfactorily interpreted Paroah's dreams that Paroah saw in him wisdom beyond his years and the help of Heaven. For this reason, he elevated Yosef from prisoner to Second-in-Command, which is exactly where he had to be to drive the message of Chanukah home to his brothers. Paroah called him, Tzafnas Pa'aneach, (Bereishis 41:45) which, as Targum Onkeles translates, means the (man through whom) the hidden is revealed.

As Yosef had interpreted, Egypt enjoyed seven years of plenty, which were followed by years of terrible famine. However, the famine was not confined to Egypt; Canaan too ran out of food, and the brothers were forced to go to Egypt in search of food that Yosef had stored during the years of plenty. The stage was set for the dramatic confrontation between Yosef and his brothers, who had not seen him for twenty-two years.

The entire famine which affected all the nations of the world at that time was to bring the brothers down to Egypt in search of food, in order to resolve their conflict. The entire history of the Jewish people depended upon this resolution, for it was to prepare the way for the light of the Moshiach, and the entire history of the world for that matter. And once they arrived, and Yosef took note of their arrival, the process of resolution accelerated towards its climax.

Yosef saw his brothers and recognized them and acted as a stranger towards them, speaking harshly, 'From where did you come?' They answered, 'From Canaan, in search of food.' Yosef recognized them, but they did not recognize him ... Bereishis 42:7
... because they never saw the potential in Yosef to ever become what he had become ... because they never saw the hand of God in his dreams, and in all that occurred ... because they only looked at the surface, which blinded them to that which was hidden.
And Yosef remembered his dreams that he had dreamed and said to them, 'You are spies who have come to see where the land is vulnerable!' Bereishis 42:8
The accusation shocked the brothers, who took it at face value. They were caught off guard and put on the defensive, forced to clear their names. Had they been accustomed to looking beyond the surface for the truth, they may have broken Yosef's code. They may have caught on that Yosef, by accusing them of being spies (m'raglim), was in fact revealing his hidden identity.
m'raglim is an acronym for ma'imi Rochel g'navtem, l'Midyanim Yishma'ailim m'chartem (from my mother Rachel you kidnapped me; to the Midyanim and Arabs you sold me). - Bris Shalom
Perhaps Yosef was testing them to see if their perspectives had changed. The fact that they could not understand his clue indicated that they had not, and therefore Yosef embarked upon a course that would dramatically disturb his brothers and eventually shock them into seeing the truth. As Yosef knew, there was no other way to correct what they had done wrong and to set Jewish history back on track.

On the defensive, the brothers felt compelled to tell Yosef about their family, which is what he wanted. This set the stage to bring Binyomin down to Egypt and replay the incident of the sale of Yosef. The brothers were given their supplies and the second oldest brother, Shimon was kept as a guarantee that they would return with Binyomin, Yosef's brother from the same mother which would verify their story. (This, perhaps, was another clue, for it was Shimon who initiated the incident in Sh'chem.) The rest of the brothers were free to return, for, as Yosef said,

I fear God (Bereishis 42:18). (This was another clue, for it was unusual for an Egyptian ruler to express such a sentiment.)
The events of what had just occurred hit the brothers like a nightmare, which made the hand of God ever more obvious:
Each man said to his brother, 'This is happening because we are transgressors, because we saw the suffering of our brother [Yosef, twenty-two years earlier] and how he pleaded with us, yet we did not pay attention to him.' Bereishis 42:21
However, it wasn't until they reach the inn, on their way back to Canaan, that they really felt like fugitives:
They loaded the food onto their donkeys and left. One of them opened his sack to feed his donkeys at an inn and saw his money at the top of his pack. Each one said to his brother, 'My money [with which I paid for the food] has been returned!' 'It's in my pack!' Their hearts sank. 'What is this that God has done to us?' they asked each other with trembling voices. Bereishis 42:26
In spite of this, it still did not occur to them that Yosef was behind everything. Their perspective did not permit them to see the hidden. In the meantime, they returned home to their father Ya'akov, who was still mourning the loss of Yosef. (Often a sign that the person has not really died, which Ya'akov may have intuited.) They related what had happened and delivered the horrible news that another son was missing.

Though they were prepared to return to Egypt to free Shimon, by presenting their youngest brother as proof of their plea of innocence, Ya'akov would have nothing of it. Binyomin was the only remaining son of the wife he loved most (Rachel, Yosef's mother), who had died at age thirty-six. Why place this son in jeopardy?

All the confusion and trouble did not entirely humble Yehuda, as Rashi indicates. After Ya'akov refused to send his sons back with Binyomin as they themselves would have done, Yehuda remarked:

We'll wait for the old man until there ceases to be bread in the house. - Rashi
It did not sound as if Yehuda yet respected his father's viewpoint in matters. Like always, the brothers felt that their way of seeing and doing things better fit the needs of the future Jewish people. But, with each mistake the tables turned until they were forced to submit to the views of Ya'akov and Yosef.

When the brothers eventually returned to stand before Yosef with Binyomin, they first encountered Yosef's overlord (his son Menashe, which also spells Shmoneh, eight, and hashemen, the oil). Immediately they recounted finding their money, preempting any accusation that might be added to the previous one of being spies. Menashe's answer must have really taken them by surprise:

'Peace be unto you. Don't worry. Your God, the God your father gave this hidden treasure to you ...' Bereishis 43:23
Again, it was an Egyptian saying words that should have come out of the mouth of a son of Ya'akov. More mystery, more clues ...
U'tvoach tevach v'hachain - Slaughter and prepare ... (Bereishis 43:16)

Prepare ... Remove the gid hanashe in front [of the brothers]. Chullin 91a

The five last letters of U'tvoach tevach v'hachain spell Chanukah, and their total numerical value is equal to 44, the number of candles of Chanukah (including the shamashim) - Eliyahu Rabbah, Chanukah 10.

Yosef was referring to the meal that he planned to have with his brothers after they returned from Canaan with Binyomin. He wanted to remove the gid hanashe which is hidden within the leg and which alludes to the struggle Ya'akov had with the angel of Eisav after returning for small jars of oil. This was another hint to the brothers. Yosef was bringing home his message.

After a peaceful encounter, true to his word, Yosef freed Shimon and returned him to his brothers. They dined, and after they had finished, loaded up their donkeys with provisions. They prepared to go home, but when they were not looking, Yosef had his silver chalice hidden in the sack of Binyomin.

The brothers had not traveled far before Yosef's men caught up to them, and accused them of stealing the goblet - the worst nightmare they could have dreamed. Once the chalice was found in Binyomin's sack, they had had all they could take. Tearing their clothes like mourners, they returned to Egypt defeated and downtrodden.

Even still, they accused Binyomin of being guilty rather than assuming his innocence:

'Thief, son of a thief ... son of Rachel who stole Lavan's items of idol worship.' Bereishis Rabbah 92:8
Just as they had wrongly accused Yosef, they wrongly accused Yosef's brother. Just as they had judged "guilty" based upon what their eyes saw, and not what was apparent to the mind's eye, they judged Binyomin to be guilty based upon surface evidence. In doing so they set themselves up for a very hard fall, when the hand of God, and the hand of Yosef would become perfectly apparent.
Yehuda said, 'What can we say to my master, and what is our righteousness. God has found the transgression of your servants ...' Bereishis 44:16
In other words, Yehuda was telling Yosef, the situation has become so ludicrous that we don't even suspect you anymore. When things this strange happen, it is the hand of God working directly in the affairs of man, and obviously He wants us to be enslaved to you for our past mistake.

But, Yosef was not finished yet. Yehuda's admission was only a partial one. Even when events don't seem so strange, the hand of God is there working, and it is for us to assume this, rely upon it and show appreciation for it. Once the brothers understood this, Yosef could prove that each one could be a vehicle to fulfill His will. Nothing stands in the way of fulfillment once a person lives with this reality. But overlook the hand of God, and you become a mere pawn in His master plan of making the light of Melech Moshiach, of ushering in the grand finale of history.

Back in Egypt, Yehuda confronted Yosef when the latter turned down his request to spare Binyomin and instead enslave the rest of the brothers. According to the midrashim, the ensuing discussion threatened to become quite violent, at which point Yosef felt compelled to announce what he had held back until just the right moment:

'I am Yosef' (Bereishis 45:3).
The brothers were completely speechless and terrified. They were afraid of Yosef, but more importantly, they were afraid of how, for twenty-two years they had totally missed the point. They had thought that they had been the ones in control the whole time, only to find out that they had instead been pawns in God's plan to elevate Yosef and bring the Jewish people down to Egypt.

Nothing is worse than being only a pawn in God's history; nothing is worse than misreading the opportunities of life. Nothing is worse than finding out that you were concealing the light of creation, when you had thought that all along you were revealing it.

The rest of the story of Yosef and his brothers is history. The brothers recovered from their shock well enough to return home and reveal to Ya'akov what he had suspected all along. And with the news of Yosef's physical and spiritual survival came the need to emigrate from Canaan, to descend into the exile foretold to Avraham over one hundred years before.

Finally, after twenty-two long years, the "spark" was reunited with the "flame," and a new era of Jewish and world history was ready to begin. The hidden had been revealed, and the light of creation was allowed to shine for a time. It was peace and tranquillity that Yisroel enjoyed the last seventeen years of his life. (The age at which Yosef was sold. The Mispar Katan is Eight, alluding to the eight days of Chanukah.)

The period of transition came to a close, and the torch that had previously been passed from individual to individual would now be passed to an entire nation whose mission it would be to shine with the light of creation. And the individual responsible for this phase of the transition had himself been a repository of the spectacular light of the first day of creation.

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