Thursday, December 29, 2005

GARDEN OF TORAH: An End and a Beginning (Mikeitz)


Kislev 28, 5766 * December 29, 2005


Parshat Mikeitz

An End and a Beginning
- - - - - - - - - - - -

1. The Truth of the Torah

In the world at large, there are many opinions regarding the narratives of the Torah. Some maintain that all the stories should be understood as symbolism and allegory. Their intent, they say, is to teach us lessons in Divine service, not to chronicle history.

The traditional view holds that every narrative in the Torah must be considered a record of events which actually transpired.

Chassidic thought takes a third approach. To quote a kabbalistic expression: The Torah speaks about the upper realms, and alludes to the lower realms.

This means that the narratives of the Torah are descriptions of the interrelation between Divine attributes in the spiritual realms. Nevertheless, since material existence is an outgrowth of spiritual existence, whatever happens in the spiritual realms is reflected in this world. Thus, every narrative in the Torah is a record of an actual event, but that event represents far more than what transpires in the material world. It is a dynamic movement beginning within the sublime spiritual planes and having ramifications on all levels of existence.

This approach expresses the positive dimensions of both the views mentioned. On one hand, the historical integrity of the Torah is preserved. Conversely, the relevance of the Torah is not as a book of records, but as a guide, reflecting spiritual truths that should be applied in our Divine service.

2. Infinity in Shackles

These concepts are reflected in this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Mikeitz, which focuses on the release of Yosef from prison. Yosef serves as an analogy for the entire Jewish people. For the name Yosef, meaning, “increase,” refers to an infinite and unbounded potential for growth, i.e., the soul we all possess, which is “an actual part of G-d from above.”

Moreover, the prayer Rachel recited when naming Yosef, “May G-d add on
(yosef) to me another son (ben acher),” reflects the spiritual mission of the Jewish people. Entities which have hitherto been “acher” (“other” — estranged from their G-dly core) — are brought close and manifest the intimacy of “ben” (“a son”).

The prison in which Yosef is held refers to the body, and to material existence as a whole. These tend to confine the infinite power of the soul and deny it expression. Although G-d gave man His Torah, His will and wisdom, the Torah is also affected by the limits of material existence, and its G-dly source is not always evident.

3. An End to Limits

These concepts are alluded to in the opening phrase of this week’s reading: “Vayehi mikeitz shenasayim yamim, - And it came to pass at the end of two years.” “Two years” refers to the Torah, which contains two elements, the Written Law and the Oral Law. As the Torah exists within the confines of material existence, its power appears to have a “ketz,” an end and a limit. Nevertheless, because Yosef — in analogy, the Jewish people — is essentially unlimited, the “ketz,” the restrictions of worldly existence, ultimately become “vayehi,” a thing of the past. Yosef leaves prison and becomes the ruler of Egypt.

In the analog: a Jew is sent into this world to reveal G-dliness. This is the purpose of his being, and eventually this purpose will be achieved. The material nature of worldly existence may initially restrict the expression of a Jew’s true nature, but the constraints will be temporary. Ultimately, just as Yosef became the ruler of Egypt, every Jew will become a source of influence and power, showing how infinite G-dliness can permeate finite material existence.

4. Making the End a Beginning

The latter concept can be amplified by coupling a point of Hebrew grammar with a mystical concept. The word “Mikeitz” can mean either “at the beginning” or “at the end”. Similarly, the Zohar speaks of the “ketz dismola,” “the left end,” and the “ketz hayamin”, “the right end.”

To apply these concepts to our Torah reading: the question is whether “Mikeitz” refers to the end — the final two years — of the trials and tribulations Yosef suffered in Egypt, or to the beginning — the two years leading to his assumption of power. According to the first interpretation, “Mikeitz” refers to the most difficult challenges Yosef faced in Egypt, for it is before daybreak that the darkness becomes most powerful. According to the second interpretation, “mikeitz” refers to the dawning of Yosef’s redemption.

There is a connection between the two. Hidden within the challenges of “ketz dismola” — the last moments of exile — are G-dly sparks. Confronting these challenges taps these G-dly energies and brings “ketz hayamin”, the beginning of the Redemption.

The entire Jewish people are at times referred to by the name Yosef. May the transition experienced by Yosef become manifest for our people as a whole. For we too have confronted the hardships of exile and are awaiting the revelation of “ketz hayamin”, the first rays of the Redemption. May this take place in the immediate future.

(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 198ff; Vol. XXIII, pgs. 37-38 Sichos Shabbos Parshas Mikeitz, 5751)


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