Torah Weekly

For the week ending 7 January 2023 / 14 Tevet 5783

Parshat Vayechi

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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After 17 years in Egypt, Yaakov senses his days drawing to a close and summons Yosef. He has Yosef swear to bury him in the Machpela Cave, the burial place of Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka.

Yaakov falls ill and Yosef brings to him his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Yaakov elevates Ephraim and Menashe to the status of his own sons, thus giving Yosef a double portion that removes the status of firstborn from Reuven. As Yaakov is blind from old age, Yosef leads his sons close to their grandfather. Yaakov kisses and hugs them. He had not thought to see his son Yosef again, let alone Yosef's children. Yaakov begins to bless them, giving precedence to Ephraim, the younger, but Yosef interrupts him and indicates that Menashe is the elder. Yaakov explains that he intends to bless Ephraim with his strong hand because Yehoshua will descend from him, and Yehoshua will be both the conqueror of Eretz Yisrael and the teacher of Torah to the Jewish People.

Yaakov summons the rest of his sons in order to bless them as well. Yaakov's blessing reflects the unique character and ability of each tribe, directing each one in its unique mission in serving G-d. Yaakov passes from this world at age 147. A tremendous procession accompanies his funeral cortege up from Egypt to his resting place in the Cave of Machpela in Chevron.

After Yaakov's passing, the brothers are concerned that Yosef will now take revenge on them. Yosef reassures them, even promising to support them and their families. Yosef lives out the rest of his years in Egypt, seeing Efraim's great-grandchildren. Before his death, Yosef foretells to his brothers that G-d will redeem them from Egypt. He makes them swear to bring his bones out of Egypt with them at that time. Yosef passes away at the age of 110 and is embalmed. Thus ends Sefer Bereishet, the first of the five Books of the Torah. Chazak


A Taste of Honey

“…and he will provide kingly delicacies” (49:20)

The world in which we live is a very round place.

A chicken's egg, the human eye, the spawn of tadpoles, an oyster, a grain of sand, the stem of a flower, the suction pad of a squid, the rings of a tree trunk, the moon and the sun. And, of course, the world itself.

There are few squares in creation. There’s something called a cross sea: A cross sea (also referred to as a squared sea or square waves) is a sea stateof wind-generated ocean wavesthat form nonparallel wave systems. Cross seas have a large amount of directional spreading. This may occur when water wavesfrom one weather system continue despite a shift in wind. Waves generated by the new wind run at an angle to the old. Iron pyrite crystals come close to being perfectly cubic. But Most of the natural world is built on endless permutations of the circle.

Why? Why is the circle the ideal form of creation? When Hashem created the world, He brought into existence a single point, an infinitesimal dot, and from there He drew forth the entire Universe. ( Talmud Bavli, Yoma 54b)

If you take a dot and expand it equally in all directions, you get a circle. The circle is the ideal natural form because it expresses creation itself.

The square, on the other hand, the rectangle, and the other rectilinear shapes are the hallmarks of man.

The easiest way for man to build is with straight lines. Anything curved is more demanding technically, and more expensive.

Why is it more difficult for man to build a circular object than a square one? If the natural world is patterned on the circle, surely the circle should be the natural shape of man's works as well, and the circle should be his paradigm and not the square.

The Talmud ( Menachot 29b) tells us that Hashem created this world with the letter Heh:

If you look at the letter Heh, you will see that it is, in fact, a combination of two other letters, Dalet…

and an inverted Yod.

The Dalet consists of two lines at right angles to each other, which point to the four cardinal directions of the compass:

The numerical value of Dalet is four. The lines of the Dalet represent expansion away from that primeval point of existence.

The Dalet is an archetypal rectilinear shape. Man's creations are based on the straight line because they flow from the Dalet that is their source.

However, this world was not created with the Dalet alone. It was created with the Yod as well, and the Yod had another role in creation. With the Yud, Hashem created the future world.

The Yod is really no more than the tiniest dot. The ideal dot has no direction and occupies no space. In order for us to write a Yod, we have to give it some dimension. Otherwise, it would be invisible. However, the ideal dot cannot be drawn in this world. A point that occupies no space is something that can only exist in a world that is above space — the future world. When this world focuses on the world beyond, it fulfils its purpose. When the Dalet focuses on the Yud — when rectilinear dimension focuses on a point that has no dimension — this world reaches its perfection.

When man sublimates his creations to that higher plane, when the dimensionality of the Dalet aspires to the transcendence of the Yod, earth touches heaven.

Then the letter Heh is complete.

Although the preeminent shape of nature is the circle, there exists a natural phenomenon that seems to defy this axiom.

Throughout recorded history, observers have marveled at the hexagonal pattern of the honeybee's elaborate storage system. More than 2,000 years ago, Greek scholars commented on how bees apparently possess “a certain geometrical forethought” in achieving just the right type of enclosure to hold honey efficiently. In the 19th century, Charles Darwin described the honeycomb as a masterpiece of engineering that is “absolutely perfect in economizing labor and wax.” The honeycomb is a hexagon, a six-sided circle, if you like. Why does the honeycomb seem to depart from the natural roundness of the creation and lean towards the linearity of man? Why is the honeycomb a synthesis of the circle and the square?

The answer is that the hexagon represents an ideal synthesis of form and function.

If the honeycomb were round there would be a lot of wasted space between the cells and the entire structure would be less strong.

Were the honeycomb octagonal, which would be even closer to the ideal circle, the modules would not interlock; there would still be some space in between each cell in the honeycomb.

Thus, the hexagon is the perfect blend of the circle and the square, the ideal synthesis of function and form, of this world and the world beyond this world.

Why was it, though, that Hashem chose the honeybee of all creatures to express this synthesis?

The bee is a unique creature. It itself is not a kosher creature, but its produce — honey — is. The honeybee represents the transformation of that which assur, prohibited, into that which is mutar, permitted. In fact, assur is better translated as “bound.” What makes something prohibited is our inability to reach the inner spark of holiness that gives it existence in this world. It is bound up, tied, and inaccessible. We cannot connect to it, and it connects only to itself. It is trapped, bound, assur.

Hashem has given the Jewish People the job of connecting this world to the one beyond it. Left to himself, man degenerates into an obsession with physicality. He constructs monoliths to scrape the skies, vaunting geometry.

That which connects only to itself is inherently tameh, ritually impure.

Tumah results from the failed potential for connection: For example, Lashon Hara, speech that divides people, is inherently tameh, and in Biblical times caused visible lesions on the skin. The monthly cycle of the human reproductive capacity causes tumah when it does not lead to the beginning of new life. It expresses a failure to connect to what is beyond it. Therefore, with the breakdown of the lining of the womb, a woman must immerse in a mikveh. The word Mikveh is from the language of tikveh – hope – which is all about the future. The future world.

The honeybee symbolizes the elevation of the potential into the actual, the sublimation of tumah into taharah.

The honeybee takes the square and makes it into a six-sided circle.

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