Torah Weekly

For the week ending 7 January 2006 / 7 Tevet 5766

Parshat Vayigash

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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With the discovery of the goblet in Binyamin's sack, the brothers are confused. Yehuda alone steps forward and eloquently but firmly petitions Yosef for Binyamin's release, offering himself instead. As a result of this act of total selflessness, Yosef finally has irrefutable proof that his brothers are different people from the ones who cast him into the pit, and so he now reveals to them that he is none other than their brother. The brothers shrink from him in shame, but Yosef consoles them, telling them that everything has been part of G-d’s plan. He sends them back to their father Yaakov with a message to come and reside in the land of Goshen. At first, Yaakov cannot accept the news, but when he recognizes hidden signs in the message which positively identify the sender as his son Yosef, his spirit is revived. Yaakov together with all his family and possessions sets out for Goshen. G-d communicates with Yaakov in a vision at night. He tells him not to fear going down to Egypt and its negative spiritual consequences, because it is there that G-d will establish the Children of Israel as a great nation even though they will be dwelling in a land steeped in immorality and corruption. The Torah lists Yaakov's offspring and hints to the birth of Yocheved, who will be the mother of Moshe Rabbeinu. Seventy souls in total descend into Egypt, where Yosef is reunited with his father after 22 years of separation. He embraces his father and weeps, overflowing with joy. Yosef secures the settlement of his family in Goshen. Yosef takes his father Yaakov and five of the least threatening of his brothers to be presented to Pharaoh, and Yaakov blesses Pharaoh. Yosef instructs that, in return for grain, all the people of Egypt must give everything to Pharaoh, including themselves as his slaves. Yosef then redistributes the population, except for the Egyptian priests who are directly supported by a stipend from Pharaoh. The Children of Israel become settled, and their numbers multiply greatly.


Visions In The Night

“And G-d spoke to Yisrael in visions of the night…” (46:2)

Remember bedtime as a small child? Remember as your father closed the door you said. “Daddy, don’t close the door all the way!?”

What is it about the dark that is so frightening? And why is it that even when we grow up and we know with a mere flick of the switch we can bathe the room in light, that total darkness still can be so disturbing?

In total darkness, we lose contact with the world. In total darkness, we have no contact with our surroundings whatsoever. All that is left is the memory of what the world looked like in the light.

In Hebrew the word for “darkness”, choshech, comes from the same root as the word meaning “to withhold”(see Bereshet 22:12). Real darkness is the withholding of any reality outside us. Deprived of an outside world to give us orientation, we are forced to rely entirely on ourselves.

“And G-d spoke to Yisrael in visions of the night…” (46:2)

G-d did not appear either to Avraham or Yitzchak at night. It was only to Yaakov that He appeared. It was Yaakov who had to go into the long night of exile. In exile, a person is detached from his roots, from his surroundings. G-d appeared to Yaakov to indicate that even in the darkness of the long exile of the Jewish People in which we still languish, G-d would never desert us.

The avot, the Fathers of the Jewish People, each instituted one of the three prayers daily prayers: Avraham established Shacharit, the morning prayer;Yitzchak founded Mincha, the afternoon prayer; and Yaakov originated Ma’ariv, the evening prayer. Ma’ariv is the prayer of the night, the prayer of exile, the prayer that calls from the depths of disconnection to the Source.

The three prayers also correspond to the daily korbanot (offerings) of the Holy Temple. Both Shacharit and Mincha represent offerings that may only be brought during the hours of daylight. Ma’ariv, however, represents the parts of the offering that can be brought both by day and by night.

The spiritual Masters teach that the Divine Presence cannot rest on someone when he is outside the Holy Land unless he had already experienced the Divine Presence in the Land. Yaakov’s ability to draw down the Divine Presence to him even when he was outside the Land of Yisrael derives from the fact that the Divine Presence already rested on him while he was in the Land. Thus, his is the service in the Holy Temple, which starts in the day and continues into the night. Yaakov could draw the light of the day into the night. He could draw the Divine Presence while he was in the Land into the night of exile.

Chanukah is the time of year when we celebrate the triumph of the light over the darkness. We are the Children of Yisrael, of Yaakov. To the extent that we see ourselves as the continuation of Yaakov and all he stood for, however deep the darkness of exile might seem, to that same extent will we experience the brilliance of the Light.

  • Sources: Based on the Meshech Chochma and others.

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