Torah Weekly

For the week ending 11 December 2010 / 3 Tevet 5771

Parshat Vayigash

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Become a Supporter Library Library


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.


The Wisdom of Happiness

"He sent Yehuda ahead of him." (46:28)

We live in a world where depression has become as common as table salt.

Statistics report that between 9 and 10% of American schoolchildren are clinically depressed. That’s an amazing statistic. And that doesn’t include those who are just above the cutoff point of what’s called clinically depressed. And it also doesn’t take into account those who haven’t sought professional help because their symptoms aren’t recognized. And we haven’t even started to talk about their parents.

Why, in spite of a level of physical comfort of which our great-grandparents could only dream, are we more and more subject to depression?

During the reporting of the Nixon/Kennedy Presidential elections, 40% of "sound bytes" (an uninterrupted monologue by a reporter) were one minute or longer. By the time Bush took on Dukakis, a sound byte had shrunk to 9.8 secs, and not one was as long as a minute.

I have the distinct feeling that since George Bush Senior strode the telewaves as President the national attention span has not exactly increased. (Are you still reading this?)

An instant society of drive-thru-everything teaches that haste is a virtue in its own right.

Western society educates our children to be impatient. If it takes me longer than a minute it ain’t worth it.

No being in the universe has a bigger yetzer hara (evil inclination) than a baby. A baby is all self. A baby is quite happy to wake up a continent at the most distant rumble of hunger in its tummy. Being a baby has everything to do with having no patience. In the long and difficult ascent to adulthood, we certainly don’t need society’s help in keeping us babies.

Being unable to see beyond the end of our nose, of not being able to see the big picture, is both a cause and an effect of depression.

So how do we combat this?

A movie film consists of hundreds and thousands of still pictures. When presented with separate images in rapid succession, the brain ceases to discern them as separate images and links them together. This anomaly is called "the persistence of vision." The result is the illusion of movement, motion pictures. Persistence of vision accounts for our failure to notice that a motion picture screen is dark about half the time. A bit like day and night.

In other words, the reality of the movie does not exist in the film itself: it exists in the mind of the beholder connecting separate moments into one flowing existence.

To a small child, every moment is a different world, a different existence. There is no direction in things, no assembly leading towards an overall reality. First this moment happens, then this moment, then this. Being small, however, isn’t limited to being a child.

In Hebrew the word for small is katan. Katan comes from the word katua, meaning "cut". Someone who is small, or whose perception of the world is small, cuts life’s flow into small segments and treats each of those segments as though that was the whole of reality.

The definition of maturity is that we perceive our entire life as a whole single direction. We take all the disparate events of life, its ups and downs — and unify them into a single cogent direction. Every frame of existence is joined together into the film of our life.

The Hebrew word for adult, gadol, comes from the root meaning, "that which continues" (Bereishet 49:19). The wisdom of happiness tells us that things are joined together. That’s being an adult. Despite our problems we perceive everything as single system, a single route map, a single film. Happiness means having persistence of vision.

Similarly, during the week in our weekday prayers we say of our Creator "How many are Your works."On Shabbat we say, "How great are Your works". We take all the separate "manys" of the weekday world and unify them into one "great" a view that everything is connected. That’s the "great" of Shabbat. It’s the road map of time.

The essence of taking the wisdom of happiness into the despair of depression is to see that the day and night of our emotions and moods are as connected as day and night itself. Day inevitably follows the night just as night inevitably follows day. Realizing that we have an emotional clock that turns constantly from day to night gives us the perspective to deal with our feelings of disconnection. However black and disconnected we feel, we can remind ourselves that the darkest hour is just before dawn.

For a number of years I have had the privilege to teach young men who have grown up on a diet of MTV. One of the things that never fail to amaze me is how these same young men who have been trained to have attention span of about two minutes and 43 seconds — the average length of a pop song — can sit down and learn Talmud in depth. Learning the Talmud demands the ability to hold in one’s head several pieces of information, to compare them and make very fine distinctions between them, the mental equivalent of juggling balls that are constantly changing their weight, shape and direction. And yet they do it. How?

In this week’s Torah portion, Yaakov prepares to descend into the darkness of exile in Egypt. The light is about to go out and nearly two hundred years of slavery are about to begin. Before Yaakov goes to down to Egypt he sends before him his son Yehuda to open the Egyptian equivalent of a Yeshiva. Everything the Patriarchs did is a spiritual beacon for their descendents till the end of time. Yaakov was showing us that even in the blackest spiritual darkness of Egypt, the Torah could still be learned. Moreover, the very nature of Torah learning, the mental effort required to assemble all the pieces together, is the very antidote to the "smallness of mind" that the darkness brings.

Learning Torah allows us to see the big picture. It takes the darkness of depression and transforms it into the wisdom of happiness.

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at [email protected] and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Torah Weekly

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.