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by Daneal Weiner

Based on the Torah of Rav Moshe Wolfson.  


In this weeks

Parshas Vayichi

Yosef comes to his father, Israel, with his two sons. “Who are these?” Israel asks?        “They are my sons whom G-d has given me with this.” Israel’s eyes were heavy with age, he could not see so he brought them near to him and he kissed and hugged them.

A touching little story of the final moments of a grandfather and his grandchildren. That’s how we learned it in third grade. I even remember drawing a picture of Israel with his arms crossed. A few decades later, let’s see if there is more going on than what meets the eye. Hmmm?

Yosef came to his father, Israel, with his sons. “Who are these?” Israel asked? Our Rabbis say the Divine Presence left Israel because wicked kings of Israel would descend from them.     “They are my two sons whom G-d has given me with this.” What’s this? Rashi says Yosef showed Israel his marriage contract. The Targum Onkelos says not ‘with this’ but ‘here,’ in Egypt. Isn’t that obvious?

Israel’s eyes were heavy with age. If he lost his spiritual connection and he could not physically see the large features of two familiar faces, how could he possibly see the fine print of a marriage contract? And the Chasam Sofer asks, how is the marriage contract a response to the Divine Presence having left him for foreseeing wicked descendants?

He brought them near to him and he kissed and hugged them. Since nothing in the Torah is trivial, what is behind Israel’s hugging and kissing his grandchildren?  

These are the questions. Here are the answers.

Of course, a Jewish answer wouldn’t be Jewish without a question. Pharaoh throne was placed atop a platform with a 70 stair ascent. Anyone who had audience with him was able to ascend the stairs one for each language the guest knew. Pharaoh knew all 70. It actually was incumbent upon the king of Egypt to be versed in all 70 world languages.

Our Rabbis says that the angel Gavriel came to Yosef while he was imprisoned and taught him all 70 languages. Yosef couldn’t retain any. Gavriel added a hey to is name, a letters of G-d’s Name, and Yosef finally was able to learn them all. Why did Egypt’s by-laws insist the king knowing 70 languages? If Pharaoh knew 70, why didn’t he know the 71st, Hebrew? And Yosef Hatsaddik, the ben zekunim- wisest of Israel’s sons, he could only grasp one?

Every nation has divided up in its language, represented with each word, the klipot of that nation. Klipot, meaning peels or shells, is the word used for forces of impurity. Partly used for its analogy since impure forces “envelope” sanctity and try to remove the positive presence from the world. Taking this mystical concept a step further, what comes out of it is that knowing a language makes one vulnerable to the ills and influences of that society klipot. Saying, “I’m so proud of my son. He speaks Greek, Latin and German.” is like saying, “I’m so proud of my son. He is being inclined towards homosexuality, paganism and murder.”

Early in the book of Kings it says that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of Egypt. Egypt was, indeed, a nation with know-how. They were masters of every physical channel of energy. The had magicians and necromancers who could manipulate nature and tap into the all forces of impurity. Their pyramids and mummification eludes the engineers and scientists of today. Pharaoh knowing all 70 languages, gave him dominion of the channels and forces of those nations.

How do we know that a prominent individual should be accompanied by two men when he travels? We learn it from Bilaam, the Wicked, who traveled with two companions to curse Israel. Why don’t we learn it from Avraham who also traveled with two companions, taking Yishmael and Elieazer to the Akeida, for example? [For the return trip.] The answer is that part of the job of the companionship was to deter mazikim- trouble causing spirits, who would attack he who traveled alone. So maybe Avraham wasn’t boasting his own honor but only took two others along to avoid being hurt by the mazikim. But Bilaam, a sorcerer and manipulator of impure forces, he wants to meet mazikim! Have a chat, swap recipes, pick up some tips. So if he traveled with companions it must be because that was a sign of honor, the only thing he would want more.

This was Egypt, They wanted contact with all that was out there. We know Egypt was the world power of its time. Now we know what that really means. It had at its disposal over all the forces of the nations of the world. So Pharaoh would certainly have to know all 70 languages, to have control of those other forces.

In past issues we’ve referred to Amaleik as reishis- head of the nations. As we know, that which is the head is inclusive of all else. Wouldn’t Amaleik, then, be that which we now attribute to Egypt?

Yes. That is true and takes place after the fall of Egypt.

When the split sea came down on the Egyptians, the Torah says, “Israel saw Egypt dead on the sea shore.” The word dead is singular, yet it references all the slain soldiers. Our Rabbis say it refers, rather, to the Sar of Egypt. A Sar is an overseeing angel. Every nation has one, except us. When Egypt’s Sar was slain, that meant Egypt had no representation on high. No connection to the source means no juice to the engines. Egypt was no more. That created the void which Amaleik came and filled. Hashem maintains a balance of good and evil in the world. Amaleik, the head of the nations- Reishis goyim Amaleik = 1210 = Sar shel Mitsrayim- the overseer of Egypt.

Paralleling this idea, Egypt tapped into the 50 Gates of Impurity, another mystical concept we haven’t heard of for a while. We’ll hear more of it as we get closer to Purim. Think of them as battery sources. Each one supplies a negative influence into the world. Opposite these gates, on the balance, are the 50 Gates of Wisdom. Egypt is the former 50 and Israel, its nemesis, is the latter 50. Egypt’s dominion of the klipot of the 70 nations is the same idea as their being the 50 Gates of Impurity. 50 gates- Sha’ar Nun = 620 = Ayin Sarim- 70 Sars. [The Hebrew letter Ayin has the numeric value of 70.] The Torah calls Egypt the ervas ha’arets- the nakedness of the earth. The paradigm of perversion. Lusts ‘R’ Us. Ervas ha’arets =  972 = Shivim Sarim- 70 Sars. [Shivim is the Hebrew for 70.]

We saw last week that when Israel went down to Egypt, they went down with 70 souls. Our 70 counterweighted Egypt’s 70. It was our insurance card. Hashem more than maintains the balance between good and evil, he sees to it the good wins.

Doesn’t 70:70 that mean it’s a draw, rather than our prevailing? No. Because we have one card up our sleeve. Buried under whatever and however many klipot we have is an incorruptible spark of sanctity. Haman had the impure forces of 50 under his belt, being a descendant of Amaleik. He therefore sought to hang Mordechai on a gallows 50 amos high, to defeat him on his level. Haman didn’t realize that the 50th Gate of Wisdom is an incorruptible, indestructible spark of the Jewish soul which come out on top.

Not to get too far off track, Pharaoh could not possibly know Hebrew because Hebrew is a nickname for Lashone Hakodesh- Holy Tongue.  Lashone Hakodesh is the language of G-d, Himself, so to speak Who created the world with 10 utterances, uttered in Lashone Hakodesh. Pharaoh has no dominion, no understanding, not even a connection to Hebrew which was the antithesis of everything they stood for.

Last year Rav Wolfson presented that what sealed Haman’s fate was eating the matzos Esther made for him and Achashveirosh at her feast. What snake poison is to us, holy food is to Haman. Once the purity got into his system, he was cut off from his Sar and no connection means no life. He was spiritually dead. All that was left were the technical aspects. Maybe we can make a parallel saying to such an extent did Pharaoh avoid learning Lashone Hakodesh. It would be his downfall.

The opposite should be understandable regarding Yosef. He didn’t want 70 poisons running rampant in his system. But knowing he was going to rule Egypt, as viceroy to Pharaoh, Hashem dispatched Gavriel to teach him. He was going to have to know all 70 languages as well. Not to rule Egypt, as Pharaoh, but to be ruler over Egypt, keeping the impure forces in check, that none would influence him. So Gavriel added a hey to his name, a little antidote, and then taught him the languages. Still, coming from Gavriel, this time the languages came from a source of sanctity.

Regarding the huge stones Moshe commanded the Elders of Israel to hew when they crossed the Jordan, he said, “You shall inscribe on the stones all the words of the Torah, well clarified.” On ‘well clarified’ Rashi says, “In 70 languages.” This time the languages aren’t masking, clouding or corrupting the Torah. They are well clarifying it. Then, as well as now, by Yehosef, the source of the languages are wisdom, not impurity. King David wrote in Psalm 81, “He imposed it as a testimony for Yehosef when he went forth over the land of Egypt; ‘I understood language I never knew.’”

In the Gemorah Kesuvos our Rabbis say that a Jew born outside Israel is like an idolator. Writings of our more recent Sages offer an explanation. A Jew born outside Israel dons a garb, so to speak, of the Sar of the country in which he/she is born. This accounts for the eventual adaptation of a Jew’s facial features to that of the people amongst whom they dwell.

What comes out from this is that Efraim and Menashe, having been born in the Ervas Ha’arets, a country weighted with all the impurities of the world, they had a very thick garb about them. By way of these klipot Israel saw the wicked descendants of his two grandchildren, Yeravam, Achav and Yeihu. This momentarily depressed him at which point the Divine Presence departed from him.

The Tsaddikim who followed in the path of the Baal Shem Tov, they had people write their names on pieces of paper for them to look at. Looking at the name in writing, in Lashone Hakodesh, was a window into the person's soul. It seems this is sourced in Bamidbar 1:45, where Moshe and Aaron are taking a census of Children of Israel. The Ramban there writes that it was a great merit to be counted by these holy individuals and he makes a reference of the counted individual becoming amongst "the writings of the Children of Israel." It seems this was an allusion to the fact that they didn't just introduce themselves to the leaders of Israel but had written their names out and showed it to them.

As a tremendous aside, a Rabbi Avi Geller shared with me that unlike a census, nowadays, in which the lowest echelons of society gather for a little work and knock on your door to find out just how strategic your household is in the upcoming elections, by the Nation of Israel, the holiest of the holy make the count! Person by person! And they don't just shake your hand and move you along. They look into your soul and they give you purpose, direction and the knowledge to know where your destiny lies.

That is why the words the Torah uses for the census literally mean "raising the head." Because we do not become nameless numbers and statistics. We are elevated by the experience and we are shown, in essence, that no other Jew is capable of fulfilling the role that G-d put each of us in the world to fulfill.

There is a Gemorah of a woman who’s righteous and studious husband died at a young age. She took his tfillin from Sage to Sage, asking them to look into their script and tell her why her husband was taken from her prematurely. Like a person’s name, their tfillin, and mezuzas, for that matter, are also windows into a person’s soul.

This is why Yosef showed Israel his marriage contract. Because when Yaakov glanced at this spiritual document, inscribed in Lashone Hakodesh, devoid of any klipot of impurity, with Yosef’s name on it as well, Israel was able to see into his essence, into all who would descend from him. Through it he saw past the external klipot of Efriam and Menashe and, now with happiness, the Divine Presence returned to him.

How about our question of Israel’s eyes being heavy with age? How did he see the print to discern the soul? In a few weeks we will read of Moshe’s leading the Nation of Israel out of Egypt and just after the splitting of the sea, after Israel weakens, momentarily, in their trust of Hashem, they are attacked by Amaleik. Moshe ascends a hill overlooking the battlefield and raises his hands. When his hands are elevated Israel prevails, when they are lowered, Amaleik prevails. The Torah tells us a Moshe’s hands grew heavy. They took a stone and placed it under him. What does this event mean?

Rav Baruch of Mezibuzh, zt’l, looks to the Targum Onkelos who translates Moshe’s heavy arms as yikiran- invaluable!  Moshes arms were so sanctified before Hashem that the 10 Commandments could have been written on them directly. But instead a stone was place beneath him, or rather, in his place. The deeper meaning was that Israel did not merit learning from Moshe directly. Indeed, in the very next parsha, Yisro, a hierarchy of courts is suggested and Israel opts for learning from students rather than learning from Moshe himself.

Israel’s eyes were heavy. They were invaluable because of Israel’s service of Hashem. We are talking pure spiritual terms. He didn’t see a physical world. He saw a spiritual world. When Efraim and Menashe originally approached he saw the garb of Egypt which enveloped them. When Yosef showed him his marriage contract, Israel saw the sanctity and purity with which Efraim and Menashe were brought into the world. “They are my sons whom Hashem has given me here, in the ervas haarets­, but you can see that they dominated their environment and are kosher to their core.”

Israel, himself, knew just what Yosef meant because about 75 years prior, he too had donned the garments of Eisav and walked into his father Yitschak for his blessings. Yitschak said, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Eisav.” Israel knows well that no matter what the klipot which may blanket a Jew, inside a Jew is pure at their core. Having been shown the marriage contract the Divine Presence returned. B’ni heim asher nasan li Elokim bazeh- They are my sons whom Hashem has given me here = 1248 = Shachanti b’socham- I [Hashem] dwell amongst them.

What could Yaakov do but hug and kiss his precious grandchildren. The Chidah writes that when Naomi returned to Israel she told her two daughters-in-law to go back to Moav. We read the Orpah kissed Naomi and Ruth clung to her. Of course Ruth kissed her as well. But one was just a kiss, one was a bonding. On the Megillah, the Alshich says that when Ruth clung to Naomi, Naomi felt a spirit of holiness.

Yaakov did not just kiss his grandchildren. He kissed and hung, clung to them. He felt their holiness and he passed what he could of his into them. He gave them and their descendants whatever added sanctity he could to give them, at their core, to give them the edge over the klipot which he knows will engulf them in the exiles which lay ahead.

We have come full circle. Having begun in a melting pot of all the languages of the world, the majority of world Jewry now resides in the modern day melting pot of the world. In a country made of refugees from all corners of the world. And unlike anywhere else where Jews resided, they had always maintained their own language. And every language they spoke had always been written with the holy letters of our holy language. In America, however, we speak English, we write English, we appear to have been wholly consumed by the klipot of Western “civilization.” But Hashem always maintains a balance. Better still, He always sees that we will endure.

We each have in us that incorruptible spark of the 50th Gate. We need to reach in to our inner essence and use that spark to start a fire. Our Sages describe a Torah Scroll as black fire on white fire. The same expression is used in describing how our Third and final Temple will be  built, may we merit it soon. It is waiting for us.

Shabbat Shalom.

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