Friday, February 5, 2010

From VayiGosh to Goshen

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


Do we have the courage to break free from our limiting paradigms?

To what extent does our anger limit us from growth and conciliation?

Finally, what reward awaits us for finding this key to change?

Jacob was forever trapped in a cycle of deception and trickery. Either on the giving end (Esau and Isaac) or on the receiving end (Laban and his own sons). He was stuck in an endlessly repeating loop from which he could not break out. He wore a mask, the pungent garments of his brother Esau, in order to attain blessings of mastery. He could only attain power through the veil of deceit, hence the endless cycle of bitterness and pain. His son, Joseph, however, was able to break this cycle. He attained power in Egypt by sheer mark of character, force of personality and faith in G*d. He needn't assume a false identity to achieve success. This is borne out when (his brother) Judah says to him in the opening line of our parsha,

(Gen 44:18)"...kee chamocha ke'Pharoah." "You are like yourself as Pharoah...(is like himself)." (my translation).

This is the highest compliment one can give to another human being. Judah is comparing Joseph to the King in greatness, and yet he is saying that he is still an individual, still his own man. "Chamocha" means "you are unique, there is no one like you."

On a deeper level, this means that Joseph, being his "own man," has now broken free of his father's patterning and addiction. Yes, he maintained a mask to test his brothers' sincerity and remorse, but more importantly he achieved the blessing of power in Egypt without any resort to the slightest hint of deception. He could become powerful like "Esau" without becoming like Esau in his impetuosity and compulsiveness. This connection between Joseph and his father is further underlined by the rare usage of the word"vayiGaSH," the very name of our parsha!

To love one's father means taking the best of his character and leaving the rest behind. Blind absorption of his negative human qualities is a form of slavish idolatry. Some people out of a misplaced sense of guilt feel obligated to honor their deceased parents' memories by adopting their negative pathologies.

When Jacob is in the act of tricking his father, Isaac suspects fraud and therefore says, (Gen 27:21) "GeSHa na elai ve'amushcha b'nee..." "Come closer to me and let me touch you my son..."

And the next verse uses the same verb,"vayiGaSH Yaaqov el Yitzchaq aveev..." "Jacob came closer to his father Isaac..."

And here in the very first verse of our parsha it says,"Judah drew right up next to him (Joseph) and said...." VayiGaSH eilav Yehudah...The exact same verbs are used in these two narratives, precisely to draw a connection between father and son! Actually between both sons. The Torah wants to show how Joseph broke free from his father's style vis a vis the attainment of power as much as it wants to show how Judah demonstrated true personal leadership, putting himself at risk rather than risking his own children (a la Reuben).

This is also a break from his father Jacob,who had sent his entire camp/family ahead of himself to meet up with Esau, while he stayed behind and was the last to cross over the River Jabok! The true moral of our parsha is that we should have the strength of character to break free from the pathologies and addictions of our forebears- either in terms of ideology or personality.

Whether the addiction is rage or antisemitism, or alcohol or deception, every new generation has the chance to start fresh and begin new paradigms of relating. In fact, he himself realized his inadequacies and wanted to be left all alone to contemplate his weakness and work on himself. The angel was sent by G*d as a validation of his determinationto work on his character.

The weak personality doesn't easily stand up and take responsibility. When leaving Canaan before going to his Uncle Laban in Padan Aram he tells G*d that if He will watch over him and take care of him he will remain loyal to G*d. All the onus is on G*d to guarantee his security.While Esau acquired the aggressive tendencies Jacob acquired the opposite passive tendencies.

It was against his nature to take initiative and strike boldly. Indeed he chastised his sons for their proactive action against Shechem. Their actions were as extreme as he was passive and retiring.

The early Zionist pioneers looked with contempt and revulsion upon their diaspora yeshiva brethren who seemed effeminate and passive in the face of rising antisemitism. Being outside the land of Israel enabled Jacob's descendants to allow their passive side to re-emerge. Upon returning to the Land of Israel, the "new" Jacob cum Israel identity reasserted itself, allowing the latent aggressive and assertive Jewish personality to reemerge .

When the angel bestowed upon Jacob the new name of Israel, it was indicative of a deep change and insight on Jacob's part to what he saw as being the pattern of his life. Whereas Abram's name change to Abraham was a permanent and immutable one, Jacob's was not. His two names could be interchanged, reflecting the anguish of the vicissitudes of the emotional terra firma of the addictive personality; each day is a victory or a crushing defeat. But Jacob himself bestowed upon his own children the blessing to break free of the chains of Jacob, and to carry on as sons of Israel, sons of his better, higher self.

Rather than swing from one extreme to the other, is it possible to integrate the two natures of his personality and remain whole? A hint of the possibility of reconciliation of SELF is found in our parsha as Joseph reveals his identity.

In GEN 45:4 he says to his brothers: GeSHu na Elai VayiGaSHu."Come close to me now and they came close to him..."

And then in the next verse he says "al teyatzvu v'al yichar b'eyneychem...don't be sad or angry (because you sold me)."

In other words, Joseph is hinting that the brotherly conciliation can only occur when sadness and anger are no longer operative. They can only draw close to each other when the toxic addiction of anger is let go (along with its sister emotion of sadness). Anger is a form of idolatry and divisiveness as much as G*d is emblematic of unity and reconciliation as manifested in the Shema prayer.

Jacob's integration is achieved finally through the achievements of his children. Three full generations must pass before the children of Israel (and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham) learn to achieve reconciliation. Indeed that is why we are all called the Children of Israel. Only the children of Israel were able to finally learn to get along with one another!

The "reward" for this fraternal reconciliation is Joseph granting them the Land o' Goshen as their new dwelling place while in Egypt. Commentators have suggested that the name "Goshen"is related to the idea of "gashmiut," or materialism. I would offer that the apportioned land which is named Goshen is really in recognition of the fact that the estranged brothers could finally achieve a drawing close together - vayiGaSH (gashniut- my neologism) after rivers of tears and paroxysms of pain, anger, guilt and ainguish.

We must learn from this episode that we can model conciliation in our own lives by letting go of our anger which blinds us from seeing the blossoming of the seed of fraternity. Anger prevents growth and stunts our emotional development. Adolescents only develop their full potential to achieve maturity to the extent that they can go through and finally let go of their anger and hostility. Whether our anger is directed internally or externally it still must be expunged. This week we welcomed the month of Tevet, the month for the kabbalistic fixing of anger.

Like the children of Israel, may we, too, come to draw close to one another in harmony and fellowship and dwell in prosperity and friendship in our proverbial Lands of Goshen until our messianic deliverance summons us back home. Letting go of our anger and transcending the pettiness of our self-limiting perceptions is the key to unlocking the dungeon doors to let in the Divine light.

Shabbat Shalom!

© 2000 - 2010 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Dedications are available.

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!