Torah and Love of Others: Reparation of the Egyptian Exile
It is written, “And Jacob dwelt [":*&] in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1). The Midrash explains: “Jacob expected to live a tranquil life, but he was prevented from doing so when the tragedy of Joseph’s disappearance took hold of him. The promise of the world to come is therefore not enough for the righteous, as they still aspire to a tranquil life in this world!”
One must understand the sense of the expression ":*& (lit. “and he sat”). Why does the Torah not use the word “live”? It is because the intention of the verse is precisely to indicate the seated position, in the same way that the yeshiva is the place where Torah is studied. Jacob our Father desired to dedicate himself to the study of Torah and the service of G-d in all tranquility, yet the grief that seized him because of Joseph prevented him from doing so.
Sometimes the study of Torah can be done quite easily, but oftentimes study demands that a person overcome quite a bit of distress. This is what our Sages have said, namely: “Torah is acquired through suffering” (Berachot 5a). The pains that one must endure for acquiring Torah by means of its study are as trying as those endured by one who acquires Torah through suffering.
In order to annul the decree of exile for the Children of Israel, our Father Jacob desired to establish a permanent place for the study of Torah in the land of Canaan. This is because Torah study has the power to annul punishment, as the Sages say, “The Torah protects and saves us” (Sotah 21a). Why then was he struck with such tremendous grief? It was because G-d wanted to make him understand that Torah study is not an easy activity, to be performed with head rested in comfort and tranquility. Rather, Torah should be studied despite the torments of exile, and even if the pain and anguish that we endure are great, this does not mean that we should neglect the study of Torah.
It seems that the expression 031, 69!" (“in the land of Canaan”) – the last letter of each word together forming the word 61 (“blossom”) – signifies the idea that the time of the exile approaches and, as it were, “blossoms”. As it is written, “The blossoms have appeared in the land” (Song of Songs 2:12), which Rashi explains as meaning “the days of summer are near.” In the same way, concerning our verse, the idea is that the time of exile approaches. At such a moment, it is not appropriate to rest on the pillars of Torah and piety. One must overcome suffering and study Torah in order to annul the rigors of exile. In fact, instead of being prolonged for 400 years (according to the decree given to Abraham), the exile of Egypt lasted but 210 years, precisely because Jacob did not enjoy tranquility in this world. For having overcome all his suffering, he managed to reduce the exile by 190 years and to diminish the severity of the decree.
If we look at this passage a little more closely, we will see that the exile was caused by behavior that was erroneous and apparently wicked. Studying Torah together, whether we learn or teach it, engenders love and feelings of fraternity for others, and it leads to friendship between individuals.
It is written, “And he [Joseph] was a lad with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives” (Genesis 37:2). The Torah expressly witnesses to the fact that Bilhah and Zilpah were Jacob’s wives proper. Yet Joseph suspected his brothers, the sons of Leah, of scorning the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, as if they ignored the aforementioned fact. Rashi explains: “Joseph was spending his time with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah because his brothers scorned them and he himself wanted to reconcile them by conciliatory actions.” Given that the Torah testifies that Bilhah and Zilpah were the wives of Jacob, it goes without saying that their children were not scorned by the other brothers, and the unfounded suspicions of Joseph caused a great wrong, finally leading to the exile into Egypt.
We can now understand the end of the verse that states, “and Joseph brought the evil report of them to their father” (v.2). What type of slander did this consist of? Our Sages have said, “When Joseph saw his brothers, the sons of Leah, behaving improperly, he reported the matter to his father, telling him that they ate meat torn from a living animal, that they scorned the children of the maidservants by treating them like slaves, and that they themselves behaved immorally” (Bereshith Rabba 84:7). To understand Joseph, we need to realize that he passed his time with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, the wives of his father, meaning to say that he became friendly with them, but not with the sons of Leah. This led Joseph to suspect them of disparaging the sons of the maidservants. Such suspicions concerning the fathers of the tribes of Israel were uncalled for. How could “the tribes of G-D, a testimony for Israel” (Psalms 122:4) disparage their brothers and treat them like slaves? Joseph was punished measure for measure, as he himself was sold as a slave, and in the final analysis this is what caused the exile of our ancestors in Egypt.
When Joseph was sold as a slave, Jacob refused to accept any consolation: “But he refused to be comforted and said, ‘For I will go down to the grave mourning for my son’ ”(Genesis 37:35). Why? Our Sages tell us, “Jacob knew that if none of his sons would die during his lifetime, it would be a sign for him that he would not see hell. However now, thinking that Joseph was dead, he believed that his marital relations were lacking in perfection and that he would have to suffer the torments of hell” (Tanhuma Vayigash 9). If all of his children were alive, it was a guarantee for Jacob that he would not see hell. However if but one of them was gone, it would mean that he had lacked perfection, something that Jacob especially dreaded.
We can now better understand that which was stated above, namely that Joseph frequented the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, the wives of his father, which makes us think that he didn’t love his other brothers, the sons of Leah. This is the reason why Joseph slandered them to his father. In fact this is what the righteous Joseph, who did not spend time with his older brothers, implied by his accusations. If the brothers treated the sons of the maidservants as slaves, it follows that as slaves, they only have the right to marry maidservants, and it is forbidden for them to marry women from non-slave families. This is the meaning of Joseph’s accusation of immorality, whereas imputing them with acting scornfully with the sons of the maidservants and speaking slanderously of them is similar to “eating a limb torn from a living animal.”
Joseph should have been more wary. In light of his own greatness, he had no reason to limit his fraternal relationships to the sons of the maidservants and to incite his other brothers’ mistrust of him. On the contrary, he should have conducted himself with all his brothers in the same way. For not having done so, he was punished.
The Sages warn us: “A father should not favor one son more than the others. He should not spend more time with one of them to the detriment of the others, for it was the favoritism of Jacob for Joseph that led the brothers to jealousy, and which in the end brought them all to Egypt” (Bereshith Rabba 84:8). Joseph himself, in showing a preference for the sons of the maidservants, simply imitated his father, and this caused the exile into Egypt.
Let us now return to our first concept. Joseph’s accusations caused the bitter exile, however the study of Torah in difficult conditions is a remedy that can correct the three sins that he accused them of: Eating meat torn from a live animal, slander of others, and immorality. Let us see how this is so.
The Sages tell us, “The Torah is called Life” (Avoth d’Rabbi Nathan 34:10), and also, “The Torah is an elixir of life for the entire body” (Eruvin 54a). This is to say that a life sanctified by Torah will rectify having eaten a limb torn from a living animal, since Torah is a remedy for the body.
The Sages say further: “The Torah is a tree of life; it is a remedy against slander” (Tanhuma Metzora 2), meaning to say that it rectifies the slander of others and gossip-mongering directed against those who have been enslaved to nothing other than Torah.
Furthermore, “The Torah and Israel are connected one to the other like an engaged couple” (Sifri Beracha 4). Thus the Torah rectifies immorality, in the sense of the statement, “The Torah is figuratively represented by the righteous woman” (Yebamot 63a), meaning that it protects and saves us from all improper conduct. All this goes hand in hand with the love of others, which indicates that the Torah – which is learned and taught by one to the next – can rectify the sufferings of exile and bring the time of redemption closer.
From the story of Joseph, who was punished for having attached himself to the sons of the maidservants and not to the sons of Leah, we learn of our duty to associate with every Jew, as it is written, “All Jews are connected in friendship one to another.” Above all, one must desire the good of each (Perkei Avoth 4:15) and look to achieve unity of all, to the point of being “like a single man with a single heart” (Mechilta Yitro 19:2). Conversely, since “from that which is said we understand that which is not said” (Bamidbar Rabba 9:47), a person who associates with some to the exclusion of others expresses a lack of love by doing so, and it is forbidden not to love another Jew, as it is written, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17). This was demonstrated by Joseph’s conduct, for which he was punished.
It is for every Jew to bind himself in friendship to all other Jews, which will save us and bring about the Final Redemption, speedily in our days. Amen.