Syracuse Kollel 2004
Parshat Mikeitz deals almost entirely with events surrounding the life of Joseph, widely known as Yoseph Hatzaddik, (Joseph the Righteous), and therefore it is appropriate that we dedicate some thought to investigating the reasons for this moniker.To do so we will borrow from some of the ideas of the famous Rabbi Nachman of Breslav whose writings, using Kabbalistic sources, focused primarily on the emotional makeup of Man.Specifically we will study the relationship between shalom (peace) and Joseph and also their joint connection to the time-honored concept of Kiddush Hashem, Sanctification of G-d’s Name.
The Mishna states that “The only vessel that G-d found to contain blessing is shalom”.What actually is the definition of shalom?It is the fusion of two inherently opposite entities.Support for this definition is expressed in the Zohar, one of the classical books of Jewish mysticism, where the following sentence from Job is quoted: “Dominion and fear are with Him; He makes peace in His high places”. (The latter phrase is the translation of the well-known expression “Ohseh Shalom Bimromav”).The simple explanation of this sentence is that despite dominion and fear being inherently opposite in nature G-d makes peace by reconciling them.Some commentators explain that this is a reference to G-d striking a compromise between the two angels Michael and Gavriel who are characterized respectively by water and fire which are also intrinsically opposites.This is entirely consistent with our own daily recognition of peace as a target of diplomatic efforts in the international arena or peace as an objective of personal reconciliation.The importance of shalom in Judaism is paramount, Rabbinic literature is full of examples of the significance of peace, in our prayers we yearn for it tirelessly and indeed one of G-d’s many names is Shalom.
Joseph can be seen to personify the concept of Shalom in the way he fuses the two opposite characteristics of kindness and might.How do we see this?The Parsha tells us that “Joseph was the ruler over all Egypt” which calls for the personality trait of might in order to succeed in this high governmental position.Conversely, the Torah also says that “he was the food supplier for all Egypt” which indicates his overarching concern for his fellow man due to his innate characteristic of kindness.We find a similar mix of these personal traits in another great Biblical leader, King David, who is described in the Talmud as being adeenu ha’etzni,refined and delicate when dealing with his subjects or when learning Torah but as strong as a mighty tree when fighting his enemies.To be sure it is even relevant in our own era of democratically elected politicians that the truly successful leaders are those who successfully combine a love of their fellow citizens and concern for their welfare with the strength required to repel those who would harm the regime.
The connection between Joseph and the concept of Kiddush Hashem is readily apparent from the Torah.First of all as a lad of 17, alone in a foreign country, he succeeds in maintaining his religion and identity as a Hebrew.Later as second to Pharoah he makes no secret of his Hebrew origins, culture and family ties despite his prominence in Egyptian government.Indeed his rise to power stems initially from his ability as a Hebrew slave to correctly interpret Pharoah’s dreams, a task which eluded the Egyptian expert sorcerers.Rabbi Nachmanexplains that the concept of Kiddush Hashem, like shalom, requires the combination ofmight and kindness, the might to stand up and be counted as a Jew in the face of pressure and the kindness to do as a Jew what is right for one’s fellow man.In his ethical teachings Rabbi Nachman indicates that every Jew, however far he may have appeared to stray from the practices of his faith, has within him the ability to bridge these two opposites when the necessity arises.
The Midrash Tanchuma relates a story that illustrates the difficult situations that Joseph confronted in Egypt.“One time Potiphar’s wife invited her friends to come and observe the beauty of Joseph.She placed before each woman an etrog with a knife and asked Joseph to stand in front of them.Because of the distraction instead of cutting the etrog each woman cut her fingers”.Despite these immense temptations Joseph succeeded in maintaining his religion at great risk to his life in a totally hostile environment far away from his family.
Joseph is the quintessential role model for the Jew in exile.The personal strengths that he displayed are precisely those that Am Yisrael has had to demonstrate throughout 2000 years of painful exile.Joseph in the dungeon because he refused Potiphar’s wife’s advances and Joseph the Chief Officer both chose the path of Kiddush Hashem to remain faithful to their heritage.Jewish history is replete with stories of those who were far from their tradition but when external pressure was applied to them to disassociate themselves entirely from their religion they discovered the inner strength to combine the traits of might and kindness and remain faithful to their true religion.
Let us return to the concept of shalom.Before searching far and wide for international shalom, important as that may be, each of us needs to know how to find shalom within him or herself by combining the character traits of might and kindness as situations dictate in our daily lives.We need to know when to deal with our fellow man with the element of kindness but at the same time to be aware that at the moment of truth some extreme situations might require the might of Kiddush Hashem.The life story ofYoseph Hatzaddik is the archetypical paradigm of such behavior.