Shabbat Shalom!
Ron Wexler, Weekly Newsletter
December 14th, 2007

"Shabbat Shalom" is a weekly message, sent on Friday, that contains very short commentaries on the portion of the Bible that is read in synagogues on the corresponding Sabbath services.

Reading portion is from Genesis 44:18 – 47:28

At the conclusion of the previous reading portion, Benjamin was an apprehended thief who had been caught red handed with the Viceroy’s goblet. He and his brothers stood abjectly at the mercy of the hostile, indigent all powerful Egyptian, who ruled that Benjamin would have to remain in Egypt as a slave while his brothers could return to their father. All the brothers were dumbfounded, but only Judah stepped forward risking his life to intercede. His speech was simple yet eloquent; controlled yet emotional; respectful yet firm. Judah petitioned without debasing himself. He could not protest the fairness of the verdict, because the goblet was found in Benjamin’s sack. Instead, Judah offered himself as a slave, not realizing that he was speaking to the very person whom he had once sold into slavery. The sages teach that the brothers shrunk away as Joseph and Judah confronted one another. They sensed that this was a confrontation not merely between two strong men, but between two opposing philosophies. Ultimately, both antagonists triumphed, for Joseph and Judah, and the ideas they represented remained integral parts of the Jewish people.

The Torah states that Judah approached Joseph which means Judah penetrated Judah’s innermost depth. Buried in Joseph’s heart was a plan to conceal his identity until the appropriate moment when he would tell them that he was their brother, but Judah tied together narrative appeal and argument until he drew the secret from Joseph. Then the news burst forth that not only was he still alive but he was their brother with all the love and devotion the words implies.

Rabbi Bressler in his "Dvar" said that this portion starts in the middle of the story of Joseph confronting his brothers. After holding back as long as he could, Joseph finally revealed his identity, and eventually asked for his father to be brought down to him. When Jacob, his father, finally did come, Joseph took him to meet Pharaoh, setting up a confrontation between two opposing powers; Jacob was the spiritual leader in his generation, while Pharaoh ruled the physical. Their conversation seems (47:8-10) strange at first glance. The only question Pharaoh asked Jacob was (literally) "How many are the days of the years of your life?" It is not only a strange question, but has obviously worded strangely, too. The response seems even more bizarre, when Jacob answers that "the days of the years of my (physical) living is 130 years, (but) the days of the years of my life are few and bad, and did not surpass those of my fathers." What does all the obscure language mean? Why didn''t Jacob answer Pharaoh''s question directly by just telling him how old he was? And who asked about Jacob''s forefathers?

Rabbi Hirsch helps us by explaining that Pharaoh actually asked Jacob how many truly meaningful, spiritual days he had had in all the years of his lifetime. Jacob answered by first explaining to Pharaoh that although his physical years were 130, he didn''t look at those physical numbers. Instead, his focus was on achieving the spiritual greatness of his forefathers, and answered that he hadn''t reached that goal. Physical numbers meant nothing unless there was a spiritual purpose attached to it.

And although Jacob didn''t reach his own personal goals, he''s our forefather BECAUSE he struggled to reach them. That''s the lesson Jacob taught Pharaoh, and that''s the lesson we must learn:

We must not get caught up in our clothing designers, cars and bank accounts, but must strive to be more spiritual, where the only thing that really counts is effort! We should all commit to doing at least one good deed a day, give charity, read a chapter or two in the Bible, and make deposits into the only bank account that really counts - the spiritual kind!

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