The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tevet 11, 5769/January 7, 2008

"And there stood no man with him, while Yosef made himself known unto his brethren."
(Genesis 45:1)

These past weeks we have been reading the chapters of Genesis which relate the story of Yosef and his brothers. Despite rereading these same words year after year the drama never loses its intensity. The anguish of the brothers, the forced estrangement of Yosef, their tears and their laughter move us anew each time we revisit the story. Perhaps the saddest, most tragic moment can be glimpsed, not when the brothers sell Yosef to the passing Ishmaelites, or even when Yosef is falsely accused and imprisoned, but when, as described in chapter 42, verse 23, all the brothers are together in the same room, yet they cannot communicate with one another, nor do they even recognize their own brother. If we can point our finger to when the exile of the children of Israel really began, this would be the moment. Lack of unity, lack of understanding, and lack of recognizing our brothers' needs and individuality, is what drives the children of Israel into exile. Every time.

Conversely, the most joy filled moment occurs, at least for us readers, when Yosef makes known his identity to his brothers. Translated into English as "made himself known," the Hebrew word, vayit-vada also contains the meaning of "connecting." In other words, Yosef, in revealing himself, reunited himself completely with his brothers. Their fate and his fate would be one. Their children and his children would be together again and for always. It is this moment of reunion that lets us know that there will be one day freedom and redemption for the children of Israel.

Today the children of Israel are engaged in a fierce battle for the land of Israel. Years of daily rocket attacks originating from the Palestinian terrorist stronghold in the Gaza strip, from the very ground which the state of Israel recklessly abandoned three years ago, has finally boiled over into an Israeli counter offensive. The people of Israel stand united in their demand that the terror from Gaza be stopped. As one, we pray for the safety of our soldiers. For the loss of every soldier, G-d forbid, visits upon each of us the suffering expressed by Yaakov avinu - Jacob our father - when his son Yosef was taken from him. And although many of us are irate with the political leadership that brought upon the house of Israel the present unenviable situation, we say to them, as Yosef said to his brothers, "And as for you, you meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good." (Genesis 50:20)

The need for unity, the historical imperative for the children of Israel to be as one, is poignantly illustrated when, upon reuniting with his father, Yosef throws himself upon Yaakov's neck and weeps, (Genesis 46:29). Midrash relates that Yaakov responded by reciting the Shma: "Hear O Israel, HaShem our G-d, HaShem is one." (Deuteronomy 6:4) Why? Was Yaakov, after so many years of suffering, no longer capable of expressing joy? Yaakov knew the supreme value of the unity of his children, but he also knew that their unity was intrinsically tied to their recognition of G-d's unity, and that by attaching themselves to G-d, they would be forging their own unbreakable bonds to one another.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss "Operation Cast Lead," the Israeli counter offensive in the Gaza strip, the unity inspired by, and necessary for victory, and how today's military action resonates with the lessons learned from the Torah narrative of Yosef and his brothers. Also, the fast of the 10th of Tevet, the day the Babylonians first laid siege to the city of Jerusalem: why do we fast, and what to we get out of fasting, and how a fast day can create unity not only among the people of Israel today, but unity across the many generations that have come and that are to come.

Part 1
Part 2