Friday, December 7, 2012

RABBI M. KAHANE Parashat Vayeshev - Forgetting vs. Remembering

A Yemeni Jew
When a Jew is away from Israel, he must constantly acknowledge that he is a stranger in a foreign land, living among a foreign nation, like one who is with a woman whom he does not know. As Solomon expressed it: And why should you stray, my son, with an alien woman, and hug the bosom of a foreign woman (Proverbs 5:20). [...] Human nature is to forget suffering after some time has passed and one finds refuge and starts to live in peace; then the nekhar (“unknown”) and the nokhri (“foreigner, stranger”) become nikkar (“recognized”) and mukkar (“known”), and the alien land becomes homeland. And indeed, this happened even to Joseph himself:

Joseph thought: When I was in my father’s house…my brothers envied me; now that I am here [in Egypt], I thank You that I live in wealth. G-d said to him: It is so good for you here that you are rebelling. By your life! I will incite the bears against you (Genesis Rabbah 87:4). The Tanhuma says something similar: When Joseph saw himself such [so great, in Potiphar’s service], he began to eat and drink, he curled his hair, and said: Blessed be the Omnipresent Who has caused me to forget my father’s house. G-d said to him: Your father is mourning for you in sackcloth and ashes, and you eat and drink and curl your hair?! For this, your mistress [Potiphar’s wife] will seduce you and cause you grief(Tanhuma, Vayeshev 8).

This teaches that it is not enough for the tzaddik to recognize G-d’s kindness; he must also understand that the purpose of His kindness is solely in order to help him to fulfil his obligation and his destiny. Joseph was indeed obligated to thank G-d for having been saved, and for having found a good life – but he should not have celebrated and rejoiced as long as his father was mourning and suffering. We further see that even though his personal situation in Israel with his family was far worse than his current situation in exile, this feeling was considered a sin, for a Jew is forbidden to forget his true home – and far more so, is forbidden to erase the memory of his true home. And Joseph was punished for this twice over: the first time, when he was thrown into prison; and the second time, when he forgot all [the Torah knowledge] that he had learned, as the Midrash says:

And Jacob arrived unblemished (Genesis 33:18) – Rabbi Yohanan said: unblemished in his learning. But Joseph had forgotten, as he said, G-d has caused me to forget my hardship; and subsequently it is said, The toiling spirit toils for itself (Proverbs 16:26) [in the verse which speaks of toiling in the Torah].

While he was in prison, Joseph failed in his trust in G-d when he asked the chief steward to save him. As our sages said (Shemot Rabbah 7:1),

“Joseph really only deserved ten years in prison...yet because he asked the chief steward, 'Remember that I was with you...Say something about me to Pharaoh' (Gen. 40:14), two years were added.”

A Jew who seeks help from a non-Jew out of despair and fear, lest G-d not help him, commits a grave sin. Had Joseph approached the steward with a demand because the steward owed him a favor , that would not have been considered a sin. Yet by petitioning him with a request, indicating that we need a favor from a non-Jew, he profaned G-d's name, showing that he did not trust in G-d but only in flesh and blood. From here we derive a major principle regarding aid from a non-Jew: If the non-Jew gives it as part of mutual aid, or payment for what he owes the Jew, that is allowed. If, however, we approach a non-Jew or a country with a request, like a pauper standing at the door, there is no more severe Chilul HaShem and lack of trust in G-d than this. It is an unatonable sin for a Jew to despair. It constitutes national denial of G-d for Israel to turn to human strength, to non-Jewish allies, and to lean on them while scorning G-d's ability to help.

On the national level, this means : [...] whoever relies on the non-Jew and his aid, and fears that without such aid the Jews and their land will be unable to survive, has been caught by lack of complete trust in G-d, bordering on denial of His existence. The individual Jew and the Jewish people as a whole will not be forgiven if they abandon their faith in G-d, the Supreme, Omnipotent King Who rules over the world and over the nations. He alone is our salvation. Even totally righteous, G-d fearing people fall prey to the terrible sin of lack of trust in G-d. As our sages said (Sotah 48b), “What is meant by 'Who has despised [baz] the day of small things?'(Zechariah 4:10)? What causes the future heavenly reward of the righteous to be squandered [yitbazbez]? Their smallness in not believing in G-d.” Had our sages not said this, we would not dare to put this thought to words.

Yet our sages established a great and frightening principle: that it is possible to be a righteous person, i.e. one who observes Torah and mitzvot, who keeps all of Torah ritual, and still be small of faith.It is appropriate to cry over this, for the signs of this terrible sin can be seen openly in this orphan generation.King David said, “He will bless them that fear the L-rd, both children and adults [lit., 'great and small']” (Ps. 115:14). This hints that some among the G-d fearing have little fear of G-d and little faith. King Solomon warned against the terrible sin of fearing mortal man when he said, “The fear of man brings a snare; but whoever puts his trust in the L-rd shall be set up on high. Many seek the ruler's favor, but a man's judgment comes from the L-rd” (Prov. 29:25-26).

This week's Parasha ends accordingly with “Yet the [non-Jewish] chief steward [whom Joseph had asked to remember him] did not remember Joseph, but he forgot him.”(Gen. 40:32)

Interestingly, at the beginning of the redemption from Egypt G-d told Moses to address the Jewish people with a reference to remembrance (although a different word for remembering is used):

“I have assuredly remembered you - pakod pakad’ti:” G-d commanded Moses to use specifically these words because the elders had a tradition that the redeemer would use these words when he would come, and they would thereby know that this was no false messiah: He [G-d] said to him [Moses]: They have a tradition from Joseph that I will redeem them with this word , pakod (“remember”). Go, address them with this sign. (Exodus Rabbah 3:18.)

This also applies to the future redemption of Israel:

Pakod pakad’ti: I have remembered you, and not forgotten you. I have remembered My promise and not forgotten it; I have not redeemed you until now – not because I have forgotten, but because the appointed time has not yet come, the number of years needed to redeem you has not yet passed.

These excerpts were gleaned from Rabbi Meir Kahane's Peirush HaMaccabee – Shemot – Chapter 2 and 3 and from The Jewish Idea, Chapter 'Faith and Trust'.

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