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Completing the Count

In the Torah portion of Vayigash we read how Yaakov and his family descended to Egypt. We are informed that “The number of individuals in Yaakov’s household who came to Egypt was 70.”1 But when we add up the actual number of Yaakov’s descendants listed as going to Egypt, we find only 69.

Many Torah commentators,2 as well as one opinion in the Midrash,3 explain that Yaakov was included in the count — thus making the total 70. According to Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer ,4 and yet another opinion in the Midrash,5 “G-d entered among them.”

What is the reason for the difference in opinion?

Our Sages tell us6 that “The Patriarchs are truly the [Divine] chariot,” for “all their limbs were completely holy and detached from mundane matters, and throughout their lives they served as nothing but a vehicle for the Divine Will.”7 Because of their lofty state, the Divine Presence was openly revealed to them.8

Moreover, because of the lofty spiritual level which they attained, they merited that all their progeny also enjoy some measure of their spirituality.9 This finds expression, for example, in the pure and simple faith of today’s Jew in G-d and His limitless abilities.10

In order for such an exalted state to be drawn down to each and every Jew, an intermediate state was necessary, a bridge to span the gap between the lofty heights of the Patriarchs and the much lower level of some of their descendants.

Yaakov’s direct descendants — the 12 tribes and the 70 souls of his household — served this purpose perfectly, in that they were neither on the exalted level of the Patriarchs, nor on a lowly spiritual level.

At the same time, in order that the exalted state of the Patriarchs be drawn down to each and every Jew in subsequent generations, it was necessary for Yaakov’s immediate descendants to find themselves in Egypt, a land where G-dliness is concealed, and for them to overcome the spiritual difficulties of that land and reveal their faith in G-d.

Indeed, the Jewish people were up to the task. During the Egyptian exile “the Jews believed”11 that G-d would redeem them; notwithstanding the seemingly insurmountable barriers that stood in the way of liberation, the people had a pure and simple faith that obstacles simply did not exist for G-d.

This is at the core of the saying of our Sages:12 “Our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt only in the merit of their faith.” Rather than faith being merely a means to an end, that faith and its revelation was the end — the ultimate purpose of the exile.

What was it that gave the Jews in Egypt the strength to withstand the spiritual degradation of that country? Herein enter the two abovementioned opinions as to who counted for the 70th soul.

According to the first opinion, it was Yaakov’s spirituality that enabled the Jews to overcome the spiritual difficulties of Egypt.

The second opinion holds that Yaakov was too far removed from spiritual exile; had his level been maintained by his descendants, they would not have been subject to spiritual exile. Were this to be so, the purpose of the exile could not have been accomplished.

The second opinion therefore maintains that G-d Himself was included in the count. G-d is so transcendent that He can be with His people even in exile, thus empowering them to overcome the spiritual concealment of Egypt, but at the same time remaining separate and apart — not felt by them.13

This made it possible for the Jewish people to actually experience spiritual exile and yet accomplish the purpose of that exile by revealing their abiding faith in G-d.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Volume XX, pp. 218-223.


Tears and Deeds

The Torah portion Vayigash , in describing the poignant reunion of Yosef and Binyamin, relates:14 “And he [Yosef] fell on the neck of his brother Binyamin and he wept, and Binyamin wept on his [Yosef’s] neck.”

The Gemara comments:15 “Yosef wept for the two Holy Temples that were destined to be in the territory of Binyamin and were fated to be destroyed; Binyamin wept for the Tabernacle of Shiloh that was destined to be in the territory of Yosef and fated to be destroyed.”

Why did Yosef lament the fate of the Temples in Benyamin’s territory and Binyamin bemoan the destiny of the Tabernacle in Yosef’s territory; wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for each to cry about the destruction of their own Temples or Tabernacle? After all, a person loves himself more than all others.16

Moreover, a person’s own life takes precedence over the life of another. This is why, if one possesses only enough water for the survival of one person, so that by giving it to or sharing it with his fellow traveler he himself will surely die, he should keep it for himself, for “your own life takes precedence over the life of your friend.”17

The Zohar18 comments on the verse,19 “And he [Yosef] fell on his [Yaakov’s] neck and wept,” that Yosef wept about the destruction of the Holy Temples and the final exile. Why did only Yosef weep and not Yaakov?

Our Sages note20 that Yaakov did not weep because he was in the middle of reciting the Shema. But how could Yaakov have been so unmoved by the destruction of the Temples and the final exile as to be able to recite the Shema with devotion?

A person weeps mainly in order to feel better. Thus we observe that when one cries because something troubles him, the crying in no way changes the situation; one does, however, feel better about things after a good cry.

Understandably, if a person is able to solve the problem that is causing him so much pain, then rather than crying he should extricate himself from his difficult circumstances — “Better a single action than a thousand sighs.”21

When an individual witnesses the spiritual destruction of a friend — a destruction of that individual’s Holy Temple, since every Jew is a Temple to G-d — he feels for him and cries. As a friend he can try to assist his comrade by gently admonishing him and praying for his welfare. In the final analysis, however, the rebuilding of his friend’s spiritual state depends on the friend himself.

When an individual has done all he can to help his friend, and observes that his friend’s spiritual state is still in disrepair, then he will cry for him.

However, when a person sees that his own “Holy Temple” is devastated, he cannot merely sigh and shed tears; he must set about rebuilding through repentance and spiritual service.

Moreover, at times crying can actually hinder the rebuilding of his spiritual status, as he may think to himself that he has already accomplished something by crying about it.

Yosef and Binyamin thus both wept about the destruction of their brother’s Temples and Tabernacle; with regard to their own Temples and Tabernacle they were doing all they could to avert the tragedy, for even after a heavenly decree has been issued, it is possible — through profound spiritual service — to nullify it.22

Yaakov, too, did not cry over the destruction of the Tabernacle and Temples, for as the father of all the Jewish people, both the Tabernacle as well as the Temples were in his “territory.” He therefore occupied himself in attempting to preserve them by reciting the Shema.

Compiled from Likkutei Sichos , Vol. X, pp. 146-149.

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Bereishis 46:27.
2. Iben Ezra ibid.; verse 23; Rashbam ibid., verses 15, 26; Raboseinu Ba’alei HaTosafos ibid., verse 27; Ralbag ibid., verse 23; Abarbanel ibid.; et al.
3. Bereishis Rabbah 94:9.
4. Ch. 39.
5. Bereishis Rabbah ibid.
6. Bereishis Rabbah 47:6; 82:6.
7. Tanya ch. 23.
8. Torah Or, 24a.
9. Tanya ibid.
10. See Likkutei Sichos XVI , end of p. 53ff.
11. Shmos 4:31.
12. Mechiltah, Beshallach 14:31; Yalkut Shimoni , ibid. Remez 240.
13. See Likkutei Sichos IX , p. 194.
14. Bereishis 45:14.
15. Megilah 16b.
16. Sanhedrin 9b.
17. Bava Metzia 62a.
18. I , 211a.
19. Bereishis 46:29.
20. See Rashi ibid.
21. HaYom Yom p. 35.
22. Rosh HaShanah 16b

 

 


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