Soon it will be Shavuos. When I think of receiving Torah, two things come to mind. The first is that there are gifts you can repay, and there are gifts that are far too big to even think in that direction. One of them is life itself. Awareness, openness to experiencing the world, and the ability physically to make things happen is a gift that everyone has received since the time of Adam. Jews and non-Jews have consciousness, and from there (at least in my opinion) the survival instinct that tells you choose life flows until the last day. The Torah is another one of those gifts that can never be repaid. It makes finding purpose in any situation, any experience, a real possibility.
The Talmud narrates; On Shavuos Rav Yosef asked to have a tender calf prepared for his feast. Someone asked him why- now even if you assume that he must have been host to a large crowd, this is quite an undertaking. He answered, “If not for this day, how many Yosef’s would there be in the market?”
One of the great rebbe’s, the Tiferes Shlomo, looks into this seemingly simple story, and takes you to a deeper place. The story of Yosef in chumash is in many ways the story of any Jew in exile. Before his death, Yosef commanded his brothers to not allow his body to remain in Egypt, but to take his bones to Eretz Yisrael. The words he used was, “pekod pekaditi” which is a difficult phrase to translate. It is often translated as “I command”, but Rav Hirsch, who was an expert in language, translates it as “I mandate you to do this”, which means that this can’t be forgotten; I am entrusting you with this task. When Moshe came to Egypt years later to redeem the Jews from slavery, he used the same words, he said, “Hashem recalls his mandate to redeem you” If you want to stay simple, Yosef gave them instructions, and Hashem said He is redeeming them as promised, and will also give them instructions.
I sometimes struggle with my computer. I have consistently found that when I press the “help” button, I am more confused than before I pressed it. I just don’t speak the same language that the friendly souls who put together the program do. The Torah gives you instructions that are interpretable by everyone of you because it’s already there inside you and it resonates.
Going back to Yosef, both the tzadik in Egypt, and the Rav who made the feast. When Yosef told his brothers “take my bones from here”, he was saying something to you as well. The word for bone in Hebrew is “etzem” which is also the word for “essence”. Yosef was telling the brothers that they have to get the essence of his message out of Egypt. Yosef withstood almost unbelievable challenges. He was sold as a slave by his own brothers, yet he saved them from starvation when they came to Egypt during a famine seeking food. They knew that he had every reason to hate them and to use their moment of vulnerability to take revenge, but instead he told them not to be grieved, Hashem brought him to his position in life to save them… Would you have done that? His greatest test was resisting his master’s wife’s unending seductions. Remember he was only 17, alone in a foreign land, and had no reason to think he would ever see his father again. He could have just silently slipped into Egyptian society. He would have then ended up as one of the innumerable Yosef’s in the world’s market place. He didn’t, and when he was close to death, he again reminded his brothers, “My essence doesn’t belong here in Egypt”.
You can easily ask. “If he wasn’t meant to be in Egypt, why was he there to begin with?” Quoting the Ohr HaChaim, one of the most widely read commentators on chumash, the rebbe said, “When you live in Egypt, you have to find the sparks of holiness, and uplift them”. That means that wherever your personal Egypt is, find what you can learn, find what you need to resist, and use your essential desire for meaning to elevate yourself and your situation. Let’s go back to Yosef in Egypt for a moment.
The Torah tells you that he didn’t turn into a person he didn’t want to be. He worked in his master’s house with such integrity that he was put in charge of everything. Even when he was imprisoned for the “crime” of not committing adultery, he was promoted to being in charge of the other prisoners. He had every reason to be angry; angry at his brothers, angry at his master’s wife, and most of all, angry at the whole world. He could have become a bitter person out to share his embitterment with all and sundry. Instead, when he saw two strangers, new prisoners, clearly anxious and depressed, he extended himself to them, drew them close and try to help them in every way. He left the prison a far greater person than he was the day he entered. But he still knew, that the real Yosef didn’t belong in Egypt. This place was h is challenge, not his essence. He rose to the challenge, but didn’t let it be the last stop on his journey.
The Torah gives you a bond with Hashem that is a gift, not just the result of your having good intentions. He gave us the instructions that make life meaningful, and provide you with answers to all of your asked and unasked questions. Every Jew wants to do it, and to understand it. When your desire to be a doer, and to make sense of your reality is left alone, you are like a blind man in a desert looking for water when there is a spring right in front of you.
Nowadays not to o many of you will want to fell a calf, so make a cheese cake. But feel the simchah of realizing that if not for Torah, you would be just like any other
But with Torah, no matter what name you use, you can find your essence.
Love and good Yom Tov,