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Vayigash Eilav Yehudah


The relationship between Joseph and Judah has profound mystical significance, which parallels the difference between the Tabernacle of the wilderness and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Tabernacle was a temporary structure, and symbolized G-d’s plan for the pre-Messianic age that we have been in throughout our exile. By contrast, the Holy Temple was the permanent “dwelling place” of G-d, and represented G-d’s ultimate plan, to be fulfilled after the arrival of the Messiah.

During these times before the arrival of the Messiah, the sovereignty of G-d over creation is not fully apparent, allowing for the possibility of haughtiness and refusal to submit to the will of G-d (heaven forbid). This is symbolized by Joseph, who was in a superior position to Judah.

However, when the Messiah arrives, G-d’s sovereignty will be manifest, and even elevated to a higher position than formerly. This is symbolized by Judah, from whom were descended the kings of Israel, including King David and the Messiah.

“AND JUDAH approached him [Joseph] and said, ‘I beg of you, my lord….’” (Genesis 44:18)

With these opening words, the Torah reading for this week continues the plea of Jacob’s sons that their brother Joseph, whom they had earlier sold into slavery and who had risen to become the viceroy of Egypt, provide them with sustenance. The mystical symbolism underlying this episode will become clear after a discussion of the difference between the Tabernacle, used as a traveling “house of G-d” during the Jews’ wanderings in the desert, and the Temple of Solomon, which was erected as a permanent house of G-d after the Jews had settled in their land.

The architecture of the Tabernacle is meticulously outlined in the Bible (see Exodus 26): it was made of upright posts of acacia wood, and covered with animal skins of various sorts. The only inorganic element of the Tabernacle was the earth that constituted the floor. The Holy Temple, by contrast, was constructed entirely of inorganic materials, namely, stone and earth (see Maimonides, Laws of the Holy Temple, chapter 1; and Sefer HaChinuch, precept 492). The only materials of organic origin in the construction of the Temple were certain cedar beams used as necessary supports. An exact opposite is therefore apparent: Torah law specifies that organic materials be used as the primary components of the Tabernacle – with inorganic earth merely serving as the floor – while for the Holy Temple, the Torah designated that same inorganic category as the primary component – with the only organic element occupying a secondary role.

The reason for this lies in the explanation of a famous paradox. Everything in the world falls into one of four categories; any given thing is either mineral, vegetable, animal or the speaking being, mankind. It is obvious that the inanimate mineral realm, consisting of such things as stone and earth, is the lowest form of existence, with growing plants a step higher, and so on up to the crown of creation, mankind. Yet intriguingly, humans eat animals (as well as plants and minerals) for sustenance, animals eat plants, and plants themselves grow from the ground: ultimately, though “ground” is the lowest level of the four enumerated above, it is the most vital and provides sustenance to the others! Why should this be; why should not plants, a higher level, provide sustenance to earth and not the other way around?

G-d deliberately set up the ecosystem in this fashion in order to reflect a spiritual concept. There is a saying (see the Lecha Dodi prayer recited to welcome the Shabbos), “the end result is first in thought.” Simply put, this mean that when a person has an idea for something they wish to do, the first conception to come into their mind is of the finished product or the completed goal, not the various preliminary steps they will have to take to attain that goal. For example, a person who wants to build a house had initially conceived of the idea as a completed goal: they imagined themselves as owner of their own home, where their family could live in a nice neighborhood, with a garden, etc. – the very ideal of what they want. Only after this initial idea do they turn their mind to the steps that lead up to that end: contacting an architect, buying lumber, zoning regulations, and so on – until the carrying out of the steps leads them eventually to the fulfillment of the original idea.

This is the inner significance of the dispute mentioned in the Talmud (Chagiga 12a) as to which was created first, the heavens or the earth. One opinion is that the heavens came first, as it is written (Genesis 1:1), “In the beginning G-d created the heaven [first] and the earth.” The other opinion holds that the earth was first, as it says (Genesis 2:4), “on the day that G-d, the L-rd, made earth [first] and heaven.” Actually, both are correct: in practice, G-d created the heavens (and the spiritual aspects of creation) first, but this was not the ideal. It was, rather, an intermediate step toward achieving a final objective, as in the example of the house discussed above. The reason for this is that it is of limited satisfaction to G-d to have spiritual beings like angels and souls recognize and worship Him, since they can see G-d’s influence clearly and thus, for them, worshipping G-d is the obvious thing to do. The ultimate purpose of creation is for there to be a physical world, whose inhabitants cannot perceive G-d openly at all, yet even they should succeed in recognizing G-d’s sovereignty and worshipping Him. In this sense, the physical world was the ideal that arose first in G-d’s mind (as it were); it was the “end result first in thought” hinted at in the verse, “on the day that G-d, the L-rd, made earth [this physical world, first] and heaven.”

This, then, is the explanation of the paradoxical relationship between the mineral, vegetable, animal and human kingdoms. Earth represents the physical world that was the ideal first to arise in G-d’s mind. Earth, though, is not simply symbolic of this high level of G-dliness; it actually derives its spiritual life-force from this level and is a corporeal manifestation of the spirituality associated with what is in the depths of G-d’s “mind” (metaphorically speaking) as opposed to a more “superficial” level of G-dliness. It is because of the sublime spiritual level of its origin that the physical ground of the earth has an advantage over the higher forms like plants, and is able to give them life. Nevertheless, the vegetable kingdom has advantages over the ground as well – it grows, manifests more “life” – since that reflects the way the world was created in practice (as opposed to the underlying thought behind creation).

Now, we have said that the purpose of creating the universe to begin with was so that the physical world, where G-d is not openly revealed, should also come to manifest the sovereignty of the Creator. This is accomplished through Jewish observance of the Torah and mitzvos over the course of history, and there is a “payoff” in the end: our worship of G-d literally transforms this physical world, one mitzvah at a time, into a fitting abode for the Divine, and when this is sufficiently accomplished, Messiah will arrive. At that time, G-d’s attribute of sovereignty, having been brought to the fore and manifest through Jewish worship, will be openly manifest over all creation and will assume an increased position of prominence.

This is an explanation of the mystical teaching that in the Messianic era, G-d’s attribute of sovereignty (malchus in Hebrew) will be elevated to a position of superiority over G-d’s so-called “emotional” attributes. As has been explained elsewhere, G-d manifests Himself to us in ways which we can relate to and which we therefore know by names that parallel our own character makeup. Since the highest faculty of Man is wisdom, the Torah allegorically applies this term (chochma in Hebrew) to the highest level of G-dly revelation within the ten-stage scheme known as the ten sefiros. Just as man also has emotions, generally considered inferior to intellect, there are G-dly revelations of a lesser degree than chochma,  known to us by the names of emotions (e.g., chesed or “kindness”; gevurah or “restraint”).

The above are all attributes of a person’s physical self; there exists, however, a more external aspect to a person which extends over others, as opposed to being a function of the person alone. A king, for example, rules by his command; his will is carried out throughout the kingdom “in the name of the king,” but the king’s physical presence is not required. Similarly, G-d implements His will in the universe simply by His command. It is certainly not necessary for G-d’s actual Self (so to speak) to “personally” water the crops, make the sun shine, etc. This attribute of G-d, which is somewhat removed from G-d’s “personal” Self, so to speak, is what we mean by malchus, the Divine attribute of “sovereignty.”

In general, there are six “emotional” attributes of G-d, in the sense explained above. Collectively, they are referred to in Kabbalistic terms as z’eir anpin (“minor countenance”) or z.a. (pronounced “za”) for short. The lowest attribute within the category of za, itself immediately above the attribute of malchus, is known as yesod (“basis” or “foundation”).

In a mystical sense, za is associated with masculinity, and malchus, with femininity. This is the Kabbalistic significance of the verse (Proverbs 12:4), “A woman of valor is the crown of her husband.” The “woman of valor” is a mystical reference to the “feminine” attribute of malchus; the “husband” alludes to the “masculine” attributes of za. The spiritual meaning of the verse is as mentioned above: although now, prior to Messiah’s arrival, the attribute of malchus is in an inferior position to za and depends upon these emotional attributes for its own spiritual life-force (see the discussion of this in the synopsis of the discourse, V’hinei Anachnu M’almim Alumim on the Torah portion, Vayeishev), after Messiah’s arrival, malchus, G-d’s attribute of sovereignty, will be elevated to a superior position to za and will provide za with sustenance. Like a crown, which sits atop the head of its wearer, malchus, the “woman of valor,” will rise up and sit, like a crown, above its “husband,” za.

A hint of the above is also reflected in the fact that the earth gives sustenance to growing things, which are apparently superior to it. Ground, as stated, symbolizes the Divine attribute of malchus, the sovereignty of G-d, while growing things represent the emotional attributes of za – since emotions, too, are subject to change and growth. By virtue of the superior position of malchus in G-d’s thought (if not in actual practice), the inanimate realm of earth can, even as things are now, provide sustenance to plant life, etc.

With all the above in mind, we can understand why the Tabernacle’s primary components were of organic material, with just a secondary role for the inorganic; while the exact opposite was the case in the Holy Temple. The Tabernacle was only a temporary abode for G-d, as it says (II Samuel 7:6), “and I [G-d] have roamed [as opposed to dwelt in a settled manner] in a tent and a tabernacle.” It was the temporary center of Divine worship while the Jews wandered in the wilderness, and did not symbolize the very perfection of the universe – nor was it meant to. The Tabernacle, instead, represented the way G-d made this world as we know it, the pre-Messianic world, in which the sovereignty of G-d (symbolized by earth) has yet to be fully brought out. For that reason, earth occupied only a secondary role in the Tabernacle, that of the floor, while the primary components were from the plant and animal kingdoms (symbolizing the emotional attributes, as explained above). The Holy Temple, on the other hand, was considered the permanent dwelling of G-d, as it says (Psalms 132:14), “This is My resting place forever.” It represented something of the nature of the world to come, when G-d’s attribute of sovereignty, malchus, will be manifest and even superior to za; therefore the Holy Temple was constructed exclusively of inorganic earth and stone.

Another important symbolism inherent in ground and plants is that ground represents humility – since it is lowly and is trod upon by all – especially humility before G-d (a quality known as bitul in Hebrew); while plants, which rise up and grow higher and higher, represent the opposite of humility. In a mystical sense, this is because the attribute of malchus has its source, as mentioned above, in G-d’s thought, a level even higher than the emotions of za. Thought is associated with bitul, making oneself as nothing before G-d, as indicated by the Hebrew word for thought, machshava. This can be reformulated into the words chashav ma, meaning roughly, “what is thought.” The same play on words can be applied to the word for wisdom (an intellectual level higher than mere thought), chochma, which can be reformulated to read, “koach ma,” meaning “a force of ‘what’” – that is, a power or force so mysterious in origin that it can only be described by the wondering exclamation “what is it?” (The spiritual source of the soul of Moses was on this exalted level, which is why he exclaimed (Exodus 16:7), “What are we,” i.e., “we are of the spiritual level known as ‘what’.”) The significance of all this is that something of the quality of bitul inherent in the lofty spiritual level of G-d’s “thought,” its source, is reflected in malchus as well, giving it the superior ability to bring forth growing things.

Finally, all this is relevant to Joseph and Judah. All our holy ancestors represented sublime spiritual qualities; in a mystical sense, Joseph embodied the “emotional” attributes of G-d (za generally, and in particular the attribute within za known as yesod) and Judah embodied G-d’s sovereignty (malchus). This is hinted at in their Hebrew names: etymologically, the name Yosef (Joseph) denotes growth, which is a characteristic of emotions and za; the name Yehuda (Judah) denotes humility and acknowledgement of another’s superiority, which are traits of ground and sovereignty. Since, in this pre-Messianic era, the emotional attributes of za are superior to malchus – which has yet to be revealed – and they sustain it, Joseph, who embodied those emotional attributes, found himself in a superior position to Judah and the other tribes. That is why Judah – malchus – had to approach Joseph and say, “I beg of you, my lord”: everything about this episode demonstrates the submission of the attribute of sovereignty to the emotional attributes in this present era.

However, after we Jews have fulfilled our mission in life and the Messiah has arrived and been revealed in the world, G-d’s attribute of sovereignty will be elevated to a superior position over za (in accordance with the verse “a woman of valor is the crown of her husband”). This is beautifully and meaningfully symbolized by the fact that the Messiah himself, who will reign as king over the Jews – an expression of the attribute of sovereignty – will be a descendant of King David, who, like all kings of Israel, was from the tribe of Judah.

May it be G-d’s will that all the above be fulfilled immediately, with the revelation of the Messianic King.

Lo Tov Heyos HaAdam Levado
Mayim Rabim Lo Yuchlu L'Chabos
B'Etzem HaYom Hazeh Nimol Avrohom
Erda Na
Chayei Sara
V'Avraham Zakein Ba Bayamim
Vayachp'ru Avdei Yitzchok
Vayashkeim Lavan Baboker
Vayeavek Ish Imo
VeHinei Anachnu M'Almim Alumim
Ner Chanukah Mitzvah L'Hanicha
Vayigash Eilav Yehudah
Chachlili Einayim Miyayin