“The people of the book” is a pretty accurate description of the Jewish people, wouldn’t you say?
More than merely study, learning is intertwined with the very fabric of Jewish survival.
Learning Torah has always been the secret of not just spiritual survival, but had the protective qualities to safeguard the individual and the community from the turbulent waves of the world, giving wisdom, inspiration and hope to a people who has defied history.
We have had many leaders throughout the ages, but the leadership of Joseph and Judah lay the foundations of “the people of the book” as they start their long rode in Egypt and all subsequent exiles.
Joseph & Judah diametrically different.
Joseph was exceptional. He started off as an a child prodigy we may say. According to Kabbalah, Joseph represents the Sefirah of Yesod. Yesod is called Tzadik- the righteous one and therefore Joseph was endowed with the abilities to remain mentally focused and morally righteous in the most contentious of circumstances.
As the viceroy of Egypt, Joseph had to be extremely detail oriented. More so, he was not in a righteous learning environment where everyone around him was aspiring for spiritual perfection. Quite the contrary, he lived in a decadent idolatrous society which saw the notion of worship of a one G-d as completely foreign.
Nevertheless, Joseph is called Joseph “Hatzadik”, Joseph the righteous, for his ability to maintain his spiritual virtue and remain calibrated in the midst of the decadent Egyptian society.
Joseph is alive
Actually, Joseph did not only survive, he thrived. He is called “Od Yosef Chai- Joseph is still alive” when his brothers relate the joyous news that Joseph is still alive. Alive in this context is more than having the right results of the check up at the doctor. Alive refers to the spiritual life, the Torah study which Joseph excelled in learning and constantly thinking of even when he was the viceroy of Egypt, the super power of the world.
In the climax of the epic meeting between Joseph and his brothers, Joseph reveals to his brothers that he is Joseph, the little brother whom they sold into slavery. The brothers were too shocked to reply to Joseph’s next question, “is my father still alive?”.
In softening the good news, which could be proven deadly for the frail Jacob, the brothers sent messengers ahead of the entourage who was preparing to make the trip to Canaan for the meeting of Joseph and Jacob.
Jacob is notified, Joseph however sent caravans of oxen which carried food supplies for the clan of Jacob.
Upon seeing the caravans, “Jacob’s spirit is revived”. he believes that Joseph is still alive. The Midrash explains that the last thing that Jacob and Joseph studied together were the laws of “egla arufa” which translates as the caravan. Joseph was hinting to his father that he was still alive, not just physically, but more importantly spiritually.
Judah was quite different. Judah is described as someone with faults (off course we can’t understand this literally) and he was called “Ba’al Teshuvah- a master of repentance”.
As the leader of his brothers, Judah used his strong personality and clout to influence them to also improve themselves and work on self perfection.
The brothers, including Judah lived a very different type of a life than Joseph. They were shepherds and were aloof from the hustle bustle of the world. The life of a shepherd is mostly spent outside of the city limits, within fields and meadows in quite contemplation. The brothers used their time to meditate, pray and study in solitude.
Judah therefore represented the approach of the brothers, aloofness from the world.
Jacob descending to Egypt
As Jacob readies himself to descend down to Egypt he first sends Judah to open up an “academy of learning” (Midrash). Jacob realizes that without the academy of learning -the Yeshiva, there is no hope for the survival of the Jewish people.
The question comes back, what about Joseph? he could have easily set up a Yeshiva in Egypt, after all he was the viceroy of the land.
The answer is that the majority of people are not Joseph. Most people simply can not remain Jewishly connected as he was while in a decadent society. The Yeshiva of Judah provided the majority of the Jewish people a house of learning where they can go and learn. This house of learning did not just teach wisdom but became an island of serenity and often sanity within the many years of exile that were ahead of the children of Jacob.
There is another reason why Judah’s Yeshiva was chosen by Jacob. Kabbalah teaches that the inner purpose of the creation of the world is to “transform darkness into light” and “to make a dwelling place for the creator in this world”.
The approach of Joseph was an uncanny connection of heaven and earth, of the spiritual and physical worlds. In a way the “lower” world was not fully utilized and actualized in making a dwelling place for the creator.
The approach Judah, the repenter (ba’al teshuva), the one that learns from his mistakes and lifts himself up again is the ultimate actualization of how the world can become a dwelling place for the creator. The Yeshiva of Judah is the lighthouse of wisdom, inspiration and hope.
The lesson for us is that by visiting a learning environment and setting aside times for learning Torah during the day, we bring back focus and vision to our often tumultuous life.
The academy of Judah is the recipe of Jewish survival and our lifeline of staying afloat in this turbulent world.
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