“Twenty-three Days in Three Parts” Parashat Vayigash 5777

Part I

He really doesn’t have much of a choice. The entire Middle East is being ravaged by the worst famine in history. Yaakov has just been offered a “Get Out of Jail Free” card by his son, Joseph, who just happens to be the Grand Vizier of Egypt, the only country that still has any food. Joseph has invited Yaakov along with his entire family to come and live with him in Egypt until the famine ends in another five years. While Yaakov does not relish the thought of leaving the Land of Israel for a second time, his survival instinct gets the best of him and he prepares his family for an extended sojourn to Egypt.

The first thing Yaakov does is to dispatch his son, Yehuda, to Egypt in order [Bereishit 46:28] “to direct him to Goshen”. The word “l’horot” – “to direct” – is seldom used in the Torah and our Sages propose a number of explanations. Rav Hanina the son of Rav Acha explains that Yehuda was commanded to make physical preparations for their arrival. He was to take care of all the logistics involved in uprooting a family: He had to buy a house, find day care for the kids, and determine which health plan gave the most benefits at the lowest cost. Rav Hanina[1], on the other hand, suggests that Yehuda was sent to Egypt to open a Yeshiva. Indeed, a Jew’s first thought before any potential move is “Is there a Jewish Day School for our children?” Rashi brings both explanations.

It would be easy to suggest that Rav Hanina the son of Rav Acha is more concerned with the physical aspects of the move while Rav Hanina is more concerned with the spiritual aspects. Perhaps this approach is too simplistic. I say this because it is difficult to understand precisely what Yehuda would have had to do in order to “open a Yeshiva” in Goshen. There were seventy Jews in the entire world so there were no Rabbis to interview. The Torah had not yet been given so were no books to purchase. There had to be more to “opening a Yeshiva” than just finding a suitable building.

I suggest that the two Rav Hanina’s are not in disagreement at all, but, rather, that they perceive the move to Egypt on two different levels. Rav Hanina the son of Rav Acha perceives the move as a response to famine – Yaakov took his family to where the food was. When a family moves to a new location there is a large logistic tail that must be dealt with. Yehuda was Yaakov’s go-to guy. He was the problem-solver and so he went down before everyone else. Rav Hanina sees the move as more than just a short-term response to a temporary problem. He perceives it as the fulfilment of the prophecy given at the “Covenant of the Parts”, in which Avraham was told that his descendents would be “strangers in a strange land”. According to Rav Hanina, Yaakov knew that the next centuries would be years of anguish for his children. While Yaakov sends Yehuda to Goshen, he emphasizes to his family that the move that they are about to make goes beyond space and time and so Yehuda goes to establish a House of Torah.

Part II

Last week we celebrated the holiday of Chanukah. Better late than never, I’d like to share a beautiful insight I found last week while reading Rav Eliezer Melamed’s “Peninei Halacha”. Rav Melamed notes that the number “seven” is symbolic of nature, as the world was created in seven days. By extrapolation, the number “eight” signifies something that is above nature. Rav Melamed brings a number of examples: a child is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth symbolizing that the circumcision, as an eternal covenant with Hashem, elevates the child beyond his physical self. Another example is the Torah, which was given on the fiftieth day – seven weeks of seven days – after the Egyptian exodus, symbolizing the Torah’s existence beyond the bounds of nature. Similarly, we complete the reading of the Torah each year on Shemini Atzeret, the “Eighth Day of Assembly”.

Another instance of the number eight subsuming nature is the holiday of Chanukah. On Chanukah the Seleucid Greeks set their sights not on the Jews, but, rather, on Judaism. Hellenism glorified nature, particularly the human body, which they considered the pinnacle of nature. The Greeks believed the Torah was a waste of time, at best, and destructive, at worst, and so they banned all Jewish ritual, especially the study of Torah. The celebration of Chanukah over eight days exemplifies the victory of the eternal Torah over nature.

Part III

Ten days ago, on the Friday before Chanukah, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 2334, demanding that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard.” The resolution stated that the Israeli settlements established in territory occupied since 1967 have “no legal validity,” constitute a “flagrant violation” under international law and are a “major obstacle” to a two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace. Fourteen out of the fifteen members of the Security Council voted for the resolution while the United States abstained. This was the first time in decades that the United States did not use its power of veto to quash a flagrantly anti-Israel resolution at the UNSC. Israelis were outraged. The Israeli government went so far as to accuse the United States of collusion with the Palestinian Authority. Documents leaked in an Egyptian newspaper seemed to verify the accusation. Four days later Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech at the Dean Acheson[2] Auditorium strongly condemning Israel’s government: “If the choice is one-state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it won’t ever live in peace”. While the Israeli-American relationship has known highs and lows over the past sixty-eight years, the UNSC abstention and Kerry’s harsh reprimand signified a new low.

Why is this confrontation happening now? One thing is clear: President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have been at loggerheads pretty much for the past eight years. The views of the two leaders regarding the future of Israel and the Middle East are incompatible and the President has found it impossible to impose his will diplomatically on Israel. With twenty-three days to go before he leaves the White House, the behaviour of the Obama Administration might very well be considered a bitter “parting shot”.

Twenty-three days. On the one hand, it’s kind of sophomoric. “I’ve got to go home now, so I’m taking my ball and my bat with me.” On the other hand, time is most definitely running out. But not for everyone. If Israel is perceived as “America’s closest ally in the Middle East”, then the current animus between the White House and the Knesset can be understood. But the State of Israel can and must also be perceived on another level. The same “Covenant of the Parts” that promised four hundred years of slavery also promised that those slaves would one day be freed in order to return to the Land of Israel. For this the descendants of Yaakov waited four hundred years – what’s another twenty-three days? After the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash, Am Yisrael were exiled for nearly two thousand years. Each year we prayed “Next year in Jerusalem”. And now we have returned. We are a shadow of our former selves but we are rebuilding. For this we waited two thousand years – what’s another twenty-three days? In another twenty-three days, the Obama Administration will become relegated to history books, for better or for worse. And if the Trump Administration is no better, then we’ll wait another four years or even eight years. Am Yisrael exists beyond the bounds of nature. We have all the time in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Yechiel ben Shprintza.

[1] Rav Hanina was unrelated to Rav Hanina the son of Rav Acha.

[2] Acheson, Secretary of State under Harry Truman, strongly opposed American recognition of Israel.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including two briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. He speaks regularly for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Ari is a highly requested speaker at AIPAC events, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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