12 Kislev 5781 / Saturday, November 28, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayeitzei
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The Conductor    

The Conductor

Parshat Miketz: This world is a symphony of Hashem's presence. In order for the music to be played properly the players need to know their roles...


Parshat Miketz
Anyone with a basic knowledge of music knows that a conductor is absolutely essential for an orchestra to play a symphony properly. Without his presence, the piece can be played, however either there will be conflicts and dissonance between the members of the orchestra or, even if they do play together, they won't be able to fully express the deepest intents of the composer.
This world is a symphony of Hashem's presence. In order for the music to be played properly the players need to know their roles.
When Abraham was going to be buried the verse tells us: "His sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried him". From this seemingly simple account Rashi teaches us a very important lesson. "From here we learn that Ishmael did teshuva (repented for past misdeeds) and put Issac before him." Teshuva (repentance) actually means returning to one's source. The ability to know one's place in the larger scheme is essential to fulfilling one's purpose in this world.
Conversely, when Isaac died the verse tells us "...and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him (Isaac)". Even though this story took place significantly after Jacob received the blessings of the firstborn, the time for the proper order of Jacob before Esau had not yet arrived. (We are still waiting for Esau to understand the primary status of Jacob. But that's a different discussion.)
With these thoughts let's try to understand a major difficulty in this Parsha. The story is well known how Joseph's brothers came to Egypt to buy food due to a major famine in Israel. Joseph accused his brothers of spying and demanded they prove their innocence by bringing their brother Benjamin to Egypt. After much debate and trepidation, Jacob agreed to send Benjamin. Joseph met his brother Benjamin (unbeknownst to Benjamin that it was his brother) and then sent him and the other brothers back to Israel but not before he planted his goblet in Benjamin's bag in order to see if the brothers would come to Benjamin's aid.
Joseph's actions are so perplexing. Why did Joseph cause Benjamin and the brothers such anguish? It would seem unlikely that a tzadik (righteous person) of Joseph's status would be set on taking revenge. Many commentators explain that Joseph wanted to see if the brothers would put their lives "on the line" to help save Benjamin (as opposed to how they treated Joseph many years before). The problem with this explanation is that their dedication to help Benjamin might have been motivated by a desire to save Jacob from anguish and not because they fully regretted their selling Joseph. So it seems that there was an subtle, yet essential, lesson that Joseph was trying to teach the brothers.
The great Chasidic author of the work Shem MiShmuel, Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein (1855-1926), provides a fascinating insight to this perplexing story. I must admit his thoughts were somewhat cathartic to me and made me rethink some of my own personal shortcomings, as I'll try to explain.
We mentioned in a previous article that Joseph's intention to lead the brothers, far from being motivated by any hint of haughtiness, was based on his desire to maximize each brother's personal greatness. He understood his unique qualities of leadership and thought the brothers would appreciate that fact also. At the time of the sale, they didn't grasp his importance to the future of the Jewish people.
Interestingly, a consequence of the sale was the brothers' loss of Divine blessing that Joseph provided and their subsequent descent from their previous levels of greatness. This was a natural outgrowth of not having the "conductor" in his rightful position. The verse tells us that after the sale, Judah "went down" from his brothers which means simply they deposed him as their spokesman. Yet the deeper meaning to this "going down" refers to his spiritual decline as a consequence of the sale. However, not only did Judah's personal level drop but the rest of the brothers as well.  As much as they initially sensed this decline, they didn't attach these feelings with the sale. 
According to the Holy Zohar (the most basic book of Jewish mysticism), this sense of spiritual decline was temporary..The reason was that in Joseph's absence, spiritual leadership was inherited by Benjamin. For a number of reasons, including the fact that Benjamin was not involved in Joseph's sale, Benjamin became the spiritual heir of Joseph's greatness. As long as Benjamin's presence was felt, Joseph's lacking was not fully grasped by the brothers.
When Joseph finally gathered the brothers together, he wanted to fully rectify the mistake made some twenty- two years before. He felt the brothers were ready to accept him as their spiritual leader. However, in order to fully bring the message home, Benjamin needed to be incarcerated and separated from the rest of his brothers. Only when the brothers would again feel that spiritual drop, would they realize that both the past and present descent was based on the loss of the "tzadik". Then and only then would they realize Joseph's true place as "conductor" of the "orchestra" called the Jewish people. 
In short, the reason for Joseph's apparent "cruelty" was in order to assure his proper place among the brothers and to form the essential structure of the Jewish people in the future.
I would like to finish with a personal note. The ideas of the Shem MiShmuel are fairly esoteric but his words had a profound impact upon me.. Thanks to Rabbi Lazer Brody, may Hashem bless him with all types of success, I have the good fortune to write for this special website. One of the issues I struggle with as a non-card carrying member of those connected with Breslev, is the importance of Rebbe Nachman (and many other great tzadikim). In our world, independence is a quality of primary importance. Being a follower is not seen as particularly praiseworthy. On the other hand, trusting and humbling oneself to the tzadik is essential in Chasidic writings, especially according to the tzadikim themselves! Overcoming one's tendency for wanting to be "the bottom line" is a challenge that I, and probably many others, have a difficult time overcoming. Based on the ideas of the Shem MiShmuel, we see that humbling ourselves to the tzaddik is not a recent notion but has its roots in the Chumash itself.
What is so essential to remember is the brothers themselves couldn't reach their true potential without Joseph's presence. So Joseph's insistance on leadership was ultimately for the benefit of every single brother. We need to understand that all the future tzadikim also encouraged their flocks to follow their holy leadership, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of their followers.
The Talmud teaches us that many Sages claimed that their names were the same as the name of the Moshiach. A person's name reflects his unique mission in this world. Each of the sages said the presence of Moshiach will accomplishment the flowering of their own essence and therefore they will share his name. We look forward to Moshiach, who will be the great King of the Jewish people. With his coming the music inside each of us will find its full expression and the entire universe will then burst into song of all of the greatness that Hashem has done and is doing for all of us.

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