Vayigash 5774-An installment in the seriea
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
Love HaShem your L-rd with all your heart, with all your soul and with your entire uttermost.
-Devarim 6: 5
The second modifier of this commandment “love…with all your soul/ life” is the scriptural source for the halachah-Torah law that one must lay down their lives and die ahl kiddush HaShem– through holy martyrdom to sanctify The Name rather than transgress the prohibition of idolatry(Sanhedrin 74A). There are several other transgressions and circumstances where the halachah demands “death before transgression.” Those brave and G-d-loving souls who were equal to this ultimate test of tests have gone down in the annals of Jewish history as kedoshim-holy ones.
As all death is certain, if we were able to pick the circumstances of our deaths the noblest and wisest choice would be to die ahl kiddush HaShem confident that, in doing so, this end of our temporal lives will gain us holiness and entrée to an exalted eternity. Rabi Akiva prayed for such a death every day and his prayers were answered (Brachos 61B). Those who die ahl kiddush HaShem occupy such an exalted position in the world-to-come that their station is inaccessible even to those who lived righteous lives but died conventional deaths. (Pesachim 50 A)
The Rambam goes so far as to say that dying ahl kiddush HaShem instantly redeems a terribly lived life. In his words “A person who’d lived a wicked life whom HaShem affords the merit of the exalted level of dying ahl kiddush HaShem, even if his sins were as great as those of Yeravam ben Nevaht and his cohorts (who’d lost their share in the world-to-come) will gain a portion in the world-to-come.” (Igerres Teiman).
The conventional translation for the last modifier of this pasuk is “Love HaShem…and with all your might.” But the Hebrew word meod literally means “very/ exceedingly.” The word that concludes the pasuk is the second person, singular, possessive construct of this word. In this vein “and with your entire uttermost” comes close to a hyper-literal translation. Such a translation means that we are commanded to love HaShem by giving Him that which we value above all else, that which we would gladly trade our hearts and souls to obtain. The Izhbitzer teaches that there are times and circumstances that call for more than trading a fleeting life for an everlasting one. There are times and circumstances when mesiras nefesh means sacrificing our eternity, NOT sacrificing something else to get it.
His disciple Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, cites many examples of this supreme type of self-sacrifice: After the sin of the Golden calf Moshe Rabenu offered to be erased from G-d’s book in order to save the Jewish People (Shemos 32:32). When his son plotted to commit regicide/ patricide, King Dovid sought to do damage control by worshipping idols, forfeiting his own share in the world-to-come, so as to minimize desecrating HaShem’s Name (Sanhedrin107A). For his love of Torah, in order to be the precedent-setting case that would bring a disputed halachah to light the mekoshesh eitzim-wood gatherer / chopper was willing to desecrate Shabbos (BeMidbar15:32-26, Tosafos Bava Basra 119B). Similarly, all those who “strolled in the Orchard”(Chagigah 14B) i.e. who studied the mystical secrets of the Torah, did so for the selfless, reckless love of Torah. They were cognizant of the risks these Torah studies posed to their bodies, sanity and even their faith. To lose ones faith is to lose the world-to-come.
“Send the boy with me” said Yehudah to his father Yisrael …”I will be responsible for him myself. You can demand him from my hand. If I do not bring him back and have him stand here in your presence I will have sinned to you for all time.”
Yehudah walked up to Yoseph and said “Please, your highness, (alternatively; my Master is within me) please let me say something to you personally…”
“Besides, I offered myself to my father as a guarantor for the lad. I told him ‘If I do d not bring him back to you I will have sinned to my father for all time.”
The sidra opens with Yehudah’s dramatic monologue. Apparently his peroration is being delivered in front of Tzafnat P’a’aneyach, the viceroy of Egypt. Superficially, pasuk 32 reads as a maudlin plea for mercy; “look at what I stand to lose unless your highness reconsiders…” But, in truth, even prior to Yoseph’s revealing his true identity, Yehudah was, in effect, speaking to Yoseph. More precisely; he was acting as his own advocate before HaShems heavenly court over the sale of Yoseph, and over Yoseph’s presumed loss to the history and kedushah-development of K’lal Yisrael. Earlier there had been a consensus among the brothers that all of their troubles in Egypt, now having culminated in Binyamin being accused of stealing Tzafnat P’a’aneyach’s divining cup, were Divine retribution for the sale of Yoseph. (Bereishis 42:21,22)
As criminal-defense attorneys will tell you, in many cases the best defense is a good offense. Yehudah’s line of attack was that he could supply K’lal Yisrael with everything that Yoseph had to offer…. and more. The second Izhbitzer, the Bais Yaakov, explains Yehudah’s words as follows: “Yoseph’s greatest spiritual strength derives from his supreme self-control. Even when the most overpowering temptations sing Yoseph a siren-song calling for an expansion of self that would overspill these boundaries, Yoseph, personifying yesod-immovable, defined foundation, has ability to constrict himself and respect boundaries that are just not to be crossed.
“But” Yehudah argues “I possess that power as well because; bi adonee-HaShem’s theonym is within me, His holy Name is subsumed inside my own (the name Yehudah is the tetragrammaton with the letter dalet intervening between the final two letters) and His divine power to maintain boundaries is contained within me.
“Moreover I have a capacity for self-sacrifice that Yoseph lacks. I can be moser-nefesh / neshamah-sacrifice my soul. I posses the singular selflessness, the self-abnegation, to forfeit not merely my temporal body but my everlasting soul so that others may live. Yoseph does not. Ki ahvd’cha ahrav es hanaaar– your slave has cosigned for the youth (Binyamin).”
Chazal teach that when Yehudah guaranteed Yaakov the safe, live return of Binyamin he did it on penalty of losing his share in the world to come (See Rashi-Bereshis 43:9). Yehudah was willing to do more than merely sacrifice a few remaining years of life on Binyamin’s behalf. He was ready to forfeit eternity. According to the Bais Yaakov’s reading “If I do not bring him back to you I will have sinned to my father for all time” is no weepy supplication for clemency; it is a bold and defiant assertion of superiority.