Preparing For Exile

Joseph used his position of rulership to help his brothers develop coping skills for their upcoming exile.

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Nevertheless, during 210 years of Egyptian exile, the Jewish people descended to the forty-ninth level of impurity, the Ari Z"L (Rabbi Isaac Luria, 16th-century Israeli kabbalist) teaches. Most Jews were idolaters, did not practice circumcision and were generally "naked and bare" from any mitzvot (commandments).

Yet they had their merits--their empathy, their concern and their unity. They kept their distinct Jewish names and clothing, did not inform on each other, and did not intermarry. These qualities, while insufficient, are a necessary start on the road back, for our Sages teach that no individual Jew is redeemed except to the extent that he identifies with the future and destiny of Klal Yisrael (the people of Israel).

With their animosity toward Joseph, the brothers demonstrated the opposite capacity. They sent him into slavery, and thus they too were exiled.

Protecting Benjamin

It was indeed Joseph's Divinely ordained mission to insure that the hatred that led to his enslavement was gone and the rift was healed. The children of Leah were not only protective of Benjamin, the presumptive last child of Rachel, but were willing to give up their lives to insure his safe return.

They had come full circle. Their sinat hinam (baseless hatred) turned into an ahavat chinam (baseless love), and, in Hashem's manner of providing the cure before the illness, the seeds of redemption were planted before the exile was allowed to commence.

The Vilna Gaon teaches that the Egyptian exile was the prototype for future exiles. Just as community and solidarity were necessary prerequisites for redemption then, so too are they necessary now, for if we are consumed by hatred and polarization, how can our people survive this hostile galut (exile)?

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Rabbi Yitzchok A. Breitowitz

Rabbi Yitzchok A. Breitowitz is Rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Torah-Woodside Synagogue, Silver Spring, Maryland.