ESSAY: A Shepherd in Egypt
Should you entrust your childs education to a spiritual
INSIGHTS: The Bottom of the Barrel
Where the pieces of your broken heart should lie
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: Vistas
There comes a time when weve lived long enough to
realize that every choice we ever made was made in ignorance
A Shepherd in Egypt
The Torah tells us that when Jacob moved his family to Egypt,
where the Jewish people were to reside for more than two centuries,
he sent Judah ahead... to show the way. The Hebrew word lehorot (to show the way)
literally means to teach and to instruct,
prompting the Midrash to say that the purpose of Judahs
mission was to establish a house of learning from which
would be disseminated the teachings of Torah.
But Joseph was already in Egypt, and Jacob had already received
word that Josephs twenty-two years away from home had
not diminished his knowledge of and commitment to Torah. And Joseph certainly had the authority and the means to establish
the most magnificent yeshivah in the empire. Why did Jacob
desire that Judaha penniless emigrant who barely knows
the languagebe the one to establish the house of learning
that was to serve the Jewish people in Egypt?
Judah and Joseph
The children of Jacob were divided into two factions: on
one side were ten of the twelve brothers, led by Judah; on
the other, Joseph, whose differences with his brothers were
the cause of much pain and strife in Jacobs family.
The conflict between Joseph and his brothers ran deeper than
a multicolored coat or a favorite sons share of his
fathers affections. It was a conflict between two world-views,
between two approaches to life as a Jew in a pagan world.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were shepherds, as were Josephs
They chose this vocation because they found the life of the
shepherda life of seclusion, communion with nature,
and distance from the tumult and vanities of societymost
conducive to their spiritual pursuits. Tending their sheep
in the valleys and on the hills of Canaan, they could turn
their backs on the mundane affairs of man, contemplate the
majesty of the Creator, and serve Him with a clear mind and
Joseph was the exception. He was a man of the world, a fortuitous
in business and politics. Sold into slavery, he was soon chief
manager of his masters affairs. Thrown into jail, he
was soon a high-ranking member of the prison administration.
He went on to become viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh
in the most powerful nation on earth.
Yet none of this touched him. Slave, prisoner, ruler of millions,
controller of an empires wealthit made no difference:
the same Joseph who had studied Torah at the feet of his father
traversed the palaces and government halls of Egypt. His spiritual
and moral self derived from within and was totally unaffected
by his society, environment, or the occupation that claimed
his involvement twenty-four hours a day.
The conflict between Joseph and his brothers was the conflict
between a spiritual tradition and a new worldliness; between
a community of shepherds and an entrepreneur. The brothers
could not accept that a person can lead a worldly existence
without becoming worldly; that a person can remain one with
G-d while immersed in the affairs of the most depraved society
In this conflict, Joseph was to emerge the victor. The spiritual
seclusion that characterized the first three generations of
Jewish history was destined to end; Jacob and his family moved
to Egypt, where the smelting pit of exile was
to forge their descendants into the nation of Israel. As Joseph
had foreseen in his dreams, his brother and his father bowed
to him, prostrating their approach to his. Jacob had understood
the significance of these dreams all along, and had awaited
their fulfillment; Josephs brothers, who found it more difficult
to accept that the era of the shepherd was drawing to a close,
fought him for twenty-two bitter years, until they, too, came
to accept that the historical challenge of Israel was to be
the challenge of living a spiritual life in a material environment.
Nevertheless, it was Judah, not Joseph, who was chosen by
Jacob to establish the house of learning that was to serve
as the source of Torah knowledge for the Israelites in Egypt.
The first three generations of Jewish life were not a false
start: they were the foundation of all that was to follow.
It was this foundation from which Joseph drew the strength
to persevere in his faith and righteousness in an alien environment;
it was this foundation upon which the entire edifice of Jewish
history was to be constructed.
The Jew lives in a material world, but his roots are planted
in the soil of unadulterated spirituality. In his daily life
he must be a Joseph, but his education must be provided by
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Tevet 2, 5722 (December
Bottom of the Barrel
Sadness is not a sin, goes the famous Chassidic
saying, but the damage that sadness can do to a person,
no sin can.
Does this mean that a person is never to experience anything
other than happiness and satisfaction? Never to experience
regret and remorse, never to be grieved by the negative in
oneself and ones world? Obviously not. The important
thing, however, is not to allow the sadness to pervade our
souls and dominate our lives.
The Torah establishes special times (such as the month of
Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance, the Minor Yom Kippur
at the end of each month, and the nightly Reading of
the Shema before going to sleep) when one is to search
ones soul, dwell on what requires rectification, and
weep over ones shortcomings and transgressions. However,
these feelings must be confined to these specifically designated
times, following which one should resume serving G-d
and confidence in ones own intrinsic goodness and the
intrinsic goodness of G-ds world.
One of the great Chassidic masters employs the following
parable to explain the place that sadness should occupy in
our lives: A barrel of the finest wine has a layer of sediment
on its bottom. The sediment plays an important role in the
wines preservation, but must be kept at the bottom of
the barrel: if it is allowed to mix with the wine, the wine
The pain we experience in our lives has a most constructive
function: without it, we would become indifferent to all that
is not as it should be in ourselves and our world. But this
is the sediment to the wine of life. Life itself must be a
joyous and exhilarating experience, its melancholy moments
to be confined to the bottom of the barrel.
by Jay Litvin
People think that teshuvah (repentance) is only for sinners.
But even the perfectly righteous individual must do teshuvahmust
return to elevate his perfect past to the level of his more
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
You stand in this moment. Many such moments lay behind you.
Many more, G-d willing, before you. In each of these moments
there is, there was, there will always be a choice. A decision
of importance or one concerning a simple day-to-day task.
A choice between disciplining your child or accepting his
or her behavior as a natural part of development. A choice
on how to spend ten dollars or an evening, whether or not
to respond to a comment, ask a question or think a thought.
At a certain point you have lived long enough to have made
many choices and to be able to see the consequences they have
wrought. From this vantage point, elevated by maturity, you
now see that every choice you made was made in ignorance.
You recognize that the full impact of each choice was not
seen at the time, and had it been, then perhaps another choice
would have been made, or the same choice, but with much more
trepidation, less spontaneity, and a total absence of frivolity.
The remorse this awareness brings drives you to seek audience
with the Heavenly Court. An audience to seek forgiveness not
for your sins, but for the decisions you made in wisdom, with
consideration, with moral righteousness; for the actions you
were so sure at the time were right. Only now, when you have
lived long enough to see their consequences, when you are
old enough to view them through a lens ground from experience
and the wisdom and understanding that only experience can
yield, did you see how very foolhardy you have been.
Children are the best example. Loving parents do for their
child what they believe to be best. Their actions are considered,
discussed, wrestled with. Expert advice is sought, no expense
spared, every opportunity cultivated. And yet, as the years
pass and your child grows, as his or her personality and character
begin to emerge, as he or she faces life, succeeds, fails,
rejoices and despairs, we, as parents, see the imperfections
of our children, and our own failings. With our spouse, we
sit late at night at the kitchen table, sipping our coffee,
and talk of the things we could have, should have done. In
great detail, we are able to trace each flaw and imperfection
in our children to a choice that we made, an action we took,
an opportunity we let slip by. And after we are done blaming
ourselves and each other, ultimately we conclude that we did
the best that we could. And in a strange way, this is the
If you bothered to examine in similar detail the other choices
youve made, you would come to the same conclusion. Each
was flawed and limited and in its wake created consequences
you could not foresee. Then, even though your mistakes and
limitations could be excused by lack of knowledge, you would
still desire to stand before the Heavenly Court and ask forgiveness.
For these consequences, as unintentional as they may have
been, are now very real and exist with a life of their own.
Repenting in Advance
After youve lived enough years, you know that the future
is as soon as yesterday and that ten or twenty years from
now exists today. You know that just as you are asking forgiveness
today for the consequences of actions taken ten or twenty
years ago, so ten or twenty years from now you will be standing
asking forgiveness for the actions you took today.
Even your repentance is limited. For you can only repent
for what you know, and your knowledge is meager. Ten or twenty
years from now you will remember standing before the Heavenly
Court today, and it will appear almost childlike. Because
ten or twenty years from now, you will see even more of the
aftermath of your actions. And you will desire to once again
seek atonement for them knowing that every newly realized
consequence requires its own repentance.
And now, knowing this, you arrive at the decision that stands
before you today: Your aspirations and what you do with them.
Your child and how you treat him. Your wife. Husband. Work.
Bank account. Friend. Neighbor. Mitzvah. Temptation. Vacation.
Anger. Love. And all the rest.
You stand in fear and trepidation. You know that todays
choice will create a future reality that you cannot possibly
know. You are about to release an arrow from the bow and you
are already responsible for whatever target it hits, whether
you aimed at it or not.
Poised to act, you have an image of yourself standing twenty
years from now; prepared to release the arrow, you are already
looking back, repenting your ignorance, the narrowness of
your vision, the lowliness of your vista, the targets your
arrow will strike as its flight continues past any destination
you aim for. Yet the moment of choice has arrived. The time
of action. The imperative of doing.
What do you do?
How can you possibly make a move? With the weight of this
awareness, will you ever laugh again, be spontaneous, frivolous,
fun loving, joyful?
Yet, miraculously, you act. You release the arrow. You laugh.
You sing and you dance. Because ultimately, through your years,
you have learned that G-d loves you. You are joyous precisely
because there is a Heavenly Court before which you can stand
and receive forgiveness and understanding and love. You laugh
precisely because you know that behind the imperative of doing
the very best you can is the futility of doing anything more
than you can. You breathe deeply and release a smile because
you know that G-d wants no more from you than you are able
to do and has already given you everything you need with which
to do it. You dance because this is your freedom: to dance
your part in G-ds creation with grace and courage and
faith. And you sing knowing that you are only one voice in
the chorus, and that the symphony is endless, ultimately perfect,
yet paradoxically, dependent on you.
And finally you realize that the failings and limitations,
errors and miscalculations, even the consequences that cause
the blood to rush to your face in shame are also a part of
your limited perspective, your narrow vision, your lowly vista.
For if you could climb high enough you would see that the
reason the Heavenly Court grants its forgiveness is that ultimately
there is nothing to forgive.
From the highest plateau you would see that you are dancing
your part perfectly. You always have. And you always will.
The Week in Review is adapted from the teachings of the
Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Midrash Tanchuma, Vayigash 12.
. See Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 94:3.
. Sefer HaMaamarim 5565, p. 192.
. Ish matzliachGenesis 39:2.
. Genesis 37:11; Rashi, ibid.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. III, pp. 827-830.
. Based on Tanya, chs. 29 and 31.