Mikeitz – Spiritual Kindness

Bereishis, 41:55: “When all the land of Egypt hungered, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread.  So Pharaoh said to all of Egypt, “Go to Yosef.  Whatever he tells you, you should do.”

Rashi, 41:55: Whatever he tells you, you should do: Because Yosef told them that they should circumcise themselves.

AViceroy, Yosef controlled all the food that was stored in Egypt.  In return for providing the people with food during the famine, Yosef demanded that they circumcise themselves.  The commentaries ask why Yosef made this demand given that non-Jews are not commanded in bris mila.[1]

Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l offers a fascinating explanation.[2] He begins by quoting a verse in Parshas Vayigash in which the Egyptians acknowledge what Yosef had done for them: “And they said, ‘you have saved our lives…”  The Midrash tells us that later they were acknowledging that Yosef saved their lives in Olam Habah as well as in Olam Hazeh, meaning that he had helped them in both the physical and spiritual spheres.[3] 

The commentaries on the Midrash explain that the way in which Yosef saved them spiritually was through forcing them to undergo bris mila.  The reason that this helped them despite the fact that they remained non-Jews is that the orla (foreskin) that is removed is the source of great spiritual impurity and removing it even benefits non-Jews.  Based on these sources, R’Yerucham suggested that the reason Yosef forced them to circumcise themselves was the following: he had helped them so much in the physical realm, literally saving their lives by providing for them in the famine, but he felt that if he was helping them so much in Olam Hazeh, then how could he not also help them in Olam Haba? 

The basis of R’Yerucham’s explanation is that the ultimate way to help one’s fellow man is to help him in the spiritual sense.  This concept is discussed by the commentators on the Mitzva of ‘Love Your Neighbor’.  The Ben Ish Chai argues that, given it's centrality to the Torah, a very significant part of this Mitzva is overlooked by many people.  He writes that whilst many people recognize how it requires a person to help his fellow in terms of his physical well-being, they are less aware that it also obliges him to help his fellow's spiritual health. Indeed he argues that helping his friend in the spiritual realm (ruchnius) is a far greater fulfillment of the Mitzva than benefiting him in the physical realm(gashmius).

He explains: “When one helps his friend in a physical sense, he expresses his care for his friend's body, however, man's body merely consists of a combination of blood and flesh!  The main aspect of a person is his G-dly aspect, his soul, and the soul gets no benefit from kindness in the physical sense.  However, if one rebukes his fellow and prevents him from transgressing Hashem's Mitzvos, then he bestows a great kindness on his friend's soul, and love for one's fellow's spiritual side is far more important than love of his physical being.[4]”   The Ben Ish Chai teaches that in order to most effectively fulfill the Mitvza to love one's neighbor he cannot limit his kindness to the help in gashmius, rather he must strive to help his ruchnius to an even greater degree. 

In a similar vein, the Orchos Tzadikim tells us that there are three main types of giving: Giving of one’s money; giving of one’s body and giving of one’s wisdom.  He goes on to discuss all three but he ends the chapter focusing on the giving over of Torah to others:  “One must be especially giving with his Torah wisdom; to teach all men knowledge and to draw their hearts to heaven.  This is the greatest of all the types of giving – giving to another to bring him to the life of the World-to-Come.”[5]

Based on these sources, we have seen how kindness in the spiritual realm is on a higher level than on a physical realm.  Thus, Reb Yerucham explained that Yosef was on such a level where he felt that his incredible kindness in providing for the Egyptians’ food was lacking if not complemented by providing for their souls as well.

This lesson has great application in our daily lives. There are a number of ways of helping others in the spiritual realm.  The Ben Ish Chai mentioned the greatness of rebuking others, however, in this generation, it is very difficult to rebuke in the correct way and therefore there is the risk that rebuking can do more harm than good. 

A less threatening way of helping others spiritually is by sharing one's Torah with them; Indeed there are many sources in Chazal that indicate that teaching Torah is a fundamental part of each person's purpose in life:  The Gemara[6] says that one who learns and does not teach is like a myrtle tree in the desert.  The Maharal explains that the myrtle is the most pleasant smelling tree and it is in the world for people to benefit from its pleasant smell.  A myrtle that is in the desert does not fulfill its purpose because no-one can benefit from it.  So too, Torah is there to be taught over to others and one who does not do so cannot fulfill his purpose in life.  He writes: “The main aspect of the Torah is wisdom that by its very nature is there to teach others and if it is not taught over then it is a waste, because the essence of wisdom is to be given over to everyone.” 

Similarly, the Mishna in Pirkei Avos states: “If you have learnt much Torah, ‘al tachzik tova’ to yourself, because that is why you were created.”[7]  The simple understanding of this Mishna is that a person should not be proud of his achievements in Talmud Torah because learning Torah is his purpose in life.  However, many commentaries suggest a different explanation.  They explain the Mishna to mean that if a person has learnt much Torah he should not keep its goodness for himself, rather he should teach it to others – why?  Because his purpose in creation is to learn and teach.”  

There are many ways in which a person can share his Torah with others; he (or she) can strive to develop chavrusas (study partners) with people on a lower level of learning.  There are numerous outreach organizations, Yeshivas, shuls etc who are in need of people to take out a short time from their schedule in order to teach those less learned than themselves.  A mere phone call to one of these organizations may be all the effort necessary to find a suitable chavrusa.  Moreover, one need not restrict himself to teaching people face to face; with the added technology available now, one can easily learn with someone in another country on the phone or other mediums. 

Furthermore, the written medium is another effective way of teaching many people at the same time by writing a short Dvar Torah on the Parsha or some other topic.  It is also important to note that teaching Torah need not be limited to formal settings – there are countless opportunities to share Torah wisdom with others in one's daily interactions in life, whether it is with colleagues at work, with the taxi driver, or with friends.  

We have seen how Yosef strived for excellence in ‘spiritual’ kindness as well as in ‘physical kindness’ – may we all merit to emulate his holy example.

Notes and sources

[1] See Yefas Toar, Shelah HaKadosh for approaches to this question.

[2] Daas Torah, Bereishis, Biurim, p.242.

[3] Bereishis Rabbah, Mikeitz, 90:6.

[4]  Divrei Chaim, quoted in 'Penini Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Kedoshim, p.108.

[5]  Orchos Tzadikim: Shaar Nedivoos

[6] Rosh Hashana, 23b.

[7]  Avos, 2:9.

From The Book “The Guiding Light 2”


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