Parashat Vayechi: "He Wished to Reveal the End"

  • Rav Itamar Eldar
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

CHASSIDUT
by Rav Itamar Eldar

Yeshivat Har Etzion

 


ParAshat Vayechi:

 

"He wished to reveal the end"

 

 

            Our parasha brings the book of Bereishit to its conclusion, and thus the period of the patriarchs comes to an end. At the same time, however, our parasha opens a new chapter in the history of the Jewish people: a difficult chapter that begins in the parashiyot of Vayigash and Vayechi and ends in the parashiyot of Bo and Beshalach in the book of Shemot – the galut of Egypt.

 

            Opinions differ as to the extent to which Ya'akov and his sons were aware of the new and lengthy chapter – one that will last tens and hundreds of years – that they themselves inaugurated with their settlement in Egypt.

 

            Following Ya'akov's death, his sons - Yosef's brothers - fear that Yosef will take revenge against them. Yosef, however, pacifies them: "But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it to pass at this day that much people should be saved alive" (Bereishit 50:20).

 

            Yosef looks back upon his sale with the perspective of thirty years; from this perspective he sees how "you thought evil against me" turned out to be "God meant it for good." But would Yosef have said the same thing had he been granted the perspective of four hundred years down the road?

 

vayechi "the most closed of all the Parshiyot"

 

            Chazal and, in their wake, the chassidic masters wished to examine the events described at the end of the book of Bereishit from the perspective of the exile about to be entered. Similarly, they wished to analyze the personalities, consciousness, and deeds of Ya'akov and his sons, which, from this perspective, were directed towards the upcoming period. Thus, the Midrash states at the beginning of our parasha:

 

"And Ya'akov lived in the land of Egypt." Why is this section more closed than all the other sections of the Torah? Because as soon as Ya'akov Avinu died the Egyptian servitude commenced for Israel. Another reason why it is closed: Because Ya'akov wished to reveal the end, but it was hidden ["closed"] from him. Another reason why it is closed: Because all the troubles of the world were now closed for him. (Bereishit Rabba 96:1)

 

            Parashat Vayechi stands out among all the parashiyot in that it begins neither with an open parasha [parasha petucha = which starts at the beginning of a line, the preceding line being left partly or wholly blank] nor with a closed parasha [parasha setuma – which begins at a point other than the start of a line]. Rather, it continues the succession of verses of the previous parasha without any break indicating the beginning of a new section.

 

            Chazal wish to clarify what this unusual masoretic phenomenon is trying to tell us. They propose three alternatives:

 

1)                        Ya'akov's death, which is the subject matter of our parasha, "seals" the fate of the Jewish people, bringing their liberty to an end; with the passing of Ya'akov begins the Egyptian bondage.

 

2)                        In this parasha, Ya'akov wished to reveal to his sons the end of Israel's exile – "Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days" (Bereishit 49:1), but the vision concerning this matter was "closed" (hidden) to him.

 

3)                        The seventeen years during which Ya'akov lived in Egypt, mentioned in the opening verse of our parasha, were for him a period of relief from all his troubles, after many years of hardship and affliction. During this period, God "closed" off all adversities from Ya'akov.

 

            R. Yehuda Arye Leib of Gur, author of the Sefat Emet, combines the first two alternatives:

 

The Midrash states: "This section is closed, because when Ya'akov died, the hearts and eyes of Israel were closed. Another explanation: [Ya'akov] wished to reveal the end [of the exile], but it was concealed from him." This is the parasha of "And Ya'akov lived in the land of Egypt" - Ya'akov's living in Egypt served as preparation for the galut. Therefore, the galut could not start until the vitality of Ya'akov that was in Egypt came to a close… Therefore this parasha is closed, for this vitality was terminated afterwards, as stated above. Even according to the plain sense of the text, the galut itself did not begin until that entire generation had died. It was only that the eye of the intellect was closed before. For prior to the galut of the body there was [already] the galut of the soul, for the body is dependent upon the procession of the soul. And the galut of the souls followed immediately upon the termination of Ya'akov Avinu's vitality, peace be upon him… .[1] (Sefat Emet 5635)

 

            The Sefat Emet relates here to the first allusion appearing in the Midrash, according to which the death of Ya'akov heralded the beginning of the exile.

 

            The seventeen years that Ya'akov lived in Egypt are not included in the years of exile, because Ya'akov's vitality did not allow the bondage of the exile to take control of Israel.

 

            Ya'akov's death, asserts the Sefat Emet, allowed for the beginning of Israel's spiritual exile, and after the entire generation had died, Israel's physical exile began as well.

 

            Ya'akov's life did not allow room for exile and concealment, even if that life was lived on foreign soil. Thus, it was only after Ya'akov's death that his vitality came to a close and the galut began.

 

            The meaning of that vitality and the manner in which it invigorated the world and voided the power of the exile may be understood from the continuation of the Sefat Emet's words:

 

That which he writes: "[Ya'akov] wished to reveal the end [of the exile], but it was concealed from him." If this refers to the time of the coming of the Messiah, we do not know what profound secret is involved. Nor what is the practical ramification of such knowledge. Rather, the correct interpretation is that he wished to clarify for them the root of exile and redemption. For in truth, evil descends from heaven and evil days come into being only because of a deficiency in the receivers, that it is turned for them into evil. This is only concealment. Therefore, it has an end and termination, because falsehood has no basis or continued existence. Had they known this truth, the exile would not have taken control of them. But because not everything had been properly repaired, so that the exile of Egypt was necessary, therefore, he could not reveal the end. (ibid.)

 

            Here the Sefat Emet brings in the second allusion proposed by the Midrash, regarding Ya'akov's desire to reveal the end, and even tries to veer from the accepted interpretation of this desire.

 

            In general, the "end" is understood as the historical end of our lengthy exile. The "end" is the end of the exile and the end of afflictions, the time that we will come to "the rest and the inheritance." According to this understanding, the revelation of the end refers to the attempt to reveal the time and manner of the Messiah's coming.

 

            This is the simple and classic way of encouraging those living in galut to believe that the redemption will eventually arrive, and even should it tarry, it will nevertheless come.

 

            The Sefat Emet, as one who dwells in galut, refuses to accept this approach or find consolation in such knowledge. As he says: "What is the practical ramification of such knowledge." According to him, the end must have ontological[2] significance, on the one hand, and existential relevance, on the other.

 

            The end of the galut is not an issue of time, contends the Sefat Emet, but rather one of essence - "For in truth, evil does not descend from heaven." Galut is falsehood, a mere optical illusion, blindness of the eye, a deficiency in the observer from whose perspective it appears as evil and exile.

 

            This illusion is finite, for it has no substance or truth connecting it to the world of eternity – "therefore, it has an end and termination, because falsehood has no basis or continued existence."

 

            The term used by the Sefat Emet is the accepted kabbalistic and chassidic term used to describe the exile – hester, "concealment."

 

            This concealment is void of substance, just as darkness, according to some approaches, lacks substance in that it expresses a "virtual" state of the absence of light.

 

            According to this, Ya'akov's vitality consists in the recognition of "the root of exile and redemption" and the profound insight that galut has no substance, but is merely the mistaken perspective of one who contemplates it and is therefore found within it.

 

            This brings us to the greatly novel idea of the Sefat Emet: As soon as a person understands this truth of Ya'akov, that is, as soon as he adopts this insight into the matter of concealment, the concealment ceases to conceal, and the exile comes to its fitting end.

 

            Ya'akov's desire to reveal the end, argues the Sefat Emet, is the desire to reveal the falsehood concerning the galut and the illusion of concealment. With the exposure of this truth, the imminent finiteness of the galut also becomes exposed, and when it reaches its end, there is no longer any room in the world for galut and bondage.

 

            God, according to the midrash, concealed the end from Ya'akov, preventing him from bestowing upon his sons that vitality that provides this profound insight.

 

            Had Ya'akov's sons merited this inner recognition, the galut would not have succeeded to take hold of them, and they too would have returned to the Holy Land together with Ya'akov's bones.

 

            This, however, would have prevented the repair for which the galut was necessary. For this reason, God concealed the end from Ya'akov and his sons in order to allow the galut to have its effect, the Sefat Emet's understanding of which we shall discuss at length below.

 

CONCEALMENT WITHIN CONCEALMENT

 

            Galut, according to this, is concealment, and "closing of the end" refers to the withholding of the knowledge that we are dealing with concealment.

 

            This idea is not new. It was coined by R. Yisra'el Ba'al Shem, the Besht, founder of Chassidut:

 

I heard from my grandfather [= the Besht]: "I will surely hide" – for when a person does not know that there is concealment, then it is surely not good that he should think that he is an absolute tzadik and not repent. But when he knows that there is concealment and he feels it in his soul, then he submits before God, blessed be He, and beseeches before Him. This is "Ve'anokhi haster astir" (Devarim 31:18) – I will hide the concealment, and it will not be known that it is concealment." (Degel Machane Efrayim, Tzav, s.v., "ve-ha-kohen")

 

            It is brought here in the name of the Besht, regarding the verse in Devarim 31:18, "ve'anokhi haster astir," that the redundancy of the word denoting concealment teaches about a double concealment. The idea of "concealment within concealment" is cast in various directions in chassidic thought.

 

            According to this teaching, R. Efrayim of Sudylkow, grandson of the Besht, sees in a sinner a situation of "concealment" and in his failure to recognize this situation "concealment within concealment."

 

            R. Nachman of Breslov, great-grandson of the Besht, expresses a similar idea:

 

There are two concealments. When God is hidden in a single concealment, then as well, it is very difficult to find Him. Yet when He is hidden in a single concealment it is still possible for an individual to toil and strive until he finds Him, since he is aware that God is hidden from him. But when God is concealed in a concealment within a concealment, in other words the concealment itself is concealed from him so that he is completely oblivious to the fact that God is hidden from him – then it is entirely impossible to find Him, since he is not at all aware that God is hidden there.

This is analogous to "I will thoroughly hide [haster astir]" (Devarim 31:18) – that is, "I will conceal the concealment," so that they will be completely oblivious to the fact that God is hidden. As a result, he will certainly not be able to find Him, since he is completely unaware of the need to look for Him; he is completely oblivious to the fact that God is hidden from him, because the concealment itself is concealed from him, as explained above. (Likutei Moharan Kama 56, 3)

 

            The great danger in "concealment within a concealment," according to R. Nachman, is the situation in which a person  "is completely unaware of the need to look for Him; he is completely oblivious to the fact that God is hidden from him, because the concealment itself is concealed from him."

 

            A sick person who is unaware of his illness is in the gravest danger. A person who does not know about the danger lying in wait around the corner will probably fall into its net: "Our soul is overfilled with the scorn of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud" (Tehilim 123:4).

 

            The Sefat Emet, in the aforementioned passage, makes additional, if not explicit, use of the principle of "concealment within concealment."

 

            The end, according to the Sefat Emet, is the concealment of the fact that it is the objective of galut, and thus also its end.

 

            The closing of the end, "concealment within concealment," prevents us from recognizing that galut has no absolute existence, but is merely concealment.

 

            According to the Sefat Emet, the "end" has a far broader and more profound significance than the "coming of the Messiah." Thus, its prevention provides galut, God forbid, with a dimension of eternity, both in the historical sense, and according to the Sefat Emet, also in the existential sense.

 

            How will Ya'akov's descendants make it through the dark days of galut if its historical and existential end is hidden from them?

 

An answer to this question may be found in a teaching attributed to the Besht:

 

If a person knows that the Holy One, blessed be He, is concealed in a certain place, it is no longer concealment, for we will say that all evildoers have been dispersed. Therefore, it says: "And I will surely hide My face." That is to say, He will hide from them, so that they have no knowledge whatsoever that the Holy One, blessed be He, is there in concealment. (The Besht, Be'er ha-Chasidut, Eliezer Steinman)

 

            A person who merits to reach the aspect of Ya'akov does not see the concealment. For him the entire world is nothing but great illuminating light: "For in truth, evil does not descend from heaven," as the Sefat Emet puts it. But one who does not merit the aspect of Ya'akov, but rather confronts concealment, a sort of galut, the very recognition of the existence of the concealment, and thus its finiteness and falsity, knock down the curtain that hides the light.

 

This is the way the Sefat Emet describes this mental state in the continuation of the teaching:

 

Nevertheless we find that He revealed what He wished to reveal, only by way of concealment. We have explained that there is a shining glass, this being the aspect of Ya'akov before whom there is no concealment, he seeing everything. And there is a glass that does not shine, this being the aspect of faith. For we must come to the truth by way of the concealment itself through faith. It is called a glass that does not shine, because the light comes from the concealment. Since Ya'akov was unable to reveal this end, namely, to clarify the truth for them through the glass that shines, the repair must be by way of the aspect of faith. We must know this even now, for it is true in every galut. That before the galut, the Holy One, blessed be He, prepares holy illuminations to which we can cleave even in the darkness, though this is not revealed. And when we properly believe we can find the truth. Then redemption comes, for the end of galut is redemption, as stated above. (Sefat Emet, Vayechi, 5635)

 

            Ya'akov tried to pass on to his children a perspective according to which there is no concealment, and the entire world is an expression of a great shining light. This is the glass that shines, between which and the light there is no curtain or barrier.

 

At the polar extreme of this position stands the depressing and despairing approach according to which darkness has substance, and concealment constitutes an entity in and of itself. According to this approach, "the hour has dragged on, and there is no end to the evil days" (from the piyyut for Chanuka, Ma'oz Tzur).

 

Between these two approaches, stand the words of the Besht, which reflect a mental position which the Sefat Emet refers to as "faith."

 

Faith is the recognition that "we must come to the truth by way of the concealment itself." When a person reflects upon the galut in the light of faith, smiles at it, and sees in it concealment of a great light, he reveals the light, removes the curtains, and reveals once again the great lie, and the end of the galut reappears.

 

This ability is what Ya'akov gave to his sons. According to the Sefat Emet, this ability has been handed down as an inheritance throughout the course of the galut. The more it appears, the more it exposes, the sooner the galut will come to an end.

 

According to this, Ya'akov, in his seventeen year stay in Egypt, did not reveal the end, but "before the galut, prepared holy illuminations," as the Sefat Emet puts it, which could be exposed in the galut through faith and the recognition that we are dealing here with nothing more than concealment.[3]

 

"In all their affliction he was afflicted/there is no affliction" (Yeshaya 63:9)

 

            These two aspects - that of the "shining glass," which is the aspect of Ya'akov in a world of revealed light, and the aspect of the "glass that does not shine," which is the aspect of Ya'akov in a world of concealment – reflect two attitudes toward galut. Thus writes the Sefat Emet in a different passage:

 

The verse, "I will go down with you into Egypt and I will surely bring you up again" (Bereishit 46:4), contains two promises – to be with the people of Israel in galut and to redeem them. Regarding these two [promises] it is written: "In all their affliction He was afflicted/there is no affliction" (Yeshaya 63:9) – [the word lo] with a vav and with an alef. "He was afflicted" with a vav refers to assistance in galut, the aspect of the six days of creation. "There is no affliction" with an alef refers to the redemption, the aspect of Shabbat, an estate without bounds. (Vayigash, 5659)

 

            The Sefat Emet expounds the wonderful verse, wrapped in the light of lovingkindness, found in the prophecy of Yeshaya:

 

In all their affliction He was afflicted/there is no affliction, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old (Yeshaya 63:9)

 

            Regarding the word lo, the masora distinguishes between the form in which the word is written and the form in which it is read. Chassidic thought, in its usual manner, finds in this distinction fertile ground for inner reflection.[4]

 

            "In all their affliction, He was afflicted" – the word lo read with a vav – gives expression to God's participation in Israel's affliction. Every affliction that befalls Israel, God forbid, God Himself experiences in its full intensity. This is the aspect of "I will be with him in trouble" (Tehilim 91:15), which consoles man with God's participation in his affliction.

 

"In all their affliction, there is no affliction " – the word lo written with an alef – undermines the idea of affliction. When one merits profound understanding, contends the Sefat Emet, afflictions are not afflictions – "there is no affliction"! Affliction, like galut, is an illusion and a falsehood; from the perspective of eternity, it has no existence whatsoever.

 

"I will go down with you into Egypt and I will surely bring you up again" are not two stages, argues the Sefat Emet, but rather two outlooks, two perspectives, two ways of confronting the issue of galut.

 

The first aspect is "assistance in galut," for the recognition of God's participation and intervention provides man with the strength to endure the heavy burden of the afflictions of galut.

 

The second aspect is "redemption" because it denies the concept of galut and wishes to utterly change our perception of it.

 

The first, argues the Sefat Emet, is the aspect of the six days of the week, days of action, whereas the second is the aspect of Shabbat, a day devoted entirely to rest, an estate without bounds [metzarim], without affliction [tzar], without Egypt [mitzrayim].[5]

 

The distinction between the six days of action, the Shabbat coming only in their wake, and "the day which is entirely rest and repose," is the question whether or not there exists a concept of galut, whether everything is holy or perhaps there exists also the profane that covers the light and prevents it from being revealed.

 

It seems that the Sefat Emet at the end of the previous teaching wishes to allude that while the level of Ya'akov Avinu, i.e., the aspect of Shabbat without bounds, is an exceedingly high level, the second level that stands man against concealment as concealment exposes intensive strength of enormous value – the power of faith.

 

"To proclaim your goodness in the morning, and your faithfulness at night" – the morning that shines with great light is entirely goodness. This light illuminates the vitality of Ya'akov at all times and forever, with no end.

 

The night does not illuminate but it exposes the power of faith that rests on the inner recognition that this darkness is concealment of great light.

 

Elsewhere, the Sefat Emet teaches how God withheld revelation of the end from Ya'akov and his sons. He cites an example from the Midrash of a king whose friend wished to reveal his secrets. When he was about to reveal them, the king stood before him, and his splendid glory, which was in plain sight of the friend, did not allow him to reveal the secrets:

 

Therefore, the Shekhina revealed itself to him, and because of the revelation, he was unable to reveal the end, for that is only at a time of concealment. (Sefat Emet, Vayechi, 5636)

 

            There are times that the illumination of a great light makes it impossible to learn from and reflect upon the small lights shining through the cracks, similar to "a lamp at noon, how does it help?" (Chulin 60b).

 

            Reflecting upon the world of concealment often develops sensitivity, refinement and attentiveness to the fine and almost inaudible tones that are scattered throughout the world.

 

            This fine light, which does not appear in thunder and lightning, is comprehended by the man of faith, who with his love succeeds in getting past the many curtains that block the light.

 

            It may perhaps be suggested that the closing of the end and the concealment towards which God pushed the sons of Ya'akov was intended to create within them the faith that would allow them to reflect upon and listen to the world of the "days of action" that is desperately waiting for a redeemer to raise the sparks, albeit fine ones, hidden within it, someone who is concealed in holiness and is entirely the aspect of redemption. Thus writes R. Tzadok ha-Kohen of Lublin:

 

Just as every nation has some unique evil, so too does it have some unique holy spark from which it draws its vitality, as "And You invigorate all of them." For were this not so, it would be as naught. The vitality of God, blessed be He, is certainly something good, and for this comes galut to grasp that good thing for Israel. As it is brought (Zohar Teruma 152b) that in galut the Divine profusion goes to the nations of the world, and Israel grasps the essence. Certainly God's profusion goes to its kind and to the good thing found within them. When Israel grasps the essence, that good thing is extracted into them. (Tzidkat ha-Tzadik 256)

 

            The ability to extract the sparks from every nation and to raise the entire world to a higher level may be found in someone who is capable of descending to the galut and maintaining his belief there.

 

            Galut, according to this approach, constitutes a "trek" in the world of concealment and a gathering of the lights concealed within it.[6]

 

            According to this, Ya'akov's revelation of the end would have prevented the formation of contact with the world of concealment, which is indeed itself a lie, but the lights that it conceals are absolute truth, and this truth requires redemption. "Truth will spring out of the earth" (Tehilim 85:12).

 

            R. Nachman of Breslov appears to go one step further:

 

Know too that the Torah enclothed in a concealment within a concealment is specifically elevated Torah – i.e., the hidden Torah. Because it has to be enclothed in such lowly places – i.e., with those who have sinned so extensively that it is hidden from them within a double concealment – God therefore arranged not to enclothe the revealed Torah there, so that the evil forces would not be able to nourish from there in abundance and the blemish be very great. He therefore hides and enclothes there elevated Torah specifically, the hidden Torah – this being God's Torah itself – so that the evil forces cannot nourish in abundance from there.

This corresponds to (Shemot 12:12) "I will pass through the land of Egypt" – I, and not an angel; I, and not a messenger – "for I am God" – I, and no other. For in the land of Egypt, where the concealment was very great, Israel was submerged in forty-nine gates of impurity, and so specifically there God Himself – i.e., the Torah itself without garments, the absolute Torah of God, the hidden Torah – is enclothed and concealed. Therefore, specifically from the concealment within a concealment, when he reconverts it to da'at, it specifically becomes the absolute Torah of God; for the Torah of God, the hidden Torah, is concealed there, as explained above. (Likutei Moharan Kama 56, 4)

 

            R. Nachman proposes the idea that the very light that is concealed in "the concealment within concealment" is the highest light.

 

            The descent to galut, according to this, permits the exposure of the supreme light, for which "revelatory silence" is appropriate.

 

            In the revealed Divine light, there appears the revealed Torah, which is exposed to all, and thus is appropriate for all.

 

            In contrast, the concealed Divine light, which appears only to one who has passed the difficult test of belief of enduring the galut that lacks Divine revelation, is a concealed light, and a concealed Torah stands within it, that is appropriate for the elite.[7]

 

            Galut, then, is unavoidable; any attempt on the part of Ya'akov Avinu or anyone else to prevent it is doomed to failure. However, it is precisely Ya'akov's aspect of truth which prepares his sons for the test of faith required during the dark days of the galut that raises Israel during the years of galut and afterwards to a spiritual level that it never knew before. And it is only through that truth that Israel will be able to merit the day that is entirely rest and repose.

 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] Owing to the length of this teaching of the Sefat Emet, we have divided it into several sections.

 

[2] That is to say, it does not mark a specific point of time in history, but rather it is built into the world, lying within from its very beginning to its very end.

 

[3] So writes also R. Nachman in a different context: "The matter is as follows: He should see to it that he raises all the sparks in all things, the sparks being letters, so that he raises letters. And the letters become words, and through words abundant goodness is profused upon Israel. But how can they reaise the sparks to God, blessed be He? The suggestion is as follows. When one looks at something, one should immediately believe with perfect faith that it contains letters and sparks" (Likutei Moharan Kama 94). According to R. Nachman, one does not have to do very much to reveal the light in everything. R. Nachman teaches us that faith, which is essentially the insight and knowledge that there is light in everything, as was taught us by the Besht, cancels the concealment and raises the sparks. (Someone who wishes to delve into this matter should examine teaching no. 282 in Likutei Moharan Kama, where R. Nachman proposes that the very pleading of one's cause or someone else's cause raises that person from culpability to acquittal even before he performs any action. It seems that the aforementioned principle guides his words there as well.)

 

[4] Another example of this idea is found in connection with the verse: "Know that the Lord He is God; it is He who made us, and we belong to Him (lo with a vav)/and we are nothing (lo with an alef); we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture" (Tehilim 100:3). See Sefat Emet, Vayikra, Shabbat ha-Gadol, 5653.

 

[5] The Sefat Emet at the end of the aforementioned teaching connects the two aspects to Yosef and Yehuda. Yosef is the aspect of Shabbat and Yehuda is the aspect of the "days of action." This expresses itself also in the blessings that the two received from Ya'akov, in their actions, and in the differences between their respective descendants.

 

[6] Rav Kook discusses this aspect of galut in several places. To a great degree, we can see how his teachings are an application of this outlook, in that they "collect" from the two-thousand year trek through the galut a perfect world that builds the royal crown of God. 

 

[7] It is not by chance that it was on Mount Sinai, where the people of Israel merited Divine revelation, that they received the written Torah which is revealed to all and directed to all, and it was during the bitter days of galut, both in Eretz Israel and in the Diaspora, that the profound and esoteric lore of Kabala, appropriate only for the elite, was revealed and exposed.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)