Thursday, December 13, 2007

Table Talk -- Vayigash 5768

Chanukah challenges our entrenched notion of Jewish strength. We generally associate Jewish strength with spiritual strength – with a steadfast devotion to our heritage; a stubborn willingness to sacrifice for our beliefs, and our refusal to abandon Jewish beliefs at any cost. After all, after almost two thousand years of exile, we have scant examples of any other type of Jewish strength.

Yet, the Torah clearly envisions a very different type of strength. God wants the Jewish people to have not just spiritual strength, but physical strength as well. He wishes us to develop economic strength, academic strength, and personal and military strength. And, while we celebrate the miracle of the candles and the spirituality of Chanukah, we would never have kindled those lights were it not for the willingness of the Maccabis to fight for their independence.

This notion of Jewish strength appears in our Parshah. The Torah tells us that when Yosef brings his family to Egypt, ומקצה אחיו לקח -- "some of his brothers he took" to present to the king. Which brothers does he bring? Why does he only bring some of them, and not them all?

Rashi presents two options, first suggesting that Yosef brings the weakest of his brothers before the Phar'oh, because he worries that if Phar'oh would see the stronger, more powerful brothers, he would draft them to lead his military. (It's interesting to note that Yosef makes a great effort to separate and shield his family from the larger Egyptian society.) So who are the weaker brothers? They are Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yissachar and Binyamin - the brothers Moshe only names once and not twice in his final blessings in the Torah.

What surprises me most about this list are the second two names: Shimon and Levi. These very same brothers single-handedly wiped out the entire city of Shechem - albeit after mass circumcision. Still - these are the weak brothers?!

It makes me wonder just how powerfully strong the other brothers must have been.