RAV BRAZIL PARSHAS VAYEEGASH תשע”ח
THE DEEPER MEANING OF PHARAOH’S QUESTION TO YAAKOV AVINU HOW OLD ARE YOU REALLY?
Yosef brought Yaakov his father and stood him before Pharaoh and Yaakov greeted Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Yaakov “How many years have you been alive? Yaakov answered “I have been wandering around for a hundred and thirty years. Compared to my fathers’ lifetimes, when they were wandering around, the days of my life have been few and miserable and have not been as good as theirs (Bereishis 47,9).
This first epic encounter between Pharaoh and Yaakov is very perplexing. Is it normal that the initial greeting that comes out of one’s mouth is the question How old are you? Even if Yaakov had an appearance of a very old man, a reality which was rare in Mitzrayim, and therefore IT prompted Pharaoh to such an inquiry (see Ramban), nevertheless it is neither respectful nor appropriate to begin the conversation in this manner. Secondly, what is the meaning that Yosef “stood” his father ויעמדהו before Pharaoh? Thirdly, one has to understand the response that Yaakov gave to Pharaoh for at first glance it sounds as if he was complaining about his miserable lot and misfortunate life experiences. Their first meeting was definitely not the time to complain of his difficult life.
The Sefer Tzeenah Ure’enah explains the episode as follows. The entrance to Pharaoh’s palace was constructed with a low lintel in order that anyone who enters must bend down not realizing that in the next room stood idols and he was unintentionally bowing down to them. When Avraham was brought into the palace of Pharaoh many years before, a miracle happened and the lintel of the door was raised and Avraham walked in erectly thereby sparing him from bowing to idols. This supernatural event was recorded in the Egyptian chronicles. When Yaakov came to the palace, the exact same miracle occurred. Pharaoh was dumbfounded and initially assumed that standing in front of him was no other than Avraham himself. Shocked by the reality before his eyes he said to himself that Avraham must be extremely old by now. It is for this reason that he reacted to the miracle encounter by asking how old must you be by now?
The Pnei Menachem ztl answers with this the usage of the word ויעמדהו he “stood” Yaakov before Pharaoh. It was the normal behavior to bow down entering into the palace because of the low lintel. However, in the case of Yaakov he walked in erect, “standing” upwards without the necessity to bend down. The Pnei Menachem also explains Yaakov’s response to Pharaoh. Yaakov was not merely relating to Pharaoh his personal trials and tribulations when all he was asked was his age. Rather Yaakov was addressing Pharaoh’s wrong assumption that he was the old aged Avraham of many years ago. True, the miracle happened again, and he might also have that appearance of yesteryear, but his aged look is because of the trying challenges that he experienced during his lifetime.
Why did Yosef bring Yaakov to meet Pharaoh? Yaakov was already very old and could not travel on his own, and to top it off, from Goshen to the palace was a burdensome schlepp? Even in the previous passuk Pharaoh said that his father should live in the land of Goshen as if he was telling Yosef that there is no need to bring his old father to him. We could suggest that the purpose of bringing his father to Pharaoh was to implant a special siyatah dishmaya in Klal Yisrael, that of restraining them from worshipping avodah zarah just like this episode demonstrated with Yaakov. מעשה אבות סימן לבנים.
We find specifically by Yaakov a few incidents that relate to the ridding of avodah zarah. Rachel his wife stole idols from her father so he shouldn’t worship them. Yehudah his son burnt the wagons that Pharaoh sent to Yaakov for on them was engraved avodah zarah. Not only did his presence cause the nullification of real idols, but it included even the subtle avoda zarahs. (Bereishis 35,2) “Yaakov said to his household remove the strange gods from your midst”. There was no way that Chas Veshalom his family members harbored any type of real avodah zarah. The explanation given by the Ibn Ezra is that what was not considered idols outside Eretz Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael because of its higher level of purity and closeness to Hashem, it was indeed considered avoda zarah for them. (just as we find during the Aseres Yemai Teshuva that a stricter requirement of Halachic observance is demanded because Hashem’s presence is closer to the Yidand He expects an upgrade).
We can suggest a reason why so many incidents of uprooting avodah zara was associated with Yaakov Avinu. The Maharal explains that Yaakov reflects the word אחד in its very essence. The aleph of אחד symbolizes Yaakov. The ח of אחדsymbolizes the eight shevatim that were born to Rachel and Leah. The ד represents the four shevatim that were born to the two shefachos. Yaakov’s deveikus to Hashem was so great that Hashem called him אל (Bereishis 33,20 Rashi). Just as Hashem is echad and detests the worship of other deities, so too Yaakov who is a living model of Hashem on earth, must also represents this echad of serving only Hashem. That is why when the Shechinah departed from him and held him back from revealing the end of times and the coming of Moshiach, Yaakov suddenly became skeptical that perhaps his sons were not holding in the echad deveikus mode like himself. Upon which they respondedשמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו ה’ אחד that there is no reason for any doubt, and that they are together in essence a living representation of ה’ אחד on earth.
Yet another event of even a higher level of negating avodah zarah took place with the Men of the Great Assembly. Through their tefillah they were successful in uprooting this yetzer harah for avodah zarah completely. (Nechemya 8,17) “The returning Kahal from captivity constructed succos and lived in them, a phenomenon that had not happened since the time of Yehoshuah Bin Nun”. The gemarah (Erchin 32b) asks that this thought about Yisrael’s non fulfillment of the mitzvah of Succah up until Ezra’s time is inconceivable? The gemarah answers that this passuk is not actually referring to the actual mitzvah of sitting in succos during the Yom Tov of Succos, but rather to the eradication of the yetzer harah to worship idols which the Anshei Kenesses Hagadolahaccomplished by their tefilla. The passuk only compares the uprooting of this temptation to succos, for this merit protected them like a succah.
An allusion to this interpretation of Chazal can be found In Tehllim (81,10) where the passuk says לא יהיה בך אל זר there should not dwell within you a strange deity. The gemarrah in Shabbos 105b explains this to refer to the Yezer Harah within one’s heart. If so, the Anshei Kenesses Hagadolah by eradicating this particular yetzer harah to serve avodah zarahfrom every Yid’s heart, they simultaneously uprooted permanently a part of theאל זר . That is why we find that the gematriah ofסוכה spelled out with all of its filler letters סמך וו כף הא equals אל זר alluding to our gemarah which interprets the passuk of building succos as the eradication of the passion for avodah zarah.
Where is this source that Ezra and the Anshei Kenesses Hagadolah found support in the reality to permanently eradicate from all present and future generations their yetzer harah for avodah zarah. From where did they see that even without human bechirah one is protected from such a shortcoming? Yaakov is the Av who corresponds to the Yom Tov of Succos for the passuk says (Bereishis 33,17) Yaakov travelled to Succos and he built for himself a house and למקנהו עשה סוכות for his cattle he built succos and he named the place Succos.
In the derech of remez we can explain this passuk in the light of the above. As we already stated, the eradication of avodah zarah from the yetzer harah’s menu is called Succos which symbolizes the spiritual force of Yaakov. Therefore it was Yaakov Avinu who had the input in this removing of man’s bechirah from the desire to serve idolatry. The word למקנהו is gematriah אל זר . Therefore the word מקנהו is also referring to the yetzer hara or the “animal” drives within man. The reason being, the root of this word is קן which means to fix. A person was created for the mission of tikkun, fixing לתקן עולם במלכות שדי. He possesses a yetzer tov and yetzer hara. It is the yetzer hara that he must fix and correct thereby transforming it into the yetzer tov. What Yaakov is conveying here is that for his yetzer hara, the בהמה within, he made Succos to rectify it. This is an allusion to the Anshei Kenesses Hagadola’s future permanent fixing of the yetzer hara that tempts one to worship avodah zarah.
The מקנהו and סוכות were the preparation for the future uprooting of this yetzer hara of avodah zara. The actual episode whereby Yaakov’s unintentional act of bowing down to avodah zara was averted by Hashem occurred at this encounter with Pharaoh. For during this episode an involuntary miracle happened that protected Yaakov from bowing to an avodah zarah. A miracle occurred and the משקוףthe lintel of the entrance door was lifted and Yaakov was spared his appearing to bow to idols. The wordמשקוף is gematriahתפילה (including the word). It is tefilla that corrects one’sמשקוף “hashkafah”, and lenses, which create one’s outlook on the world and on the purpose on life. This alludes to the tefillah of the Anshei Kenesses Hagadolahwhich ascended to shamayim (lintel went upwards) to ensure that the former passion to serve avodah zarah has been surgically removed from the yetzer harah of Am Yisrael by Hashem.
It is no coincidence that the story of the future shechting of the yetzer harah is found in Meseches Succah 52. The beginning of the shechitah began with the Anshei Kenesses Hagadolah and that incredible event is called Succos. The ending of the Shechita and the ridding of the yetzer hara for all idolatry worship and its subtleties, from all the inhabitants of humanity, will take place with the coming of Moshiach and the building of the Bais Hamikdash BBA.