A Tidbit of Torah – Parshat Vayigash 5784

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come forward to me.” And when they came forward, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be distressed (sad) or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.
                                                                              Breysheet / Genesis 45:4

Many of the Hasidic teachings on our verse prefer the less nuanced reading of the Hebrew root understanding it simply as “sad”, a state of being at variance with their basic mindset. This predisposition is reflected in the words of our teacher Rabbi Israel of Rhizhin who taught:
Anyone who wishes to draw close to the Holy One, of Whom the psalmist
wrote, “strength and joy are in His place”, must not exist in a state of sadness.
If one is not experiencing joy in their soul, then they are not in the courtyard of
the Shechinah.

For Rabbi Israel of Rhizhin the portal to God, and thus the ability to draw strength from the encounter with the sacred, is one of joy. The more one is able to experience the world through a prism of positivity, finding therein a feeling of happiness, then one creates a conduit enabling one to connect with God and draw upon the divine as a source of strength and support. I do not think that Rabbi Israel means to suggest that God is not present for us as a cosmic shoulder upon which to pour out our grief or find support at challenging moments. God who cares deeply for everyone is present and available to us at all times, but often dark clouds or dark moods obscure our ability to perceive God’s outstretched hand.

Our teacher, Rabbi Chanoch Henich of Alexander, builds on this idea saying:
When we say that a Jew should always be in a state of happiness, the intent is
not the joy [associated with] doing a mitzvah, for this is a difficult plateau to
attain, that many do not reach. Rather, the intent is that one should simply not
be sad; that a Jew should be joyful about being a Jew, proud of that state of

Rabbi Chanoch Henich suggests that the joy we feel should be a natural expression of who we are, a reaction to our good fortune of being Jewish and in a unique relationship with God; proud of our history and our contribution to society. Our teacher acknowledges that the performance of mitzvot can sometimes become rote and thus not engaging, difficult for us and thus not uplifting, or imposed and thus not inspiring. Mitzvot, in this context are occasional moments of elation, elevation to a higher joy and we perform them regularly not knowing when they will become transformative.

Shabbat Shalom –
Rabbi David M. Eligberg