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Ketz Bavel -Zerubavel

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

by Rabbi Ari Kahn

Why two Messiahs?

The tale of Yaakov's family life unfolds as a dramatic story, replete with jealousy, punctuated by hatred, and nearly culminating in fratricide: Yaakov had many sons, but of all his sons he favored Yosef, the son of his beloved, lamented wife. As the plot unfolds, we find Yosef humiliated, stripped of his royal garb,(1) and taken as chattel. And then the story is put on hold: Chapter 37 ends with the following sentence:

And the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaohs, and captain of the guard.(Bereishit 37:36)

In order to see what happens to Yosef we are forced to wait, for throughout Chapter 38 our attention is turned to Yehuda. Details of his personal life are shared, and through the recounting of Yehuda's celebration and tragedy, his loves and his lust, we gain insight into his personality. And all this time, Yosef languishes. The Yosef narrative is picked up in Chapter 39, almost precisely as it was left:

And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the hands of the Ishmaelites, who had brought him down there. (Bereishit 39:1)

We as the reader know that the text is building inexorably to the point at which these two key characters meet, the apex of the story. As a literary device, the structure of the Parsha is understandable. But the Torah is far more than compelling writing. It is more than just "a good read". What lies beneath the surface of the text is far more than character development. The Torah is more than history, more than literature; it is theological truth, which the sensitive reader should seek to discern and internalize.

Yosef and Yehuda are not merely individuals who lived long ago. They represent leadership, salvation and redemption; they embody the concept known as Mashiach.

The Midrash asks a brazen question: Where was God during the sale of Yosef?2 The answer is eye-opening: God was creating the light of Mashiach. The interlude which delves into the descent and rise of Yehuda is the tale of Yehudah being primed for a leadership role. But this is no ordinary leadership role: The Davidic dynasty, and ultimately Mashiach, are Yehuda's offspring. More importantly, the character traits Yehuda displays are the very same as those necessary for Mashiach, and Chapter 38 opens a window through which these character traits can be viewed as they develop.

The Midrashic teaching regarding God's agenda during the sale of Yosef gives us a far-reaching, unifying view of Jewish history: Before the Children of Israel begin the first exile, the light that will guide them home at the end of the final exile has already been created. The story of Yehuda is no divergence. It is part and parcel of the larger story of exile and redemption.

Jewish tradition speaks of an additional Mashiach, one not as well known or as well-publicized: Mashiach ben Yosef (the Messiah, son of Yosef). This week's Parsha, then, is not only the story of Yosef and Yehuda, two dominant personalities; it is much more. Knowing that Yosef and Yehuda represent two elements of Redemption, we are forced to reread and reconsider this week's Parsha on the meta - level, examining both the personal stories and behavior of the two key characters as well as the implications these have on the Jewish view of Messianic Redemption.

Like Yosef, Mashiach ben Yosef is a vulnerable Messiah. We don't know how his mission will work out, for, like Yosef, his position is precarious, and at times it appears that he will fall into the traps set by others, and fail. There were times that Yaakov thought Yosef was dead - but the epic words uttered by Yaakov "Od Yosef Chai! Yosef lives on!" reverberate through history, and according to the great mystics, apply equally to Mashiach ben Yosef. Just as the rumors of Yosef's demise were greatly exaggerated, so, it is believed, Mashiach ben Yosef will ultimately succeed.

Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), Ask of me anything, and I will give it to thee, as it is said, 'I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance'. But when he will see that the Messiah the son of Joseph is slain, he will say to Him, 'Lord of the Universe, I ask of Thee only the gift of life.' As to life', He would answer him, 'Your father David has already prophesied this concerning you', as it is said, He asked life of thee, thou gavest it him, [even length of days for ever and ever].

The prototype of the two Messiahs resurfaces at various junctures in the Torah: When all the other spies turn the people against God and the notion of inheriting the Promised Land, two individuals stand apart from the others. Calev (from the Tribe of Yehuda) and Yehoshua (from the Tribe of Yosef), remain strong, and do not lose sight of Jewish destiny.

Within this national destiny, Yosef has two dreams regarding his personal role. The first dream concerns wheat, representing food or economics at the most basic level. The second dream is about the sun, moon and stars; it is about power. Yosef envisions himself as both an economic leader and as the leader of the people.

The Rabbis tell us that only the first dream came true. Yosef does collect all the wheat in Egypt; he becomes the "great provider". He feeds his brothers, and insures the physical survival of the Children of Israel. Yet although his brothers eventually bow down to him, they never accept him as their leader. As we shall see, there will be repercussions of this non-acceptance.

The need for two different Messiahs begins to come into focus, for clearly each has a separate task to accomplish, each has different capabilities. When those tasks become confused, when the capabilities do not fit the job at hand, when the battle is fought with the wrong weapon, problems arise.

Jewish history is made up of so many confrontations, battles won and lost, exiles of varying nature and duration. So it has been, and so it was foretold:

And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Avram; and, lo, a fear of great darkness fell upon him. And (God) said to Avram, Know for a certainty that your offspring shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years. (Bereishit 15:12-13)

Rashi(3) explains that the darkness which Avraham feared refers to the exiles his descendents would experience in the future. The Ramban, citing Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer, says that Yaakov shared Avraham's dream, and that is the inner meaning of Yaakov's vision of angels ascending and descending the heavenly ladder. The angels represent the various monarchies who ruled over Israel, each rising and eventually falling into the dustbin of history. These exiles are inevitable, inescapable, and an integral part of Jewish destiny. In fact, the future exiles are mentioned in midrashic comments as early as the second verse of the Torah:

R. Shimon b. Lakish applied the passage to the [foreign] Powers. NOW THE EARTH WAS TOHU ('UNFORMED') symbolizes Babylonia: "I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was tohu (Yiemiyahu 4:23) AND VOHU ('VOID') symbolizes Media: "They hastened (va-yavhillu) to bring Haman (Esther 4:14) AND DARKNESS symbolizes Greece, which darkened the eyes of Israel with its decrees, ordering Israel, 'Write on the horn of an ox that ye have no portion in the God of Israel.' UPON THE FACE OF THE DEEP (refers to) this wicked State: Just as the great deep cannot be plumbed, so one cannot plumb [the depths of iniquity of] this wicked State. AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD HOVERED: this alludes to the spirit of Mashiach, as you read, "And the spirit of God shall rest upon him (Yishaiyahu 11:2). (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 2:4)

Yet not all exiles are created equal. Different exiles present different challenges, and therefore require different responses. Yaakov himself is exiled twice. The more prominent exile is clearly the second, when he goes to Egypt. This sojourn will last hundreds of years, and will culminate with the slavery of the people. The challenge of this exile is clear - physical survival.

However, this is not the only exile that Yaakov endures. There was an earlier episode, which has very different characteristics: Perhaps visiting one's family might not be seen as an exile; indeed, Yaakov was not really enslaved by Lavan, he merely had a bad employer. We might say that the Lavan experience was not one of slavery, but it was exile nonetheless. Much like the Egypt experience, Yaakov does succeed in his exile, but the success is not to his benefit: His father-in-law is the main beneficiary of his good fortune, and the problems only escalate when Yaakov wants to leave. As opposed to the Children of Israel in Egypt, Yaakov has a good job and a comfortable life in Lavan's home. His challenge there is spiritual survival.

Let us examine the different types of redeemers needed for the different types of exiles. The Prophet Amos speaks or a series of calamities:

18. Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light. 19. As if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned with his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. 20. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Very dark with no brightness in it? 21. I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell the sacrifices of your solemn assemblies. 22. Though you offer me burnt offerings and meal offerings, I will not accept them; nor will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.

Amos's words are cryptic: What is this darkness? Who is the lion? Which bear is he referring to? And what forest, what serpent?

R. Judah b. R. Simon opened with the text: As if a man did flee from a lion, etc. (Amos 5:19). R. Huna and R. Hama in the name of R. Hanina said: 'As if a man did flee from a lion'-this refers to Babylon, which is designated by the words, The first was like a lion (Dan. 7:4). And a bear met him (Amos loc. cit.), this refers to Media, designated in the words, And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear (Dan. VII, 5). (R. Johanan said: The word 'ledov' (a bear) is written defectively. This accords with the opinion of R. Johanan given in his dictum, Wherefore a lion out of the forest doth slay them (Jer. 5:6): this refers to Babylon. A wolf of the deserts doth spoil them (ib.), this refers to Media. A leopard watcheth over their cities-this refers to Greece. Everyone that goeth out thence is torn in pieces-this refers to Edom.) And he went into the house (Amos loc. cit.) - this refers to Greece, in the era of which the Temple was still standing. And a serpent bit him-this refers to Edom, of which it says, The sound thereof shall go like the serpent's (Jer. XLVI, 22). Similarly it says, Open to me, my sister (Shir Hashirim 5:2): this refers to [Israel under] Babylon. My love (ib.) - this refers to Media. My dove - this refers to Greece. My undefiled - this refers to Edom. 'Dove' refers to Greece because throughout the days of the Grecian domination the Temple stood and Israel used to offer pigeons and doves on the altar.

The attack of Yavan (Greece) is different from all the others, because this one took place at home. Other than Chanuka, all biblical and rabbinic holidays commemorate events that took place outside the Land of Israel. Chanuka is the exception; therefore, in the prophesy of Amos, "went into the house" refers to the Greek period. It is one thing to be attacked on the road, when one is vulnerable. It is quite another thing to be attacked at home. This "exile" of the Greek period took place as the Temple was still standing;(4) a strange exile, indeed.

The Yalkut Shimoni(5) takes the same verse from the Book of Amos, and applies it to Yaakov's life: Here, Lavan is the lion, Esav the bear and Shechem the serpent who attacks him at home. This interpretation creates a parallel between Yaakov's life and future exiles, and implies that Yaakov endured a third Exile. Specifically, a parallel is drawn between the story of Chanukah and the story of Dinah. This is particularly interesting in light of a Midrash that credits the Maccabean Rebellion to a speech given by one of the Maccabee sisters named Chana. The Midrash explains that the Jewish uprising was a response to one of the famous Greek laws imposed upon the Jews (and presumably upon other nations that fell under Greek rule), namely the principle of ius primae noctis (droit du seigneur) - the authority of the Greek Governor to deflower virgin brides on their wedding night before they could join their husbands. The Midrash relates that Chana, a daughter of Matityahu the High Priest, demonstratively disrobed at her wedding celebration. Her outraged brothers took up their swords to end the outrage via "honor killing", but Chana protests: "I disrobed before righteous people, and you are incensed. But this evening I will be taken to the Governor, and not to my husband, and you are silent!" She exhorts them to action, and convinces them to take up arms against the true enemy. Thus, according to this Midrash, the battle of Chanukah ensued.(6)

There are several parallels between Chana's story and Dinah's story: As we noted earlier, the Jews are in their homeland, and not on foreign soil. In the story of Dinah, the "saviors" were her brothers Shimon and Levi. Chana's defenders are her brothers the Maccabees, descendents of Levi. This is more than coincidence; Chana herself points this out, as quoted by the Midrash:

"You should learn from Shimon and Levi brothers of Dinah ... put your trust in God and He will save you..."

The larger picture, then, is painted on the backdrop of "home", the Holy Temple. The guardians of the home are the tribe of Levi who work in the Holy Temple. The savior, in both of these episodes, is not from the tribe of Yehuda, the leader of the brothers, nor is he from the tribe of Yosef, whose leadership was rejected earlier in Bereishit and is not yet accepted, even in the days of the Maccabean Dynasty.

The very foundations of the Second Temple echo the fractured leadership: The Prophet Hagai tells us of a man named Zerubavel, Governor of Judea, who is chosen to rectify Israel's anomalous situation: God admonishes the Jews, who have attained lives of comfort in their beautiful homes, while the House of God lays in ruins:

1. In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the High Priest, saying, 2. Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say that the time has not yet come, the time that the Lord's house should be built. 3. Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4. Is it time for you, yourselves, to dwell in your well timbered houses, while this house lies in ruins?

When the decision is made to put down the foundation stone, the prophet advises to pay careful attention to the date the building has begun:

18. Consider now from this day onward, from the twenty fourth day of the ninth month, from the day when the foundation of the temple of the Lord was laid, consider it.

On the 24th of the ninth month - Kislev - we are ordered to build, and instructed to pay close attention. Perhaps there was something that was missed, an opportunity that was not realized. A second prophesy, received on the very same date, makes the message more clear:

20. And again the word of the Lord came to Haggai on the twenty fourth day of the month, saying: 21. Speak to Zerubabvl, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; 22. And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those who ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, everyone by the sword of his brother. 23. On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubavel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts.

Both prophecies revolve around the same day - the day that will one day become the Eve of Chanuka. God will shake heaven and earth; Zerubavel is the chosen one. A redeemer from the tribe of Yehuda!

When it comes to holiness, Yehuda is at the fore. Nachshon, son of Aminadav from the tribe of Yehuda, is the first to jump into the waters of the Red Sea. David and Shlomo build the First Temple. Now, Zerubavel is there to build the Second Temple. The Third, final, everlasting Temple will be built by Messiach ben David. (7)

But Zerubabvel remains an elusive character: From the prophecies of Hagai, he seems so important and so central. He is the Chosen One, sent by God to build the Temple - no wonder some commentaries refer to him as "Messiach ben David"!(8) Yet he disappears without a trace. What became of him? Why was this nascent messianic movement aborted? How and why did things go wrong?

Let us consider the chronology of events: The story of Purim takes place between the return of the Jews and the building of the Second temple. The Jews in Shushan, the heroes of the Book of Esther, were those who chose not to return to Israel and participate in the building of the Second Commonwealth. They stayed in Shushan. Every time the book of Esther refers to "Shushan the Capitol" the reader should be reminded that Jerusalem is the real capitol of the Jewish People. These Jews should have been in Jerusalem, not Shushan. The man who was the instrument of the salvation of these Jews was Mordechai, together with his cousin Esther. What do we know about them?

There was a man from Yehudah in Shushan the Capitol, and his name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjamite. (Esther 2:5)

Mordechai is described as an ish Yehudi, and an ish Yemini, a descendent of Yehudah and Binyamin. Mordechai and Esther mark an important bond, a convergence between the children of Leah and Rachel. But there is another significant relationship between Yehudah and Binyamin - the Beit Hamikdash is built straddling the Binyamin-Yehudah border.(9) In this sense, Mordechai and Esther represent the Temple itself, at a time when certain Jews rejected the Temple by choosing to remain in the Persian exile, disobeying God's call to return to their Land under the guidance of Zerubavel and build the Second Temple.

Arguably, had all Jews returned to Israel with Zerubavel, the Purim story could have been averted.(10) Had the Jews accepted Zerubavel, the Messianic age would have begun and the Second Temple could have been the final, everlasting Temple. When the building began -Jews forgot to come. They chose Shushan, arguably the political and economic epicenter of the world, over Jerusalem, the spiritual epicenter, which remained unbuilt. The project began on the 24th of Kislev but, tragically, stopped. "Pay attention," said the prophet Hagai: many years later, on the 25th of Kislev, they would complete the process, and consecrate the Second Temple. But in an ideal world, the festivals of Purim and Chanuka would not exist!

The sons of Yaakov may have had their reasons for rejecting Yosef's leadership. In fact, they might have argued that this was the wisest course of action. After all, they might have argued, "the man was a dreamer; he had delusions of grandeur, and would surely never amount to anything". Tragically, the story of Chanuka is the story of the rejection of Yehuda's leadership, as well. Zerubavel, Governor of Yehuda, should have been a rallying point for all of the People of Israel, the clear leader and redeemer, but he was rejected as well. And when a person, possessed of the obvious gifts of leadership that Zerubavel had, is rejected despite their greatness, one never knows where it will lead.

God's personally-appointed Mashiach gathers some of the exiles - but not enough. Many stay behind. He starts the building of the Temple. He brings people closer to God, and encourages them to leave their non-Jewish spouses. But in the end, he fails to complete the mission. Another candidate will have to be appointed to complete the task. The Jews who chose to stay in Shushan were brought to the brink of destruction - but another festival was soon revealed, as their salvation eventually came.

Zerubavel is the Mashiach the Jews didn't want. He helped build the Temple(11) we didn't want, and he tried to get people to return to a Land they didn't want. Chanukah actually celebrates the completion of the building of the Second Temple. It is commemorated on the 25th of Kislev, completing what was begun on the 24th of Kislev. But even the Maccabees had one fatal flaw - they neglected to return the leadership role to its rightful owner - someone from the tribe of Judah. Instead, they sinned by retaining the kingship for themselves,(12) once again rejecting the leadership of Yehudah. Inevitably, this led to a whole new exile, a new darkness, with its own struggles and challenges.

The End of Days is described by our prophets as the result of accepting the leadership of both Yosef and Yehuda:. The Messianic Age will see the fusion of these two paradigms of leadership, a union of Yosef and Yehuda, and the emergence of the Mashiach:

19. Say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions, and will put them with him, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand.20. And the sticks on which you write shall be in your hand before their eyes. 21. And say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from among the nations, where they have gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land; 22. (K) And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, nor shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.

This, then, is essence of the world in its corrected state: One nation, one Temple, one Land, one God: unity.



* * *


Postscript For Chanukah

When Chana's brothers saw her act of defiance at the wedding celebration, they saw only impurity. Only upon further contemplation did they understand that in fact there was a source of purity to her behavior. That essence of purity is akin to the flask of oil found in the Temple. Even though the Temple was defiled, deep in the recesses of the Temple there was a "pach katan," a small flask containing enough oil for one day. Where did this flask originate? Was it related to Yaakov searching for "pachim katanim"(13) (little flasks) on the night before his confrontation with Esav? Was it related to the oil with which Yaakov anointed the monument he built after the episode of Dina?(14) Perhaps the lone, pure flask of oil found by the Maccabees is related to both of these events.

Chana shone a spotlight so that her brothers could see the purity hidden beneath the impurity. She understood that deep inside each of us there is a pach katan which yearns to be uncovered and must be lit. While her brothers saw impurity, she taught them to seek out the inner purity, and to fight for it.

Every Jewish soul is comparable to a small flask of pure oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol. Sometimes its light is clearly visible, sometimes we must search. But when the Maccabees found the oil and lit the Menorah – the oil didn't last only one day as we would have expected. It didn't even last for seven or eight days. The light of that pach katan of purity, so much like the hidden light within each of us, has lasted for 2,300 years, and still burns strong.



1. See Ramban Shmot 28:2.

2. Midrash Rabbah Berieshit 85:1: AND IT CAME TO PASS AT THAT TIME, THAT JUDAH WENT DOWN FROM HIS BRETHREN, etc. (38: 1). It is written, Judah hath dealt treacherously, etc. (Mal. 2:11). He [God] said to him [Judah]: ' Thou hast denied, O Judah; thou hast been false, O Judah! And an abomination is committed in Israel... for Judah hath profaned, etc. (ib.)-thou hast become profane, O Judah. The holiness of the Lord which He loveth, and hath married the daughter of a strange god' (ib.)-as it says, AND I T CAME TO PASS AT THAT TIME, THAT JUDAH WENT DOWN, etc. I will yet bring unto thee, O inhabitant of Mareshah, him that shall possess thee; the glory of Israel shall come even unto Adullam (Micah I, 15)- ['The glory of Israel' means] the Holy One of Israel; to Adullam shall come the King of Israel. Even unto Adullam shall come' -AND IT CAME TO PASS AT THAT TIME, etc. R. Samuel b. Nahman commenced thus: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord (Jer. 24: 11). The tribal ancestors were engaged in selling Joseph, Jacob was taken up with his sackcloth and fasting, and Judah was busy taking a wife, while the Holy One, blessed be He, was creating the light of Messiah.

3. See Rashi Bereshit 15:12, also see comments of the Targum (pseudo) Yonatan who is a bit more specific in the identity of these exiles.

4. See Midrash Tehillim (Buber edition)18:11.

5. Yalkut Shimoni Amos remez 544.

6. Otzar Midrashim page 189.

7. Midrash Sochar Tov Beresit 49.

8. See the comments of Metzudot Dovid Yechezkel 21:31, also see his comments to Zecharya 4:6,9.

9. See Talmud Bavli Yoma 12a.

10. See Talmud Bavli Yoma 9b.

11. See Torat Haolah part 3 chapter 83.

12. See commentary of Ramban to Bereshit 49:10.

13. See Talmud Bavli Chulin 91, and Rashi Bereishit 32:25.

14. See Bereishit 35:14.


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