Many of the Ba’alei Mussar ask a famous question in this week’s parsha. The psukim say that when the Brothers came and told Ya’akov that the son he mourned for so intensely was still alive, Ya’akov initially didn’t believe them. On a basic level, it’s quite difficult to understand. What did Ya’akov think? That the Brothers were playing a joke on their old man? This was the news that Ya’akov Avinu was waiting to hear for years and years! How could he think that the Brothers were lying to him?
Rav Elya Lopian (amongst others) answers that in reality, Ya’akov Avinu knew that Yosef was alive. He knew that the shvatim would never lie about such a sensitive issue. But there are two different types of living. There’s physically breathing, and having a sense of chiyus, which means really living; connected to the reason behind why one was created. When the brothers told Ya’akov that Yosef had just spent the past 22 years in Mitzrayim, Ya’akov Avinu was bothered. “You tell me he’s alive; but you really expect me to believe he’s still living?” Ya’akov believed that Yosef was physically breathing, but that he was still alive? For that, Ya’akov Avinu thought it was impossible. He thought that it was virtually impossible for someone to exist amongst the tumah of Mitzryaim and still be considered alive. It was only when he saw the agalos, the allusion to the last sugya which Yosef had learned with his father, did Ya’akov truly believe that Yosef was still the same tzadik who left eretz Yisrael.
We see from here a very important nekudeh which is relevant to existing with a sense of kedusha even in the most tumah-dik environment. Someone asked me today, why did Yosef need to send agalos to allude to Ya’akov the last sugya they had learned? Why not just send Ya’akov a message saying “eglah arufah” or something of the like? Why did this message need to be sent through an actual physical agalos?
I told him that there are two different ways of learning Torah. There’s a type of learning where the ideas learned exist as mere ideas and nothing more. However, there’s another type of learning, one in which the ideas become a part of the person; that is, the Torah he learns becomes his reality. This is alluded to when chazal tell us “Ein ben chorin eleh mi she’oseik b’Torah”, “there is no free person besides for one who toils in Torah”. Chazal learn this out of a pasuk which says that the words of Torah should be “Charus al luach libo”, “engraved into the walls of his heart”. Chazal say, “don’t read charus, rather cheirus, freedom”. The Sfas Emes says that when chazal make drashas like this, there’s always a connection between what we’re learning and where we’re learning it out from. With this in mind, the meforshim say that only when a person makes Torah charus does he merit cheirus. What’s the big mailah of having something engraved as opposed to just writing? The answer is best understood through a parable. When a person writes something on a rock, the rock and the ink exist as two separate entities. The ink just happens to be on the rock. However, if a person would engrave a message into the rock, the rock itself would speak the message. This is what it means to make Torah charus. To engrave it into our hearts, so that the Torah doesn’t exist as something which is separate from us, rather as a part of us, so that our hearts themselves speak the message of Torah.
This is why Yosef had to send actual agalos. Because just sending a hand-written message wouldn’t have been enough to convince Ya’akov that he was still alive. It wouldn’t have told Ya’akov that Yosef was still connected to his higher existence. Yosef had to send actual physical agalos- to hint that the Torah he had learned with his father wasn’t merely ideas; it was his reality. It was a part of him. Only when Ya’akov knew that Torah was his reality was he convinced that Yosef was still truly alive.
When I was learning in Yeshiva in America, I was able to have a chavrusa a few times a week at nights for a mussar seder. This certain bochur had just left full time yeshiva to put more of an emphasis on his college work. I remember, he came in once looking very down and somewhat depressed. He told me that even though he felt that he had spent much time working on himself, his secular college environment was having a negative effect on his Ruchniyus. I told him this nekudah that we learn from Yosef. We live in a time where there’s a tornado raging outside. Everyone agrees that the tumah of the outside world is oft times unbearable! So how do we deal with it? It’s not practical to say you’ll lock yourself in a room to protect yourself. So how do the Jews deal with it? When the entire world tells us to reform our ideals and goals to be consistent with a vastly immoral society, how do we remain stagnant? The answer is that we make Torah our metzius. We make it our reality. We get in touch with that deep point of light hidden within each one of us which makes us unique.
This yesod is a deep, powerful and practical lesson for life. We see from Yosef haTzadik a lesson for how to survive amongst an environment of even the worst types of tumah. In the first perek of tehillim, David Hamelech tells us that we should be like a tree with deep roots next to a river. The mishna in avos says that a tree with deep roots can never get uprooted, no matter how strong the wind is. This is one explanation to what our roots are. They’re our definition, our essence- the Torah. When we get in touch with that and make it our reality, we strengthen our core. And when we strengthen our core, even the greatest wind won’t be able to uproot us.