This week's Reading begins with the words "And Judah approached". (Gen. 44:18) He did not wait to be called. He took the initiative to do something. Similarly, each of us has to get out there and use some of the new potential we have acquired.

Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch interprets Judah's approaching Joseph as describing the merging of two essentially different ways of serving G‑d. "Judah", in Hebrew "Yehuda", comes from the Hebrew word "hodaah", meaning praise and nullification, referring to the quality of a person who "serves G‑d with his body" - not by partying, but by making his body and physical needs submit to G‑d's Will by focusing on the observance of the commandments. This person takes the mundane and material parts of the world and makes them divine by raising them up to holiness. What had been elevated through transforming the mundane to the holy, was then processed a second time…

On the other hand,"Joseph" (in Hebrew "Yosef") means "adding" and represents a different manner of serving G‑d - that of "serving G‑d with his soul". This Jew cleaves and unites to G‑dliness by immersing himself more and more in Torah study, binding to G‑d. Through his efforts he traps the highest spiritual energies and brings them down into the physical plane.

When Judah approached Joseph, the aspect of "Judah" was elevated to the level of "Joseph". Thus, what had been elevated through transforming the mundane to the holy, was then processed a second time, causing these same elements to descend and reveal their spiritual light in the world. It is written in Midrash Rabba, "there is no 'approaching' except for peace". This means that one who works elevating the material is essentially at war with physicality, whereas the one whose service is more learning-centered can not help but be transformed to a higher spiritual level. Therefore the learning-centered person has a more peaceful and calmer path through which to connect to G‑d. So too, when the aspects of Judah and Joseph came together, it was to enable all methods of service of G‑d to be in a peaceful manner, not requiring difficult conflicts and trials presented by the physical world. This combination of efforts is the ultimate service of every Jew. Each person has to work to see both aspects expressed in his life.

On those words "And Judah approached him", the commentaries ask, "To whom is the word 'him' referring?" The Mei Hashiloach says that Judah penetrated the depths of Joseph's heart in order to convince him to release his brother Benjamin. The Kotsker Rebbe says that the 'him' refers to himself, i.e. Judah examined his own heart; he repeated what he had already said earlier to drive the words deep into himself in order to fulfill the ancient Jewish teaching that "what comes from the heart, enters the heart". He wanted his words to be so true and powerfully charged they would be understood and accepted by Joseph. So too each of us have our moments when we seek to communicate and influence others. The key element is a true belief in what we are saying. This can only be accomplished by being honest with ourselves. This week is a good time to be proactive…

Later in the portion we find that Jacob blesses Pharaoh. The Shem Shmuel asks why? (see Gen. 47:7) He answers by saying that when Pharaoh received from Jacob, i.e. became a vessel for Jacob's blessings, spiritually he was restrained from dominating Jacob. This explains why Pharaoh did not start making trouble for Jacob's descendants until after Jacob died. This is another reminder that this week is a good time to be proactive.

Long winter nights are meant to be set aside for Torah study. Rabbi Joseph Yitzchok of Lubavitch discusses the qualitative difference between the laws of the Torah whose purpose is to show us how to act properly and the inner dimensions of the Torah, whose purpose is to teach us to know G‑d. Even though the inner dimension helps connect us to G‑d, still we are limited because we can never really know what G‑d is, only that He exists. The advantage of the laws of Torah when seen in the abstract, is that we know their essential nature, we can understand them in their entirety, not only how and what we are to do, but also why we should do it.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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