Joseph's brothers thought that Joseph was the dregs of the dregs, that is, the shell that was rejected from Abraham and Isaac when Ishmael and Esau left them, and that had still not been finally purified.

Joseph's brothers knew that both in the case of Abraham and Isaac, there were two sons, one of which was worthy of perpetuating the consciousness of G‑d in the world, and the other of which was too egocentric to do so. They further knew that in both cases, the unworthy son had to be sent away, i.e., eliminated in some way from the family in order that the purity of the ideal not be contaminated by the poisonous egocentricty of the contender. Joseph, they felt, was the embodiment of the impurities of Jacob

Similarly, they perceived Joseph as the unfit contender in their generation. The original light of Abraham had been purified of its impurities by the rejection of Ishmael; when this light was passed on to Isaac it still contained some secondary impurities that had to be (and were) eliminated by the rejection of Esau. Joseph, they felt, was the embodiment of the impurities of Jacob that similarly had to be rejected. They thus considered it their sacred duty, for the sake of the perpetuation of the divine message entrusted to Abraham and his descendents, to eliminate Joseph from the picture.

This was in particular because they felt Joseph was blemishing the sefira of yesod, diverting it to the left channel, G‑d forbid, by slandering them to their father, this being the antithesis of peace.

As we are told in the narrative, "Joseph brought their evil report to their father." (Gen. 37:2) Rashi notes, "He told his father that they were eating flesh torn from a live animal, that they made fun of the the sons of the handmaidens (Bilhah and Zilpah), calling them slaves, and that he suspected them of illicit sexual relations. Peace is associated with the sefira of yesod

In the idiom of our sages, peace is termed the ultimate vessel for containing blessing. This is clear because acrimony will cause any blessings - whether of health, prosperity, or fulfillment - to be squandered. Thus, peace is associated with the sefira of yesod, for yesod is the vessel through which the divine beneficence flows into malchut, the spiritual precursor of the Jewish people. By slandering them to their father, Joseph was undermining any chance for peace in the family, and thus sabotaging the chances for G‑d's blessings to flow to them.

Yesod is also the principle of the tongue, and slander blemishes it.

It is stated in Sefer Yetzirah that there are two covenants, that of the tongue and that of the sexual organ. Both organs are instruments through which a person articulates himself to the outside world. Both the spoken word and sexual energy possess the power to build or destroy…

They are both very powerful, for both the spoken word and sexual energy possess the power to build or destroy. Unharnessed speech, like unharnessed sexuality, can wreck havoc in a person's life and the lives of all those he meets. Conversely, properly channeled speech and sexuality can elevate an individual to lofty levels of spiritual consciousness and inspire all those with whom he comes in contact. Thus, while yesod generally is associated with the sexual organ, it is also - for the same reason - associated with the organ of speech, the tongue. Improper or evil speech blemished the sefira of yesod.

[In fact, however,] there are many expounders of the Torah who say that [Joseph's brothers] ate flesh torn from the body of living animals and looked at the daughters of the land, [both transgressions]. All of this is connected to yesod.

It is explained that the motivation for eating flesh torn from the body of a living animal is the ecstatic, even orgasmic pleasure this brings, the ingestion of raw, unrectified (i.e., by ritual slaughter) life-force. This power-high assumes sexual proportions in the mind/body of the one doing this, and is therefore a blemish in yesod.

Thus, it was in reality not Joseph who was blemishing yesod but his brothers. By reported their behavior to their father, Joseph was in fact trying to safeguard the integrity of yesod.

They also derided [their half-brothers,] the sons of the handmaidens, and this is clearly a violation of the principle of peace. They called them slaves when they were in fact free men, the opposite of slaves. If there is any element of self-orientation or egocentricity…it cannot be true peace…

Here again, they were in fact guilty of what they were accusing Joseph of. Of the twelve brothers, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Isaachar, and Zebulun were the sons of Jacob's first wife, Leah; Joseph and Benjamin were the sons of his second wife, Rachel; Dan and Naftali were the sons of Rachel's handmaiden, Bilhah; and Gad and Asher were the sons of Leah's handmaiden, Zilpah. The six sons of Leah taunted the four sons of the handmaidens as being slaves by birth, i.e., unworthy of being bonafide members of the holy family.

Yesod is called "everything", for it includes all the emotional attributes.

In the verse, "Yours, O G‑d, is the greatness, and the power, and the beauty, and the victory, and the glory, for all that is in heaven and earth (is Yours)," (Chronicles I, 29:10) the first five nouns are the first five emotional attributes (greatness, chesed; power, gevura; beauty, tiferet; victory, netzach; glory, hod), implying that the subsequent phrase ("…all that is heaven and earth") corresponds to the sixth attribute, yesod. Thus, this verse expresses explicitly the notion that yesod is the channel through which all the higher attributes coalesce and descend further, into malchut.

They thought that they themselves could complete what would be lacking [by excluding Joseph]; that they could supply his attribute of brotherhood. They therefore plotted against him.

As we have seen, the dispute between Joseph and his brothers focused on the sefira of yesod, the vessel of peace. Joseph felt that he was the guardian of yesod, that he was the long-term peace-maker, while his brothers felt that he was an obstacle to peace. They, of course, were wrong; peace is meaningful only if it is predicated on submission to G‑d's will. Otherwise - i.e., if there is any element of self-orientation or egocentricity in the so-called peace - it cannot be true peace and will fall apart sooner or later. Peace is a means, a vessel, not an end…

This egocentricity will eventually surface, and as soon as it does, petty self-interests will outweigh the motivation for peacefulness. Thus, although the brothers were correct in their vision of peace as being crucial to the perpetuation of the divine ideal, they were wrong in giving it precedence over the more fundamental issues of divine service. Peace is a means, a vessel, not an end. Only when recognized as such can it be meaningful, and therefore endure.

They further felt that the ten of them would complete [the spiritual configuration necessary for eliciting] the direct light, and Benjamin would complete [what was necessary to return] the reflected light.

Here, we find the sons of Leah including the sons of the handmaidens as their equals. The six of the former plus the four latter would form a unit of ten, reflecting the ten sefirot, and thus serve as the proper and fitting conduit of divine beneficence into the world. Benjamin, the son of Rachel, whom Jacob loved most, would provide the means through which man's service of love from below could arouse this flow of supernal beneficence.

Their mistake was that even though yesod includes the other attributes, it is nonetheless an attribute on its own as well.

It is therefore not enough, as we said, to simply impose artificial harmony on the other attributes; there must be the purity of intention (signified by the purity of sexual energy, the energy of yesod) as well.

Furthermore, it is well known that the tribes were not meant to reflect the ten sefirot but rather twelve extremities, which exist in malchut as the twelve cattle, as is explained elsewhere.

It was known in ancient times that a central prerequisite for establishing the people of the covenant, the family that would develop into the nation that would carry the divine message to the rest of humanity, was a family of twelve sons, all of whom would be worthy of this mission. Thus, we see, for example, that Abraham and his brother Nachor both sought to expand their families to this number of sons by taking concubines. In fact, however, it was Jacob who was the first to actually father twelve sons who were all righteous, and thus he became the father of the Jewish people.

The reason why 12 is the magic number here is because while the number ten represents the perfection of the archetypal structure of the ten sefirot in the world of Atzilut, the number 12 represents the way these principles are projected into lower reality, i.e., the worlds subsequent to Atzilut. It is in these lower realities that time and space first begin to become real, as the dimensions within which consciousness operates in these worlds. Atzilut-consciousness transcends the limitations of time and space; not so consciousness from Beriya downwards.

Space is defined by three dimensions (height, width, and length), each of which extends in two opposite directions (up-down, north-south, east-west), giving six "extremities". These six directions are manifestations of the six emotive attributes from chesed to yesod. Of course, these attributes exist in Atzilut as well, but the overwhelming consciousness of G‑d that obtains in Atzilut precludes any development of these attributes into a context within which consciousness can be circumscribed. Only in the realms of lesser awareness of divinity do these attributes assume the role of defining the limits of awareness.

These six directions can be envisioned as a six-sided cube. The number of lines used to draw such a cube is twelve. Thus, the number 12 represents the translation of divine perfection into divinity that can be manifest in a lower reality. As such, this number represents as well the purpose of creation, i.e., of making the lower reality into a home for divinity.

In Solomon's Temple, the laver was situated on twelve statues of cattle. Cattle represent the animal soul, which is primarily emotion-oriented, as opposed to the divine soul, which is primarly intellect-oriented.

Thus, here too, the brothers misunderstood their calling. They envisioned themselves as personifications of divine perfection; they were shepherds, disassociated from society and the material world in general. In contrast, Joseph personified yesod, the divine perfection as it penetrates and succeeds finally in ruling even Egyptian society while staying true to its spiritual integrity.

Adapted from Sefer HaLikutim, and Likutei Torah
Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.