The Baal Shem Tov taught, “In the place where a person wants to be, that is where he will be found.” May we all be found together in the Holy Temple this Chanukah.
What is the reason for the Jewish people being in exile? What purpose has been served by almost two thousand years of suffering and hardship?
The answer to this age-old question is alluded to in this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, in Joseph’s explanation of his choice of name for his son Ephraim.
“The name of the second he called Ephraim,” the Torah states, “for G-d has caused me to be fruitful (“hifrani” – from the same root as Ephraim) in the land of my affliction.”
In other words, it is precisely through exile “in the land of my affliction” that Joseph became stronger. Likewise, the entire purpose of exile is to uncover the Jewish people’s hidden strengths, bringing them to a higher level of perfection.
On a personal level, Joseph had attained the highest rungs of spiritual service, standing head and shoulders above his eleven brothers; in a certain sense, he was even superior to his father Jacob. Nonetheless, in order to attain the very highest levels, Joseph had to undergo exile “in the land of my affliction.”
The Torah alludes to Joseph’s exalted spiritual status in its statement that the brothers “recognised him not.” According to Chasidic philosophy, Joseph’s involvement in worldly matters was perceived by them as an obstacle to spirituality.
The brothers couldn’t understand how a person could be worldly and serve G-d at the same time. Thus they deliberately pursued a life of contemplation; as shepherds, they were cut off from civilisation and the demands of society. Never in their wildest dreams could they fathom how Joseph, second-in-command over all of Egypt, could remain connected to G-d and indeed surpass their level of service. The concept itself was too radical for them to grasp.
Joseph’s superiority to his father is also reflected in the fact that he was punished for putting his faith in Pharaoh’s butler, whereas when Jacob addressed his brother Esau as “my master,” it was not considered a sin.
Jacob, despite his great spiritual attainments, was still subject to the limitations of the physical world and thus permitted to work within the natural order; Joseph, however, was above such constraints and therefore held to a much higher standard of behaviour, according to which he should have placed his trust in G-d alone.
Nevertheless, we see that it was only through the experience of exile that Joseph was able to attain the very pinnacle of spirituality, paving the way and setting an example for his future descendants.
For just as the Jewish people merited to receive the Torah after the “crucible” of the Egyptian exile, so too will we merit the very highest revelations of G-dliness with the ultimate Redemption. Moshiach NOW!!!