Thursday, 9 December, 2021 - 10:34 pm

The story of this week’s Torah portion Vayigash Joseph revealing himself to his brothers after decades of bitter separation is one of the most dramatic in the entire Torah. Twenty-two years earlier, when Joseph was seventeen years old, his brothers kidnap him, threw him into a pit, then sold him as a slave to Egyptian merchants.

In Egypt, he spent twelve years in prison, from where he rose to become viceroy of the country. Now, more than two decades later, the moment was finally ripe for reconciliation.

Joseph could not hold in his emotions He dismissed from his chamber all of his Egyptian assistants, "And he began to weep and Joseph said to his brothers: 'I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?' His brothers were so astounded, they could not respond."

We are asking G-d to be like Joseph to his brothers. They have hurt him, yet he came to their rescue, he saved them from famine, he fed them, settled them, and nurtured them, and he comforted them. We ask G-d to act toward us in the same way.

Why are we asking G-d to treat us like Joseph toward brothers?

The comparison seems problematic.

Here is what Joseph says to his brothers when he first discloses his identity to them:

“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life … And to keep alive for you many survivors.

It would be understandable if Joseph felt anger resentment and desire for revenge. Yet he rose above it by reframing his experience: And tells his brothers you did not sell me; G-d sent me. You tried to harm me, but really you were agents to help me achieve my greatest potential and save much of the world from hunger.

Why, then, are we asking G-d to treat us like Joseph treated his brothers?

The Rebbe shared a powerful insight.

Our greatest mistake is that we do not realize who we really are.

Imagine a huge army is being commanded by one individual.

What strength does this man have over these millions of people? Mechanistically, he has no strength whatsoever. Yet he has strength. Because this individual human being embodies the mission, the vision, the purpose behind the entire army; in his persona are encompassed the myriads of individuals who are driven by the same cause. This is not scientific thinking, because science cannot recognize what it cannot observe and experiment upon, and if we gaze at an army through a microscope or even a telescope, we will see nothing except a huge mass of people.

But in truth it is not a mass of people; there is something else in it, that is the reason why we do not call it a huge heap of people, but we call it an army. Science can articulate the "body" of the army, not its soul – its inner identity, that invisible thread that transforms hundreds of thousands of people into a cohesive entity.

This is true of human life, too. The human soul constitutes that dimension within us that experiences the singular objective of human life, synchronizing the myriad dimensions of the human organism and the fragmented components of our daily lives into an integrated whole. Life without awareness of the soul is like a musician playing scattered notes without a vision and a message integrating them into a singular ballad.

And what does this soul look like? In the holy book of Tanya, Rabbi Schnuer Zalman defines the soul as “a piece of G-d.” The soul—is free, fearless, happy, wholesome, confident, stress-free, serene, pure, and always one with G-d.

The soul harbors a single yearning—to remain what she really is, a "fragment" of G-d on earth, a reflection of His dignity, integrity, and infinity.

How many of us are truly aware of how holy we are, how good we are, how Divine we are, how powerful, happy, wholesome, fearless we are?

The story of Joseph and his brothers is a personal story for many of us. Each time I lie, I take the "Joseph" within me—the beautiful prince, my soul, and plunge it into a pit.

Can you imagine how horrified you would be if you were to observe somebody hurting A little adorable baby? The Chassidic masters describe each time we utter a lie, each time we humiliate another human being, each time we sin, as precisely that: Taking the precious innocent spirituality of our soul and putting it through abuse.

The same is true for each of us. What we might have thought of as abuse of our own soul, hurting the spark of G-d within us, damaging our own sacred identity—was only from our perspective. For that, we cry and grieve. But from G-d’s perspective, our descent into the abyss, our enslavement to all types of forces in our world, was merely a prelude, a springboard, to discover the truth in a yet deeper way, to reach our ultimate potential, to give the world a gift we could have never given it had we not descended into emotional slavery.

Within every crisis lies the glorious possibility of a new, deeper discovery. I have found, and so surely have many of you that the events that at the time were the most painful, were also those that in retrospect most caused me to grow. They helped me make difficult but necessary decisions. They forced me to ask: “Who am I and what really matters to me?”

This is why we ask G-d, “O, that you were like my brother,” to be like Joseph to his brothers. Joseph showed his brothers that despite their ill-advised behavior, notwithstanding their terrible mistakes, inadvertently they were agents of great goodness and healing. G-d, we say, do this for us too. We have hurt our souls, we may have even abused our souls, we may have not realized this at the time, but we caused pain and grief to others. Just like Joseph, help us discover the truth that the purpose of our mistakes, and destructive actions were to compel us to experience real teshuvah—self-transformation, of the type that can transform our past misdeeds into mitzvot, since they have given us awareness and depth, we could have never had without them.

I learned that the microwave oven was invented by accident by a man who was orphaned and never finished grammar school.

The man was Percy Spencer.  At the age of just 18 months old, Spencer’s father died and his mother soon left him to his aunt and uncle. His uncle then died when Spencer was just seven years old.  Spencer subsequently left grammar school and, at the age of 12, began working from sunup to sundown at a spool mill, which he continued to do until he was 16 years old.  At the age of 18, Spencer decided to join the U.S. navy. With a skill in electrical engineering, he helped develop and produce combat radar equipment.  This was of huge importance to the Allies and became the military’s second-highest priority project during WWII, behind the Manhattan Project.

One day, while Spencer was working on building magnetrons for radar sets, he was standing in front of an active radar set when he noticed the chocolate bar he had in his pocket melted.  Spencer wasn’t the first to notice something like this with radars, but he was the first to investigate it.  He and some other colleagues then began trying to heat other food objects to see if a similar heating effect could be observed.  The first one they heated intentionally was popcorn kernels, which became the world’s first microwaved popcorn.  Spencer then decided to try to heat an egg.  He got a kettle and cut a hole in the side, then put the whole egg in the kettle and positioned the magnetron to direct the microwaves into the hole.  The result was that the egg exploded in the face of one of his co-workers, who was looking in the kettle as the egg exploded.

The first microwave oven was created.

He filed a patent on October 8, 1945, for a microwave cooking oven.  This first commercially produced microwave oven was about 6 feet tall and weighed around 750 pounds.  The price tag on these units was about $5000 each. It wasn’t until 1967 that the first microwave oven that was both relatively affordable ($495) and reasonably sized (counter-top model) became available.

Now think about it. What would you do if, standing in your office, a chocolate bar in your pants melt? How would you respond to chocolate oozing down your legs? You might get upset, utter a beautiful curse, and go change your pants. But Spencer used the opportunity to give the world a microwave oven!

Every uncomfortable situation in life, Joseph taught us, can compel us to invent and discover new and precious truths that will bring healing to our world. Yes, I may have hurt my soul. Yes, I made some grand mistakes; but from G-d’s perspective, He allowed it all to happen so that I can build my own unique “microwave oven” that will bring warmth and light to the world.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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