© 2016 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
1: Some Definitions
We move now in our classes from Noah’s Fifth Commandment, JUSTICE, to Noah’s Sixth, BLASPHEMY. For that, we follow the Torah’s narrative and move from Jacob seeking JUSTICE to the story of selling Joseph, which was a great desecration of G-d’s name.
Let’s define BLASPHEMY
BLASPHEMY is anything that diminishes G-d’s HONOR in the World, in the eyes of other peoples.
The opposite, SANCTIFICTION of G-d’s Name, is anything that increases G-d’s HONOR in the World, or in the eyes of other peoples.
Hence BLSPHEMY is committed by any of the following actions:
(1) Cursing His Name by our mouth
(2) Spitting on anything that carries His Holiness
(3) Erasing any of His Holy Names
(4) Destroying His Temples, Synagogues, Torah academies, Torah scrolls
(5) Killing His servants, His worshippers, His priests, His peoples
(6) Acting in a way that would reflect badly on His Torah
(7) Denying that He intervenes in history and the world’s affairs
SANCTIFICATION therefore is committed by any of the opposite actions:
(1) Praising His Name in public
(2) Hugging and kissing anything that carries His Holiness
(3) Respecting His Name, avoiding tearing His Name
(4) Erecting Temples, Synagogues, Torah academies, writing Torah scrolls
(5) Cherishing His servants, worshippers, priests and peoples
(6) Acting publicly in a good way that would reflect positively on His Torah
(7) Surrendering our lives for His sake
Let’s elaborate on the last two points.
It is commonly thought that Sanctification of His Name is done by surrendering our lives rather than violating any of His Commandments. How many martyrs have perished for G-d’s Name?
But there is a less dramatic way to sanctify His Name. When a person known to be a follower of the Torah does something good, people would attribute his goodness to his Torah. This would increase G-d’s HONOR in the eyes of the peoples.
Desecration of G-d’s Name is committed not only by cursing, but also by a less dramatic way. When a person known to be a Torah sage commits a sin, especially an ugly sin, this would reflect badly on his Torah in the eyes of the peoples. His action therefore is tantamount of Desecration of G-d’s Name or BLASPHEMY.
Thus BLASPHEMY and SANCTIFICATION add a new dimension on every sin or a good deed. A Torah scholar or a sage should be very careful in his behavior, since anything he does would reflect on his Torah.
We can also say that BLASPHEMY is an act that denies G-d’s KINGSHIP or HONOR in the world, since the sinner shows that he cares not about G-d’s retributions or rewards.
This introduction is crucial for the understanding of selling Joseph. When a ‘holy family’ as Jacob’s family misbehaves in such an ugly fashion, selling their own brother for slavery, their action is tantamount of DESECRATION of God’s Name and BLASPHEMY.
Indeed, history shows that the story of selling Joseph has served as a pretext for the enemies of the Jewish people to charge them with cruelty and lack of brotherhood. Thus the story helped to diminish God’ HONOR in the eyes of the nations.
of course, such a view of the story is incomplete, since the family of Jacob managed to climb up morally from their depression. You can’t comprehend the story of the Messiah without understanding Joseph’s story.
So with this on our minds, let’s read the story:
2: He sought to dwell in peace
“And Jacob settled in the land
in which his father had sojourned
In the land of Canaan” (37: 1)
With the story of the killing of the citizen of Shehem behind him, Jacob wished to “settled in the land” IN PEACE (Targum, Rashi).
He should have known better. A righteous person never dwells in this world IN PEACE.
A righteous person is always tested, re-assessed by the Heavenly Court.
Have not he dreamt about the Ladder on which the Angles ascend and descend?
These Angles, we’ve said, represents the nations, the peoples, as countries or as individuals.
We all climb and descend on that Ladder of the Commandments.
Each step on the Ladder serves as a platform for the next, upper trial.
Everything we’ve achieved in life serve as a platform for the next trial.
Only this way, by overcoming his new trials, a person may climb up closer to the Gate of Heavens.
Jacob should have known that. After all, he is the one who dreamt about it. He is the one who taught it to the world.
“Jacob settled In the land, where his father Isaac had lived,” the Holy Land. He thought he would never have to go into exile again.
But this wouldn’t happen, for there was a Heavenly decree to bring him and his family ‘down’ to Egypt, one way or another (Rashi.)
We, the readers, know about that Decree from God’s revelation to Abraham. We remember that G-d informed Abraham that his children would live in Egypt and be subdued there for “four hundred years.”
Since the count of these 400 years began with Abraham’s prophecy, Jacob and his children would live in Egypt only 210 years out of the 400. The time to implement that prophecy, however, had arrived.
A clue for this, the rabbis noted, is the fact that the entire section of the Book of Genesis, from the coming of Jacob back to the Holy Land till the end of the Book, where Jacob lives in Egypt, IS WRITTEN under ELKM’s Name alone. The Attribute of JUDGMENT ‘took over’ and was executing the harsh Decree to bring Jacob and his family down to Egypt ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
YHVH’s Name, in contrast, appears only in two places, which are like ‘islands’ in the sea of ELKM Name.
These two islands are:
(1) The story of Judah and Tamar
(2) The story of Joseph and his master’s wife
In these small stories, YHVH’s Name appears in the open in the text. We’ll learn the enormous implication of that and its affect on history.
4: The KING Who Moves History
Though we know about the Heavenly Decree to bring Jacob to Egypt, the human participants in the story act as if they are unaware of it. Each person moved in his/her little world, oblivious to the heavenly Court’s intervention, that moves Jacob to Egypt.
The rabbis pointed: “Jacob moved n his world, Joseph in his world, Reuben and Judah in their world, and G-d is in His World,” (Midrash.)
Hence this story presents us with unusual opportunity to learn how the Heavenly Court propels history, behind the scene, according to His Will,
In no other story in the Bible you can see G -d’s intervenes in such a stark way.
The KING who intervenes in history.
The idea that G-d interferes in our human affairs is called “His KINGSHIP.”
This is not self- understood. Many prominent philosophers and scientists could accept the notion of a Wise CREATOR, but could not accept the notion of His intervention in our lives.
But the Torah insists that the CREATOR is also our JUDGE (ELKM) and our KING and our Master (AaDoNai) and our FATHER, in ‘descending order’ of power, yet increasingly closer to us.
Hence this story of selling Joseph increases G-d HONOR in the world by emphasizing that G-d is also our KING who moves history, who interferes in our species affairs as in our individual affairs. The story itself, therefore, sanctifies G-d’s Name.
Honor is at the core
As you see, HONOR is at the core of either BLASPHEMY or SANCTIFICTION. As the story unfolds, we would see different levels of HONORING:
(1) Honor of one’s own self
(2) Honor of father (and mother)
(3) Honor of brother,
(4) Honor of the provider
(5) Honor of the human king
(6) Honor of G-d, he King of Kings
(7) Honor of the Messiah
it is important to distinguish between these honors, since otherwise you may err with IDOLATRY, giving a wrong honor to the wrong entity, thereby committing BLASPHEMY.
5: On what would Jacob and his sons be tested?
“And Jacob settled in the land…” on what exactly would Jacob and sons be tested now in the Holy Land?
We’ve seen their former achievements.
We have seen hoe Jacob fought for JUSTICE.
We have seen how Jacob became Israel, climbing up in his holiness.
We have seen how the brothers killed a whole city in the nam of brotherhood, saving their sister.
We have seen how the brothers justified their action by their vengeance, by acting as zealot for YHVH Name.
Well, would they prove now that their former achievements were endurable and real?
Let’s summarize these points on which the family would be tested:
1. They would be tested on holiness
Jacob had just been promoted to be Israel, to chant with the Angels. He and his sons were promoted to serve humanity as holy priests. Would they not desecrate G-d Name by their misbehavior?
2. They would be tested on their zeal:
Once a zealot, a person should stay a zealot.
If a person has committed vengeance as a zealot for YHVH, he has to prove for the rest of his life that he is indeed a zealot,
Otherwise the Heavenly Court would charge him with crimes falsely committed in YHVH name.
Would Jacob and son prove that they are indeed true, permanent zealots?
br> 3: They would be tested on brotherhood
Jacob’s son had just destroyed a whole city in the name of brotherhood. Would they keep brotherhood between themselves?
4: They would be tested on Abduction
The brothers had just killed peoples who abducted and rape their sister.
Would they not do the same to their own brother Joseph?
5: They would be tested on Abraham’s circumcision
The brothers had used Circumcision to weaken the citizen of Shehem.
Well, what is Circumcision, if not the emblem of our Master in our flesh?
What is circumcision if not a cry against forced SLAVERY?
Would they defile their circumcision by selling their brother as a sex slave?
6: They would be tested on Justice
The brothers had killed in the name of Injustice. Would they commit injustice to their own brother?
7: They would be tested on truthfulness
The brothers rejected Hamor’s lies. Would they not lie about each other to their father? Would they not lie to their father about the fate of Joseph?
As you see, Jacob and family were under a tough scrutiny.
Had not Isaac blessed Jacob with all the goodness of the world, but ON CONDITION?
6: Ten steps downward
You know the story. It shows how Jacob and his sons gradually sled down spiritually, ending with the ugliest crib possible: selling their own brother as a sex slave.
It is important to trace their decline step by step:
step 1: He aspired to live in peace
“And Jacob dwelled in the Land where his father had lived…”
According to Rashi, Jacob’s behavior was at fault. “Righteous people should know that in this world there is no peace.” Righteous people know that in this world we move from one text to another. This perhaps is the most basic premises of the Torah.
step 2: Joseph, the arrogant ladl
“Joseph was a seventeen your old lad…”
He was an arrogant teenage, handsome, looking at the mirror and curling his heirs…” (Rashi.)
step 3: An hierarchy within the family
“He would tend the sheep of his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives…” a spilt in the family and the sense of brotherhood.
The sons of the maiden tended their flocks apart for the sons of the ‘former wife,’ Lea. Joseph, the son of Rachel, opted for the sons of the maiden.
step 4: A bad mouth
“And Joseph brought his father a bad report about them”
Joseph spoke badly about “them,” the Maiden sons, or about Lea’s sons, or about both. Or he told his father what they were speaking about each other (Rashi.) You see how the family’s peace was deteriorated.
The sages added that Jacob too was guilty of listening to the bad mouth, He did not rebuke either Joseph or the brothers.
Why does a person speaks a bad mouth on anyone?
To increase his own HONOR by denigrating others.
step 5: They ate limbs torn from living animals
What sort of bad mouth was it? What did Joseph saw in his brothers that he told his father?
Rashi says: he saw them eating limbs torn from living animals.
In other words, he saw them violating Noah’s Seventh Commandment.
This is important and can predict the next step. For what is Noah’s Seventh Commandment if not a sign of a struggle against BLOODSHED, and CRUELTY?
So you can smell that the brothers were moving towards violating BLOODSHED and CRUELTY towards their own brother.
6: They violated ADULTERY
In addition to violating Noahide number seven, the brothers violated ADULTERY (Rasi). This fits with the concept that once you’ve denied G-d KINGSHIP, and rejected the notion that He is watching, thereby committing IDOLATRY, you would stumble on the Second Commandment, ADULTERY. And then you’d fail also the Third Commandment, BLOODSEHD.
step 7: Jacob showed preference
“And Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, since he was a child of his old age. And he made him a long, colorful, stripe coat.”
By preferring Joseph in the open, Jacob incited the bother’s jealousy. Again, HONOR is at the focus.
step 8: Jealousy turned into hate
“And when his brothers realized that…they began to hate him.
They could not say a peaceful word to him…”
The verse is clear: Jacob had sought peace, but his children couldn’t speak to each other peacefully.
step 9: Joseph’s first dream
“Then Joseph had a dream and when he told it to his brothers they hated him all the more. And he said to them: hear I pray you, the dream which I have dreamed, for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field and lo, my sheath arose and also stood upright and behold, your sheaths stood around about and bowed down to my sheath”…
And his brother reaction was: “will you indeed reign over us, or will you have dominion over us?” And they hated him yet even more for his dreams and for his words.
The rabbis said that his dream foresaw his economic dominion over them.
step 10: Joseph’s second dream”
“And he dreamed yet another dream a And told it to his brothers and said: Behold, I’ve again dreamed a dream and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.”
And when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him: What is the dram that you have dreamt? Shall I and your mother and your eleven brothers indeed come to bow down ourselves to you to the ground?”
Here he foresaw his political dominion over them.
Desecration of G-d’s Name
The holy family of Jacob, the only family on Earth qualified to chant “Hoy, Holy, Holy” along the Angelic Choir, was falling apart, thereby Desecrating G-d’s Name.
The brothers grazed their flocks in Shehem
Jacob send Joseph to his brothers tended their flocks in no other place but Shehem, where they had killed the inhabitants. This is not incidental, since they would now stand on a trial for that.
And a Man found him
Jacob dispatches Joseph to the brothers, but he gets lost in the field. Would he go back home, history would be changed. But the heavenly Court, the KING, intervenes.
A “Man,” an Angel, directs Joseph to his brothers. The rest is history.
sold as a sex slave in Egypt
“And the Mydianites sold him to Egypt to Ptifar, Pharaoh’s chief of the guard (assassins)….”
The family is morally decayed. The rabbis said that Jacob lost his prophecy. He would no longer be called Israel, till he would hear again from Joseph.
The question is:
Would the family be resuscitated?
Who would pull them up from their depression?