Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Miketz
To dedicate this lesson

Yosef & Yehuda, Nationalism & Universalism?

In this week's Torah portion of Miketz, we encounter Yaakov's sons Yosef and Yehuda, two leaders in Israel who appear to represent two different approaches...What is very interesting is that we find in the writings of the saintly Rav Kook that the roles of Yosef and Yehuda seem to actually be reversed. Rav Kook deals with the concept of two Messiahs, one to be followed by the other; Messiah ben Yosef and Messiah ben David (descended from Yehuda)...

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Rabbi Amatzya Berkowitz

Kislev 29 5782
Translated by Hillel Fendel

In this week's Torah portion of Miketz, we encounter Yaakov's sons Yosef and Yehuda, two leaders in Israel, who appear to represent two different approaches. Yosef is in a very powerful position in Egypt, the imperial power of the world at the time. The entire national economy is run by him, and, as we will read in Parashat Vayigash, he provides sustenance for the populace. We also see that Yosef had all the Egyptian males circumcised, as Rashi states. This indicates that Yosef feels that it is important to do "outreach" to the gentiles and, via the material world, help raise them up in sanctity.

On the other hand, we see that his brothers, led by Yehuda, feel that the best way to do Tikkun Olam (world rectification) is not by turning outward, but rather by focusing inward on the House of Israel. We see this in Yehuda's founding of a Beit Midrash (Torah academy) in Goshen, where the sons of Yaakov and their families lived (see B'reshit 46,28). The yeshiva that he established there stands for inward focus, even in Egypt, on what we call the "four cubits of Jewish Law," without the immediate need to bring the Torah to others. In this way, they feel, the other nations will be drawn to Israel to proclaim G-d's name in their lives.

What is very interesting is that we find in the writings of the saintly Rav Kook (in Orot Yisrael 6,7) that the roles of Yosef and Yehuda seem to actually be reversed. Rav Kook deals with the concept of two Messiahs, one to be followed by the other: Messiah ben Yosef and Messiah ben David (descended from Yehuda). According to one opinion cited in the Gemara (Sukkah 52a, citing Zecharia 12,12), there will be great mourning in the future over the death of Messiah ben Yosef. Rav Kook explains that Messiah ben Yosef is a concept standing for Israel's nationalism.

What will happen when Messiah ben Yosef dies? The answer is that the process continues – for the ultimate objective is not just Israeli nationhood, but rather for the entire world to be united in proclaiming G-d's name. Israel will be in the center, teaching G-d's word to the whole world. This state of affairs will appear via the Messiah ben David, what most people think of as Mashiach, the Messiah. When the world passes from the state of "nationalism" to "universalism," this is when limited nationalism is as if dead. This is how we must understand the concept of the "death" of Messiah ben Yosef.

We thus see in the words of Rav Kook that it is actually Messiah ben Yosef that symbolizes inward-turning Jewish nationalism, while Messiah ben David stands for universal recognition of G-d. How is it that we saw above that Yosef and Yehuda had precisely the opposite of these traits?

The explanation would seem to be that Yosef in fact turns towards the nations – but not for the purpose of helping them spiritually or having them know G-d. Rather, his objective was to make known the full effect of the strength of the Jewish Nation. For this purpose, he must "acquire" material assets from the gentiles. This is Yosef's goal in his work in Egypt. And in fact, when the Jews left Egypt, after many decades of torturous slavery, we see that they rendered Egypt a "trap without bait" (B'rachot 9b), meaning they emptied the country of its wealth – for the purpose of raising up the physical to its rectified form within Israel.

But Yehuda, for his part, did not descend to Egypt to "ignite sparks" and be "mekarev" [bring close] the non-Jews – because though this was his ultimate goal, he understood that the way to do this was by ensuring that Israel would be a tower of light, a shining and strong example of love and loyalty to the Creator of the World. Once Israel reaches this state, then the other nations will naturally be drawn to Israel in order to know G-d.

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