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What's In a Name?
Video 8 of 8
So let's take a look at Lincoln, he put forth his ideas and this is widely considered to be the greatest speech ever given in American politics. It took place in the scene depicted right over here, which is Lincoln's second inaugural. Lincoln gave a very short speech that day for his second inaugural, it was less than 1,000 words I believe. You see here the actual handwritten copy of the speech that Lincoln wrote in his own hand, which is now kept in the Smithsonian. See as it begins over here, at this second appearing on taking the oath of the Presidential office, there seems less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. His handwriting is considerably better than mine, you can actually read it.
Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued, seemed to be fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great conflict which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented.
So you might have expected Lincoln to actually talk about the military progress of the North, something which he could have gloated in, by the way, because he was finally actually achieving some traction in the war and it finally seems as if the North would win. But actually that's not what he's talks about in the speech, he leaves that completely out of the speech and does not gloat about the victory which he finally sees in reach. Instead, Lincoln is thinking about something else.
Let's move to actually a printed version of the full speech, a little bit easier to read. I'm just going to read through some of this with you. So he continues over here. The progress of our arms - he says - upon which all else chiefly depends, it's as well known to the public as to myself, and is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. Basically he's saying we're doing well on the war, we don't have to talk about that. With high hope for the future no prediction in regard to it is ventured. Very different by the way than what you might imagine a politician to say nowadays, to forego the opportunity to be self-congratulatory. It's not something which we see often in modern politicians.
Anyway, Lincoln continues. On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago - in other words, when I first was inaugurated the first time four years ago - all thoughts at that time were anxiously directed to an impending civil war - what I'm calling this war between brothers. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. What he's saying is, is that nobody really wanted the war. The North didn't want the war, the South didn't want the war. He says, while the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war, seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. He was saying basically everyone was trying to achieve their aims without war. The North was trying to save the Union without war, the South was trying to break up the Union without war. Both parties deprecated war, he continues, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. Therefore, he says, the war came.
Basically the way he is putting the war is almost as if no one actually made it. It's something that sort of just happened. It's almost as if circumstances forced both parties into war because of the values that each of them held.
He then continues and introduces something new. The idea of slavery. One-eighth of the whole population, he says, were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a [particular/peculiar 4:38] and powerful interest, everyone knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. Interesting, he's not saying exactly how it was, that slavery was the cause of the war, but somehow this interest, slavery was at the bottom of the war. He seems to be saying that whatever it was that people said they were fighting about, states' rights and the North's belligerent attitude and whatever it was, still somehow slavery was at the bottom of the issue.
Here he gets to the point that I really want to call your attention to. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it already attained. The war somehow got out of control, humans started it, but humans don't seem to be controlling it anymore. Each of us, both North and South, looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same G-d, and each invokes His aid against the other. Here he acknowledges an interesting truth, right? He says that look we're all religious people here, we all read the Bible, the Bible is important to both Northerners and Southerners, we all pray to the same G-d. What happens when brothers who pray to the same G-d fight? What happens when each invokes G-d's aid against the other? So what happens then?
We'll just skip a couple of lines. The prayers of both cannot be answered - right? Logically, it can't be, whose side is G-d on? The North thinks that G-d is on their side, the South thinks it's on their side. They both pray to this G-d, and yet it's impossible for G-d to answer both prayers, they can't both win. That and neither has been answered fully. Then the Almighty has His own purposes. Here Lincoln is saying something interesting, right, which is that maybe it's not just about the two options of is G-d on the North side or is G-d on the South side? Maybe there's a third option, a third option that actually neither side really considers, which is that G-d has His own purposes, G-d has His own plan, that's larger than what either North or South thinks.
Woe unto the world because of offenses, for it must need be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh. Chazal, our Sages, say a similar thing in their language; Megalgalim zechus al yedai zakai v'chov al yedai chovah. This idea that sometimes bad things need to happen in the world, but woe to you if you're the one through whom the bad thing is brought about. One of the classic examples of this actually is according to many Rishonim - medieval commentators - the way Egyptian slavery worked out. According to the prophecy given to Abraham, Egypt was not named as the offending nation, the one through whom the offence would come. Ger yihiyeh zarecha b'eretz lo lahem - your children will be slaves in a land not their own. It could have been any land. Egypt was the one who decided to do it and therefore they were held liable in the heavenly court, as it were, no one asked them to do it. Woe to them by whom the offenses come. Just because it was G-d's plan that an offense would come, didn't mean you had to be the one to bring it about.
So Lincoln continues. If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses - in other words, how do we view American slavery? Is it just the product of human freewill? Is it the product of G-d's providence? Lincoln is thinking theologically here, and he says, maybe it's both? You know, we all had choices to make, slave owners, American politics, American policy, we chose to allow slavery, but maybe it was in G-d's will that slavery be allowed, but it was an offense, it was a terrible crime. Again; Megalgalim zechus al yedai zakai v'chov al yedai chovah - sometimes the bad things happen through human freewill, but that the humans who perpetuate them can't escape the responsibility for what it is that they caused.
Lincoln says, if we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses, which in the providence of G-d, must needs come, but which having continued through its appointed time G-d now wills to remove, and now He gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came. Shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living G-d always ascribe to Him? If G-d is using this war as a way of punishing both North and South, if that's G-d's plan, would we consider that unjust? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. We all hope that the war will be over soon, he says, but if G-d wills it that it will continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with a lash shall be paid by another drawn with a sword. As was said 3,000 years ago in the Torah, so still it must be said, the judgments of the L-rd are true and righteous altogether. Mishpetai Hashem - in the words of Tehillim; Tzadku yachdov.
So he says yes, we hope that the war will pass soon, but if G-d wills, it will continue. If all the illegitimate wealth amassed by the nation through slavery is destroyed in this war, is that unjust? If all of the blood that was drawn by the lash of the slave owner is repaid with blood drawn by the sword and the blood spilled in the Civil War, is that unjust?
He's saying a fascinating thing. For a leader of the North, perched on the precipice of victory to speak like this. I mean, it's amazing what it is that he's saying. He's actually sort of lifting himself above the conflict and saying, you know, from G-d's perspective maybe it's about neither North nor South, it's about G-d's own plans?
What's our job, he says, with malice towards none and charity for all, with firmness in the right as G-d gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we're in and let's focus on binding up the nation's wounds, caring for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and for his orphan. What's our job? Our job is first and foremost to win, we have to strive to finish the work we're in because we have to have firmness in the right as G-d gives us to see the right. This is how we see it, this is our job, that the war is just from our perspective. But still, our job is to take care of the wounded. Our job is to take care of the bereaved families. Our job is to take care of the widows and to take care of the orphans, whether they're from the North or whether they're from the South.
So if we can just diagram this for a moment, the Civil War according to Lincoln it really looks kind of like this. You've got this battle between brothers, the North and the South are battling each other, and in the North's view G-d is on our side, in the South's view, G-d is on our side. Both of these pray to the same G-d. But Lincoln says it's impossible that they're both right, one or both of them has to be wrong. The prayers of both can't be answered in a conflict between brothers who pray for the same G-d. So what Lincoln wants to argue is that G-d has His own purposes, G-d has a different plan which is different than what either North and South are thinking. G-d's plan has to do with slavery.
Lincoln is surmising that there's a causal relationship - the direction of this arrow goes like this - that this sin, this national sin called American slavery, is being repaid through this conflict between North and South in which both North and South invoke G-d's aid against the other. But what's really happening, G-d's plan is that G-d wills this conflict as His way of meting out justice to both North and South for this terrible national crime, which he calls slavery.
Now if we go to our story, the sale of Yosef, the way Rashi and the Medrash seem to interpret it, and we think about these two events, again, slavery and the battle between brothers. So you have the same thing going on, except the arrow goes in the other direction. You've got this battle between brothers, a child of Rachel, Yosef on the one hand, children of Leah on the other hand. Where does G-d fit into this? What is G-d thinking?
Well I guess it depends who you ask. If you're stuck in the struggle, if you would imagine yourself as a child of Leah, what are you thinking? You're thinking well, G-d is on our side. What's my name? My very name is G-d heard that my mother was hated, was not as loved as much as the other, and now in the next generation G-d is giving me a chance to stand up for her honor. Right? G-d is on my side. If you're a child of Rachel and you say oh; Assaf Elokim et cherpati - is my name, G-d has gathered up the pain and suffering of my mother and here is my chance to get back at my brothers. These are two possible ways of looking at it, it's very easy for a child of Rachel or for a child of Leah to say G-d is on my side. G-d is on my side.
But there's another possibility - as Lincoln would say, the prayers of both cannot be answered fully. It's impossible. The other possibility is a third possibility that G-d has His own plan, which is larger than either the parochial vision that you would imagine a child of Rachel having or a child of Leah having in this battle between brothers who pray to the same G-d. G-d's plan has to do with slavery. Except that the arrow is going in the other direction.
In this case, what's the cause and what's the effect? Well in this case the battle between brothers comes first and, certainly in the Medrash, in the eyes of Rashi, it's the battle between brothers that is G-d's way of bringing about this national event of slavery. So while the children of Rachel may have one view of the battle and G-d's role, and the children of Leah may have another view of battle and G-d's role, in the larger picture, G-d's role may be in neither of these narrow visions. But in a larger vision of using the terrible conflict between brothers as a stage to bring about something which in G-d's providence must happen, but isn't going to happen out of thin air, it's going to happen as an immediate result of the battle between brothers.
How should humans react in such circumstances? You see it, there's this sort of mysterious confluence of Divine providence on the one hand and human action on the other hand. Both are true, humans have freewill and G-d is going to make His plan come true. But in some mysterious way, these two things interrelate.
What should be the human response to all of this? Well if you go back to Lincoln, Lincoln said when it's all said and done you have to pursue your goals if you think you're right, but never give in to the illusion that G-d is only on your side in the conflict between brothers who both pray to the same G-d and both read the same Bible. You have to be able to take the larger view. You have to be able to say, G-d has seen the suffering of my mother, then maybe G-d sees the suffering of all people who suffer. You've got to rise above North and South and take care of the wounded and take care of the bereaved and take care of the widows and the orphans. That really was the challenge in post-Civil War America, to reach out in reconstruction and to help the other side as much as you view that other side as the enemy. That's the only way that you can heal after a civil war.
But we too in the Jewish people had our civil war, it was a conflict between brothers, between the children of Rachel and the children of Leah and it lasted from the time we were a family into the time we were a nation, with the Southern Kingdom and the Northern Kingdom.
The suggestion I've been making to you is that the greatness of Reuven, is that Reuven doesn't just do this after the war, Reuven does this during the war. He's able to rise above the parochial considerations, which you might think his name would give rise to. Remember, he was named for Ro'oh Hashem b'anyi - G-d has seen my mother's pain. But instead of seeing that in a narrow way, G-d wants me to avenge my mother's pain, instead of being able to only see his mother's pain, he's able to see the pain of a rival too. Asher ra'inu et tzarat nafsho behitchanano eleinu v'loh shamanu. Reuven, who saw so clearly his mother's pain, was able to see and respond to the pain and suffering of his rival too, and that was the lesson he took from his name.
So all in all, just to summarize, looking back on the last dozen or so videos, you had the Akeidah story on the one hand from one perspective - from Yaakov's perspective, from father's perspective, the testing of a Bechor. But from the brothers' perspective perhaps, the expelling of a brother. But not all their perspectives were the same, not every brother saw it the same way. Even in this act that bears the echoes of Cain and Abel on the one hand, we also see the heroism of a brother that's able to reach out and see the other side. That gives tremendous hope for the future.
It's a beautiful Medrash that talks about Reuven's act when Reuven goes back to the pit to search for Yosef, and can't find him and tears his clothes in agony. The language, the verb for Reuven going back to the pit is this verb right over here; Vayoshav Reuven el habor - and he returned to the pit. You know Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew, you know that Vayoshav can mean return in a physical sense, but it can also mean return in a spiritual sense as well. The Medrash sees both meanings of the word here. Vayoshav Reuven el habor - Reuven returned to the pit.
The Medrash continues and says; Amar lo Hakadosh Baruch Hu - and Hakadosh Baruch Hu saw Reuven's grief at not seeing Yosef in the pit and his attempts to return Yosef to his father. G-d swore as it were and said; Ata bikashta - you Reuven, you sought to return him; [Aramaic quote] Ata bikashta lemechzerei barah chavivah l'avueih - you sought to return a cherished son to his father. Chayecha - by your life; Sh'ben bincha - your great, great grandson; Machzir es yisrael l'avihem sh'bashamayim - will have the ability to return a lost son to his father - to his Father in Heaven. V'eizo zeh - zeh Hosheyah - and this is the prophet Hosheyah. One of the great, great grandsons of Reuven centuries later, who is a prophet, who is responsible for bringing back the Jews to do Teshuva. Reuven brought one cherished son back to his father, Reuven's great grandson will bring an entire nation of cherished sons back to their father - their Father in Heaven.
When we continue in our next video, I want to move on from the sale of Yosef - until now we've really been focusing on Chapter 37, the sale of Yosef - to the next chapter, Chapter 38, which seems to deal with an entirely different story, the strange, the very powerful story of Yehuda and Tamar. I'll see you then.
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