What If You Could Hear God’s Voice?
Repentance: The Guiding Voice Of Our Moral Conscience
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
The High Holiday season is a time of introspection. But let’s get real: The prospect of taking an honest look at our past deeds over the course of a year – it can feel every bit as appealing as a trip to the dentist. And that makes this a hard time of year. Indeed, for most of us, “guilt” is one of our least favorite emotions; we reflexively avoid it at almost any cost.
How, then, are we to welcome a time of year that causes us so much angst?
In this talk, Rabbi Fohrman finds answers to these questions as he leads us on an epic journey from the high holidays, to the search for chametz, to the life of Yehudah, scion of the Davidic dynasty. He suggests, through an analysis of these sources, that how we manage guilt depends entirely on how we choose to relate to our inner sense of conscience, the place from which regret springs.
Through a careful analysis of Biblical and rabbinic texts, he argues that “the little voice inside us” that we associate with our conscience is a part of ourselves we need to make friends with. If we shun it, we weaken ourselves; if we embrace it, we will find it loves us back.
In the end, he argues, regret – when embraced – is a powerful engine not just to change ourselves, but to win friends, influence people, and make positive change in the outside world.
Rabbi Fohrman: Hi everybody. It's nice to see you. My name is David Fohrman and it's great to be back in Queens and get a chance to see you all. I know for a number, for many of you, I'm known better as a cartoon avatar. I left that at home. This is the real me here.
So my day job is I run a company called Aleph Beta. Aleph Beta, as some of you in the audience know, produces videos on themes in Tanach in animated form. I want to give you a peak behind the scenes of Aleph Beta for just a moment and I want to ask you to guess. We've produced thus far a lot of videos on Parashat Hashavua and a lot of videos on various different holidays. So, out of the various different holidays, which would you guess is sort of the most popular holiday that you would have a great deal of videos, right. Out of all the holidays, let's figure, you've got Pesach, you've got Purim, you've got Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – High Holidays – you've got Tisha B'Av, you've got Shiva-Asar B'Tammuz. You've got a lot of – Shavuos, Chanukah – a lot of different holidays.
So just a wild guess. Which one would you say is the most popular holiday in terms of video watching on Aleph Beta?
Audience Member: Pesach.
Audience Member: Tisha B'Av.
Rabbi Fohrman: All right. So I hear a little bit of Pesach, a little bit of Rosh Hashanah. Before I reveal the answer, what would you say is the holiday with the least amount of views?
Audience Member: Rosh Hashanah.
Rabbi Fohrman: The holiday with the least amount of views. So that's what happens. Probably with the most amount of views is Tisha B'Av, believe it or not, and the holiday with the least amount of views is actually Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I'd like to consider open by considering why? Now, one possibility is just because we do a terrible job of producing videos for that holiday; that is possible. It's just possible that our quality drops off completely like the edge of a cliff. That's possible, but why might it be? The High Holidays is, you know, it's the time most people go to shul. It's the time, even if you're Reform or Conservative, you'll go to shul. Why would it be the least watched holiday on Aleph Beta? Where is that coming from?
I'll give you my personal theory about that. Let me ask you this question. It's Elul, Tishrei is around -- and you have Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur coming around the corner how excited are you about the upcoming holidays everyone? I don't hear a resounding roar of yes, I'm excited, right. There's sort of that pregnant pause. It's Rosh Hashanah, it's Yom Kippur, it's the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays). They're called the High Holidays for a reason. They're scary days and they're days -- I go back to my experience, you know, a little bit of group therapy here, as a child. It's almost dreaded days and it feels terrible. You don't want to say such a thing. How could you dread a holiday, but there's something about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that is not just awesome, but scary and we almost want to avoid it. We want to get it over with.
Why is that? I think, at some level, if there's one word associated with these holidays that sort of scares the living daylights out of us, one word that causes us to cringe it's guilt. I mean, let's just face it guilt, ashamnu. It's the very first word of the Vidui, we are guilty. The notion of guilt is something which is just -- it is such a negative emotion that we feel it. It weights us down. It just feels so awful that a holiday that somehow emphasizes guilt, emphasizes pangs of conscience is just show me where to hide.
What I'd like to do with you today is try to sort of attack this problem head on rather than sort of hide from it. Just kind of talk about this, and I want to talk about it with you, actually, through the lens of a different holiday. So I want to prepare for Rosh Hashanah tonight by talking about a completely different holiday. A holiday that, I think, our Sages used as a lens to focus us on a fascinating view of how they understood pangs of guilt and how they understood conscience. I think their understanding of the human conscience is fascinating, hopeful and restorative. I'd like to see if I can uncover it with you because it's, for one, gives me great hope and sense of empowerment.
The holiday which I'm speaking of, that I think sheds light on Rosh Hashanah, at least in the eyes of our Sages, is none other than Passover. So tonight, as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, I'd like to talk to you about Passover. That's what we're going to do.
I want to share with you something I've stumbled on not that long ago, a couple of weeks ago. I stumbled across something in the very first mishnah of Tractate Pesachim. It's an innocent little mishnah with an innocent little piece of Gemara that explains it, but underneath the surface it's not so innocent, and I think there's worlds going on just in the first few words of this mishnah and in the Gemara that explains it.
Let me share the first few words of this mishnah with you. The mishnah talks about bedikas chametz, the search for chametz (leavened bread) that's undertaken on the eve of the 14th day of Nisan. The mishnah goes like this. "Ohr l'Arba-Asar," on the eve of the 14th day -- and, by the way, ohr l'Arba-Asar is a strange way of talking about the eve of the 14th day because, of course, what does ohr mean?
Audience Member: Light.
Rabbi Fohrman: Light, which is kind of the very opposite of night, which is a little odd. But that's what the mishnah says, "ohr l'Arba-Asar," on the eve of the 14th day, "bod'kin et hachametz l'ohr haner," we search for chametz "l'ohr haner," by the light of the candle. There's that word ohr again, right, the light of the candle.
The mishnah goes on to say, "kol makom she'ein machnisin bo chametz ein tzarich bedikah," any place that you never put chametz, you don't have to search, but that's deceptive because there's a lot of places that you think you didn't put chametz that chametz manages to crawl into.
For example, "lamah amru shtei shurot bamertaf," why does everyone say that you should really clean out the first two rows of your wine cellar? A wine cellar doesn't look like a place that you'd go with chametz. The mishnah says because "makom shemachnisin bo chametz," that's actually a place that chametz goes into.
The Gemara explains that if you are dining and you have an attendant, a servant, who is giving you your wine. So the servant might be chomping on a sandwich while they go to the wine cellar to fetch the next bottle of Chateau de Vine, and so there could be crumbs in the first two rows of the cellar so you have to go checking there.
So this is the mishnah, very simple. It's talking to us about bedikat chametz. It's talking to us about the search for chametz on the 14th day.
I want to turn now with you to the Gemara. The Gemara is curious about what the source for this is. What the source is for this notion of searching for chametz. Searching for chametz, of course, is one of those rituals which on the face of it seems a little strange. If you were explaining the ritual to someone who had never experienced before you say, okay, it's Passover, you know we're really looking for chametz very seriously and then if the person had enough guts they'd say, excuse me, if you're really looking for chametz that seriously why are you sending little Johnny, who's 10 years old, up with the 10 crumbs and the plastic bags to distribute it around the house so that you can find this. He shows you where the plastic bags are with your feather, right. Like, you know, that doesn't like much of a serious search. You know exactly where the chametz is; what are you doing?
So it's almost like the -- and, again, the mishnah here is not talking about Passover cleaning. That's not the subject of the mishnah. The mishnah is not under the allusion that you didn't do Passover cleaning before this. The mishnah is talking about a ritualized search. The mishnah's talking about a search where you're sort of taking that chametz which you know is there, which you're hiding and finding and it seems almost like a sham the whole thing, but we do it anyway.
The Gemara wonders why we do it? What the source for this ritualistic search for chametz is? The Gemara also wonders why it has to be done by candlelight. It's very important for it to be done by candlelight. The Gemara says that even if you -- that you should search at night, but even if you search by day you should search by candlelight. Why is it so important to conduct this search by candlelight?
So the Gemara goes on an exploration and I want to read to you the Gemara's source for the notion that the search for chametz needs to be conducted by the light of the candle. Now, I'm just going to warn you that what the Gemara says here is going to sound to you faintly ridiculous and let me explain to you why. Have you ever played the game Mousetrap before? Have you ever seen Mousetrap? Raise your hand if your kids have ever played Mousetrap? Mousetrap is that sort of Rube Goldberg-like game where you construct this really complicated machine where the balls, you know, fall from the little Lego contraption into this and falls down. It's a complicated Rube Goldberg-like mousetrap.
That's the sense that you get from the Gemara's derivation. It's sounds like one of these crazy convoluted derivations like you -- it's hard to even say it with a straight face, but I'm just going to read to you what the Gemara says as quoted by R' Ovadia Bartenura who gives a nice little summary of the Gemara to explain how we know that chametz needs to searched for by candlelight.
So the derivation goes like this. It says, with reference to chametz, in Shemot (Exodus), 12. It says that "se'or lo yimatzei b'vateichem," that leaven should not be found in your houses. Now, the operative word here is "lo yimatzei," shall not be found. Keep that in mind, right. We'll play a little shell game here with that word, but it all starts with that word.
Now, the Gemara says that's not the only time that we have that word yimatzei. That word yimatzei, in Exodus, that appeared earlier. It appeared earlier in Bereishit (Genesis). Where does that word appear in Genesis? "U'ktiv hatam," it says over there -- and this is Genesis 44, Verse 12, "vayimatzei hagavi'a." We're now talking about Joseph. Joseph frames Benjamin, as you know, with his silver goblet and he puts a silver goblet in the sack of Benjamin. He has his henchmen go searching for the silver goblet, "vayimatzei hagavi'a," and the gavi'a, the goblet is found in Benjamin's sack.
That's the other time that yimatzei appears, the Gemara says. It says, "se'or lo yimatzei," that leaven shall not be found and then it says "vayimatzei hagavi'a," the silver goblet was found in Benjamin's sack.
"Mah matzi'a ha'amurah sham al yidei chipus?" So the Gemara says we now compare these two instances of finding and we say in Joseph's when they found the goblet they found it by finding. There was a whole search that went on before the goblet was found in Benjamin's sack. "Shene'emar," as it says in the verse, "vayichapeis b'gadol heichel v'katon kilah," that they then began to search. They started with the oldest brother's sack, they ended with the youngest brother's sack, but it says, "vayichapeis," that they began to search, "vayimatzei," and then they found the goblet in Benjamin's sack. "Af metzi'a ha'amurah kan al yidei chipus," and because it says chipus, it says that there was searching going on with the goblet so too we say that when it comes to the finding of chametz, the finding of chametz has to be conducted with a search also. Just like the search that Joseph conducted for his silver goblet.
What is a search, the Gemara says? "Chipus havi b'ner," a search by definition implies candlelight. Searching means that you've used candles. How do we know that searching means you use candles, the Gemara says? Easy. That's a verse in Mishei (Proverbs) because it says in Proverbs, Proverbs, Chapter 20, Verse 27, "Ner Hashem nishmat adam chofes kol chadrei baten." One more time, "Ner Hashem nishmat adam chofes kol chadrei baten." What does the verse mean? The candle of God is the human soul, "chofes kol chadrei baten," that searches out all the insides of one's innards, one's stomach.
So therefore, we find ner (candle), in Proverbs, associated with chipus, associated with searching; we find chipus associated with the finding of the goblet; we find the finding of the goblet associated with the finding of chametz, ergo you need to search for chametz by candlelight.
Is everyone happy? Not so happy. This sounds faintly ridiculous. Not even so faintly ridiculous, just straight out ridiculous. Right? What is going on here? You expect me to believe that this is really why we have to search by candlelight? This concoction of verses. It just barely seems to hold together.
Plus, by the way, the strangest thing, at the very end of it -- right -- because what are we trying to prove? That the search for chametz has to be done by candlelight. At the very end, was there any candle involved in this whole thing? No. No candle. The word candle appears. "Ner Hashem nishmat adam chafetz kol chadrei baten." That verse doesn't actually -- that verse doesn't actually talk about a real candle what we use. It says the soul of a person is like the candle of God searching out the insides.
So you have this loose association with candles and the word searching and the loose association with that to the finding of the goblet and a loose association with that to the finding of chametz. It all sounds very, very odd. What is going on here? What does the Gemara really, really want from us?
I want to suggest the Gemara wants a great deal. This Gemara is starkly profound. It serves as great introduction for not just Passover, I think, but for Rosh Hashanah as well. I think the Gemara was up to something. Our Sages were talking to you with a wink and a nod and you had a choice. You either read what they said very quickly, sort of raise your eyebrows in amazement and moved on to the next thing. Or you sat down and actually tried to figure out what in the world they were talking about. If you sat down and bothered to try to figure out what they were actually talking about then they knock your socks off.
So let's try to figure out what they were trying to say. What were our Sages trying to say?
What I want to do with you is to actually go back into the verses they're talking about. Primarily the verses in Genesis and then the verse in Proverbs. We're actually going to learn these verses and try and see if we can see what they saw. First, I want to see if we can sharpen our question a little bit. What our Sages are saying isn't just faintly ridiculous because it's a bunch of loose associations. Right? To express the question another way, what you might say is, what in the world does the search that Joseph conducted for his silver goblet have to do with the search that we conduct for chametz? I mean, that would be a nice succinct way of at least beginning to express our astonishment of the Gemara. These things seem to have nothing to do with each other.
In other words, even if I would accept the Gemara at face value. Even if I were to say, okay, great so it says this word here, this word there, we can sort of put it all together, but still. Right? What are you doing comparing a search for chametz to the search for Joseph's goblet? The searches seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other. They seem to be apples and Cadillacs. They have nothing to do with each other. What do they have to with each other? That you found a single word that links them. You found the word yimatzei. It says "se'or lo yimatzei b'vateichem;" it says "vayimatzei hagavi'a." Great. You found a word, but on the basis of that single word you want us to associate two completely different ideas?
How are these at all similar? This is the kind of question which we would ask. So what I want to do with you is to go back into the Joseph story and see if we can recover why it is that our Sages might have seen the story of the search for Joseph's goblet as connected to the search for chametz. I want to make a bold claim. The claim I want to make is that our Sages actually think that there was a historical example of a search for chametz. There was in fact, in the Chumash, once a search for chametz. The search for chametz, I believe, was the search that Joseph undertakes for his goblet. Indeed, it was in a very strange way a search for chametz, but let's try to figure out how.
I think, our Sages saw this as the paradigmatic example of the search for chametz. Let's try to figure out how. Let's go back into the Joseph story and ask a few questions. Let's try to occupy that moment in the Joseph story as the story comes to its crescendo and let's just remind ourselves what's happening.
The brothers do not know that Joseph is the high Egyptian official who's tormenting them. They've come seeking food. Joseph has sort of given them food, but has taken one of them as a slave and says that he wants to see the little brother left behind. The little brother, of course, is Benjamin; his only full brother in the family. The other child of Rachel. He wants to see Benjamin.
The brothers eventually do come back with Benjamin, but it's not easy. Father doesn't want to let Benjamin go. He doesn't want to let Benjamin go because he's already lost somebody. He's already lost a child of Rachel. He's already lost Simeon. "Yosef einenu v'Shimon einenu." I've already lost two.
So Reuben steps up and makes an argument. Reuben says trust me to come back with Benjamin. If I don't bring back Benjamin to you, "et shnei banai tamit," I'll kill my two sons. You're worried about the two sons that you've lost? I'm willing to kill my two sons if I don't come back with Benjamin. It's an astonishing offer, but it's an offer that Jacob refuses and the family continues to suffer from hunger and time goes by until Judah stands up. Judah says send Benjamin with me. "Anochi e'ervenu miyadi tivakshenu," I will be his arev, I will be his guarantor. You can turn to me for him, "im lo havi'otiv eilecha," if I don't bring him back to you safely, "v'chatati l'cha kol hayamim," I will have sinned against you all the days of my life and Jacob listens and sends Benjamin.
It's remarkable in a way why Jacob chooses to spurn the offer made by Reuben and to accept the offer made by Judah because if you really think about it Judah didn't actually offer anything. There were no consequences actually to failing to come back with Benjamin. Reuben offers the ultimate consequence and that is discarded by Jacob, but somehow Judah offers nothing and yet his words are listened to.
All right. We'll get back to that. In the meantime, the brothers go with Benjamin under the care of Judah. Unbeknownst to them, of course, the high Egyptian official that they've been negotiating with is none other than their long lost brother Joseph himself. When they arrive, Joseph entertains them for a while, but then proceeds to frame Benjamin. He sends them back with a planted gavi'a, with his own silver goblet planted in Benjamin's sack and they're arrested. The brothers come back. They're very distraught.
Now, b'gadol, just looking at the large picture, one of the questions that you have to ask looking at the story is what exactly was Joseph trying to do? What was his plan? What was he trying to achieve?
Without getting into this in too much detail, right, there's some debate about this. Some suggest that -- Maimonides -- that Joseph was trying to make his dreams come true. His dreams were that everyone's going to bow to him. Most of the brothers had bowed to him, but not Benjamin. The dreams had to be fulfilled. But that's a hard argument to make. Is it really Joseph's business to make sure the dreams are fulfilled. There's a God in heaven, God'll figure it out with the dreams. Right? I'm going to torment everybody, torment my father, torment my brothers just to make sure the dreams are fulfilled.
Others suggest that maybe he was trying to get Judah to teshuvah (repentance), the brothers to do repentance. He was trying to put another child of Rachel at risk and see what they would do this time. That sounds like a reasonable theory. The problem with it is, and this is an argument that R' Yoel Bin-Nun makes in Megadim -- the first issue of Megadim -- the problem with this theory is that if you think about it it's not a fair test.
If you're Judah, when the goblet is found in Benjamin's sack, at that moment look at the position he's in. Judah, before the search began, told Joseph's officials that whoever is the one that took the purloin silver goblet that person should die. All of a sudden, the goblet is found in Benjamin's sack. Joseph comes along and says God forbid. I'm not going to kill him, I'm just going to take him as a slave and you guys can all go home. Now, remember, Judah had promised the person who has it will die and everybody else is a slave. Joseph says no, the person who has it is just my eved (slave) everybody else can go home.
Now, let's play the famous TV show, Deal or No Deal. You are Judah, do you take this deal? Either take the deal or try to negotiate for a better deal. What would you do? Would you take the deal? All in favor of take the deal raise your hand. All in favor of try to negotiate for a better deal raise your hand.
Okay. So you guys all think you should negotiate for a better deal. The reason you think that is because you've already read the story (laughter). One of the problems with reading Chumah is you already know things -- you already know the story too well. Right? To really read it properly you actually have to stop reading and say I have no idea what happens next. Let's just pretend the Chumah ended right here and without knowing what happens next would you take the deal or not?
If you really didn't know what happens next, it's actually a pretty good deal that Joseph is offering. Remember, you have no bargaining power. This is the high Egyptian official. He's got all the military power, he's got everything and Benjamin looks like he's guilty. What do you want? And plus you, Judah, were the one who promised that whoever is the one who has this thing should die. So Joseph is being quite magnanimous in saying no, God forbid, I'm not going to kill him. He'll be my slave plus everybody else gets to go back free. That's a very good deal.
Now, you're going to say well, you promised your father you'd bring him back. I get it, but I didn't think that my brother was going to take the goblet. That's crazy. I mean, nobody thought Benjamin was going to take the goblet. I'm going to go back hat in hand to my father and say, Dad, you know, I know I promised you, but look this could have been a lot worse. He could have been dead, he should have been dead. It's only due to the magnanimity of Joseph -- of this high Egyptian official that he's not dead. That's what you would think.
Had Judah done that, had that been at the end of the story would you have concluded that Judah had never done repentance for what he did long before? No, that was a reasonable thing to do. It was reasonable.
Now, what does Judah actually do? Judah rises to great heights of heroism. He puts himself on the line. He says look, I just can't. I need to come back with Benjamin. I don't care. I'm just not taking this deal. You can take me as a slave, I don't care, but you just have to let him go back. That was heroic, but had he not risen to those -- right -- to that height of heroism, you can't say he failed the test. It's not a fair test. It's a rational thing to let the brothers go back like that.
So the question then is, what was Joseph thinking? If Joseph wasn't trying to test them and Joseph wasn't trying to make his dreams come true, what was Joseph trying to do? So I want to offer a very simple explanation. It's a very simple, very basic explanation that just goes like this.
Put yourself in Joseph's shoes. You look around, you see your brothers. You recognize them, they don't recognize you and you count them and you realize that one is missing and you realize that the one who's missing is the only other child of Rachel and that's all you know. What's going through your head, the moment you realize that Benjamin is missing? What are you thinking?
What did they do to him? I know what they did to me, what did they do to him? At that moment, Joseph resolves that come what may he's got to see Benjamin alive. What happened to Benjamin? It's up to him to rescue Benjamin. At that point, Joseph goes into Entebbe mode. It's an Entebbe mission. I'm rescuing this guy from a den of who knows what's happening with him. I'll lie, cheat and steal. Everything I need to do I'm going to get Benjamin. Which explains a lot of things.
It explain, for example, why it is that Joseph so magnanimously says no, I don't need you all as my slaves. I'll just take that one as my slave; Benjamin. The rest of you guys can all go home. No problem. What's he thinking? He's thinking I don't need you guys. I already got kicked out of the family. For all I know, you kicked him out of the family too. My job is a rescue mission. I'm rescuing Benjamin. We're going to set up the Confederate States of Rachel on the other side of the Nile. You guys can all go home. That's his plan, right?
You see that's his plan because, you know, we always think like Joseph was getting ready to reveal himself and he always wanted to reveal himself. The simple p'shat (meaning) is not like that. The simple meaning of the verses are -- listen to these words -- "lo yachol Yosef l'hit'apeik." When Joseph finally reveals himself, the words are and Joseph could not hold back any more. What does that suggest? That he had wanted to. Do you understand? He was trying to hold back. He was overcome, but his plan was that -- his plan was that I'm not -- his plan was that I'm never revealing myself. Me and Benjamin, we're going to set up the Confederate States of Rachel.
Okay. Fine. Generally speaking let's accept that that's the story for now. There are a couple of details that, I think, our Sages looked at that said the picture is still not complete. Here are some of the details.
Okay. Still it's kind of nasty to frame Benjamin. I mean, that's not so nice. He really is lying, cheating and stealing. It's a nasty thing to do; A. B; is there any reason why it's important for us to know that the thing that he used to frame him with is it important that it was a gavi'a hakesef, that it was a silver goblet, question number two. Question number three; there's something strange about the events that occur also because there's a little part of the story that we never really pay attention to that I want to call your attention to it.
Do you remember how whenever Joseph sends them home, he doesn't just send them with food, he sends them with something else. What's the something else that he always sends them back with?
Audience Member: With their money.
Rabbi Fohrman: Their money, right. He always sends them back their money. Always, by the way. They make two trips. The first trip they come and when he sends them back and he keeps Simeon he sends back their money. Then the brothers come and when they find the money -- we hear the brothers get very, very scared. They see the money in their sacks they get very scared. Then it happens again because when Joseph frames Benjamin not only does he put the silver goblet in Benjamin's sack, but he actually again takes the money that the brothers have had and puts it back in all of their sacks.
So for some reason this seems to be an important detail in the story. It's an important subplot. We hear about. We hear about it when the brothers open their sacks and they see the money and they get scared. We hear about it when they tell their father and the money's in the sacks and we don't know why it was there and we're scared. We hear about it when they come the second time and they tell the attendant and they say we don't know. There was the money, but we came back with double money and here's the double money and then the money is again put there. What's with all the money? Why do I need to know about this? It seems to be a loose end in the story. Do you understand? We don't understand, at the end of the day, why all of this was an important detail. Yes, I get it, he needed to frame Benjamin with the goblet, but why all this business with putting the money back in the sacks?
What would you say, why does he do it? Anybody? Is this a reasonable question? Did you ever wonder about this? Why did he do it? So, I think, our Sages were talking about all of these questions. Let's start with that last question, why did he do it?
It seems to me that there's two reasons. There's a nice reason and a not so nice reason. Let's start with the nice reason. What's the nice reason why Joseph might have insisted on always putting the money back in the brothers' sacks?
Audience Member: He wanted to give them for free.
Rabbi Fohrman: He wanted to give them the food for free and why did he want to give them the food for free?
Audience Member: They're all related.
Rabbi Fohrman: They were his brothers. A brother doesn't take money from another brother for food. That's the reason why he put the money back -- that's the nice reason you put the money back in the sacks. By the way, if that's true, it's a little bit ironic because the very fact that Joseph was sending them back with the money was in the end a kind of revelation of who he was. That had the brothers been willing to see it, they might have been able to infer from that one second. How come we're always getting our money back? Do you understand? Something's fishy here. Ergo, it's not really a high Egyptian official. Let's look into who this person really is, but they don't do that. But that's the nice reason.
Let's just turn our minds to a darker channel for a moment. Is there a darker reason why Joseph might not have been wanting -- might have put the money always back in their sacks.
Audience Member: So he could catch them later.
Rabbi Fohrman: He's going to catch them later, but he can catch them later with the goblet. He doesn't have to do that. He can frame them with the goblet even without putting that money back. Why would he put the money back?
Audience Member: To see if they're honest.
Rabbi Fohrman: To see if they're honest? But then when they are honest, it doesn't help them. They still get framed. It doesn't seem to work. It doesn't seem to be a test.
Audience Member: To make them feel guilty.
Rabbi Fohrman: What's that?
Audience Member: Because the message that they sold him.
Rabbi Fohrman: Ah. So now let's go to the Hebrew. In English, it's money, but in Hebrew what was it?
Audience Member: It was silver.
Rabbi Fohrman: It was kesef, it was silver. It's all about the silver. It was a gavi'a hakesef. It was about their silver. Why would he always be rejecting their silver, putting their silver back in their sacks. I don't want your silver. Why?
Audience Member: Because they sold him for silver.
Rabbi Fohrman: Because they sold him for silver, for esrim kesef. They sold him for silver. He knows. He saw the money change hands from the bottom of the pit. I was sold for silver. So now, if you're Joseph, what are you thinking when I always put the silver back in their packs? What am I thinking to myself?
It's blood money. I don't want your silver. I'm not taking your silver, it's tainted. Do you understand? I don't want that. It's like you would have the gall to give me -- where did you get that silver from? How come you have so much silver? You have so much silver because it's me. You sold me for the silver.
Now, if you think about that sort of -- in the economic exchange of it that silver literally was my price. It bought me. So I'm gone and the exchange for me, in your hands, is instead of me what do you have? You have silver, right. So now, you're going to come and with that silver you're going to pay me for food? Are you out of your mind. I'm not taking that silver. Where did you get that silver from? And the money's fundable. I don't care what silver. All the silver in your hands are tainted because the silver -- I don't want silver coming from you.
Let's now go back to the verses and I want to show you that this theory about the silver seems to really be true. The darker theory. Possibly, both theories are true, but I think if the nice theory is true the darker theory is also true and I want to show you that it's true. I think our Sages saw that it was true and it leads them to their understanding of what's going on in searching for the chametz.
Let's go back to the verses. If you can open up with me and let's actually look at these verses. We're going to read through, kind of in slow motion, the story leading up to the framing of Benjamin and the search in the sacks. We're going to start in Parashat Mikeitz. Let's look at that first time when they're emptying their sacks and they find that silver. Let's start actually from Verse 25.
"Vayitzav Yosef vayemal'u et kleihem bar u'l'hashiv kaspeihem ish el sako," so Joseph commands to fill each person's sack with what? With bar. What is bar? Bar is wheat. This is wheat that they're going to use when they get back. "U'l'hashiv kaspeihem," and to return the silver, "ish el sako," each one to their sak. What's the word now for the sacks? In Hebrew, it's the word sak that's probably where the English word sack comes from. "Ish el sako v'latet lahem tzeidah ladarech," and he also gives them food for the way and that's what they do.
"Vayis'u et shivram al chamoreihem vayelchu misham," so they saddle up their donkeys and they head back. Then, "vayiftach ha'echad et sako," along the way one person opens up his sack, "lateit mispo lachamoro," to give some food to his donkey, "b'malon vaya'ar et kaspo v'hinei hu b'fi amtachto," and he sees the silver and, all of a sudden -- and the silver is right there in the mouth of his sack. But I want to just point out to you that the word for sack changed. What's the word for sack now?
Audience Member: Amtachto.
Rabbi Fohrman: Amtachat, right? What a strange word. If I just stopped you and I said what does the word amtachat mean and you didn't have any context would you have any idea what the word amtachat means? You have no idea. Sak, okay, I get it, it's a sack. Amtachat, what a strange word. All of a sudden, the word shifted. A; what's the meaning of amtachat? All right.
Anyway, they see this silver b'fi amtachto, "vayomer el echav," and he says to his brothers, "hushav kaspi," my money's back, "v'gam hinei b'amtachti," here it is, "vayeitzei libam vayecherdu ish el achiv," they were very scared, they said, "mah zot asah Elokim lanu," what has God done to us?
Now, let's just stop for a moment. What has God done to us? I mean, that seems a little dramatic. Do you know what I mean? It's like okay, you go to the cashier -- do you know what I mean -- you paid for your purchase at Nordstrom. You count your money when you come home. It was $76, you gave them $100 and you have, you know, an extra dollar or two when you came home. You wouldn't say mah zot asah Elokim li? You would say the cashier counted out the money wrong. Do you know what I mean? There was mistake. A mistake, all of a sudden the God is involved. They're afraid. Why would you think that God Himself is looking down on you?
However, here's why. If you keep on going, when they get home they all empty out their sacks. Take a look at Verse 35. "Vayehi heim m'rikim sakeihem," they were all emptying out their sacks, "v'hinei ish tz'ror kaspo b'sako," and each man had his bundle of money inside his sack, "vayir'u et tz'rorot kaspeihem," and they saw all of this money and they and their father feared. Why were they scared so much.
Let me just ask you, that word for emptying out their sack. What's the word in Hebrew for emptying -- what's the verb for emptying out their sack? "Heim m'rikim sakeihem." What's the shoresh (root) of m'rikim?
Audience Member: Reik.
Rabbi Fohrman: Reik. Does that root remind you of anything in the Joseph story? Oh, it sure does, doesn't it. "Habor reik ein bo mayim," the pit was empty. Nothing was inside it save for Joseph. Isn't it strange that that word should now show up to describe the sack, the sack with nothing but the silver inside. Now, what is a sack? What does a sack look like?
Audience Member: A hole.
Rabbi Fohrman: It sure looks like a pit, doesn't it? It's this big empty hole and inside the hole it's all emptied just like the original pit was. There's only one thing at the bottom, silver. Where do we have silver before? The silver that Joseph was sold for. Well, if Joseph was sold for silver then that silver represents him. So when the brothers look at that silver, at the bottom of their sacks, why do you think they're so scared?
Because what has happened is Joseph has just recreated the scenario of the pit. He's recreated the moment that he was there screaming at the bottom of the pit. They don't even understand it. They don't understand why. They don't know it was Joseph, but when they see that silver at the bottom of the pit, there's something about that sight that gives them the chills and they don't even know why. Somehow, their subconscious knows why that that is Joseph there at the bottom of the pit. It's all the same language.
Now, if this is true, fast forward just a bit. Let's go back now, before we even go any further, let's go back to what our Sages told us about the search for chametz. Let's go back to their strange derivation and you'll see it's starting to become not quite as strange as it once was.
Here's what they said. It says, "se'or lo yimatzei," you shall not find chametz and it says, "vayimatzei hagavi'a," that the silver goblet was found. It was found. The silver goblet was found. "Mah matzi'a," but there it was found, "al yidei chipus," it was found through searching. Through searching. Take that word vayimatzei, go back to the story of Joseph. Where else does the word vayimatzei resonate with you? Not just in the story of the goblet, but earlier in the story of Joseph. What else was found in the story of Joseph?
Audience Member: His coat.
Rabbi Fohrman: His coat was found. Now, when the brothers found the coat, what did they say when they presented it to their father, do you remember?
They said, this we found. Language, "zot matzanu," this we found. Zot matzanu.
Now, think about the lie there. It's true they found this coat. They didn't really find it. They stripped him of it. But what does "zot matzanu," this we found imply? What does it imply that isn't true?
Audience Member: That they were searching.
Rabbi Fohrman: It implied that they searched for him and that wasn't true. They did away with him, but there was an implication that there was a search. "Zot matzanu," this is all we found dot, dot, dot in our search. That's the implication.
Now, if you're Joseph putting a goblet in their sacks and engineering a search for what you know you're going to find, searching every last sack until you find the money at the bottom, what do you think Joseph is doing when Joseph says there's going to be search? What was he thinking?
Audience Member: You didn't search for me.
Rabbi Fohrman: You didn't search the first time. We have to recreate the story; where's the missing search. So we're going to do a search. Boy are we going to do a search this time. We're going to do a search until we find that silver, until we find that silver that represents me.
However, still, what does this all have to do with the search for chametz of all things? A very good question. Let's read just a little bit further and you'll see. Go back to Mikeitz. So let's pick up where we left off. Page 242, Chapter 43, Verse 25. "Vayachinu et haminchah ad bo Yosef batzaharayim," the brothers are back for the second time. This time father said fine. Judah, if you're going to take Benjamin with you at least take a little gift for him. Give him a little gift.
Now, the brothers said let's give this high Egyptian official the gift. They presented the gift to him, "ki sham'u ki sham yochlu lachem," because they heard that they were about to break bread. Okay. Let's go through this slowly.
The minchah (gift), what was in that gift? Do you remember what it was -- it's just a little trivial thing, but what did Jacob actually pack as that gift for the high Egyptian official?
Audience Member: The delicacies of Canaan.
Rabbi Fohrman: The delicacies of Canaan. Does anyone have that verse? Where are those delicacies talked about? Where are those?
It's Chapter 43, Verse 11. Let's read it. He says, "me'at tzari u'me'at devash n'cho'ot valot batnim u'shkeidim." Let's just stop right there. Let's take three of these items; "me'at tzari, n'cho'ot valot." Where else in the Joseph story do those three things show up; tzari, n'cho'ot valot?
Audience Member: In the caravan.
Rabbi Fohrman: In the caravan. There's a caravan of Ishmaelites that take Joseph down to Egypt. They were carrying spices. Which spice were they carrying? They just happened to be carrying n'cho'ot, tzari valot. Now, do the math and add this all up. The caravan is carrying fragrant spices, n'cho'ot, tzari valot. That's the caravan that takes Joseph down to Egypt, the brothers are coming back to Joseph, father said you should at least give this high Egyptian official a gift, let's put a little bit of n'cho'ot, tzari valot together.
They hand Joseph the minchah, the gift. Do you think this was a really terrific gift to give to Joseph, some fragrant spices, perhaps? If you're Joseph what are you thinking the second you unwrap this gift? What does it do to you? What does an old smell remind you of? There's nothing to jog the memory, 21 years back, than an old smell, than an old spice and just the same mixture of spices. I recognize that smell. That was my journey down to Egypt. There was no worse gift the brothers could have possibly packed for him than that. You're Joseph, you unpacked the gift.
Now, listen to what happens next. They gave him the gift because "ki sham'u," they heard, "ki sham yochlu lechem," that they were about to break bread with Joseph. They were about to actually break bread with him. Stop. What does that remind you of in the story of Joseph and his brothers?
What did the brothers do the second at which they opened up their eyes and they saw that caravan coming? What were they doing when they saw the caravan coming with all that old spice of n'cho'ot, tzari valot? What were they doing?
Audience Member: Eating.
Rabbi Fohrman: Eating bread. Bread. They were eating bread. "Vayeishvu le'echol lechem," they sat down to eat bread and the brothers, now, years later, they give this gift because they hear they're about to break bread with Joseph. It's almost as if it's all coming back. The story is happening again.
"Vayavo Yosef habai'tah vayavi'u lo et haminchah asher b'yadam," so Joseph comes to the house, they bring him the gift, "vayishtachavu lo artzah," and they bow down before him to the ground. "Vayish'al lahem l'shalom," and then Joseph asks them how they're all doing, "vayomer hashalom avichem hazakein," he asks them about how dad is doing. He asks them about how the whole family is doing. "Vayomru shalom l'av'd'cha l'avinu odenu chai vayik'du vayishtachavu."
Why, at this moment, which has so much dramatic tension do we need to hear about the small talk? Do we need to hear about how Joseph asks them how they were and they said we're doing quite well, thank you very much. What does that remind you of earlier in the story; the story of the pit, the story of the Ishmaelites, the story of the n'cho'ot, tzari valot, the story of the bread also included this. Where?
What was Joseph's mission? Why was he sent by his father? What was he supposed to do?
Audience Member: Hashelom achicha.
Rabbi Fohrman: He was supposed to check on the welfare of the brothers. He was supposed to ask how they were doing. It finally occurs to him, I never got a chance to do that (laughter). I got kidnapped before I was ever able to ask my brothers how they were doing. So now, that I get this gift that reminds me of old times, it occurs to me I never got a chance to ever fulfill that mission. What better time than now. So he asked them how everybody's doing to fulfill the mission, to bring the circle to a close.
So he asked them how everyone is doing and then "vayisa einav vayar et Binyamin," he lifts up his eyes and sees Benjamin. Stop. He lifts up his eyes, what does that remind you of the first time around?
That's how they saw that caravan carrying old spice. They were sitting there, they were eating bread, "vayis'u einehem vayir'u," and they lift up and their eyes and they see, "hinei orchos Yishma'elim," there's the Ishmaelites coming and they're going to sell him as a slave. Now, one more time Joseph lifts up his eyes as if he's seeing this caravan of Ishmaelites. It's all unfolding before his eyes except the person that he sees strangely is his brother, Benjamin.
What, of course, happens? They lift up their eyes before and they see this caravan that will eventually take a child of Rachel down between Canaan and Egypt and Joseph lifts up his eyes and what does he see? A child of Rachel who's about to take a journey from Egypt to Canaan only to be entrapped and to become a slave just like him. It's all happening one more time.
So he says, is this my little brother? They said yes. "Vayemaher Yosef ki nichmeru rachamav el achav," and Joseph very quickly felt himself tearing up, "vayevakeish livkot," he wanted to cry.
But look at that word "nichmeru rachamav." What does that remind you of? Nun-Kaf-Mem-Resh-Vav. Sure sounds a lot like nimkeru. It's just an anagram for was sold.
Anyway. "Vayavo hachadrah vayeivch shamah." He cries. He washes his face and then says "simu lachem," let the bread be placed. What bread? A bread that reminds us of what? The first time the brothers ate bread, when they ate bread at his sale.
Something interesting about that bread. Where were the brothers when they ate it? The first time they ate bread, where were they? This is an interesting thing. The Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam) says, would you be able to eat bread right at the lip of the pit where your brother is screaming? No. They went a way away. You ate bread a way away so that you wouldn't have to be distracted, so you could pretend that everything is normal. That's how you ate the bread. So now look how the bread is eaten this time.
Isn't it interesting that Joseph doesn't sit with them as they're eating bread? The next words "vayasimu lo levado v'lahem levadam v'laMitzrim ha'ochlim ito levadam." Everybody is separate. The brothers are separate, Joseph is separate, Egypt is separate. Again, reenacting the first eating of the bread, where the brothers were separate, Joseph was in the pit, and Egypt was over there somewhere off in the Middle East. Now the same three poles are now nobody is eating together.
Verse 34. "Vayisa masot mei'eit panav aleihem." Then, what Joseph did was, since he was seated separately from the brothers, he started giving portions to the brothers from across the table. He had to, like, throw bread across the table to them, because they were kind of far away. But the word for those portions is strange. Isaacides translates it as portions, but in Hebrew how would you say portions? You'd say manot. Look at the strange word for portions.
"Vayisa masot." What are masot literally? Travel burdens. They're things that you put on your back. Backpacks. What does masot remind you of, back in the sale of Joseph? What was the Ishmaelite caravan doing? It was carrying cargo. What's the word for cargo? That's what it is. "Nosim nechot utzri valot." They were carrying these packs of all of these spices.
So now, here they are. It's almost as if Joseph is recreating those burdens of the Ishmaelites with these portions of food. But now look what happens.
"Vateirev masat Binyamin mimasot kulam chameish yadot." But Benjamin had a tremendous amount of food, all of these portions. All of these portions of food. "Vayishtu vayishkeru imo," they drank and they got drunk together.
Why does the Bible tell you this? Why was it so important for the Bible to tell you that they got drunk, that Joseph got drunk with them? If Joseph got drunk with them, it means that the next verse seems to happen when Joseph is drunk. Look at the next verse.
"Vayetzav es asher al beito leimor malei et amtechot ha'anashim ochel ka'asher yuchlin se'eit," fill up their sacks. And this is the moment that he frames them.
Now, let me ask you. Why was he drinking? Why was it so important for him to drink? Because he knew what he was about to do, but you couldn't do it in a right mind. You had to be drunk to do it. So what does he do? He gets drunk, because what happens when you're drunk? What happens when you're drunk is if you are doing something or contemplating doing something which you shouldn't do, you need to find a way to inure yourself to what it is that you're doing and one way to do that is through intoxicating beverages. One way to do that is through fermenting beverages. It distracts you from what it is you're about to do.
What does that remind you of back in the sale? Was there ever something fermented that distracted someone from what they were about to do or what they just did? What else is fermented besides drink, besides beer? Bread. Chametz bread.
What is chametz bread? Fermented bread. Sourdough. What is sourdough? It's alcoholic. You can smell the alcohol in sourdough bread. What does sourdough do? Like drink, what does chametz do? Why does the Bible bother to tell us that they sat down to eat lunch and that the lunch was bread? What were they doing? Why did they do that? Why did they sit down to eat bread after they had just put their brother in a pit? What are they doing?
They are numbing themselves in two ways. The simple way they're numbing themselves is if I can casually have a picnic lunch, it must be that everything is normal. It's my way of telling myself life is normal now when life is anything but normal. Because over the next hill, your brother is screaming in the pit that you put him. But I inure myself. I distract myself with the bread and I distract myself with bread in another way.
There's another pit in this story. It's not just the sack in which the goblet is. It's not just the pit in which Joseph was. There's one more pit. When you sit and eat bread, where does the bread go? It goes in your stomach, in the pit in your stomach, and it's full of bread. And what does that do? You eat more and more bread. You eat more and more bread while your brother is screaming. Why do you keep on eating bread? Because it makes you feel better. It distracts me from the pit, the empty pit in which my brother is screaming. If I can just fill this pit up with bread, somehow, I can distract myself from it.
Now, Joseph one more time is intoxicating himself with some food or drink to be able to do something unthinkable. Like the brothers ate bread to be able to allow them to live with something unthinkable. The unthinkable thing that he's going to do is he's actually going to recreate the pit, but this time Benjamin, his very own brother, is going to be the victim.
Keep on reading. Remember those portions, the portions of bread that he kept on throwing? The word for portions was masot. Those portions. Look what happens next.
"Vayetzav et asher al beito." Chapter 44, Verse 1. And Joseph, drunk, commanded the person in charge of his house. "Malei et amtechot ha'anashim ochel," there's that word "amtechot." What a strange word. We talked about it before. Instead of sak, amtechot. Aleph-Mem-Taf-Chet-Taf. Almost as if there are two words being mashed together. Aleph-Mem-Taf spells truth. Now, take that same Taf. Taf-Chet-Taf spells under. The truth is found at the bottom. Where is the truth at the bottom of this pit? The truth is the silver that lies at the bottom. The truth is there is Joseph. It's the truth-telling pit.
So here is Joseph recreating the truth-telling pit and he says, fill that up. Fill it up with what? "Malei et amtechot ha'anashim ochel," fill it up with food. "Ka'asher yuchlun se'eit," as it can carry. That word "se'eit," for carry, it's the same word as the masa'ot, the portions, which was the same word that the Ishmaelites had when they were carrying.
Why are the portions the same? The answer is, what did these sacks have in them? Now, this is interesting. The first time around, a few weeks ago, when Joseph had sent them back with stuff in their sacks, the Bible is very clear about what was in the sacks. I told you about it. It was wheat. Wheat is not readymade food. You can't eat wheat. He filled their sacks not with food, but with wheat. Long-term food that people can make into food when they got back. But this time he's not filling their sacks with wheat. Look at what he's filling them with.
"Vayetzav et asher al beito leimor malei et amtechot ha'anashim ochel ka'asher yuchlin se'eit." He's filling them with what? Food. Readymade food. Food for the way, readymade food.
Now, as it can carry, he's recreating that cargo of the Ishmaelites. But the word for carry was the word that was just used to describe the portions of bread that he gave out to the people. Remember Benjamin's portion? How much did Benjamin have? Five times as much as everyone. So poor Benjamin. It's like the Jewish mother. It's like did you finish eating yet? I can't. There's all this food here. He's loaded down with food.
Next verse. Joseph says fill everybody's sacks with food. The word for food is "se'eit," the same word for masot, the same word for the food, for the bread, that he was just distributing. That was bread they were just distributing. What did he put in the sacks? Add it all up. What did he put in the sacks? The answer is doggy bags from the meal. What was in the meal? Bread. He filled it with bread. All very interesting.
Back at the pit, there were two pits. There was the pit with Joseph in it and there were everyone's stomachs with bread in them. You know what Joseph is doing now? He's combining those two pits into one. He says all right, we're redoing it this time. We're going to have all of these big pits, and guess what's in the pit? Me. Silver representing me.
But there's a problem. You guys ignored me the first time around. Why? Because you filled yourselves with bread so you could ignore the Joseph who is screaming at the bottom of the pit. So you know what? We've got to make sure everybody's sack is all full of bread so it's very hard to perceive the little Joseph at the bottom of the sack.
Now we're going to send out everybody on their way. And what happens? Joseph says we're now going to conduct a search. And when the goblet is found, "vayimatzei." Evoking what? What did the brothers say to their father? "Zot matzanu." We found this. But what did they find? They never found Joseph. They just found his coat. And they implied that they searched.
Joseph says, this time we're going to do a real search. The problem is everybody's sack is so full of bread, you never know where Joseph is. So what have we got to do? We have to empty the sacks. When we empty the sacks, what are we emptying them of? We're emptying them of bread. Get rid of all this bread, until at the very bottom, you can find what's actually there. You can find Joseph. If you get rid of the bread.
What is the very first search for chametz in the entire Jewish history? It was this. It was going through a ritualistic search where there was bread that needed to be gotten rid of. But bread that needed to be gotten rid of so you could find something else.
The Talmud has one last thing to say about that something else. When you find that something else, you have to find it by candlelight. Why? Because whenever you do a search, a search of course has to be by candlelight. That's the verse in Proverbs. What does the verse in Proverbs tell us about searches and candles?
It says searches always come with candles. Why? As the verse says, "ner Hashem nishmat adam chofeis kol chadri vaten." "Ner Hashem," the candle of God, "nishmat adam," is the human soul, "chofeis," it searches, "kol chadrei vaten," throughout all of the insides of the stomach.
There's only one problem. What's the one time that the soul can't do its search, searching through all of the insides? If the insides are full of bread. Got to get rid of the bread first. That's the point of searching for chametz. To allow the soul to be able to search.
What's the Talmud talking about? This, too, the Talmud sees in the Joseph story. Where do you see this verse in Proverbs in the Joseph story? What is the verse? "Ner Hashem nishmat adam chofeis kol chadrei vaten."
The candle of God is the human soul. What a strange way of thinking. What does that even mean? The candle of God is the human soul, "chofeis kol chadrei vaten," it searches all of the corners of one's insides. What is that verse telling you about the human soul? Such a fascinating thing. What is it saying? "Ner Hashem nishmat adam," the candle of God is the human soul.
If you think about it, the Talmud is talking, seemingly, about the pangs of conscience. Something real, something actual. When you feel guilty, when you feel your conscience speaking, where do you physically feel it inside of you? In your stomach. The pit in your stomach, that's where you feel it. "Ner Hashem nishmat adam," the candle of God is the human soul.
Along comes Proverbs and it says do you know what that pit in your stomach is? When you feel that pit in your stomach, how do you relate to that pit? You hate it. Get rid of that. I'll do anything to distract myself from that feeling inside that I've done something wrong.
How do I distract myself? All sorts of ways. You could drink, you can eat bread, you do anything to fill your stomach so that it's full, so that you don't feel it. That's what the brothers, in essence, did, when they went to eat lunch after they just sold their brother. That's what Joseph did when he got drunk before he did this. It was to fill your stomach with something else. Because then, the candle of God can't do its work.
But here's the fascinating thing. What if you looked at it differently? What if you looked at conscience differently? What if conscience was nothing but the purest expression of your humanity, it was your soul? And what if the purest expression of your humanity was nothing but a little piece of God, a candle of God? Such a fascinating concept.
This notion that when God created us, He didn't leave us behind. He didn't separate Himself from us. But there's this little piece of Him and that little piece of Him is a candle. It's almost like He put a candle inside of us that could search our insides, if we allow our insides to be searched.
Our job is to allow our insides to be searched, to get rid of that chametz. To allow the soul to do its natural work. To allow your humanity to express itself in its deepest way as a human being.
And what Proverbs seems to be saying is that conscience isn't something to be feared. It's something to be embraced, because in your deepest humanity is this little piece of God. When you do something that you shouldn't have done, when you do something that is corrupt, that little part of God finds that its neighborhood has become a little toxic. It doesn't like it, so it hurts a little bit inside. That is just a natural way that God has of saying hey, there's something you can correct, there's something you can do different. There's this little gift of God inside of you.
Where did you see that in the Joseph story? Look what happens next. One of the great questions is what was it, why in the end did Joseph reveal himself? If it's true that he never planned to, if it's true that that wasn't his plan, if it's true that he was just trying to get Benjamin and set up the confederate states of Rachel, why was it "lo yachol Yosef l'hitapeik," that he couldn't hold himself back? What was it that broke down Joseph's defenses?
It was something that Judah said. I think our Sages saw it in what Judah said, the verse in Proverbs. Where did they see it?
Let me ask you this. You're Judah. You make this promise, the person in whose sack the goblet is found, should die. The goblet is found in Benjamin's sack. You have five minutes to think about it before you get hauled back in front of Joseph. What is going through your head? What do you think?
Do you think Benjamin did it or do you think Benjamin didn't do it? What do you think? All in favor of Benjamin did it, raise your hand. You're Judah at this moment. Do you think Benjamin did it? All in favor of Benjamin for sure didn't do it. All in favor of I really don't know whether Benjamin did it or not. If you think about it, you really -- he doesn't really know.
On the other hand, there are some fishy things about this story, because, remember, in everybody's sack there was silver. How come in everybody's sack there was silver? And this is the second time that happened. Because last time around, in everybody's sack there was also silver.
So now I've got 24 sacks with silver that shouldn't be there and a 25th one that shouldn't be there. Something looks fishy. So there is something that seems strange about it. So he may have had his suspicions that Benjamin was framed.
How would you have dealt with that? Let's say you thought Benjamin was framed. Let's say you were convinced Benjamin was framed. You walk into Joseph's house. What would you say? You can't prove Benjamin was framed. It's a difficult position to be in. What would you say? You can't really prove it. You just have your suspicions. What would you say?
You might protest loudly, you might ask for some sort of independent verification, you might protest the system, you might consider this terribly unjust. Look at what Judah says.
"Vayikre'u simlotam vaya'amos ish al chamoro," they tore their clothes. They come back. "Vayavo Yehudah v'echav beitah Yosef," they come to the house of Joseph, "v'hu odenu sham vayiplu levanav artzah." They fall before him.
Joseph says, how can you have done this? Here's what Judah says. "Mah nomar ladoni mah nedaber u'mah nitztadak," what could we possibly say to you? What could we say to you to possibly justify ourselves? "Ha'Elokim matza et avon avdecha," God has found the sin of your servants. "Hinenu avadim ladoni," we are servants to you, us and the one in whose sack the goblet was found.
Listen to what he said again. What could we possibly say, "ha'Elokim matza et avon avdecha," God found our sin. Isn't that a little bit of a strange thing to say, God found our sin? Who found the sin? Joseph found the sin. Why doesn't he say, if he wants to admit, if he wants to take the position that Benjamin is guilty, why doesn't he just say hey, the jig is up, you found the goblet? You found it. You found the sin. We're terribly sorry. Say something like that. Why did he say God found our sin? What does he mean?
Here's the question. Which sin is he talking about? Probably, this is where it gets tricky, the word sin means something different to Judah than Judah wants it to mean to the high Egyptian official. That sin is double entendre. Judah is saying, in effect, you found the goblet. That's what he wants the high Egyptian official to think. But what he's saying to himself is something else. He's not talking about this sin. He doesn't even consider Benjamin so guilty. It's immaterial, in his mind. He's talking about another sin. God found our sin. Which sin? The first sin. The sin of the sale of Joseph.
Okay. Now let's take this apart. What did he mean when he said that? Why is he so convinced that God found the sin? Put yourself in Judah's shoes. Why would you be convinced that, forget the Egyptian official, that God has found, not the sin of the goblet, that God has found the sin of selling Joseph? Why are you convinced of that?
The answer is from all the things that we've just seen for the last half hour. because there are all these resonances. The story is repeating itself. When he sees the pit, and he sees the silver at the bottom of the pit, and he remembers the "vayisu eineihem vayiru." It's the whole story. He gets that it's the whole story again. He looks at that and says okay, checkmate. God engineered this.
That's what you'd think, that that's what it means. But there's another possibility too. Because let me throw a little bit of cold water on that. Here's the deal. That sounds really religious, right? That sounds like a really great thing. Oh, look at the Divine providence. Because there's a sack and there's the silver at the bottom of it and there's lifting of his eyes and it's all happening the same way. It must be the Almighty Himself holds us guilty.
Here's the thing. You know something that Judah doesn't know. What do you know that Judah doesn't yet know, that completely throws water on this very religious interpretation of the story? You know that Joseph engineered the whole thing. Not God, Joseph did it. Joseph knew who they were. Joseph put his mind to it. Joseph recreated this situation.
Therefore, what if I came to you and I said it's a very nice thing that Judah says over here but he's completely, 1,000 percent wrong. This had nothing to do with God. God didn't find anything. Joseph found it. Joseph is the one who is engineering it all. All of what Judah's thinking, oh my gosh, it's the hand of God, God put me in this situation, because it's measure for measure, is nonsense. Joseph put himself in that situation.
If I stopped here, if I let you all go home, what would you say to that? It completely destroys the religious meaning of the whole story. The answer is that wasn't what Judah meant when he said God has found the sin. Yes, of course, he was talking about the sin of the sale of Joseph. But he wasn't talking about measure for measure. He wasn't saying all of the machinations of this was God taking His revenge on us. He meant something much more subtle when he said God has found the sin of your servant. Much more subtle and far more powerful. What did he mean?
The answer is the verse in Proverbs. How does the verse in Proverbs explain what Judah is saying? "Ner Hashem nishmat adam chofeis kol chadri vaten." The candle of God is our deepest humanity, is our soul. It searches out our insides.
He had just gone through a search. All of the chametz is out. It evokes memories of eating all of that food, all of that chometz that first time that he did with the brothers to try to distract himself from it. Somehow, all of that chametz is gone and the only thing that's left is the silver at the bottom of the pit and it feels like Joseph. And there are two pits. There is the pit in the sack and there's the pit in the stomach, without any bread in it anymore. And what does it feel like? It hurts.
He takes that hurt and, instead of doing what we all do with that hurt, which is try to cover it up, try to drink, try to find more bread, try to scream and yell how it's not fair and how he was probably framed and none of it makes any sense, he said something else.
This little pit inside that's hurting, it's a good kind of hurting. It's supposed to hurt. This is a gift, this little thing inside that hurts. It's God. That little thing inside that hurts, at my deepest humanity, it comes from God. It's the greatest gift He could give me. How could I turn my back on Him? "Elokim matza et avon avdecha." Through that little hurt, it's God finding my sin. It's that pit in my stomach that I feel that's finding it. I accept it. It's God.
That's the first thing that he tells to Joseph. And, not only is it subtle, it's the most powerful thing he says. Because he then says no deal, I'm not taking this lying down. I'm not going home without Benjamin.
He tells him a story. At the end of the story -- the story begins with the word found, "zot matzanu." It all began when they looked at Joseph's coat and said "zot matzanu." Now, Judah's speech begins with "Elokim matza et avon avdecha," and ends with how can I go back to my father. "Pen ereh vara asher yimtza et avi," how can I possibly go back to my father, and behold, the evil that will befall him?
What just happened was that Judah harnessed his greatest power. He got in touch with that little piece of humanity inside him that made him more powerful than he can ever imagine.
I just want to close with this. The power of conscience. One way to see the entire Joseph story, at least from the perspective of Judah, is as a story about conscience and one's relationship to it. I want to focus you on three quick points in the story and then I want to let you go. The last point is the point we've just seen. But I want to show you two points that lead up to it.
The first point is at the pit itself. At the pit itself, there's this moment where Judah, when he raises up his eyes and he sees the Ishmaelites coming from Gilad, he has an idea. "Mah betza ki naharog et achinu v'chisinu et damo." What do we gain by killing our brother and covering his blood?
"Lechu v'nimkerenu laYishme'eilim," let's sell him to the Ishmaelites, "ki achinu vesareinu hu," because after all, he really is our brother. "Vayishme'u echav," and his brothers listen to what he had to say. They changed their mind and they didn't kill him. Instead, they sold him.
It's interesting, because Isaacides, commenting on that says that in the very next story, the story of Judah and Tamar -- the story begins with "vayeired Yehudah mei'eit echav," that Judah went down from amongst his brothers. Isaacides, based on the Midrash, interprets it to mean that Judah was demoted from his position of power of the brothers. Why? Because the brothers sensed in him a failure of leadership.
They said to him, you were the ones who told us to sell him. Had you told us to return him to father, we would have listened to you. We hold you accountable for not saying that.
Now, you might say that the brothers are just saying that in retrospect. But if you look carefully, it's not just retrospect. The language of the text supports it. Because when Judah makes his plea, "vayishme'u echav," the brothers listened. In English, when you say listen, what does listen mean? It doesn't just mean something goes into your ears. What does it mean? It means you agree. You change your mind. It means I convinced you.
Judah convinced them. They had been ready to kill him. How did Judah convince them? Listen carefully. He made an argument, which was a problematic argument on one level, but it had a grain of conscience in it. Where was the grain of conscience, the little piece of conscience? " Ki achinu vesareinu hu." He is, after all, our brother. How can we kill him? Let's sell him instead.
"Vayishme'u echav," and the brothers heard that. That little piece of conscience. I'm standing by that sense of regret, getting in touch with that piece inside you that says this didn't feel right. When he got in touch with that and said I can't do this guys, we can't do that, that was powerful. The brothers listened. The brothers said you're onto something there.
The problem is, you didn't take it to its logical conclusion. Because, think about it. The logical conclusion is if he's your brother, then not only do you not kill him, but you don't sell him as a slave him either. Which leads to the great question. If he was motivated by pangs of conscience, why didn't he go all the way? Why? Why didn't he go all the way?
The answer is he didn't think the brothers would listen, and therefore, he thought he could only get away with that much. And the brothers came to him and said you were wrong. We were listening to you. You didn't realize your power. When you stood on conscience, that's when you had power. We would have listened to that.
Judah's mistake at that moment was that he underestimated the power that he had to align himself with his deepest humanity. You change people, you change everyone in the room when you align yourself with your deepest humanity. He didn't understand his own power. The brothers hold him accountable for that and they demote him.
That's the first point. That's his first relationship to conscience. But the next time, and I'm skipping over a couple, but the next time, just to keep it simple, is when he goes to his father.
They come home and they've got to come back with Benjamin. Father will not send Benjamin. Ruben comes along and promises the ultimate consequence. I'll kill my own two children if I don't Benjamin back to you. Nothing. It doesn't move Jacob at all. He'd rather starve.
How does Judah move his father? By an appeal to conscience. What does he say? I'm not promising you any consequence. It's only one thing I promise you. "Anochi e'ervenu miyadi tevakshenu," I take responsibility for him. If I don't bring him back to you, "chatati lecha kol hayamim," I will have sinned against you all the days of my life. No consequence with that. I will have to live with that pit in my stomach.
That was powerful. That changed everything. It was more than any consequence Ruben could have possibly imagined or anyone could have possibly imagined. Just aligning yourself with your deepest humanity. He says I couldn't do that to you.
But there's only one problem. Until this point, Judah has not gone far enough. He's tiptoed up to the edge, but he still hasn't fully embraced the power of his conscience. Why? Because there's always something he's running away from.
The first time around, let's not kill him, let's sell him. But he's not getting in touch with his deepest regret, which is I can't sell him either without the pang in my stomach. And he's not willing to accept that. Instead he eats bread. Instead he distracts himself.
Then, when he comes to his father and he says, how could I live with the regret if I don't come back with Benjamin? But what is he not telling his father? The first child. How come the first child isn't here? What he can't bring himself to tell his father or even himself is the regret that he feels for Joseph. He can see it in Benjamin, he can talk about it in Benjamin, because that's theoretical. But it's too personal. It's too vulnerable. He can't talk about it in reference to Joseph.
Therefore, he passes up on what is in fact his greatest power. Irony of ironies, that brother who he once sold now confronts him and becomes the one to take away Benjamin and to test whether he will stand by his pledge that I will be his guarantor.
At that point, when Joseph plans on setting up the confederate states of Rachel, plans on taking away Benjamin for good and setting up Rachel on the other side of the Nile and sending everyone back, Judah has this moment where he says no deal. When he says no deal, he looks inside himself and he finally embraces the truth that he hasn't been able to do until now. "Elokim matza et avon avdecha."
What made Joseph reveal himself? I think it was that. It was his first and it was his last words. His first words were "Elokim matza et avon avdecha," God has found the sin. Where did God find the sin? My conscience. It's the pit in my stomach. When all the bread is stripped away, when the only thing there is, is an empty pit, when I can feel the pain inside me, and I embrace that pain and I say that's the voice of God inside me and I'm willing to stand by that regret and verbalize it. That's powerful.
And then he says and therefore, I cannot go back without Benjamin. Because the regret that I feel now, for what happened with Joseph, powers the regret that I will feel again if I can't bring back Benjamin. Therefore, "eich e'eleh el avi v'hana'ar einenu iti," how can I go back to my father without Benjamin? "Eich ereh vara asher yimtza et avi," how can I see the evil that will befall my father?
That is so powerful that it knocks down worlds. He can't even imagine that the high Egyptian official he's been talking about this whole time breaks down in tears. What is even going on? But he doesn't even understand the power of his own words.
When he's able to completely align himself with his deepest humanity and embrace it as a little piece of God and not run away from it, what's fascinating is not only does guilt or conscience not become our enemy, it becomes our greatest power.
Dale Carnegie wrote a book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. This is the part of the book that he didn't talk about. He didn't read Judah. But the story of Judah is the way you really win friends and influence people.
If you can embrace your vulnerabilities, if you can embrace the mistakes that you've made in life, if you can embrace the parts of life where you said if I had to, I would have done this over again, and you can talk confidently and meaningfully and tearfully about your own mistakes and your own regrets in life and bring that to others. There is no greater persuasive power that you have than that. You're getting in touch and embracing your deepest humanity. It's not something to run away from. It's something to embrace. It's beautiful, it's human, and it's Godly.
I wish you a good season of the New Year.