MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP
Rabbi Norman Schloss
As we near the end of the book of Genesis, it is worthwhile to reflect back on our understanding of this first section of the Torah. In the beginning, Adam's purpose on earth was to enjoy the presence of Hashem.
As we near the end of the book of Genesis, it is worthwhile to reflect back on our understanding of this first section of the Torah. In the beginning, Adam's purpose on earth was to enjoy the presence of Hashem. With the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam realized that he had totally changed the world. It was now Man's job to elevate the physical world back to a spiritual one and to spread this word unto Mankind. The first two people to take on this challenge were Cain and Abel. Being the ish sadeh (the man of the field), Cain understood that his role was to reunite the physical world (the earth) with the spiritual world. Abel would play another role as the shepherd, the one to gather together the people, as a shepherd watches his flock. Unfortunately, they failed in their task. Many more pairs came onto the scene to try and bring shleimut (completion and fulfillment) to the world.
Later in our story, we come across Jacob and Esau. Again, one will be the man of the field and one will be the shepherd. Once again failure looms, as Esau is overcome by his own earthiness and cannot rise to the occasion. Both mantles fall upon Jacob. With the birth of the twelve tribes, all are watching to see who will be the standard bearers. Reuben is quickly discounted (Genesis 35:22), as are Simeon and Levi (ibid. Chapter 34). Clearly, Judah is to be the man of the field, the one to spiritually uplift the world. Who will be the shepherd? Will it be Joseph? The brothers, however, are disturbed by what they see in their brother. With his good looks and his fancy dreams, Joseph seems to be a reincarnation of their Uncle Esau. They see Joseph as succumbing to the materialistic forces in the world. He is an evil person and must be destroyed before he causes any more harm.
Joseph, on the other hand, is well aware of the role he is to play. If he is to unite the world, he must first unite his own family. In the confrontation between Judah and Joseph in this week's Torah portion, Joseph is almost there. If he can just hold out a little longer, the brothers will come to a complete recognition of Joseph's role and the entire complexion of the world will change. However, although Joseph is a great and righteous individual, he is only human. He cannot hold back and must reveal himself to his brothers. The rest, as they say, is history.
The lesson of the book of Genesis is to define who we are and what our purpose is in this world. As we go on to the book of Exodus, we see the development of the Children of Israel into a nation - a nation with a goal and direction of serving Hashem and being an example to the rest of the nations of Hashem's presence.
Our sages tell us that the Mashiach (Messiah) will come either as a natural progression of our success or as a salvation from our depravation. Our job remains to elevate the materialistic to the spiritual. On a simple level, we do this by reciting blessings. We take an ordinary piece of food or drink and elevate it by praising and thanking Hashem for providing us with our sustenance. We have numerous needs and we relay them to Hashem through prayer - we take our words and give them meaning. We, as the Jewish people, have a task in the world - to be a shining example to all of Mankind, to bring spirituality into the world. In this merit, we can look forward to the days when both Mashiach ben Yoseph (the Messiah descending from Joseph) and subsequently Mashiach ben David (the Messiah descending from Judah and King David) will bring true fulfillment to the world.
Rabbi Norman Schloss writes from Atlanta.
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