This week's parsha
Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the Chabad.org website. We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given. For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website. If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the Chabad.org website.
Unless you inhabit one of those idealized marriages of never-faltering sweetness and light, you know that feeling that comes in the aftermath of an argument with a loved one.
Harsh words have been spoken, angry words, accusatory words. The words have stopped because there's nothing left to be said. Instead there is pain and incredulity, but also a peculiar serenity. You realize that there are things about your husband/wife that you will never understand, and that it is best that it is that way, for it cannot be otherwise.
A Courage Epidemic
Just verses into the opening of the second book of the Torah, Shemot, the unsuspecting Bible reader is shaken from a blissful reverie in which Jews are the most celebrated citizens in the ancient world. From here on, the reader is forced to observe their rapid plummet into the dark and degrading abyss of slavery.
A dramatic regime-change has taken place in ancient Egypt, suddenly ushering the Jewish people into an era of bitter persecution. Devastation and despair are palpable in the text:
Home to Our Fathers
Q: Who was the straightest man in the Bible?
A: Joseph, he was a ruler in Pharaoh's court.
Corny joke, but the question it leads to is valid though.
Joseph was a high achiever if there ever was one. By dint of hard work, intelligence, good judgment and a liberal dose of Divine assistance, he had scaled the heights of human ambition. Master of all he surveyed, personally responsible for the lives and sustenance of all his subjects, and one of the three richest men in recorded history.
And he achieved this despite maintaining his life-long straightness, honesty and trustworthiness.
So tell me something: why, in their deathbed conversation, was Joseph's word alone not good enough for his dying father Jacob?
"And let me lie with my fathers, and carry me away from Egypt and bury me in their burying-place."
And [Joseph] said, " I will do as you say"
And [Jacob] said, "Swear it to me"
An oath is the highest degree of commitment known to man. The act of swearing in G‑d's name; attesting something to be true with your immortal soul at stake if you are lying, is as perilous an endeavour as any demanded. There are many stories of innocent people preferring to pay huge sums rather than take an oath to clear their name. In traditional Jewish courts, cases were decided by requiring the accused or litigants to take a vow. It was assumed that no one, no matter how dubious a character, would debase G‑d's name by lying under oath.
And when one swears to carry out a task, one isn’t just committing to a "Rabbi, I'll try" sort of thing. Rather, this is a self-binding pledge to achieve the promised outcome and never deviate till done.
Jacob's remains could not stay in Egypt. His soul-root was so much higher than the filth and immorality that Egypt represents that, before dying, he felt the need to guarantee his immediate ascent to Israel, even to the point of requiring an oath of fidelity from Joseph to fulfil this last will and testament.
In life, we must always remember that "this ain’t the goal," no matter how comfortable an existence we may find ourselves living. Creature comforts, spiritual delights, nothing we have on this world compares to the bliss awaiting us in the Messianic era. Never be satisfied; never settle for "remaining in Egypt."
For two thousand years, through good times and bad, we held firm to the belief in the "speedy arrival of Moshiach, and even though he may tarry, I await his coming". Swear to yourself, with an unbreakable oath, "I will not relax until we achieve the true purpose of creation, until we get to 'go home to our fathers.'"