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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Truth will transform you

Daf Yomi Yevamos 88

Shaindy has a heart attack and is taken to hospital. While on the operating table she has a near-death experience, during which she sees an angel.  She inquires whether this is the end of the line.  The angel says no and informs her that she still has another thirty years to live.  

As soon as she has recovered, Shaindy figures that since she's got another thirty years, she might as well stay in the hospital and have the face-lift, liposuction, and nose-job that she has always promised herself. So she does and even changes the colour of her hair!  But tragedy strikes: some weeks later, just as Shaindy is leaving the hospital, she is run over and killed by a drunk driver.

When Shaindy arrives in heaven she meets the angel from her vision.
“I thought you said I had another thirty years,” she screams at him.
“Oh, I am so, so sorry,” the angel replies, “I must admit, I didn’t recognize you.”

When the ten sons of Jacob arrive in Egypt seeking food for the family, the Torah states, “And Joseph recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him.”
Rabbi Hisda says, “This teaches us that he departed (Canaan) without the seal of a beard and arrived (at the encounter with his brothers) with the seal of a beard.”

You know when you bump into a friend after many years and they’re now sporting a beard or a moustache, or perhaps they’ve shed their former facial hair?  You hardly recognize them, right?  Well, in most cases you do recognize them, but you can’t put your finger on what’s different about them until it hits you, ‘oh, it’s the beard!’  What does Rabbi Hisda mean?  Is he seriously trying to convince us that the ten brothers of Joseph appear and not one of them recognizes him with a beard?!?

Our Sages explain that the ‘seal’ of the Almighty is truth and the only absolute truth is the Torah.  The word for beard, ‘zakan,’ is short for ‘ze kanah’ – ‘this one acquired.’   In other words, the brothers didn’t recognize Joseph, because during his absence he had acquired the truth.  He was a transformed individual, unrecognizable from his former self.   The former Joseph was a young lad that felt he had to report his brothers’ bad behaviour to his father.  The new Joseph understood that everyone should be judged in a positive light and that he must even find a reason why he was sold into slavery that would vindicate their actions. 
“Now, you did not send me here, it was G-d,” Joseph tells his brothers, “for G-d sent me before you for sustenance.”

If he only discovered the truth after his departure, does that mean that he was not Torah-observant before he was sold into slavery?  Of course he was.  But he had not yet internalized the Torah and made it the utter truth of the core of his being.  He was keeping Torah and mitzvos as he had been instructed by his parents.  Only after leaving his father’s house did he have the opportunity to grapple with the truth on his own and become transformed by Torah.

Torah must be transformative.  Many people go through the motions of mitzvos but never reach the truth.  Our goal in life is to ‘depart without the seal of a beard and arrive with the seal of a beard.’  You left the comforts of Heaven for your sojourn in this world and after 120, you will return to Heaven.  If you’re the same person you were when you left, what’s the point of all the heartache and suffering this world affords your body and soul?   You departed without the seal of a beard – when you came to this world, you did not yet have the truth.  But you must strive to arrive with the seal of a beard – life on earth is about grappling with the truth of Torah and internalizing it until you become transformed by your discovery and understanding.

Don’t drift through life going through the motions of a half-baked commitment to Torah and mitzvos.  Strive to attain the seal of the Almighty – a true appreciation of His Wisdom, the Torah.  May you merit the courage and strength to grapple with the truth and become transformed until you are so spiritually moved that you are unrecognizable!

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