Thursday, December 24, 2009

Yehuda Setting Up Educational Centers and Co-Existing With Other Cultures

In this week's parsha, Yaakov sends Yehuda ahead of everyone else to Yosef in order that Yehuda should prepare the land of Goshen for Yaakov's arrival. Everything about this seems a bit odd. First of all, why not have the entire family arrive at Goshen at the same time? Second of all, if Yehuda was sent ahead to erect houses of study like the Midrashim say, then why wouldn't Yosef have been able to do it? In fact, the verse tells us that Yehuda is supposed to go to Yosef and then set up the houses of study. Furthermore, Yosef must have already established houses of study for his own children, otherwise, where would they be learning? If this is so, why can't Yaakov's family learn with Ephraim and Menashe?

The first question can be answered in a fairly simple manner. The Gemorah (I think In Gittin) tells us how the exile after the first temple's destruction took place. The second to last king of Yehuda (Jehoiachin) was exiled by Nebuchadnezzar and was replaced by Zedekiah. However, Jehoiachin was exiled before the final destruction and scripture tells us that all of the artisans and gate keepers were exiled at this time. The Gemorah tells us that these artisans and gatekeepers were the wise one's and the teachers. Therefore, before the entire Jewish population was exiled, the teachers and wise men were setting up a proper Torah environment for the rest of the Jewish people to enter into. This idea is most probably the reason Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead, because an exiled people can only retain their identity if they have some type of establishment that helps them cling to their culture.

As a side point, I think this is probably why America has been so successful at being a melting pot. This country was an empty land with no establishments. Anyone who came here had freedom to choose and an obligation to decide their own identity. There was no force compelling anyone to go one way or another, just freedom. In some ways this mentality is good and in other ways it is bad. Decide for yourself why it is good and bad and let me know what you think.

The second question of why couldn't Yosef have handled the task of erecting the houses of study is more complicated. This has to do with the dichotomy of Yosef and the purpose of Yehuda. If we look at Yosef's character we can see many great qulaities, however, these qualities are not to be everlasting or constant throughout Jewish history. On the other hand, the characteristics of Yehuda are everlasting and constant. Yosef was needed to set up the presence of the Jewish people in Egypt, however, Jews were not supposed to live a Yosef type of life. Yosef was beautiful, wealthy, a king in a foreign land and powerful. The Jew is not supposed to care about physical beauty, wealth is something that is considered detrimental, Jews are disgraced while in exile and they are, for the most part, weak. How could Yosef, someone who encompassed all of these great qualities, but qualities that Jews do not commonly have, set up a lifestyle for common Jews?

On the other hand, Yehuda was the perfect example of a person that can relate to a common Jew. True, Yehuda was a leader, but only a leader among the borthers. Yehuda was disgraced in his lifetime, he was the paradigm of repentance, and he was willing to die for his fellow Jew (Binyomin). These are qualities that a common Jew relates to, disgrace while in exile, repentance and a willingness to die for one another (Bortherly love). This is why Yehuda was the perfect person to set up an establishment for the Jewish people in exile, because he could understand the needs of the common Jew.

However, scripture tells us that Yehuda consulted with Yosef first. This relates to the final idea, what was with the houses of study that Yosef had for his children. Yosef's children were son's of a king. They are not the common Jew, but needed to be in special programs so that they could fulfill their obligations as the sons of a king. Therefore, they needed a special type of curriculum. This special curriculum is why Yehuda consulted with Yosef before setting up a house of study, because he needed to discern which parts of this curriculum are necessary for Jews in exile. Jews in exile can not be oblivious to their neighbors, the non-Jews. They must learn how to associate and interact with them if they are to survive in the general population.

The lack of communication between societies is what causes conflict. Yehuda understood this and that is why he consulted with Yosef before setting up an establishment of education. He realized the teaching must incorporate some ideas that will allow for Jews and non-Jews to associate with each other. Without this crucial skill all that happens is misunderstandings and hatred. This hatred comes from a lack of understanding and ignorance of other cultures. This idea is obvious throughout all of history. The Jews have been hated throughout the ages because no one ever understood them. The Europeans that came to the new world hated the natives (they called them savages and had several conflicts) because they did not understand their culture. Muslims and Christians were constantly at war ever since Islam's inception. The lack of understanding leads to fear and fear leads to hatred. If we can teach and understand one another, there will be much less hatred.

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