Longing for Dawn

׃ְוְַיַשַַּ֥לח ֶאת־ֶאָ֖חיווֵַּיֵֵּ֑לכוֹּּ֣וַיאֶמר ֲאֵּלֶֶ֔הם ַַֽאל־ִּתְרְגָ֖זוּ ַבַֽדֶרך

And he sent off his brothers, and they went. He said to them, “Do not become agitated on the way.”

Genesis 45:24

Creating meaningful change takes time. Even the basic cycle of each new day consists of many transitional moments that advance the process of the sun rising and setting. The Rabbis[1] use this celestial image as a model for the final redemption, which tradition teaches will happen… slowly.[2] 

Based on a description in Song of Songs[3] a famous Midrash[4] interprets “הַנִּשְׁקָפָ֖ה

כְּמוֹ־שָׁ֑חַר יָפָ֣ה כַלְּבָנָ֗ה בָּרָה֙  כַּֽחַמָּ֔ה – brightening like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, brilliant as the sun” as representing the incremental stages necessary to restore the world to its clarity of purpose. Malbim explains that putting the word “moon” after the “dawn” – counter-intuitively – is intended to indicate that there will still be work left to do even after the “night,” associated with spiritual exiles, ends. The moon, he posits, represents the lack of self actualization. Since the moon doesn’t have any of its own light to offer, just the reflection of the sun, it occupies the void of self enlightenment.

The first letter of each of these three stages: שָׁ֑חַר – dawn, לְּבָנָ֗ה – moon, and חַמָּ֔ה – sun, form the word “שלח – send,”[5] and with it, the verse – “וַיְשַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־אֶחָ֖יו” is alluding to the message that Joseph is telling his brothers – take your time processing your role in this story as you continue on your journey.

While Joseph is explicit in his warning to them later in the verse – “אַֽל־תִּרְגְּז֖וּ!”, the Talmud[6] surprisingly understands the charge of “don’t become agitated” as “Don’t engage in matters of Jewish Law,” which could distract them from bringing their father Jacob back to Egypt. This is the first time in the Torah where the word “רגז” appears and it is a hard word to translate.

The Talmud[7] first deploys it in the form of spiritual guidance:[8]

לְעוֹלָם יַרְגִּיז אָדָם יֵצֶר טוֹב עַל יֵצֶר הָרַע, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״רִגְזוּ וְאַל תֶּחֱטָאוּ״ אִם נִצְּחוֹ — מוּטָב, וְאִם לָאו — יַעֲסוֹק בַּתּוֹרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״אִמְרוּ בִלְבַבְכֶם״. אִם נִצְּחוֹ — מוּטָב, וְאִם לָאו — יִקְרָא קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״עַל מִשְׁכַּבְכֶם״. אִם נִצְּחוֹ — מוּטָב, וְאִם לָאו — יִזְכּוֹר לוֹ יוֹם הַמִּיתָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְדֹמּוּ סֶלָה״.

Rabbi Levi bar Ḥama said that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: One should always incite their good inclination against their evil inclination as it is stated: “Shake, and do not sin.”[9] If that works, great. If not, learn Torah as in the verse: “Say to your heart.”[10] If that works, great. If not, recite the Shema like in the verse: “Upon your bed.”[11] If that works, great. If not, remember the day of one’s death, as in the verse: “And be still, Selah.”

The commentators[12] ask why it is necessary to follow this particular protocol; if, in the end, we confidently rely on thinking about the day of one’s death, to overcome the evil inclination, why not just start there? Perhaps, beyond being less depressing, we are also being taught that the best method to redeem our own individual sins, and achieve global redemption, is step by step. Minimizing the negative, like increasing the positive, is most successful when it is achieved gradually.

After the Israelites left Egypt they traveled for seven weeks to transition from what is described by the rabbis as the 49th level of spiritual impurity[13] to the 49th level of purity[14]… one day at a time. Accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai[15] was not the final act of their journey, but a climactic moment before continuing on as the Jewish People.

Ethics of Our Ancestors teaches that while Moses received “Torah – תּוֹרָה,”[16] the world actually stands on something bigger, “The Torah –הַתּוֹרָה.”[17] The word “תִּרְגְּז֖וּ” has the same numerical value as “הַתּוֹרָה”, perhaps as an allusion to the obligation to extend beyond wherever we are currently, in pursuit of the foundation of this world: the ultimate good. And that is a process.

Joseph’s brothers were too quick to judge him, for his dreams of success, when they decided to throw him in the pit. Twenty two years later, when they see Joseph living those dreams, Joseph worries that again they will be too quick to judge themselves, this time for the pain they caused him and their father, and not engage in the deeper work necessary for true growth. So, he tells them to internalize the lesson and try not to come to a final conclusion while they are still in transit.

Joseph’s advice to his brothers is based on his compassionate sensitivity towards them. Joseph knows that they want to make amends and repair the damage that they have caused. However, part of Joseph’s message of repentance to them is that they can’t help him until they help themselves.

רגז” has a numerical value of 210, like the word “חבר – ally”, sharing the healthy anxiety of wanting to be able to fix everything already, but not really being there yet. Allyship is an attachment to the process of transitioning the world to the way it should be, not just for the moment of perceived need.

Halacha, Jewish Law, is a language of progress – hiluch, literally [18]meaning walking הלך – halach. Rashi,[19] however, cautions against taking too big of a step at any given time. God, we are told, can be found after the destruction of the Temple in the four cubits of halacha.[20] It is in the close proximity to our current place that we encounter the Divine as a way of orienting forward.

The great German Biblical exegete and grammarian, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch,[21] claims that the physical agitation associated with the word “רגז” skews more towards “trembling” than “anger.” He articulates that this fear shouldn’t be expressed to others as a way of relieving it, but must find comfort in the impact on one’s heart. Just as there is darkness before dawn, there is darkness after it as well. In trying to outsource the light of redemption, we deny its liberation from within each one of us.

[1] See Zohar 170:A.

[2] See Isa Bracha who uses a language of “לאט לאט”.

[3] 6:10.

[4] Rabbah.

[5] This word is seemingly unnecessary because the verse later says “and they went”. 

[6] Tanit 10b.

[7] Berachot 5a.

[8] Based on the verse “רִגְז֗וּ וְֽאַל־תֶּ֫חֱטָ֥אוּ אִמְר֣וּ בִ֭לְבַבְכֶם עַֽל־מִשְׁכַּבְכֶ֗ם וְדֹ֣מּוּ סֶֽלָה׃ – So tremble, and sin no more;

ponder it on your bed, and sigh.

[9] Psalms 4:5.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] See Rav Vosner in Shevet HaLevi on Psalms.

[13] Zohar Hachadash, Yitro 31a.

[14] See Ohr Hachayim, Shemot 3:8.

[15] See Hon Ashir who writes: התורה לא קתני, דהוה משמע כל התורה, אלא תורה, להיות ששער החמשים משערי בינה לא נגלה לו למשה.

[16] Mishnah 1:1.

[17] Mishnah 1:2.

[18] Technically about 6 feet, but colloquially it refers to one’s immediate personal space.

[19] Quoting Bereishit Rabbah 94:2 “Don’t take long steps”.

[20] Berakhot 8a.

[21] Born in Hamburg in 1808.

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