Saturday, December 18, 2010

Heartbreak in Egypt

I saw the Zohar has a beautiful midrashic reading in parashat Vayechi.  The Zohar states that Ya'acov could not bless his children in the land of Israel but only in Egypt. "וירא יעקב כי יש שבר במצרים" the word שבר is normally translated as grain or food. However the Zohar reads "sheber" in its slightly more common usage today in Hebrew - "broken". And what is broken? The heart.
Ya'acov saw that in the land of Egypt one's heart might be broken. The Zohar continues that Prophecy can only be given to those who's hearts are broken (תא חזי, דלא איתייהיבת נבואתא, אלא לתבירי לבא). I found this idea beautiful. I think most of us learned (And the Rambam elaborates on this point quite a bit) that one can only reach prophecy when he is happy. However surely a broken heart is a state more fitting for prophecy? when can one turn more fully to God, then when one's heart is broken?

The Zohar links another midrash to this one.  " ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים" literally "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt". For the Zohar "living" can only be one thing - an encounter (prophetic) with God. In the land of Egypt Ya'acov started living again. According to the Zohar only in Egypt did  Jacob reach his highest level of prophecy - equal to the level of Moshe. This is learnt since it is written in the torah that "כי לא יראני האדם וחי"   - "A man will not see me and live" and in this weeks parasha it is stated "ויחי יעקב" . I'm not quite sure why Ya'acov has a broken heart in Egypt. I would have thought that meeting Yosef would have healed him, rather then break his heart. Perhaps it was hearing how Yosef reached Egypt that broke his heart. Or it might be that Ya'acov is still mourning the 17 year old son that is forever lost to him. Regardless of the cause,  in the Zohar's eyes it is Ya'acov's broken heart that allows him to say the prophetic blessings in this weeks parasha. 

Ba'al Hasulam explains that it was the brothers who needed a broken heart to be able to hear these prophecies, and not Ya'acov who needed the broken heart. This idea is just as intriguing - Some prophecies need a broken heart to be able to hear them.  

Side note: These midrahshim break quite a few well known Prophetic rules:

1. That you can only prophesize in Israel.
2. That no one reached the level of Nevuah that Moshe reached.
3. That you can only Prophesize while happy.

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