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.
Knowledge and Direction
One of the problems of society is the possibility of a rift between knowledge and commitment, between intellectual attainment and a sense of direction in life. We might imagine that intensive acquisition of knowledge would guarantee that the person will use their talents in a way which is both wholesome in itself and beneficial to others. However, history is littered with figures who were both brilliant and dangerous. As we have seen in the history of European culture over the past two centuries, some forms of "scholarship" can lead to the worst excesses.
Jewish teaching has always been aware of this problem, as is seen in discussion by the Sages of an idea found in our Parshah and also elsewhere in the Torah.
The Communists rose to power when Naphtali -- "Tolchik," to his friends -- was young. His father didn't like the smell of it all, and told Tolchik to become a shochet -- to master the intricate, exacting practice of kosher ritual slaughter. The training takes time and the pay is lousy. "Become a shochet," said Tolchik's father. "If you'll be a shochet, you'll stay a Jew."
Tolchik the Shochet and his wife raised their children under the Soviets. By the early 1950s, though, the entire family had managed to escape, most of them with false passports. Except for their grown son, Meir, and his growing family.
An Order to Circumcise
The Torah portion of Miketz relates how the seven years of plenty came to an end as foretold by Joseph, and "... the entire land of Egypt hungered, and the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians: 'Go to Joseph (and) do what he will tell you.'"
Commenting on the words "... do what he will tell you," the famed commenter Rashi states: "For Joseph was telling them to circumcise themselves, and when they came to Pharaoh and said 'this is what he tells us [to do],' Pharaoh replied: 'Why didn't you gather produce? Didn't [Joseph] notify you that the famine years were coming?' They said to Pharaoh, 'We indeed gathered much produce -- but it rotted!' He replied, "If that is the case, do everything he will tell you; you see that he decreed against the produce and it rotted -- what if he will decree against us and we die?!'"