Birth by Breaches

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz stein

Yosef has revealed himself to his brothers. He has sent wagons to carry his father and the rest of the family down to Egypt. Now the Torah names all the souls that descended to Mitzrayim and reaches a count of sixty-six. Adding Yosef and his two sons who were already in Mitzrayim, we get a total of sixty-nine. Yet the Torah concludes that all the people of Yaakov's household who came to Mitzrayim were seventy. This obvious discrepancy begs exploration.

While there are varying medrashic explanations to explain this discrepancy, some saying that Hashem Himself completed the count of seventy, the most commonly accepted explanation by Rashi and others is that the seventieth "soul" to join this count is Levi's daughter Yocheved, who was born "between the walls" at the entrance to Egypt.

In Baruch Yomeiru, Rabbi Rosenbaum raises an interesting question. Why was it necessary that Yocheved be born "between the walls?" She could have been counted among the seventy souls had she been born just a little earlier, before reaching these gates. We must assume that this location was in some way significant. And if Yocheved is indeed the seventieth soul, then, according to valid calculations, she would have been 130 years old when she gave birth to Moshe [and not much younger when she gave birth to Aharon and Miriam CKS], notes the Ibn Ezra. Wasn't the birth of Moshe, then, an even greater miracle than the birth of Yitzchak when Sarah was 99 years old? Why does the Torah not mention this miracle?

The Ran explains that rekindling a log that was already burned once is easier than lighting a brand new log. [This explains why many people singe the wick of the Shabbat candles before candle lighting. CKS] Therefore, the Torah recorded the first miraculous advanced-age birth but not the second, since the repeat was no longer a novelty. However, Ramban reminds us that all nature is itself a miracle. Those highlighted in the Torah are only those that are either foretold by a prophet, as the birth of Yitzchak by an angel, or clearly against the "normal" parameters of nature.

This is why we publicize the miracles of Chanukah and Purim, writes Rabbi Wolbe, for if we did not, those salvations could easily be viewed as the natural twists and turns of history, the genius of guerrilla warfare, or the result of castle intrigue. Only Hashem knows the myriad miracles He performs that seem to be no more than natural coincidences.

We think that we are in control of so much. We flip a switch and the room lights up; we turn a faucet and water flows. We forget that the underlying wiring or the underground plumbing is what enables the light and the water. Just so, writes Rabbi Weissblum in He'orat Derech, does Hashem control the workings of the world in ways we do not see. When we recite "Modim" in Shemoneh Esrai, we thank Hashem for all these daily miracles that Hashem performs for us, albeit we do not notice them as miracles. Indeed, all the morning prayers acknowledge Hashem as He Who sets my footsteps and provides for all my needs. From the moment we awake in the morning and recite Modeh Ani, we must internalize the fact of Hashem's control, not merely intellectualize it.

The medrash uses the term "between the walls" for the site of Yocheved's birth. That terminology is significant, for it implies both leaving and entering. The intellectual/physical and the emotional/spiritual can be different zones within a person's psyche, and it is difficult to integrate the walls. The symbolic walls of Egypt, its powerful energy field was such that once one entered, it was impossible to leave, and no slave ever escaped. That is why it was important for the enslaved generation to die before entering the promised land, for they retained a slave mentality and would not have been able to defeat the kings of Canaan, writes the Chikrei Lev citing the Ibn Ezra.

But Yocheved was born between the walls. Born outside the walls of Egypt, she retained a sense of freedom that gave her the strength to stand up to Pharaoh and to raise Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, the leaders who would be Hashem's emissaries in the exodus of Bnei Yisroel from Egyptian enslavement.

Outside one wall lay the belief in Hashgachah, in God's providence and control. Within the other wall lay the philosophy of, "Who is Hashem that I should hearken to His voice?" Most of us are born between both these walls. Yocheved herself was born between these walls. Yet she achieved a level of clarity that Hashem controls everything, that even a woman aged 130 could give birth. We must struggle to achieve that same clarity in spite of the culture that surrounds us.

While we try to reconcile the count of souls as seventy, Rabbi Uziel Milevsky zt”l notes the significance of the number seventy itself, a number that is significant in many places in Tanach. The number seventy represents the collective totality of humanity, in seventy nations, and in seventy languages. It is the mission of Bnei Yisroel's seventy souls to rectify the world and purge it of evil. Because it is so hard to get to this level of rectification, the Zera Shimshon suggests that Hashem Himself completed the quorum of Bnei Yisroel to equal the seventy nations.

Then why did we need Yocheved, a mortal, to complete the count of seventy? In Ben Melech, Rabbi Mintzberg zt”l, explains that since Bnei Yisroel was destined to be the nation to counter the evil of the seventy nations, they themselves needed to constitute a nation. Hashem was the One /who had to form us into a nation to create the special bond between us so that we would serve Him. He had to form us into His nation before we entered the clutches and servitude of Mitzrayim, independent of Mitzrayim. Any number of people below seventy remains a family, a clan. The minimum number of people to form a nation requires seventy souls. Therefore, Yocheved had to be born to complete the nation before they entered Mitzrayim. She would be the source of the redemption, the "cure," and had to precede the onset of the disease of enslavement.

This belief that Hashem always prepares the "cure" prior to inflicting the disease or hardship is one of our fundamental beliefs, writes Rabbi Rosenbaum. Therefore when the waters were bitter for Bnei Yisroel in the desert, Moshe Rabbenu found the "sweetening tree" nearby. Even earlier, Hashem plants Yosef Hatzadik in Mitzrayim to pave an honorable path for our descent to Mitzrayim. He plants the seeds of our redemption in advance.

Mitzrayim is the model of all our diasporas. It's about all the Jewish people crossing over into exile, and of Yocheved being born at this very moment. The seventieth—the redemption -- must already be encoded in our DNA from the moment we are born as a nation.

Besides Hakodosh Boruch Hu Himself and Yocheved, the medrash offers three additional possibilities for the seventieth soul. First that we, our generation collectively, constitute the seventieth soul. The other two are Chushim ben Dan and Serach bas Asher. Even though each of these people had already been counted, how does the medrash imply that each could have symbolically been the seventieth soul to complete the count of nationhood? Rabbi Wolfson explains these connections.

Chushim, the only son of Dan, is the progenitor of the entire Dan Tribe. The tribe was found in two separate places in the camps and travels in the desert. Some were in the appropriate place under their flag in the travels while others lagged behind, some even outside the camp itself. Those in the back of the marching Bnei Yisroel were tasked with collecting everything that was lost on the way and returning it. This must also have included any stray children or other souls. [The founders of Dan Bus Co. understood the allusion. CKS]

Chushim himself was the destroyer of our arch enemy, Esau, who had blocked the burial of Yaakov in Meorat Hamachpelah. When Chushim saw the delay, he slew Esau, and Esau's head rolled into the Cave, being buried with our forefathers. In the Messianic era, when the evil represented by Esau will be defeated, our generation will again gather our lost souls and return them to our people. Therefore Chushim son of Dan is counted doubly both in space and in time.

It is from this general perspective that Serach bas Asher is also counted a second time. She was the bearer of good news, the one chosen to reveal to Yaakov Avinu that Yosef was still alive. Because of this, Serach never died and entered Gan Eden alive. This immortality as the constant bearer of good news and, ultimately of our final redemption, is the essence of Eliyahu Hanavi as well. Serach's neshamah remains attached to the neshamah of Eliyahu Hanavi. For this reason, she is counted twice, once for herself and once for Eliyahu Hanavi.

Let us now return to Yocheved. Her father, Levi, understood the significance of names. He named her יוכבד, seeing that she would bring the כבד, honor and glory of Hashem, the first two letters of God's name, down to earth, both through her own deeds and through her offspring, Moshe, Aharon and Miriam.

Yocheved can be compared to the light of Chanukah kindled in the doorway between the personal home and the public outdoor space, explains Rabbi Wolfson. As we enter the exile, she will bring with her the light of Eretz Yisroel and the hope of redemption.

Parshat Vayigash is always read around the fast day of asarah/tenth of Tevet.. That day commemorates three consecutive tragic days: The translation of the Torah to Greek, the death of Ezra the Scribe, and Nebuchadnezzar's laying siege to Yerushalayim. Ezra is identified as Malachi, the last of the prophets. Yet within this dark time, he prophesied that Hashem will send Eliyahu Hanavi to foretell the coming of Moshiach. That prophecy remains with us and gives us hope throughout our dark Diaspora.

Of all the fast days, the tenth of Tevet is the only one we do not postpone if the date falls on a erev Shabbat, as it does this year. As Rabbi Schorr says in Halekach Vehalebuv, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege on Shabbat. We would fast even on Shabbat if the calendar so determined. Since we ourselves had broken the wall of that protection that Shabbat provides, Nebuchadnezzar relied on Shabbat not protecting us. As our Sages teach, "More than Bnei Yisroel have kept the Shabbat, Shabbat has kept [protected, sustained] Bnei Yisroel.

Did Bnei Yisroel actually desecrate Shabbat? While indeed they observed every law of Shabbat, they did not maintain the Sanctity of Shabbat. Our speech and our activities must reflect this sanctity.

Torah itself is not meant to remain a cold study to finish, writes Rabbi Twersky in Yiram Hayam. While realizing we can never master all the knowledge the Torah has to offer, it must nevertheless energize and change us, to draw us closer to Hashem, and simultaneously inspire us to continue to grow.  When one has truly internalized this message one is infused with menuchah, with tranquility. This is what Yaakov Avinu meant when he blessed Issachar as a strong boned donkey who rests between the boundaries. Although Issachar toils constantly in Torah like an indentured servant, yet it is precisely in the study of Torah that he finds tranquility.

This is what Yocheved represents. She is between the boundaries of the past, growing beyond where we were before we learned, and yet with the understanding of the ‘wall’ ahead of what we still not to traverse. 

The Netivot Shalom points out the pattern of Bnei Yisroel in the desert—vayisu vayachanu/they journeyed and they camped. No matter how far one wants to go, how much one wants to accomplish, it is important to stop, to take time to process and internalize the messages so that one can grow.

Yocheved symbolizes the stages of growth through internalization. She is the model of Torah, avodah, and gemilut chassadim. She teaches us how to navigate the space between the walls and bring Moshiach.