Paving the Royal Pathway

Translation and commentary by Eliyahu Munk from Shnei Luchot HaBrit


The "crown" of royalty worn by Joseph was first and foremost his mastery over the guardian angel of Egypt; (and hence its guardian angel) was second only to the Land of Israel itself. The guardian angel of Egypt is second only to Israel in the ranks of carriers of G-d's chariots. When the Torah describes Joseph as "riding" in the viceroy's chariot, this is a hyperbole for Joseph having replaced the guardian angel of Egypt in that role. This bode well for Israel, who, though they would become enslaved in Egypt, would achieve their spiritual refinement in that environment.

After that period of refinement, Israel would ascend from Egypt spiritually, having witnessed G-d's miracles and judgments on the Egyptians. They would see the guardian angel of Egypt humbled, as in described in "G-d executed judgments upon their gods." (Num. 33:4)

Joseph is correctly described as "father of Pharaoh", meaning Pharaoh's guardian angel; Joseph also gave spiritual impetus to Israel. Had it not been for Joseph, the Jewish people might still be enslaved. Joseph "opened the door", thanks to his spiritual greatness; thus we observe how G-d sent the cure even before the injury had been sustained, i.e. He sent Joseph into Egypt long before the bondage of the Jewish people in Egypt began. When the children of Israel, after many years of bondage, marched out of Egypt with heads held high, they had been wielded into a single nation whom G-d chose as His people. They eventually matured to the point of having a real flesh and blood king, King David of the tribe of Judah. Had Joseph not reigned as king in Egypt, no royalty would have emanated from the tribe of Judah, and Israel might never have been forged into a single nation.

Just as the kingdom of Joseph had to precede the kingdom of Judah, so the Tabernacle in Shilo, in Joseph's [actually his son Ephraim's] territory, had to precede the Temple in Jerusalem. Even though the Tabernacle in Shilo was destroyed, its very existence paved the way for the permanent Temple. It had been the "pipeline", which led to the permanent Temple. Once the sanctity of the Tabernacle of Shilo had been transferred to the Temple in Jerusalem, it remained there permanently. Joseph in his capacity of the tzadik, who is the pillar of the world, had still been the pipeline that had made possible the appearance of the Divine Presence on earth as manifest in the Holy Temple.

We find a parallel example of the influence of a single individual in the Talmud which quotes G-d as saying that "the livelihood enjoyed by the entire world is due to the merit of one man, namely My son Chanina, who is content with a small measure of carobs for himself from Sunday to Friday" (Taanit 10). The Talmud employs the word "bishvil", normally translated "for the sake of", or "on account of"; here the author understands that word to mean "through the shvil (or 'path' in Hebrew)", analogous to "pipeline".

As soon as Israel left Egypt, the Psalmist tells us: "When Israel went forth from Egypt...Judah became His holy one, Israel His dominion" (Psalms 114:1-2). Later in Num. 10:14, when the people were divided into four camps, Judah again was the first army to break camp and march ahead of the people. Judah was also the first of the twelve princes to bring his offering in honor of the dedication of the Holy Tabernacle (Num. 7:12). This pre-eminence of the tribe of Judah also continued after the people inherited the land of Israel, until the days of Samuel, when the people demanded to be led by a king, and the choice fell on Saul from the tribe of Benjamin.

As already explained, the position of king was only on loan to the tribe of Benjamin, as apparent from the very name "Saul" (in Hebrew, "Shaul"), meaning "something borrowed". Within less than a generation, a scion of the tribe of Judah, David, became the king of Israel. Ever since, Jacob's blessing in Genesis 49:10 that "the scepter of royalty will not depart from members of the tribe of Judah" has been fulfilled.

When the people sinned, the sin resulted in the splitting of the kingdom between the tribe of Judah (Rehoboam) and the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim). Joseph, the pipeline from the sefira of yesod, which is the pillar upon which the world is founded, then demonstrated that his influence was not limited to what goes on in Jerusalem andacted to ensure that the kingdom of the Ten Tribes who had denied allegiance to Rehoboam, son of Solomon, was given to a descendant from his tribe, Jeroboam son of Nebat (Kings I, chapter 12).

This development caused untold grief; it divided the hearts of the Jewish people. Hosea 10:2 already stated, "Once their hearts are divided (in their attitude to G-d) they will become guilty [in a number of areas]". Jeroboam himself began by erecting two golden calves to prevent the people from making the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, leading the people to worship those calves. Even the tribe of Judah copies the example of the Northern Kingdom and practiced all manner of abominations, many of which are described in Ezekiel chapter 16 et al.

This kind of conduct by the Jewish people continued right up to the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent Babylonian exile. Even the return to Zion with Zerubavel and the building of the Second Temple did not lead to a repair of the spiritual damage the Jewish people had caused during the reign of Jeroboam and others. Proof of this is the fact that the five most prominent manifestations of the Divine Presence were never restored to us. [These were: the holy ark, the tablets with the Ten Commandments, the breastplate, and the Urim Vetumim.]

During the entire period of the Second Temple, the dynasty of David did not exist, and the only period that the Jewish people had a king at all was after the successful rebellion of the Hasmoneans against the Syrians, who had introduced anti-religious legislation and who had demanded that the Jewish people adopt Hellenism. This rebellion culminated in the festival of Chanukah.

The Hasmoneans committed a grave error when, in addition to claiming the "crown" of the Priesthood, they also claimed the crown of royalty in defiance of G-d's command. They were severely punished by G-d, and did not only lose the crown after four successive Hasmonean kings died a violent death, but Herod, son of a Gentile slave, became the next king after he had murdered nearly all the Hasmoneans still alive. All this is part of Nachmanides' commentary on Genesis 49:10; "The scepter shall not leave Judah". The Talmud Baba Batra 50 goes so far as to say that anyone claiming to be descended from the Hasmoneans is bound to be a slave, i.e. have Herod's blood in him (Herod had married Miriam, a sister of the Hasmoneans). The failure to re-instate the house of David when there was a chance to do so will not be repaired until the coming of the Mashiach.
" Mashiach ben Joseph...comes to help re-establish the Davidic dynasty..."

At that time, re-instatement of the dynasty of David will be preceded by the Kingdom of Joseph, since the Mashiach ben Joseph will precede the arrival of the Mashiach ben David. After the arrival of the Mashiach ben David the damage caused by the house of Joseph ever since the splitting of the Kingdom of David (Rehoboam) under Jeroboam will be repaired. The Mashiach ben Joseph, when he comes, does not come in order to establish his own dynasty, rather he comes to help re-establish the Davidic dynasty. He will even sacrifice his life in order to accomplish this. His blood will atone for the sins of the Jewish people. This atonement will take the form of the Davidic dynasty being restored to the Jewish people as an everlasting kingdom.

When that stage in history is reached, both of Joseph's dreams will be fulfilled. His two dreams foreshadowed his reign in Egypt as well as his reign in the future, as the Mashiach ben Joseph respectively. In both instances, his reign preceded or will precede that of the reign of David or the Mashiach ben David respectively. Both periods of the reign of the kingdom of Joseph were or will be beneficial for the whole Jewish people because in both instances they were or will be designed to pave the way for the permanent kingdom of David.

When that time comes, the tikun will be completed, and the world will be as good as at the time it was created - when both body and soul were on an equally elevated level.


Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz the Shelah b. 5320 (1560 CE) in Prague; d. 5390 (1630 CE) in Jerusalem, where he served as chief rabbi. Author of Shnei Luchot HaBrit, hence the acronym SHeLaH, a work of commentary and halacha.



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