Dual Identity by Gilad Barach


When he came before Paroh, Yosef informed him that any success he may have in comprehending Paroh’s dream would be due only to Hashem’s assistance (BeReishit 41:16, Rashi). After Yosef finished interpreting the dream and recommended a plan to protect Mitzrayim throughout the years of famine, Paroh turned to his servants and exclaimed (41:38), “HaNimtza ChaZeh Ish Asher Ruach Elokim Bo,” “Can a man like this be found – a man that the spirit of God is in him!” How else could a lowly Ivri in an Egyptian prison (see Rashi to 41:12) do what all of Paroh’s sorcerers and wise men could not? Surely, it must have been Ruach Elokim – the spirit of God – that allowed Yosef to correctly understand the dream.

Two years earlier, when Eishet Potiphar tried repeatedly to seduce Yosef, he refused and responded (39:9), “VeEich E’eseh HaRaah HaGedolah HaZot VeChatati Lailokim,” “How can I do this great evil and sin to God?” Yosef’s resistance to violate Hashem’s Will, despite the great temptation presented to him, became a great merit for his offspring; millennia later, Rabi Yochanan said he was unconcerned for similar temptations because he was among Yosef’s descendants, over whom the Ayin HaRa does not exert any control (Berachot 20a). So great was Yosef’s belief in Hashem that the Midrash considers him the epitome of the Pasuk in Tehilim (40:5), “Ashrei HaGever Asher Sam Hashem Mivtacho,” “Fortunate is the man who has made Hashem his trust” (Bereishit Rabbah 89:3). Through these and other examples, it is evident that Yosef was on a remarkable religious level.

Yosef’s Ruach Elokim was reflected not only in his heightened spirituality, but also in his worldly knowledge. After Yosef told Paroh how Mitzrayim could be shielded from starvation, Paroh proposed that Yosef be put in control of the program, because, “Ein Navon VeChacham Kamocha,” “There is no one intelligent and wise like you” (41:39). Radak says Paroh wanted Yosef to take charge of the food conservation program because he had proven to be more knowledgeable than all of the sorcerers and wise men of Mitzrayim. Rashbam says the Ruach Elokim that Paroh saw in Yosef was “in understanding dreams, and certainly in knowing the way of the world.” While his interpretation of Paroh’s dream was done through Nevuah (as stated in 41:16), Yosef’s proposed method to tackle the seven years of famine was of his own inspiration. Perhaps that is the knowledge of the way of the world to which Radak and Rashbam are referring.

Yosef thus had both a keen passion for Yirat and Avodat Hashem and a wealth of worldly knowledge. In fact, if we look more deeply into his response to Eishet Potiphar, we can find a hint of practical rationale on top of his Yirat Hashem. Yosef’s full response reads (39:8-9), “My master (Potiphar) does not know with me what is in the house, and all that he has he put in my hand. There is no one as great in this house as me and he has not withheld anything from me except you, since you are his wife, and how can I do this great evil and sin to God?” What does the trust that Potiphar has put in Yosef have to do with his refusal to sin to Hashem? Yosef gave both a rational reason – for Eishet Potiphar – and a religious reason – for himself – as to why it would be improper to allow himself to be seduced by her.

If we also take a closer look at the juxtaposition of two Pesukim mentioned earlier – “Ish Asher Ruach Elokim Bo” and “Ein Navon VeChacham Kamocha” – then we can further learn how Yosef’s combination of religious and secular knowledge was obvious even to Paroh. Paroh first expressed in awe how unique Yosef was in that he had Ruach Elokim. We now know this means both Hashem’s spirit (Pshat) and worldly knowledge (Rashbam). Then, because “Ein Navon VeChacham Kamocha,” Paroh selected Yosef to spearhead his project.

What then, exactly, is the nature of the Ruach Elokim – to what extent is it a combination of religious and secular awareness?  The phrase Ruach Elokim appears five times in the Torah: once at the beginning of Maaseh Bereishit (1:2), once regarding Yosef, twice regarding Betzalel (Shemot 31:3 and 35:31), and once regarding Bilam (BeMidbar 24:2). In both locations related to Betzalel, Hashem filled Betzalel with Ruach Elokim; Rav Saadya Gaon says this means “knowledge, from Hashem.” Ruach Elokim rested on Bilam as he began his third blessing of Bnai Yisrael; Rashbam asserts that this refers to the Shechinah’s presence. We therefore know that Ruach Elokim has both a material and a spiritual embodiment. As we have seen, Yosef’s Ruach Elokim seems to be the combination of both of its potential aspects.

Not only is Yosef the only character in the Torah to have a dual-sided Ruach Elokim, but he is the only one to have it naturally inside him, “Bo.” Whereas Hashem filled Betzalel with Ruach Elokim and Ruach Elokim rested temporarily on Bilam, Yosef’s Ruach Elokim was naturally within. On a similar note, Or HaChayim explains that the reason the Pasuk says, “Can a man like this be found – a man that the spirit of God is in him,” and not “Can a man be found that the spirit of God is in him like this,” is to show that Paroh was doubtful that anyone else could have Ruach Elokim within him, much less to the extent that Yosef did.

So what message can we take from Yosef’s dual personality? Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, leader of the German Orthodox community in the mid-19th century, was a firm believer in “Torah Im Derech Eretz,” Torah with the way of the world. “With,” not “and.” Not only is it important for Jews in the modern world to be both spiritually devout and secularly involved, but these two qualities must go hand in hand. Rav Hirsch reasoned that if this is done properly, the worldly knowledge will enhance religious faith, and the Torah knowledge will in turn enhance worldly knowledge. It is this very ideal that Yosef embodied. Only after he paused due to the realization that he could not wrong Potiphar (a secular moral conclusion), he recognized that being seduced by her would be a sin against Hashem, as well. That’s why he first began his refusal on moral grounds and then added his religious reason. Conversely, because Yosef had the spiritual capacity to decipher Paroh’s dream and predict Mitzrayim’s famine, he had the opportunity to apply his intellectual capabilities to avert a crisis.

Rambam’s first sentence of Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah 1:1) reads “Yesod HaYesodot VeAmud HaChachamot Laida SheYeish Sham Matzui Rishon,” “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all knowledge is to know that there is a primordial Being.” “Know,” not “think.” Rambam believes that only through the combination of Torah and secular knowledge and philosophy can a person fulfill fully the obligation to know that there exists a God. Our Modern Orthodox community embraces the ideologies set forth by Rambam and Rav Hirsch and personified by Yosef. Like Yosef, we must never lose sight of the intertwined nature of the two opposites we unite; Torah study should never lead us to become a burden on society or an isolated community, and secular knowledge should never lead us to abandon Torah or misplace our emphasis. Like Yosef, we must maintain, with great challenge and great charge, a dual identity.

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