The “Sefat Emet” (also pronounced as “Sefas Emes”) is the name given to Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter (1847 – 1905, Poland). He was a Hasidic Rabbi, and headed the Gerrer Chasidim. He was a “Rebbe” which is an East European pronunciation of “Rabbi” but has come to stand for the Leader of a group of Chasidim.
He has been described as, “one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generation” which is probably something of an understatement.
Below are excerpts from the Commentary of the “Sefat Emet” roughly translated and in some cases paraphrased and edited for the sake of the modern reader according to our limited understanding.
Commentary to Genesis (“YeYechi”) Chapters 47:28 to 50.
Joseph the Inner Essence
Joseph represents the inner essence which is why when he revealed himself to his brothers he commanded that everyone else should leave the room so there would not be any external influences present.
Brit-Am Commentary: Joseph was the revealer of secrets, “AND PHARAOH CALLED JOSEPH’S NAME ZAPHNATHPAANEAH” [Genesis 41:45]. This shows that Joseph was able to penetrate to the essence of a thing.
Joseph the Nazirite
It says that Joseph was a Nazirite (“Nazir” in Hebrew) to his brothers, meaning that he was separated to the service of the Almighty beyond the constraints of nature.
This enabled him to complete and elevate everything to it source.
Brit-Am Commentary: Concerning the blessings to Joseph it says, THEY SHALL BE ON THE HEAD OF JOSEPH, AND ON THE CROWN OF THE HEAD OF HIM THAT WAS SEPARATE FROM HIS BRETHREN [Genesis 49:26].
The expression “HIM THAT WAS SEPARATE” in Hebrew is “Nazir” the same word as that used for a “Nazirite” (Numbers 6:12) who separated himself from wine and other things. Joseph was set apart and separated himself.
Joseph and Redemption
An Aspect of Joseph is the annulment of a matter to its source through which the Principle of Redemption is aroused.
Brit-Am Commentary: This is similar to the point above. Joseph is enabled to penetrate to the essence.
Joseph and Matters of this World.
An Aspect of Joseph is to cleave to the Almighty even while occupied with matters of this world.
Joseph, the Covenant, and Shabbat
Joseph the Righteous One, Keeper of the Covenant, is the Inner Essence. This is realized in the Shabbat which is the foundation of the vitality found in everything.
Brit-Am Commentary: Joseph is traditionally referred to as “the Righteous One Keeper of the Covenant” because he did not succumb to sexual temptation. In Biblical terms the Covenant is represented by Circumcision of the sexual organ and thus one aspect of Keeping the Covenant is not giving into sexual temptations.
Joseph and Being a Hebrew
It says that Jacob did not believe them. The cleaving of Jacob to the Tribes is only possible through Joseph the Righteous One.
Brit-Am Commentary: When the brothers told their father Jacob that Joseph was still alive and had become the virtual ruler of Egypt, he did not believe them, “AND JACOB’S HEART FAINTED, FOR HE BELIEVED THEM NOT” [Genesis 45:26]. In other words Joseph enables the other tribes to bring to fruition their Israelite potential represented by “Jacob”.
Joseph and the Need for Truth
Joseph is the inner essence of everything. Through self-annulment to the truth Joseph is revealed.
Brit-Am Commentary: We wish to see Joseph reveal himself i.e. we want the identity of Joseph to become known to others and openly acknowledged. Through striving towards the truth we may draw closer to realizing this goal.
“Joseph” means “Increase”
Through a person gathering together all of his forces and dedicating them to the Almighty he induces a blessing and an increase which is named Joseph.
Brit-Am Commentary: The name “Joseph” in Hebrew connotes “increase” and addition.
Joseph and Hiding Ones Self
An Aspect of Joseph is the ability to hide oneself so that the inner essence is not shown in the face.
Judah and Joseph: Truth and Faith
Judah and Joseph represent truth and faith. By way of these qualities may a person prefect himself even in times of darkness with faith that the Almighty has providence of everything.
Joseph the Leader despite the Others!
In Heaven Joseph was chosen but the generality of Israel wanted all of the Tribes. We may assume that it is all true and ultimately the same since by merit of the holiness of Joseph the Righteous the other Tribes each merit coming to their own position.
Brit-Am Commentary: Joseph was chosen by heaven to become the supreme ruler. The other Tribal Ancestors would have preferred an assembly representative of each of them. This was not to be. Nevertheless the bottom line is that in our inner beings we all want what is good for everyone else. Whoever becomes the leader if they do their task properly may well achieve the good of all which is, or should be, the main concern.
All Israel must Partake of the Qualities of Joseph
The future Redemption requires that the power of Joseph be present in the generality of Israel.
Joseph helps all Israel become Israelite!
A general principle is that the source of Redemption is an aspect of Joseph which is the Unification of the individuals in the generality. In truth through Joseph are the Seventy Israelites linked to the Patriarchs.
Brit-Am Commentary: There were seventy souls who went down to Egypt (Genesis 46:26). These seventy represent seventy heads of clans (Genesis 46:9-25) that became prominent in the Israelite nation. It was through Joseph that the seventy went down to Egypt where they were destined to begin to fulfill their destiny as Israelites. The Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) represent the soul of the Hebrew People. By realizing the Israelite aspects of one’s being a drawing closer to the Patriarchs is effected. Joseph has the ability to induce Israelite Awareness among the other Tribes.
Joseph Sets the Precedent!
It was not within the power of the children of Israel to be delivered from the impurity of Egypt if not for Joseph having previously withstood temptation.
Joseph became the ruler of Egypt and ruler over the forces of impurity. The level of Jacob the Patriarch was beyond nature. This could not exist except through Joseph.
Brit-Am Commentary: Jacob represents all of Israel and the Hebrew Soul or Essence. This aspect of “Jacob” is beyond this world and in many ways the Israelites could not ordinarily have been able to maintain their Israelite consciousness in the face of forces pressing them to assimilate to Egyptian Culture. Joseph however had prepared the way and set a Precedent and exhibited his own ability to overcome. This enabled the rest of Israel to follow in his footsteps when faced with similar temptations.
Acknowledgement of the Truth
The major Aspect of Judah is acknowledgement of the truth. Through acknowledgement the world has a chance and the means to correct itself.
Brit-Am Commentary: If we first admit the truth at least as far as we can understand it we will be on the way towards correcting whatever needs correction.
Joseph, Shabat, and Judah
Joseph represents Shabbat. Judah is the days of work. The culmination of the days of work is the Shabbat. The completion of the work of Judah entails joining Joseph the Righteous One who is Shabbat. At that time it will be seen and understood that both were true as it says, THE ENVY ALSO OF EPHRAIM SHALL DEPART, AND THE ADVERSARIES OF JUDAH SHALL BE CUT OFF: EPHRAIM SHALL NOT ENVY JUDAH, AND JUDAH SHALL NOT VEX EPHRAIM [Isaiah 11:13].
Brit-Am Commentary: Judah and Joseph have separate tasks and personalities. One prepares the other and they complement each other. In the future it will be seen that both aspects of Israelite Existence were necessary.
Joseph, the Written Torah, and the Oral Law
Year 5 641
Joseph has a portion in the Patriarchs who represent the Written Torah. On the other hand Judah is the Aspect of the Oral Law. When a proper clarification is made they both become one. As it says “THEN JUDAH CAME NEAR UNTO HIM” [Genesis 44:18]… All of the Oral Law is encompassed in the Written Torah; Only we need human strength and exertion to clarify matters.
Joseph and the Patriarchs
Year 5 643
Joseph encompasses the Patriarchs and Judah the offspring.
Joseph Needs Judah!
Year 5 643
Judah said to Joseph. “OH MY LORD, LET THY SERVANT, I PRAY THEE” [Genesis 44:18]. The expression I PRAY THEE in Hebrew is “Bi Adoni” which literally means “Please, My Lord”. In Hebrew the word “Bi” translated as “please” can also mean “in me”. The “Sfat Emet” links the expression “in me” to “My Lord”. He says that Judah was hinting to Joseph that his power of overlordship was “in me” i.e. in Judah. In other words Joseph was able to rule by virtue of the exertions of Joseph.
Brit-Am Commentary: We do not always understand these matters but in general we may say that both Judah and Joseph have their own tasks and that at some level they need each other to fulfill these tasks.
Joseph Connects the Written Torah to the Oral Torah
Each Tribe has it own Aspect. The Patriarchs are the Written Torah. There are Thirteen Principles by which the Oral Law is deduced from the Written Law. These Thirteen Principles represent the Torah of Jacob that radiates out to the Twelve Tribes and to Joseph who connects the Written Torah to the Oral Torah.
Joseph Compared to Benjamin
Benjamin is the Aspect of condensation and reflecting light.
That is why amongst the stones on the breastplate of the High Priest, Benjamin is represented by the Jasper (in Hebrew “Yeshpeh”, Exodus 28:8) which in Hebrew may be understood to mean “I have a mouth” (Yesh-Peh). In other words Benjamin has the quality of discretion. Similarly the Temple which was built in the territory of Benjamin had a wall and boundary. On the other hand, in Shilo where the Tabernacle was first set up and which was in the area of Joseph, the eating of sacred offerings was allowed from wherever the Tabernacle was visible. This indicates lack of constriction which is an Aspect of Joseph whose inheritance was without limitation.
Sefas Emes on Exodus 28:12. The Shoham (translated as “onyx”) TWO SHOULDERPIECES stone on which the names of the twelve tribes were engraved was also the special stone of Joseph in the breastplate in which each tribe had its own stone. “Sefas Emes” says on the significance of the Shoham stone being that of Joseph:
“The main point of the Memorial [Exodus 28:12 above] concerns Joseph and that is why on the Ephod [shoulder-piece of the High Priest] there was only the Shoham which is the stone of Joseph. By means of the stone of Joseph all the twelve stones are unified at their roots”.
This means that Joseph has the power through which all twelve tribes may be unified and each find their unique expression in this unity.