Recommended Posts

Midot Hayom 5770 Day 39: Netzach in Yesod

At the time that Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Without you no man may lift up his hand” (Genesis 41:44). Pharaohs astrologers said, “Will you set over us a slave whom his master bought for twenty pieces of silver?” He replied, “I perceive in him royal characteristics

[i.e. he is of noble stock and was wrongly sold as a slave” (Maharsha)]. “If so,” they said, “he must still know seventy Tongues [to hold a royal position].” Gabriel came and taught Joseph seventy Tongues, but he could not learn them [all in one night]. So Gabriel added one letter from the name of the Holy One, Blessed is He, to [Joseph’s] name. With this additional spiritual power he learned them, and the next day he was able to reply in whatever language Pharaoh addressed him. [But when] Joseph began to speak in the Holy Tongue, Pharaoh could not understand what he said. “Teach me” he asked. [Joseph] taught him, but [Pharaoh] was not able to learn. Said [Pharaoh] “swear to me that you will not reveal [my ignorance,“ since the king was supposed to know all languages]. [Joseph] swore. Many years later, when Joseph came and told [Pharaoh], “My father adjured me . . .” (Genesis 50:5), Pharaoh [would have] said, “Ask [a sage to nullify] your oath,” [but he knew that Joseph could reply, “I will ask [a sage to nullify] the oath I gave you as well.” [So Pharaoh] said, “Go up and bury your father as he adjured you.” (ibid. v. 6) (Sotah 36b)

Why did Pharaoh not immediately test Joseph on the seventy languages? Why did he allow Joseph one night? Did he expect that Joseph could learn them all in one night? Was he testing Joseph on more than seventy languages?

Is it not strange that Pharaoh, who spoke seventy languages was unable to learn “the Holy Tongue”?  Did he expect Joseph to teach him the Holy Tongue on one sitting? Did it begin as a typical language lesson with basic words? Is the Midrash saying that Pharaoh couldn’t learn an introductory lesson? I also find it interesting that he wasn’t ashamed to ask Joseph to teach him. He was only concerned that people not know of his ignorance and shatter his image of being fluent in all languages.

Did God send Gabriel to Joseph to teach him the seventy languages because Gabriel, as the Archangel he is, would be able to teach so much in one night? Was Joseph’s inability to absorb all the languages in one night a reflection of limitations? Why would the fact that he was being taught by an angel allow him to learn so much in one night? Why did Joseph “provoke” Pharaoh by speaking in the Holy Tongue, a language, he knew that Pharaoh could not speak? Why was he not concerned that Pharaoh would have him executed to protect the king’s secret?

We should also note that Joseph never threatened Pharaoh. The king was concerned, despite Joseph’s proven fealty, that his viceroy would threaten blackmail.

The key phrase in this Midrash is, “So Gabriel added one letter from the name of the Holy One, Blessed is He, to [Joseph’s] name. With this additional spiritual power he learned them (all, in one night).” Gabriel was not sent because he knew all seventy languages, nor because he, as an angel, was equipped to successfully teach so much in one night.

God sent Gabriel to “attempt” to teach so much to Joseph in one night, in order for Joseph to use only his Yesod, his absolute loyalty to his Source, in order to earn the right to the position of viceroy. No human being can learn to speak seventy languages in one night. In fact, no human being can become fluent in a single language overnight. God did not “gift” the knowledge to Joseph but wanted Joseph to be an active participant; to actually learn the languages. God sent Gabriel so that Joseph would know that he had to learn all those languages. A human being cannot, but a man of Yesod, who is not focused on his abilities and limitations, can! God sent Gabriel as a teacher so that Joseph would understand that he would have to work and yet rise above any limitations. Only the man of Yesod, who is constantly aware that everything he is and can do comes from God.

Gabriel was also sent to, “add one letter from the name of the Holy One, Blessed is He, to [Joseph’s] name.” Joseph’s ability to absorb so much could only come through an awareness that it was rooted in the Foundation; in God.

Pharaoh allowed Joseph one night to learn all the languages to determine whether Joseph was truly a “Man of the Lord,” who would successfully guide Egypt through the years of famine. It was not a test of languages as much as a test of limitations.

Joseph immediately understood God’s message through Gabriel. He knew that whatever would happen would be coming from God. He did not just absorb the immediate lesson, but applied it to everything as an Eternal value, Netzach in Yesod, which is the point of the next part of the Midrash:

Royalty demanded a universal man. Pharaoh, and any person rising to a royal position had to speak all seventy languages. Universal is not Netzach, it is not eternal, and therefore not truly universal. Pharaoh could speak seventy languages but not the Holy Tongue that is the only eternal language; the language used for Creation. He may have been universal, but he was not eternal. He may have been able to speak the words, but not the language. Joseph had demonstrated his limitless abilities and now, Pharaoh had to do the same and learn the Holy Tongue in one sitting just as Joseph had learned seventy languages in one night.

This scene is a duel between the human perception of the universal and the man of Yesod’s approach of Netzach, the Eternal. Pharaoh did not fear asking Joseph to teach him the Holy Tongue. He feared only that people would know that he was not truly universal.

Pharaoh experienced the idea of Netzach and understood that if this happened it was for a practical reason. The moment he considered asking Joseph to nullify his vow, Pharaoh recalled the scene and realized that the Netzach that guides the world had prepared for this moment. He allowed Joseph to bury Jacob in Canaan.

The moment we face a challenge and accept that it is beyond us, we are rejecting Yesod. We are being disloyal to the Foundation that empowers the things we believe we are able to do. A person of Yesod is, by definition, unlimited, for his abilities are not his, but God’s choice to give as a gift.

Even when we learn to live with the awareness of Yesod, we must also remember that whatever we do with Yesod has an eternal quality.

If I am asked to assume responsibility for a huge project that is beyond my abilities, and will accept that, as a person of Yesod, I can receive the necessary abilities from God, and therefore accept the responsibility, my efforts, AND EVERYTHING I DO, will also assume the quality of Netzach.


  1. When was the last time that I refused a responsibility because I felt limited?
  2. How would I have approached the challenge if I was focused on my Yesod?
  3. How do I present a challenge to my children, students, spouse and friends?
  4. Focus on, “Hashem! Sefatii tiftach,” even my ability to praise You comes from You. See whether that awareness adds Netzach to your prayers.
  5. Say, “I acknowledge that You have chosen me as a channel to deliver this Tzeddaka,” when giving charity.


Go Back to Previous Page

  • Other visitors also read