Parashas Vayeshev 5781 – Giving Raises Us

The second Verse of the Parasha states: “These are the descendants of Yaakov Yosef.” Behold, Yaakov had twelve children and a daughter Dina, so why is the Verse only mentioning Yosef? The Verse continues: “At seventeen years of age, Yosef was shepherding his brothers with the flock,” This does not make much sense. Does the Posuk trying to inform us that he tended the flock with his brothers? It is clearly not the intention of the Verse, as it affirms that Yosef was shepherding his brothers. What does it mean to shepherd a human being? Rav Hutner explains that Joseph is somewhere in between a Patriarch and a tribesman. In a certain sense, he is close to being a Patriarch, but in other aspects he is like one of the Tribes. The status of ‘Patriarch’ is ascribed to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, because each played a defining role in creating the concept of Klal Yisrael and ensuring that it would last permanently: Abraham was the first ‘convert’ and he thereby created the very existence of a ‘Jew’ as someone who follows the Hashem’s will. Yitzchak was the first to be holy from birth, thus providing the Jewish nation with a level of purity and holiness that it would need to last. However, Avraham and Yitzchak’s contributions do not necessarily ensure that the Jewish nation will endure because they both had children who are not considered to be part of the Jewish nation. Thus, it would still be possible for their descendants to be unworthy of being part of Klal Yisrael. Yaakov was the first of whom all his children remained faithful to Hashem. In doing this, he created the concept that someone born of a Jewish woman will always be a Jew, regardless of his actions. However, Yaakov’s role of ensuring Jewish continuity is still incomplete, due to the halacha that the child of a non-Jewish woman is a non-Jew, even if the father is Jewish. As of this halacha, the permanence of Klal Yisrael is still not ensured. It is in this area that Joseph plays the defining role. He, unlike his brothers, was alone in an alien atmosphere and subjected to great temptations, particularly the test involving Potiphar’s wife. Through his ability to withstand such challenges, and to maintain his identity as a ‘Jew’, he infused into all future generations the ability to withstand the future challenges of the exiles in which Jews will be under great pressure to assimilate with other nations. In this way, Yosef’s contribution acts as a completion of Yaakov’s role in ensuring Jewish continuity. Yaakov created the concept that a person born from a Jewish woman is always a Jew, but Joseph ensured that he have the fortitude to refrain from intermarriage. After 12 years of being imprisoned in a hellhole he is finally given the opportunity to attain freedom, if only he could interpret Pharaoh’s dream. He knew that Pharaoh did not believe in Hashem, indeed he believed that he himself was a god, and his arrogance was unmatched: What would a person say in such circumstances? Joseph would have been justified in thinking that now was not the right time to inform him that only Hashem could interpret his dreams. He would surely be justified in selling himself and his talents as much as possible to ensure to not return to prison. Yet Joseph did not hesitate to attribute all of his talents to Hashem. This is a remarkable lesson in how to act in an alien environment, a test that all the generations in exile had to face. One could try to hide his Judaism from the non-Jews, to gain their favor. Sadly, history has proven that this approach generally resulted in assimilation. By removing the barriers between Jews and non-Jews, one opens the way for the loss of his Jewish identity. However, Yosef’s confidence in asserting his beliefs proved to be one of the reasons why he and many in the future generations, were also able to withstand assimilation throughout the long exile. Even after becoming Viceroy, Yosef would endure not to feel too comfortable in his host land. He had two sons; he names the second son, Ephraim was named so as reminder, “Because Hashem made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” [Bereishis 41:52]. Rav Moshe Shternbuch explains that Joseph was calling Egypt “the land of my suffering” even while being Viceroy. Thus, whilst he acknowledged that he had become fruitful in Egypt, nonetheless, it remained as the ‘land of his suffering’. In this way, Yosef avoided the trap of feeling comfortable and at home in Egypt, despite his great success. This provides another reason why Yosef was able to remain steadfast in his adherence to Torah values whilst being surrounded by alien influences. In his youth, the famed Maggid of Zlotchov, Rabbi Yechiel Michel, lived in a certain town, where he would sit all day in the local Beit Midrash (study hall and synagogue) and pursue his studies. In that town there lived a simple Jew who earned his livelihood by transporting travelers and merchandise in his wagon. One day, the wagon driver came to the local rabbi in a state of great distress. “Help me, Rebbe!” he wept. “I have committed a terrible sin. I have desecrated the holy Shabbos. How can I atone for my transgression?” “How did this come to pass?” asked the Rabbi. “Last Friday,” the man explained, “I was returning from the marketplace with a wagonload of merchandise when I lost my way in the forest. By the time I found my way to the outskirts of the city, the sun had already set. So preoccupied was I with my worry over the merchandise, that I failed to realize that the Shabbos had arrived until it was too late…” Seeing how broken-hearted the man was, the rabbi comforted him and said: “My son, the gates of repentance are never closed. Donate a pound of candles to the synagogue and your transgression will be forgiven.” The young prodigy, Rabbi Michel, overheard this exchange, and was displeased by the rabbi’s approach. “A pound of candles to atone for violating the Shabbos?” he thought to himself. “The Shabbos is one of the most important mitzvot of the Torah. Why is the rabbi treating the matter so lightly?” That Friday afternoon, the wagon driver brought the candles to the synagogue. As Rabbi Michel watched disapprovingly from his table against the back wall, he placed them on the lectern for the synagogue beadle to light in honor of the Shabbos. But this was not to be. Before the beadle arrived, a stray dog carried off the candles and ate them. The distraught penitent ran to report the incident to the rabbi. “Woe is me!” he wept. “My repentance has been rejected in Heaven! What shall I do?!” “You’re making too much of the matter,” the rabbi reassured him. “These things happen — there’s no reason to deduce that G-d is rejecting your repentance. Bring another pound of candles to the synagogue next week, and everything will be alright.”. But when the beadle lit the candles on the following Friday afternoon, they inexplicably melted down, so that by the time Shabbos commenced, nothing was left of them. And upon his third attempt on the week after that, a strong wind suddenly blew out the candles just when Shabbos began, and it was not possible to relight them. The rabbi, too, realized, that something was amiss, and advised the wagon driver to seek the counsel of the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. “Hmm…” said the Baal Shem Tov, upon hearing the man’s story. “It seems that a certain young scholar in your town finds fault with the path to repentance that the rabbi has prescribed for you. Never mind. Next week, donate another pound of candles to the synagogue. This time, I promise you that everything will be alright. And tell Rabbi Michel that I would be honored if he could trouble himself to come visit me.” Rabbi Michel wasted no time in abiding by the Baal Shem Tov’s request. But no sooner had he and his coachman set out that all sorts of troubles beset their journey. First, the wagon tumbled into a ditch. Then, an axle broke many miles from the nearest town. After which they lost their way altogether. When they finally found the road to Mezhibuzh it was late Friday afternoon, and the sun was about to set. They were forced to abandon the wagon and continue on foot. Rabbi Michel arrived at the Baal Shem Tov’s door an hour into Shabbos, weary and traumatized by his near violation of the holy day. “Good Shabbos, Reb Michel,” Rabbi Israel greeted him, “come in and warm yourself by the fire. You, Reb Michel, have never tasted sin, so you did not comprehend the remorse a Jew feels at having transgressed the will of his Father in Heaven. I trust that you now understand something of the agony that our friend experienced. Believe me, his remorse alone more than atoned for his unwitting transgression…”

By Rabbi Fridmann * [email protected] * 305.985.3461

Have A Question? Ask The Rabbi and he will Answer

990 NE 171 Street  –  North Miami Beach, Florida 33162  –  (786) 405-9692  –

Print Friendly, PDF & Email