Points to Ponder

Vayeishev 5777

And Yaakov settled in the land of his forefathers (37:1) – Rashi famously notes that Yaakov sought to live in serenity and that is why the episode of the selling of Yosef happened. Why was it so terrible that Yaakov sought to have a bit of comfort if he merely wanted to study Torah? Rav Shimon Schwab ztl. explains that each of the Avos lived a life of Kriya B’Shem Hashem. Each, saw as his personal responsibility, the chance to give everyone in the world the opportunity to recognize Hashem and His sovereignty in the world. Once Yaakov came back to the land of Yitzchak, he sought to exempt himself of this responsibility and focus on himself and his family. Therefore the Yosef episode happened in order to give him yet another vista to declare Hashem’s oneness in the world.

And he was a Nar with the sons of Bilha and Zilpa (37:2) – How are we to explain and understand the intent of Yosef described here as Naar? Rav Noach Weinberg ztl. compared the word to Yehoshua, who despite being 56 at the time of the giving of the Torah, is also referred to as a Naar. How could that be? Yalkut Shimoni (Pinchas 776) explains that he is called a Naar because people assumed that since he cleaned up after Shiur he was merely the maintenance man with nothing more to contribute. But they were wrong. Like the person in the expensive art gallery who immediately rushes to repair a deluge when a pipe bursts, who is clearly the owner (for everyone else runs away – not toward – the break), the one who cares for something goes out of his way to take care of it. Yehoshua when it came to Torah and Yosef when it came to his brothers was willing to realize that there is no job too small or undignified, for him to undertake.

Reuven told them do not spill his blood throw him into this pit (37:22) – Rashi cites a Midrash that notes that Reuven understood that as firstborn, he would be blamed harder if anything happened to Yosef. Thus, the Torah tells us that Reuven’s intent here was  to save Yosef. Rav Pam ztl. added that just as in a family it is the older and presumably wiser child who is held to a higher responsibility for the raising of the younger ones, it is also the wiser and more educated in a community that must raise the younger less experienced ones. There is a tragedy when those blessed with an appreciation for Torah do not take responsibility for others whose awareness is less apparent.

Through his friend the Adulami (38:20) – Rav Yissochar Frand Shlita noted that the greatest of friends is the one you can confide that your greatest failures and they will stand by you and not diminish you for it. This is the Beracha of Reyim Ahuvim in marriage – to know that no matter what you think, the partner has your back because s/he can see the bigger picture.

And she said recognize these now (38:25) – Tamar knew that if her plan failed she would be faced with a death penalty of burning. Still, she stayed true to the principle that it is better for someone to be cast into a fiery furnace and not embarrass his fellow man (Sotah 10b). Rav Nosson Tzvi Wachtfogel ztl. explained that she demonstrated the quality we call strength (Chizzuk). The Avos had that kind of strength. Nothing could stop them from following their will. They did whatever had to be done and withstood any challenge that came along the way. That is why, Tamar, who also withstood any obstacles, is rewarded with the Davidic line for this is the epitome of leadership.

And she grabbed him by the clothes (39:11) – The commentaries point out that Yosef had a tough time dealing with the temptation of the wife of Potiphar but as the Talmud explains (Sotah 36b), he saw the image of his father in the window. Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau Shlita compares that moment to the moment in the Lion King that Simba looks into the ocean and sees his father’s image in the water. He adds that within each and every one of us there is not only ourselves but the culmination of many generations past that invested into us and the future generations that are depending on us to survive.

You should remember me (40:14) – Rashi notes that that Yosef was punished for 2 extra years of punishment for not demonstrating Bitachon in Hashem to get out. Should we assume that if one takes steps to bring out goals he is wrong? What’s wrong with Hishtadlus? What did Yosef do wrong? Rav Schachter Shlita quoted the Chazon Ish’s Emunah U’Bitachon that Bitachon means that we believe in Hashgacha Pratis and that nothing happens that is against the will of Hashem. It does not mean that everything will go well. One needs to do Hishtadlus. However, here Yosef relied on a Sar HaMashkim based on Hakaras HaTov that the butler would have for him. Yet that middah of Hakaras HaTov was foreign to Egyptians. Thus, this was unreasonable and he was punished for it. Rav Schachter Shlita added that sometimes not engaging in Hishtadlus is a lack of Bitachon.

Haftorah - Thus said the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, for four, I will not Overlook the need for punishment: Because they have sold for silver a ‘Tzaddik’ (a righteous individual), and the poor for a pair of shoes. (Amos 2:6) -  Rabbi Jack Beiler Shlita noted the title Tzaddik and the assumption that it refers to Yosef as per the midrash identified with the Asarah Harugei Malchus. Rabbi Beiler explains that the title Tzaddik as applied to Yosef is likely based on Rav Hirsch’s description in Parshas Noach -- The “Tzaddik” looks at everything objectively, at nothing from the standpoint of his own interest, but everything from the point of view of what is right. It is primarily social justice and hence it is preferably construed with expressions of deeds, e.g., “Peulat Tzaddik” (the act of a Tzaddik); “Aseh Tzedaka” (perform righteousness)… Yosef is granted this title because even as an adolescent, Yosef does not allow his personal desires to cloud his single devotion to Hashem.