Points to Ponder

Vayeishev 5776

Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourns in the land of Canaan (37:1) – Rashi notes that Yaakov sought to dwell in peace. Why was this such a great sin that required the wrath of Yosef’s sale  to be upon him? Rav Noach Weinberg ztl. cited a Tachchuma (Vayigash 9) that explains that Yaakov thought that he needed to go through Sheol – Geheinom since his tradition that he would go straight to Olam HaBa if his sons remained alive during his lifetime and now that was lost. In essence, Yaakov wanted to fulfill his life’s mission. He thought he had done so with the birth of Binyamin but quickly learned that his life’s mission was not full until there was Tikkun for the world of idolatry surrounding him. (See the Beis HaLevi later who makes the same point of Yaakov’s fear when he discusses the issue of Yaakov’s mourning and refusal to accept the consolation over Yosef)

And he dreamed another dream  (37:9) – Rav Aharon Soloveitchik  ztl. explained that the brothers were upset with Yosef because he added a dream to the dream of his father. The second dream – the one about material success, was not part of the family tradition. However, the truth of the matter was that Yaakov Avinu’s dream really consisted of two parts: the ladder in Yaakov’s dream was standing on the earth and its top reached into the heavens. Yosef broke his father’s dream into its two component parts, but in truth both parts were already contained within Yaakov’s dream. Rav Schachter  Shlita added that while starting with the overtly expressed ideas of the tradition, there are also implicit ideas that Rebbeim also convey that the second generation might need to state  overtly. This was the case with Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol who at the same time never said anything he did not hear from his teachers but also offered original ideas that were not heard since the days of Maamad Har Sinai. It was also seemingly true of the adherents to the Brisker method who both were strong to the Halacha and yet Rav Solovetichik ztl. was able to develop ideas in philosophy and Aggada as well. The halacha guides us as to how to act, while the agada guides us as to how to think. In every generation we have to present our age-old Torah traditions in a language that will be understood by the masses.

Go to seek the welfare of your brothers and bring back word to me (37:14) – Normally we assume that one heading to perform a Mitzva shall have no harm befall him. It is the reason why Yaakov told Yosef to come back too. Why then, was Yosef able to be victimized so tragically in the context of fulfilling the Mitzva of Kibbud Av? The Beis HaLevi explains that when Yosef did not find his brothers in Shechem, and chose to deviate from his father’s command to bring the message back – by going to Dosan, he was not fulfilling Kibbud Av and was able to be victimized by the misfortune.


And a man found him and behold he was lost in the field (37:15) – Rav Shmuel Brazil Shlita noted that Yosef was lost in finding his mission in life. For as long as one has not reached his potential in the world – repairing the torn fabric that he uniquely is supposed to repair, then he is a To’eh. For each of us needs to reveal the emet of ourselves. This only comes when the Ish asks himself “Mah Tivakesh” wherein h asks himself what do YOU uniquely seek out as a chance to do. This is the obligation every Jew must ask himself daily.


Yehuda said “What value does it make if we kill our brother and cover his blood (37:26)– If the Shevatim had determined that Yosef was deserving of the death penalty, how could Yehuda renege on the verdict? Rav Nosson Tzvi Wachtfogel ztl. explained that Yehuda was the Melech of the people, and the melech has the heart of the people in his mind. If he sensed the heart of Yosef, then he must have erred in his verdict and sought to set it aside. This idea is based on the fact that the verdict presupposed that Yosef was not one of the Shevatim. Yet, if Yehuda felt that tug of brotherhood to him, his legitimacy as a member of Klal Yisrael was open to debate and the verdict needed to be set aside and explored. 


At that time, Yehuda was lowered by his brothers (38:1) – Rashi explains that the brothers lowered his status when they saw the pain that Yaakov was in. Rav Moshe Tzvi  Neriah ztl. notes that Yehudah get lowered but ultimately in Mekeitz and Vayigash, is the leader of the brothers. When does he regain his royal status? Kli Yakar suggests that it was Yehuda who broke the ties noting that the brothers had chosen to kill Yosef without checking with him as king first. They thought he was merely wimping out by selling Yosef and didn’t want to admit it. Rav Neriah  ztl. adds that after the Tamar episode where, even faced with personal embarrassment, Yehuda is not afraid to admit, the brothers saw the strength of Yehuda, they took him back – not only as equal but as leader. Yehuda runs with that and not only stands up for himself, in Vayigash he is prepared to step forward to lead his nation.

And it was on that day that he came to the house to do his job and there was no one of the men of the home at home (39:11) – Rashi notes that Yosef would have given in to the desires of the wife of Potiphar but he saw the image of his father in the reflection and refused her advances. Rav Chaim Shmuellevitz ztl. explains that Yosef fought off her advances with the argument that Hashem reveals himself to the Avos unannounced. He might do the same to Yosef. How then, could Yosef give in and appear before Hashem in a Tamai state. It was, explains Rav Chaim, as if Yosef expected that after sin the relationship with Hashem would be the same with a minor problem of Tumas Keri. That is a fallacy. Relationships change when we mess up. If we knew that first, we’d be more careful. At the same time, we cannot allow for one to think that there is no room for restoration and repairing that which has been destroyed.

Haftorah: And I established from your sons to prophets and from your young men to be Nezirim (Amos 2:11) – It seems that Nezirus is a primarily a young boys club. The reason, explains Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky ztl., is that drinking and ignoring familial responsibility are part of being young boys. The message of the Sotah and the one who sees it are that drunkedness and casting off family are not ways to proceed in life. In fact, he adds that this is why these sections of the Torah appear where they do, after Bamidbar. The reason is that once Bnei Yisrael establish their encampments and homes, it is the time to strengthen the family bond that makes the nation strong.