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Parshas Vayeishev - Vol. 2, issue 4
V’hinei ha’shemesh v’hayareiach v’echad asar kochavim mishtachavim li (37:9)
Yosef dreamed that the sun, the moon, and 11 stars – which represented his father, mother, and 11 brothers – would bow down to him. Rav Chaim Kanievsky relates that a jokester once asked him why Yosef didn’t see a 12th star in his dream, which would correspond to his sister Dina?
In next week’s parsha, Yosef marries a woman by the names of Osnas (41:45). The Daas Z’keinim writes that Osnas wasn’t the Egyptian woman one would assume she was. When Sh’chem defiled Dina (34:2), she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. This daughter was sent away, and eventually, through tremendous Divine providence, was wedded to none other than her uncle Yosef.
The jokester concluded, bringing a smile to Rav Chaim’s face, that according to the explanation of the Daas Z’keinim, it comes out that Dina wasn’t only Yosef’s sister but also his mother-in-law, and nobody would imagine his shvigger (mother-in-law) bowing down to him in even his wildest dreams!
Vayishlacheihu me’eimek Chevron vayavo
The Rokeach, a mystical Rishon, writes cryptically that the 112 verses in Parshas Vayeishev correspond to the 112 words in Tehillim 92 (Mizmor shir shel yom HaShabbos). As he clearly wasn’t intending to point out a mathematical coincidence, what could be the deeper connection between the events in Parshas Vayeishev and the theme of that chapter of Tehillim?
Rav Mattyisyahu Salomon elucidates the common thread between them by explaining that from a logical and rational perspective, the events of the parsha seem completely counterintuitive. The parsha begins with Yaakov favoring one of his sons in front of the others and inciting their jealousy, Yosef not recognizing their hatred and recounting to them his dreams in which he rules over them, Yaakov sending Yosef to check on his brothers unsupervised, Yosef being thrown into a pit of poisonous animals and emerging unscathed, and a group of traveling merchants passing by at just the right time. Each of these events seems beyond comprehension, and the likelihood of them all occurring together is infinitesimal. Yet that isn’t even the end of the mind-boggling narrative. The parsha continues with an angel forcing Yehuda to have relations with Tamar (Bereishis Rabbah 85:8) even though she is disguised as a harlot, and the innocent Yosef ending up in prison together with two of Pharaoh’s ministers and correctly interpreting their dreams.
None of these incidents makes any logical sense. However, Rashi explains that they were all part of a much larger plan to fulfill Hashem’s prophecy to Avrohom that his descendants would dwell and be enslaved in a foreign land. The lesson of the otherwise inexplicable events of Parshas Vayeishev is that no matter how much effort a person makes, it will ultimately be futile if Hashem’s plan and decrees dictate otherwise.
This concept is also the theme of Chapter 92 of Tehillim, which states emphatically (92:6-9) mah gad’lu ma’asecha Hashem m’od amku mach’sh’vosecha ish ba’ar lo yeida uk’sil lo yavin es zos … v’ata marom l’olam Hashem – how great are Your acts Hashem, how deep are Your calculations; the foolish don’t understand, but You will always be elevated Hashem.
The world Hashem created is very deceptive, as a person is indeed obligated and expected to exert himself to bring about his goals, yet no matter what he wants or thinks is supposed to happen, Hashem ultimately runs the world. After all of his efforts and hard work, a person must step back and remember that whatever perspective he thinks he has is quite limited in the grand scheme of things, and only Hashem with His master plan can coordinate what has to happen and when – to each person, at each time, in each generation.
Vay’hi k’hayom ha’zeh vayavo ha’baisa
la’asos m’lachto v’ein ish me’anshei ha’bayis sham ba’bayis (39:11)
After being sold by his brothers to a caravan of traveling merchants, Yosef was eventually sold into slavery in Egypt. The wife of his new master, Potiphar, was taken by his good looks and tried everything in her power to seduce him: changing outfits regularly, words, bribery, and threatening to imprison and humiliate him. Despite her greatest efforts, the righteous Yosef remained steadfast in his commitment to his morals and refused to sin with her.
One day, however, his defenses began to crack. On the day of an Egyptian festival, when everybody went to the temple, she feigned illness and stayed home to entice him. Yosef came into the house considering yielding to her unrelenting advances. At this crucial moment, his father’s visage appeared to him and warned him about the dire consequences he would face if he proceeded to have relations with her. This critical reminder from his father about his family’s tradition and values served to protect and save him at the height of his personal trial.
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein relates a beautiful and powerful story about the potency of the impressions we make on our children in their youth. It once happened in a small town in Europe that one of the Jewish children was kidnapped by the church and sent to study in a monastery. All of the emotional, tear-laden cries and pleas of his parents to various government officials fell on deaf ears. The local priest, who was well-connected, simply denied the accusations.
Finally, after years of petitions – both to Hashem and to the government – a compromise was proposed. The parents would be allowed to spend 5 minutes in a room with this boy. If at the end of that time he chose to leave with them of his own volition, then their claims would be accepted, but if not, it would be considered incontrovertible proof that their story had been completely fabricated. As excited as they were at finally having a chance to obtain justice and get their beloved son back, they were also full of trepidation, as they could only imagine the brainwashing to which he had been subjected during his years in the monastery.
They approached their local Rabbi, known for his commentary Nachal Eshkol, for advice. He promised them that he would accompany them to the fateful meeting, would speak to their son on their behalf, and that they had nothing to fear. Comforting and reassuring as he was, they were still full of anxiety over the meeting and wondering whether the Rav’s mysterious plan would work.
On the fateful day, the three of them were led into a small room and found their son sitting across a table from them, glaring at them angrily and showing no signs of recognition. Their hearts dropped. He had been programmed to the point of not remembering his own parents! The parents looked with hope and fear to the Rabbi for guidance. The Rabbi kept his calm and began slowly humming the haunting melody of Kol Nidrei. The parents anxiously looked back at their son, who wasn’t flinching and whose expression was as angry as ever. The Rabbi continued, picking up the pace and the volume, but seemingly to no avail as the son remain stone-faced.
The parents, growing desperate, glanced at the clock, as one, two, three precious minutes ticked by. Finally, as they were about to give up all hope, the Rabbi raised his voice further and reached a feverish crescendo. At this point the boy broke down sobbing and ran into his parents’ welcoming arms, as the unforgettable memories of his past, eternally engraved in his subconscious, brought him home!
We all have beautiful and nostalgic recollections of times we spent with our families while growing up. Recognizing the power of these events to remain indelibly etched in the memories of our children, it behooves us to put both the appropriate time and effort into making sure the lessons and priorities we impart to our children are the proper ones, for they will remain with them for life.
Vayavo aleihem Yosef ba’boker vayar osam v’hinam zo’afim vayishal es s’risei Paroh asher ito ba’mishmar beis adonav leimor madua p’neichem ra’im hayom (40:6-7)
Rav Shalom Schwadron and the Shemen HaTov point out that the entire miraculous unfolding and development of events in the coming parshios is entirely predicated on one chance encounter. The accurate interpretation by Yosef of the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker set in motion a chain of events which would determine the future of Jewish history, as it led directly to his release from jail, his appointment as second-in-command in Egypt, the fulfillment of his dreams about his family bowing down to him, his emotional reunion with his brothers and subsequently his father, and the descent of the Jewish people to Egypt where they were eventually enslaved by Pharaoh and later redeemed by Moshe.
Yet the pivotal episode of Yosef interpreting their dreams wouldn’t have occurred were it not for one seemingly trivial exchange. Yosef woke up one morning and noticing that his fellow prisoners looked aggrieved and upset, he chose to initiate a conversation which would literally change the future of all mankind, asking them quite simply, “What’s wrong?”
Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, better known as the Alter of Slabodka, once gave a shmuess (ethical discourse) on the topic of greeting others kindly and taking an interest in their welfare. He noted that if a person would begin standing next to the door of the synagogue and pouring a glass of fresh milk for each person who passes by, everybody would rightfully declare him to be a righteous tzaddik and baal chessed (person who does acts of kindness). However, the Gemora in Kesuvos (111b) teaches that showing another person the white of one’s teeth with a warm smile is even better than giving him milk!
So often, a person passes somebody who looks like he could use a kind word, a warm smile, and a bit of extra attention, yet the yetzer hara (evil inclinations) discourages him from stopping to waste his valuable time on such inconsequential matters. The next time this happens, which will likely be tomorrow, it would behoove him to remember the lesson of Yosef. Nothing a person does is ever minor, and one has no idea what chain of events he could set in motion with just a few “trivial” words!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) In next week’s parsha (41:32), Yosef tells Pharaoh that his two dreams are really only one, but it was repeated in order to indicate that its fulfillment will begin immediately. As Yosef’s dream about his brothers bowing down to him was also repeated (37:9), why did it take 22 years to realize its fulfillment? (Rashbam 41:32, Mishmeres Ariel, Riva, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
2) The Medrash states (Medrash Mishlei 1) that the Asarah Harugei Malchus – 10 great Rabbis of the Talmudic period who were brutally and tragically martyred – died to atone for the sin of the sale of Yosef (37:27). As Reuven and Binyomin weren’t present when he was sold, only 9 brothers actually participated in his sale, so why were 10 Rabbis killed instead of 9? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)
3) Rashi writes (38:1) that the episode with Yehuda interrupts the narrative about Yosef in order to teach that when the brothers saw Yaakov’s pain over the loss of Yosef, they blamed Yehuda for suggesting that they sell him and demoted him from his position of leadership. As Yosef was separated from Yaakov for 22 years, how is it possible that the episode of Yehuda occurred after the sale of Yosef, during which time Yehuda would have had to give birth to Er and Onan, each of whom married Tamar and died, then married Tamar himself and given birth to Peretz who gave birth to Chetzron and Chamul who are among the 70 people who descended to Egypt (46:12), which couldn’t have happened within a span of 22 years? (Tur quoted in Mahar”i Bruna)
4) What significant role would the staff given by Yehuda to Tamar as a pledge (38:18) play in Jewish history a few generations later? (Baal HaTurim)
5) Upon recognizing that Tamar had become pregnant from engaging in illicit relations, Yehuda sentenced her to death by fire (38:24). How was he able to judge her in the absence of testimony from any witnesses to her alleged crime, as the Gemora in Sanhedrin (57b) rules that a court may mete out punishment to a non-Jew only after hearing the testimony of at least one witness who saw the crime? (Moshav Z’keinim, Chavatzeles HaSharon, M’rafsin Igri)
6) Rashi writes (40:23) that Yosef sinned by asking the cupbearer to intercede with Pharaoh and secure his release instead of placing his trust in Hashem, and was punished with an additional 2 years of jail time. It is customarily understood that because he asked the cupbearer twice (40:14) to remember him, he was punished with one extra year for each request. Had Yosef asked him only one time, would he have been punished with one additional year in jail, or would he have received no punishment at all? (Rav Shimon Shkop quoted in Peninim Vol. 6)
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