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 Parshas Vayeishev - Vol. 4, Issue 9
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vayavei Yosef es dibasam ra’ah el avihem (37:2)

Rashi writes that Yosef told Yaakov about 3 sins that he “witnessed” his brothers transgressing: humiliating Yaakov’s sons from his maid-servants and calling them servants, eating meat from an animal not ritually slaughtered, and engaging in forbidden relationships with women. How can these grave accusations be reconciled with the elevated spiritual status of Yosef’s brothers, and if they were indeed innocent, how could Yosef fabricate such egregious claims to falsely slander them to their father?

            The Shelah HaKadosh offers a novel explanation of this perplexing episode. The mystics teach that Avrohom authored Sefer Yetzirah, one of the most esoteric Kabbalistic texts, which describes the way in which Hashem created the world and fashioned man. Avrohom passed on this wisdom to his son Yitzchok, who in turn taught it to Yaakov. Although Yaakov wanted to transmit it to all 12 of his sons, there is a rule that mystical secrets may only be taught to those with proper lineage. He therefore taught it to his sons from Rochel and Leah, but not to the sons of the maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah.

            Leah’s children decided to test their newfound knowledge and used it to supernaturally create a cow. Because the cow wasn’t born through natural means, it didn’t legally require ritual slaughter. Yosef, unaware of the cow’s true origins, observed his brothers eating meat directly from a living animal and reported their “sin” to Yaakov. Unsatisfied with their creation of a cow, the brothers decided to test the limits of their knowledge a bit more, and created a living woman. When Yosef saw them walking around with an unfamiliar woman, he concluded that they were continuing to slide downhill in their sinful ways.

            When the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah expressed interest in acquiring this fascinating and powerful knowledge, Leah’s children refused to teach them, explaining that their mothers were maidservants and their lineage was impure. Yosef, unaware of the subject matter being discussed, overheard only that Leah’s sons were “disgracing” their brothers by reminding them of their blemished pedigree and immediately ran to inform Yaakov of the sibling rivalry that was unfolding.

            Although these explanations of the brothers’ actions certainly seem more than a bit farfetched, Yosef was nevertheless punished for the slanderous reports he gave Yaakov instead of judging his brothers favorably. While it needn’t be assumed that a man spotted carousing with a suspicious woman created her, this episode clearly teaches the extent to which a person is obligated to engage in mental gymnastics to judge his fellow Jews favorably!


V’habor reik ein bo mayim (37:24)

When Reuven heard his brothers planning to murder Yosef and throw his body into a pit, he opposed the plan. He argued that they should not shed his blood directly, but should instead throw him alive into a pit. The brothers accepted Reuven’s suggestion, and when Yosef approached them, they stripped him of his special tunic and threw him into a pit. Curiously, the Torah records that they threw him into a pit that was empty and contained no water. This is difficult to understand. If the pit was empty, isn’t it obvious that it didn’t have any water? Rashi explains that the apparent redundancy implies that although there was no water in the pit, there were poisonous serpents and scorpions in it.

The Oznayim L’Torah points out that the pit had one positive quality and one negative one. Its good point was that it wasn’t full of water, which could cause Yosef to drown. On the other hand, it contained poisonous creatures that could kill him. In describing the pit, the Torah explicitly mentions the positive feature while leaving it to us to infer the negative. If this is the case for inanimate objects, how much more so must we be careful when speaking about living people to emphasize only their praises!


Chaya ra’ah achalashu (37:33)

In order to convince Yaakov that Yosef had been killed, his brothers slaughtered a goat, dipped his special coat in the goat’s blood, and took it home to show it to their father. Yaakov recognized the garment and was overwhelmed with grief at the realization that a wild animal had devoured his beloved Yosef. However, the Rogatchover Gaon ingeniously suggests a deeper meaning in Yaakov’s words.

The Gemora in Niddah (19b) teaches an interesting biological fact: the blood of a male who hasn’t had relations before the age of 20 will be redder, like that of an ox, than the blood of one who has done so. Additionally, the Gemora in Yoma (56b) says that the blood of a goat is very light in color.

The Rogatchover explains that when Yaakov saw the light goat’s blood on the garment, which he was led to believe came from the 17-year-old Yosef, he was astonished to realize that it was much lighter in color than he would have expected. Yaakov feared that the light shade of Yosef’s blood revealed that he had engaged in forbidden relations with a woman!

Yaakov’s concern that “a wild animal has devoured him” can also be interpreted as referring to the wildest animal of all, the yetzer hara (evil inclination), to which he suspected Yosef had fallen prey. It was Yaakov’s fear that he had been misled about the spiritual level of his prized son and student that left him inconsolable. Although this was in reality not the case, Chazal teach (Kesuvos 62b) that the words of the righteous are fulfilled to accomplish even unintended consequences, and it was this pronouncement of Yaakov’s which caused Yosef to be tempted by the seductive wife of his master Potiphar!


Vayehi k’dabra el Yosef yom yom v’lo shama eileha (39:10)

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. Despite her greatest efforts, the righteous Yosef remained steadfast in his commitment to his morals and refused to sin with her.

Rav Shalom Schwadron explains that in reality, Yosef was in genuine doubt regarding the proper course of action to take. The Medrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 85:2) that this incident is juxtaposed to the episode of Yehuda and Tamar to teach that just as Tamar’s intentions were for the sake of Heaven, so too were those of Potiphar’s wife, which left Yosef confused as to what was right and what was wrong.

Upon recognizing that her advances repeated themselves day after day, Yosef realized that this must be an act of the Satan to tempt him. He understood that the yetzer tov isn’t a “nudnik” and doesn’t attempt to encourage a person to do a mitzvah more than once or twice. The yetzer hara, however, never tires and comes back to lure and ensnare time after time. As soon as Yosef saw that her offers repeated themselves, he understood that they emanated from the side of impurity and refused to listen further!

The Vilna Gaon teaches that any action which is performed easily and without complications most likely originates from the yetzer hara, whereas something which is accomplished only after great effort probably comes from the yetzer tov. With this introduction, he beautifully explains the verse in Rus (1:18), which states that after initially refusing to recognize her daughter-in-law Rus as a sincere convert to Judaism, Naomi finally agreed to accept her. The critical moment was whenåúøà ëé îúàîöú äéà ììëú – Naomi noticed that the younger Rus was exerting herself to keep pace with her. The recognition that it was difficult for Rus to keep up, yet she was repeatedly struggling to do so, constituted the proof to Naomi that Rus’s intentions were truly for the sake of Heaven!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (37:3) that Yaakov loved Yosef more than his other sons because Yosef was born in his old age. According to this, why wasn’t Binyomin, who was born later, even more beloved than Yosef? (Chizkuni, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Gur Aryeh, Pirkei Torah)

2)     The Medrash teaches (Medrash Mishlei 1) that the Asarah Harugei Malchus – 10 great Rabbis 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, there were only 9 brothers who actually participated in his sale, so why were 10 Rabbis killed instead of 9? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)

3)     Who sold Yosef to the band of merchants that brought him and sold him into slavery in Egypt? (Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Moshav Z’keinim, Paneiach Raza)

4)     Although Tamar recognized Yehuda, with whom she had relations to fulfill the concept of yibum, he didn’t recognize her and took her to be a harlot. How could the pious Yehuda transgress the prohibition against having relations with a harlot (Devorim 23:18)? (Bereishis Rabbah 85:8, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Moshav Z’keinim, Maharsha Sotah 10a, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

5)     What significant role would the staff Yehuda gave Tamar play in Jewish history? (Baal HaTurim)

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