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Parshas Vayeishev - Vol.
8, Issue 9
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vayavei Yosef es dibasam ra'ah el avihem (37:2)
Rashi writes that Yosef told Yaakov about three 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 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, an esoteric and cryptic Kabbalistic text that 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 wished 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 eight 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.
Vaye'maein l'hisnacheim (37:35)
Despite repeated and prolonged attempts by his children to comfort him, Yaakov was inconsolable over what he believed to be the loss of his beloved Yosef. Rashi explains that no matter how tragic a loss may be, Hashem created the world in such a way that after one year’s time, the loss is lessened and somewhat forgotten from the heart in order to allow the living to heal and go on. However, this is only the case regarding a person who actually died, but if a person falsely assumes that somebody has died, no such process will be set in motion. As a result, Yaakov was unable to forgot the pain of his loss and be comforted.
Why wasn’t his inability to be comforted itself a proof to Yaakov that Yosef must be alive, as if he were dead as Yaakov feared, Yaakov should eventually have been able to properly mourn the loss and find consolation? The Megaleh Amukos even writes that in their attempts to comfort him, his children used this very proof in arguing that his inability to move on constituted evidence that Yosef must still be alive. Why didn’t Yaakov accept their argument and allow himself to be comforted?
Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Fisher answers with a brilliant insight. At any given point in time that Yaakov would attempt to convince himself that because a year had passed and he still hadn’t been comforted Yosef must still be alive, he could always counter that perhaps Yosef just died the day before, and he wouldn’t be able to know otherwise until 12 months had passed from that time and he still found himself in a state of mourning. However, in another year, Yaakov still wouldn’t have any conclusive evidence. Although at that point he would know that Yosef didn’t die on the day before he began counting, he would have a new fear that perhaps he died on the day before (i.e. 11 months and 29 days from the day that he began counting), a self-sustaining cycle which kept him mourning for 22 years.
Alternatively, the Maharshal answers with a deep insight into human psychology, which can help us understand and empathetically interact with ourselves and others in times of difficulty and suffering. He explains that when a person is suffering, he is never able to realize that the pain he is feeling is largely self-inflicted and not absolutely necessary. People naturally assume that whatever anguish they subject themselves to is actually quite small. Not realizing the true depth of suffering to which he was afflicting himself, Yaakov believed that he had been comforted and forgotten the pain. In turn, this perceived ability to be consoled proved to him that Yosef must have been killed, a process which once again rekindled and extended his suffering as it repeated itself for 22 years.
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.
The Chiddushei HaRim and Rav Shalom Schwadron explain that in reality, Yosef was in genuine doubt regarding the proper course of action to take with her. 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 (good inclination) isn’t a “nudnik” and doesn’t attempt to encourage a person to do a mitzvah more than once or twice. The yetzer hara (evil inclination), on the other hand, never tires and comes back to lure and ensnare time after time. As soon as Yosef recognized that her offers continued and 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 when 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
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) 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)
3) The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 678:1) that if a person only has enough money to buy either a candle with which to light his menorah or wine upon which to make Kiddush, he should purchase the candle, as the menorah takes precedence because it serves to publicize the miracles that Hashem performed. Doesn’t Kiddush, which serves as testimony that Hashem created the universe ex nihilo, serve as an even greater form of publicizing miracles? (Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 3:49, Gilyonei HaShas Shabbos 23b, Shu”t Avnei Nezer Orach Chaim 501:3)
4) If a person is in jail on Chanuka and is given permission either to light the menorah or to say the morning prayers together with Hallel, which should he choose? (Chochmas Shlomo Orach Chaim 683:1, Halichos Shlomo Tefillah pg. 207-8, Ma’adanei Asher 5769)
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