|Back to Parsha homepage||
by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
|Archive of previous issues|
These are the generations of Ya'akov Yoseph was seventeen years old. As a lad he would feed the flock with his brothers the sons of Bilhah, and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Yoseph brought evil reports [about his brothers] to his father. (BERESHIS 37:2)
A valuable coat was once stolen from the Rebbitzen of the famous author of the Chemdas Shlomo. It was subsequently discovered that the thief was one of the people who received a monthly charitable stipend from the Rabbi. Later, the stolen coat was returned by a merchant who admitted that he had bought it from the thief.
When the matter became known, one of the wealthy people of the town spoke with the Rabbi saying, "You see, you always tell us to contribute to charity, and now we see that one of those people who we give to is none other than a lowly thief."
The Rabbi sighed deeply, called to his secretary and asked, "Do you know where the thief lives?"
"Of course I do," answered the secretary.
"Well then," said the Rabbi, "Do not forget to go out to find him next month so we can give him his monthly stipend from the tzedakah fund, since he will probably be too embarrassed to come on his own."
Just as the Rabbi suspected, the following month, all the other poor people came to get their stipends, but the thief did not show up. The Rabbi reminded his secretary to go call the thief, and promise him that nothing would happen to him if he appeared before the Rabbi. The secretary gave over the message. The thief came, because the Rabbi was known as a tzaddik who would keep his word.
When the thief arrived, the Rabbi said to him, "How could you have transgressed an explicit prohibition of the Torah? I know that you did it because you were in dire need, but still, how could you have committed such a sin? It would have been much better if you had come to me and told me of your plight, rather than committing this sin. I want you to promise me that you will never again do such a thing."
After the poor man promised, the Rabbi gave him his regular monthly stipend, and added a bonus to it. (K'TZESHA-SHEMESHBI-GVURASO, p. 154)
The Rabbi viewed the theft as a test designed to determine whether he would become angry, or would recognize that the poor man was in dire straits. Similarly in marriage, many difficult instances arise that are trials for us, to see if we can control our behavior with our spouses.
"These are the generations of Ya'akov, Yoseph." These generations were born only in the merit of Yoseph. Because of Yoseph, Ya'akov went to Lavan, to marry Rachel. These events were all in anticipation of Yoseph, as it is written, aAnd it was when Rachel gave birth to Yoseph."2
Who brought Ya'akov down to Egypt? Yoseph. Who sustained them in Egypt? Yoseph. The sea split only in the merit of Yoseph, as it is written, "The waters saw You and they shuddered; You redeemed with Your powerful arm Your nation, the sons of Ya'akov and Yoseph." 3 Even the Jordan River was split only because of Yoseph.
(YALKUT 140 par. Kesiv)
The midrash is telling us that when the Torah says, "These are the generations of Ya'akov, Yoseph," 4 the idea is that Yoseph was the reason behind everything that happened to Ya'akov. How is it possible that the most important things that happened in Ya'akov's life only came to be because of his son? What does it mean that these events were all in anticipation of Yoseph? What do the splitting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River have to do with Yoseph, who had died a long time before either event occurred?
A Jew must understand that he is a link in a chain of generations that began long before his birth and that will go on long after his death. It is very important for him to do the right things, since otherwise he is not only harming himself, but also causing a break in the chain.
Ya'akov realized that everything in his life was part of a chain that had a clear connection with his son Yoseph. This did not minimize his own tasks in life in any way, since if he had failed to perform his own special tasks there would not have been a continuation through to Yoseph. This was not just an incidental connection; rather it was very clear that everything in Ya'akov's life was intimately tied to the next link in the chain, which was Yoseph.
Our Sages say that the events were put in place in anticipation of Yoseph. This means that everything in Ya'akov's life was set up by G-d, but the only person who could make these acts ultimately meaningful was Yoseph. From this we learn, that it is not the events of a single lifetime that are of ultimate importance, but rather a Divine plan controls all events throughout the generations.
A person's life is not in his own hands, rather it is planned down to the most minute detail by G-d. A person thinks that he, alone, is deciding where to work, or where to travel, but in reality all these thoughts and opportunities are implanted in his mind by G-d. That is what our Sages mean when they say, "Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven."5 G-d plans all the things that happen to you in your life, except for the choices you make between doing good and evil. Only these decisions are a product of your own free choice.
Who sustained the whole Jewish nation in Egypt? Yoseph. The splitting of the Red Sea was associated with Yoseph, even though he had died a long time earlier. The remains of Yoseph were with the Jewish people when they needed to cross through the Red Sea, and it was the merit of Yoseph that allowed the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea to occur. The tremendous piety he exhibited when he was alone with Potiphar's wife, caused such a stir in Heaven, that this merit had the power, generations later, to split the sea. We can learn from here what great power good deeds can yield. Even though Yoseph had died many years earlier, his merit still brought about the redemption of the Jewish people by enabling them to pass through the sea. We should never underestimate our actions, as they can have effects for generations to come.
In the midrash, our Sages say that even the miracle of crossing
the Jordan River when the Jewish nation entered the land of Israel,
was in of Yoseph's merit. This is not very well-known information.
When Israel passed through the Red Sea the verse says, "And
Moshe took the bones of Yoseph with him."6 But there is no
mention of Yoseph in the account of Israel crossing the Jordan
River.7 Our Sages however, understood that his merit was the reason
for that miracle.
Our Spouses Bring Us Spiritual Tests
Just as Yoseph was linked to all the things that happened to Ya'akov during his lifetime, so too, many things that happen during our lifetimes come about through our relationship with our spouses. We are constantly brought into all sorts of situations that are designed especially for us, to see if we will respect our spouses and treat them with honor. Many such situations are tremendous tests for us, since it is quite easy to criticize or become angry at one's spouse. Therefore, the trial is much greater than we can imagine and the reward for controlling ourselves is equally great.
The next time your wife is late or dinner is not ready, reflect upon the idea that the whole reason this happened is because Heaven is waiting to see what your reaction will be. The next time your husband is not paying attention to what you are saying, consider that perhaps it is because G-d wants to see if you can control your temper and not become angry. Everything that occurs in life, especially between spouses, happens because G-d wants to give us an opportunity to prove ourselves in order that He can reward us when we succeed. Of course, He will have to punish us if we choose to behave inappropriately.
The trials that confront us at home are much more subtle than trials that we face outside the home. At home, a person feels that he has the right to act any way he wishes. We feel we have the right to be angry at our spouse, since this is not a stranger to whom we must behave courteously. But this erroneous way of thinking stems from the yetzer hara which is constantly trying to trick us. In reality, being at home with our spouses actually requires that we retain at least the same spiritual standards that we strive for when we are away from home. Behaving properly with our spouses is a tremendous responsibility, and we must take it seriously.
A wife's tears are taken very seriously in G-d's eyes, and it is a terrible sin to cause one's wife aggravation. If we realize that all difficulties which we face in life, whether inside the home or out, are trials that were intentionally placed before us by Divne plan, we will be more able to respond correctly. This decision to act properly is what G-d anticipates from us.
1. Bereshis 37:2
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network