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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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These are the generations of Yaakov. Yoseph being seventeen years old, was tending the flock with his brothers; and he was as a boy with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Yoseph brought their evil reports to his father."
The house of Rabbi Boruch Ber Leibowitz, the rosh yeshivah of Kaminetz, was always an open house. The yeshivah students would come in whenever they wanted and make themselves at home, using his kitchen to cook whatever they wished to eat. Rabbi Boruch Ber would sit in his room and learn Torah, and the noise did not disturb him at all. The rebbetzin did not mind, in spite of the fact that she did not have a single corner for herself, as the entire house was available to Rabbi Boruch Ber's students.
The exception to this rule was when Rabbi Boruch Ber had an important guest and wished to speak with him privately. In that case the rebbetzin would tell the boys that they must leave. Then she would lock the door, and Rabbi Boruch Ber would converse with the guest.
Once Rabbi Boruch Ber went to the yeshiva for Maariv with a very special guest, Rabbi Shalom of Eishishok, one of the Chofetz Chaim's closest, most important students. One of Rabbi Boruch Ber's students realized that they would be asked to leave the house when the rosh yeshiva returned with his guest. He understood that they would talk about the Chofetz Chaim and since he was very curious to hear that private conversation, he did something very daring. He entered the house of Rabbi Boruch before the conclusion of Maariv, and he slipped under the bed unnoticed and hid himself, waiting.
As expected, after Maariv, Rabbi Boruch arrived home with his guest, Rabbi Shalom, and the rebbetzin asked the students to leave. Rabbi Boruch and Rabbi Shalom sat down, and the rebbetzin brought them tea. Then Rabbi Boruch asked Rabbi Shalom to tell him about the Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Shalom told the following story, not knowing that the student was under the bed listening.
The Chofetz Chaim used to learn with his closest students every morning until twelve noon, but on Fridays he would learn with them only until eleven, and then for the next hour he would tell them stories. Once the Chofetz Chaim told the following story. When he was fifteen years old, he went to learn at the yeshiva of Rabbi Nachum of Horodna. Rabbi Nachum was one of the thirty-six outstanding tzaddikim of his generation. In his early years he pretended to be a simpleton and worked as the caretaker of a shul. Later Rabbi Nachum was to become one of the pillars of chesed in his community. He directed all the community's chesed projects, and supported numerous families. In his later years he became famous, and students came from all over to study at his yeshiva.
The Chofetz Chaim continued to tell of his experiences at Rabbi Nachum's yeshiva. Every night at twelve, the students discovered that Rabbi Nachum would disappear, but no one knew where he went. His students were curious and they began trailing him. They found out that he would go to the empty shul.
In order to see what Rabbi Nachum was doing there, the Chofetz Chaim went to the shul at Maariv time, and then, after everyone had left, he entered the woman's section. He hid under a bench and remained there after everyone had gone home. The caretaker made the rounds to see if anyone was left behind, and as he thought that the shul was empty, he locked the door.
Exactly at midnight, the Chofetz Chaim heard the door being opened. He could hardly contain his excitement when he realized that it was actually Rabbi Nachum who had entered the shul. Rabbi Nachum went up to the bimah, and pulled out from the genizah, the shul's collection of old torn books and holy objects, a kabbalistic book which had been hidden there.
Suddenly the Chofetz Chaim saw a fire surround Rabbi Nachum. The young student wanted to cry out, "Watch out, there is a fire!" but he realized that it was not a natural, earthly fire. He kept quiet but found that he couldn't stop trembling, and felt as if he were about to die. When Rabbi Nachum finished, he put the book back in its place and left the shul, and the fire disappeared. After that the Chofetz Chaim felt better, but remained in the shul trembling until morning. Before people arrived to pray, he crept out of the shul.
When Rabbi Shalom concluded his story about the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Boruch Ber said to him, "The fact that there was a fire around Rabbi Nachum is understandable. But that the Chofetz Chaim, who was only fifteen, already had the merit to see it, that is truly amazing!"
The Chofetz Chaim was such a deeply spiritual person that at the age of fifteen he was already able to reach such heights of spiritual awareness. If we wish to have children who are sensitive to spirituality, we must do our best to guard them from unnecessary jealousy, which may cause them to hate others, G-d forbid, and to deteriorate spiritually.
"Yoseph being seventeen years old."(1) The Torah calls him a boy, even though he was already seventeen years old, because he behaved in ways characteristic of youth. He used to accentuate his eyes, comb his hair and pay great attention to his appearance.Why does the Torah relate that Yoseph acted in ways characteristic of youth? Why does the midrash not tell us here that he was punished for such behavior? Why did Yoseph suspect that his brothers were eating from an animal whose limbs had been torn off while it was still alive? Why did Yoseph suspect that his brothers were belittling the sons of the maidservants? Why did Yoseph suspect his brothers of taking an interest in the girls of Canaan? Why did Yoseph misjudge them in these three particular areas? Why does the midrash bring the verse about scales of judgement? What does the midrash prove from the brothers' slaughtering of the goat; from Yoseph's being sold as a slave; and from his being seduced by the wife of Potiphar?
Why would Yaakov love Yoseph more that his other sons only on account of the fact that his face was similar to his own? And why would Yaakov love Yoseph more than his other sons because of the fact that he taught Yoseph all the halachos he had learned from Shem and Ever? Why would the brothers not speak to Yoseph on account of the striped coat he had received? What can we learn from this about training our own children? Why does the midrash relate that the striped coat reached to the palm of his hand? And why does the midrash relate that the word "stripes" hints to Yoseph's troubles which were to follow?
Why Act Like a Youth?
The Torah calls him a boy, even though he was already seventeen years old, because he behaved in ways characteristic of youth.
Why did Yoseph behave in ways which were characteristic of youth? Yoseph was the child of Yaakov's beloved wife, Rachel. Everyone knew that she was the one Yaakov considered to be his true wife. This gave Yoseph the status of being the favored son among all the others. He was the son who was supposed to take his father's place.
Everyone knew that only one son of Avraham would take his place, and that was Yitzchak. Similarly, only one son of Yitzchak took his place, and that was Yaakov. Thus, everyone assumed that only one of the many sons of Yaakov would take their father's place. Since Yoseph was the son of Yaakov's beloved wife, he was the natural choice. This situation was a trial for Yoseph. He was not an only righteous son as his father and grandfather had been. They had no competition, since Yishmael and Esav were not really candidates for taking their fathers' place. But Yoseph did have real competition. All his brothers were spiritual giants. To ward off their jealousy,(10) Yoseph played the simpleton. He pretended that he was not as interested in spirituality as was his father. He preferred combing his hair, accentuating his eyes, and paying great attention to his appearance. When the brothers saw him act in this way they left him alone, thinking that such a simpleton would never pose a challenge to them in taking their father's place.
He used to accentuate his eyes, comb his hair and pay great attention to his appearance.
The Torah relates this to teach us that it is always good to ward off envy. One should never show off his wealth or his knowledge. Rather, pretend you are a simpleton, and then people will allow you to live in peace.
In a deeper sense, we can say that this characteristic was inherited from Yoseph's mother. Rachel gave away to her sister, Leah, the signs that would prove that it was she who was marrying Yaakov. This was the essence of humility. Yoseph continued the tradition of humility by acting as if he were a simpleton. Thus no one would know what a great tzaddik he was. We find this tradition of the children of Rachel carried on by King Sha'ul of the tribe of Binyamin, the second son of Rachel. When Sha'ul was to be appointed king of Israel, he hid himself in the place where the utensils are kept.(11)
With this explanation, the Torah is teaching us how praiseworthy it is to be unassuming, as Yoseph was. You should not let people know of your greatness. That is for G-d alone to know.
The midrash does not relate here that he was punished for such behavior, and it is only further in the parashah,(12) that Rashi mentions that because Yoseph paid undue attention to his personal appearance, he was punished by the unwanted attentions of Potiphar's wife. This proves that at the time Yoseph was with his brothers, he combed his hair only in order to ward off their envy, and it was therefore not considered a sin. Only afterwards, when he was not with his brothers anymore and there was no justification for such behavior, does Rashi mention that he was punished for these actions.
Suspecting His Brothers
"I suspect that your sons eat the limbs of animals that were torn off while the animals were still alive."
How did it come about that Yoseph suspected his brothers of eating ever min hachai, of belittling the sons of the maidservants and of taking an interest in the girls of Canaan? The Sifsei Chachamim on this verse(13) explains that he witnessed actions similar to those sins and he misjudged them. As we see from the continuation of the midrash, his not giving them the benefit of the doubt and judging them favorably was considered a sin.
Although it is difficult to understand how he came to this sin, perhaps it resulted from his very humility. When a person tries to make himself feel small, his evil inclination, the yetzer hara, tries to produce the opposite effect, and makes him feel as if he is really a great person, since he is succeeding in not being arrogant. This is the danger in trying to be unassuming. This might explain Yoseph's mistake in misjudging his brothers.
Yoseph misjudged them in these three particular areas, since in youth one is more liable to transgress these particular sins. Eating from an animal without waiting for the proper shechitah shows a lack of patience and maturity. Belittling the children of the maidservants shows a lack of respect for others, which is common among youths. Interest in women is also characteristic of youth. Our Sages say that G-d hates it when an "elderly man" commits the sin of adultery,(14) which implies that this sin is more common among youths.
We might say that Yoseph's acting as a youth influenced him to judge his brothers as youths. This is in keeping with the maxim of our Sages that he who finds something wrong in others possesses that particular fault within himself.(15) Thus even when, as we have discussed, Yoseph was behaving youthfully as a ploy to divert his brothers' attention from his true spiritual stature, that youthfulness may nevertheless have influenced his thinking.
Yoseph Is Punished for Misjudging His Brothers
For all these ways in which Yoseph slandered his brothers, he was himself punished.
The midrash cites the verse about scales of judgement to teach us that when we judge others, we are being judged ourselves. If we judge others harshly and do not try to give them the benefit of the doubt for their actions, then we will be judged in the same way by G-d, and He will not give us a lenient verdict at the time of our final judgement.(16) Thus the midrash brings this verse to show us that the moment Yoseph judged his brothers unfavorably, he was judged that way himself.
This point is also demonstrated in the description of the slaughtering of the goat at the time Yoseph was sold, and the use of the goat's blood to cover up their sin. There was no need to perform shechitah on the goat, since Yoseph's brothers had no intention of eating the animal. They wanted to use only its blood, to prove what had happened to Yoseph. Nevertheless, they took the trouble of performing a proper shechitah. This proved their devotion to the mitzvah of shechitah, even under stress, and when the halachic obligation did not apply.
What does the midrash prove from Yoseph's being sold as a slave? If G-d wished to bring Yoseph to Egypt, He could have done so in many different ways. But he was brought as a slave, which is neither honorable nor comfortable. The verse reminds us, "For all His ways are just."(17) If Yoseph suffered such disgrace, he must have deserved it on account of his previous actions of not judging his brothers favorably.
The trial Yoseph went through with the wife of Potiphar brought upon him extreme anguish. Although he was successful in not giving in to temptation when she tried to seduce him, he suffered the consequences of losing his position in Potiphar's house and of being thrown into jail. This anguish resulted from his misjudging his brothers, whom he thought were interested in the Canaanite women. Thus he was given a related trial.
Why Yaakov Loved Yoseph
Why did Yaakov love Yoseph more than all his children? Rabbi Yehudah said, "Because his face was similar to his own." Rabbi Nechemyah said, "Because all the halachos that were taught to Yaakov from Shem and Ever, he taught to Yoseph."
The reason Yaakov loved Yoseph more that his other sons since he resembled him can be explained in the following way: A person normally inherits an appearance similar to that of his parents. The reason for this is that a son is the continuation of his parents in this world. He will fill their places and their tasks when they leave the world. All the possessions and talents that a person has serve as trials for him, to see whether he will use them correctly or not. A person's appearance is also a trial, since if he is good-looking, he must face the challenge of not being haughty, and if he is not good-looking he must face the challenge of accepting G-d's decision with love. For this reason, a child inherits his parents' appearance, for through his appearance, which is part of life's trials, a child continues his parents' tasks. Because of Yoseph's similar appearance, Yaakov understood that Yoseph's spiritual challenges would parallel his own.
It was natural for Yoseph to be the child chosen above the others, since he was the firstborn son of Rachel, the most beloved wife. But Yaakov knew that one does not simply inherit spirituality. It is only inherited when the child strives to make it a part of himself. Therefore, when Yaakov taught Yoseph the halachos he had learned in the yeshivah of Shem and Ever, and he saw that Yoseph was a diligent student and took the learning into his heart and soul, Yaakov understood that Yoseph was the chosen son.
Yaakov's Love Caused Envy
...Because of the striped coat that Yaakov made for Yoseph, "his brothers could not speak to him peacefully."
The envy of Yoseph's brothers was not simply because of the striped coat which he wore. Rather the striped coat was a symbol of Yaakov's special love for Yoseph. It demonstrated that Yoseph would be the chosen son, and perhaps it even meant that Yaakov intended to treat them as outcasts. They were furious, since they sensed the great peril which the coat symbolized for them, especially since Yoseph hid his righteousness, so they did not feel that he deserved the position.
Why does the midrash relate that the coat reached to the palm of Yoseph's hand? Perhaps Yaakov was hinting to the brothers that they should not be envious of Yoseph's success, since their success was in their own hands. Our Sages say that everything is in G-d's hands except for the fear of Heaven.(18) In other words, our material success is determined by G-d, but our spiritual success is determined entirely by ourselves. If Yoseph was chosen from among the brothers, it was only because of his higher spiritual qualities.
When the midrash relates that the word "stripes" hints at the troubles that Yoseph had, it is telling us that his brothers' envy over the stripes was what caused Yoseph to be sold as a slave.
Treat Your Children Equally
We can learn from this midrash the importance of treating all our children equally. Even though one child may be more talented or more likable than the others, just as Yoseph was, but it is forbidden for us to show favoritism to any one child.
It is natural for a parent to like one child more than another. It may be because that child complies more readily with his parents' wishes, or because he is more successful in school, or because he receives more praise from friends and relatives. Even though it is hard to control such feelings in our hearts, we must never express these feelings in any way. If the less-favored child senses this in his parents, he will be devastated. He will think, "How can my parents love my brother or sister more than they love me?"
By showing favoritism, we are extinguishing the child's ambition to succeed. If his parents do not love him with all their hearts, why should he try to work so hard? He might as well play or dream in class, and he will soon give up all hope of ever being successful.
Sometimes a grandparent wishes to bring a gift for a certain child, and not for the others. If that child has a birthday or graduation, for example, this is justified; but even in that case they should bring something small for the other children as well, so that they should not feel envious. If there is no special occasion, then they are harming your children by favoring one above the others. If you cannot explain this to the grandparents, then at least try to buy the other children similar gifts, and explain to them that you love all your children equally. It is hard to criticize grandparents, but if their actions are harming your children's education, you must speak up.
Try to Eliminate Envy among Siblings
When parents feel that one child is envious of another due to some materialistic reason, they must speak to the child who feels "under- privileged," and explain to him that G-d gives out physical and material gifts the way in which He chooses, and it is beyond our control. By being envious, we are in fact saying that we feel G-d made a mistake in His decision, G-d forbid. We feel that He should have made us more beautiful or more successful financially. This of course is wrong, since He, in His infinite wisdom, knows best how to distribute His blessings.
However if the child is envious of the spiritual success of his sibling, then we can assure him that his success is in his own hands. Even if another child may be quicker or more intelligent, that does not guarantee true success. Success in Torah is measured by how a person utilizes the gifts he has been given, and how much he strives. Explain to your child that if he is trying his utmost, then he is successful, and that is the success that really counts.
Make Each Child Feel Unique
Every child wishes to be a success in his parent's eyes. When he comes home from school, he eagerly shows his good marks to his parents, waiting for their praise and joy in his success. No matter how busy they are, they must show him with a sincere heart that his success makes them happier than anything else in the world. This will spark within the child the ambition he needs to strive for further success.
Be careful not to compare your children to one another. Do not say to your child, "Why can't you get good marks like your sister does?" "I want you to behave just as your brother does." Remarks like these convey to the child that you love his siblings more than him. Even though you have not said so explicitly, that is what the child hears, and it is dangerous. Each child is unique and it is not fair to compare one sibling to another. Comparing children also causes envy and hatred among the siblings.
"When I Was Your Age..."
Some parents try to motivate their children by saying, "When I was your age, I would not have done such a thing," or "When you grow up, you will understand." Statements such as these are harmful, since they give a child the feeling that there is nothing he can do to understand something important, and this will cause him to lose confidence. He will begin to think that there is no use in striving, since he cannot compete with someone who lived at a different time, or since he must wait so long until he grows up. Nothing is gained by such words, and they in fact can be extremely harmful.
On the other hand, the incentive to emulate tzaddikim is a positive motivating factor, as our Sages say, "Being 'envious' of wise scholars perpetuates wisdom."19 Tell your children stories of great Torah scholars and all about their good deeds. There are many good books available about the lives of tzaddikim which can inspire your children. This will cause them to admire and envy these people and to try to emulate their actions. This kind of "envy" can have positive results. Be careful always to praise rabbis and teachers, and point out to your children what good examples they are of piety.
Be careful not to cause envy among your children, as our Sages warn us that this mistake caused our forefathers to go into slavery in Egypt. With such dire consequences, it is wise to be cautious and to treat all your children equally.
1. Bereshis 37:2
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network