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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayeishev

It happened at the end of two years to the day; and Pharaoh was dreaming. (41:1)

Pharaoh's dream was the beginning of Yosef's liberation from the Egyptian jail and the precursor of his ascension to leadership. At the end of Parashas Vayeishav, the Midrash Tanchuma distinguishes between Hashem and man in regard to reward and punishment. Man strikes with a blade and heals with a bandaid. Hashem, on the other hand, transforms the source of punishment into the actual healing agent. Yosef was sold into slavery as a result of his own dreams;he was liberated as a consequence of Pharaoh's dreams. His dreams caused his downfall; by interpreting Pharaoh's dreams he ascended to freedom and power. This Midrash seems to ignore the fact that Yosef manifests other "problems" which catalyze his sale as a slave. The multi-colored coat caused jealousy among his brothers; he spoke ill against his brothers, which did not help to further his relationship with them. While the dreams were a catalyst for the reversal of his fortune, they were not the only cause. Indeed, the lashon hora he spoke -- which caused his brothers to view him as a serious threat -- was certainly much more sinful than his dreams -- which were beyond his control. Why does the Torah place the responsibility of Yosef's downfall upon his dreams?

Horav Elchonon Sorotzkin, zl, asserts that dreams played a pivotal role in Yosef's life. His brothers called him the baal ha'chalomos, the dreamer. He had a dream in which his brothers' sheaves in the field bowed down to his. This dream was followed by yet another dream in which the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to him. These dreams were a factor in his sale to the Egyptians. The dreams of the butler and the baker impacted Yosef further. On the one hand, the dreams caused him to remain in jail longer. On the other hand, they helped to effect his release. In the final analysis, his interpretation of Pharaoh's dream catalyzed his ascent to power. One dream was a sin. The other represented his salvation. Why did this discrepancy exist?

Every young person is not only permitted to dream, but should be encouraged to dream. He should dream of great expectations for himself, great achievements, great triumphs. He should even aspire to and dream of monarchy - as Yosef did. One criteria, however, must be met. He should view his position of power as an opportunity to serve the greater community, to effect a greater good for everyone - not a chance to take power for personal reasons. His dreams should be visions of his empowerment to help more people, to make a greater kiddush Hashem , sanctification of Hashem's Name.

In Yosef's original dream he envisioned himself as a ruler; everyone was bowing down to him. He was attaining nothing for the people; he was just receiving the honors. In the butler and baker's dreams, he perceived an opportunity for self-advancement, namely to be released from jail. The salvation, the moment of healing, appeared as soon as Yosef interpreted Pharaoh's dream. His dream implied the need to care for a nation, to direct and supervise the years of abundance in preparation for the years of famine. Yosef came forward to take the initiative. He was prepared to lead, to direct, to supervise and prepare the country for the worst that was yet to come. Yosef had come of age. His dreams were no longer visions of grandeur; rather, they now represented his mission in life, a call to serve others. The source of his "ailment" transformed into the harbinger of his recovery.

Yosef named his firstborn Menashe, for G-d has made me forget all my hardship,...and the name of the second son he called Efraim, for G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering. (41:51,52)

Horav Zeev Weinberger, Shlita, asserts that Yosef purposely gave his sons specific names. In naming Menashe, he was determined first to focus on removing the "past." With Efraim's name, he intended to offer gratitude for the present. We note that Yosef is the only tribe for whom two reasons are given for his name. Rachel says, "G-d has taken away my disgrace" and "May Hashem add for me another son." Once again, the twin concepts of erasing the past and maintaning a positive attitude about the present are manifest in these two names. This implies that Yosef's personality consists of two overt forces which were transmitted to his descendants via the two tribes that descended from him.

These two forces represent two concepts which have been the subject of dispute: "sur meira," turn away from evil; and "asei tov", perform good deeds. Which is more important? On which idea should greater focus be placed? Can one perform mitzvos if he has not yet eradicated the evil within him? Should one wait to perform mitzvos until after he has purged himself of all evil? Menashe and Efraim symbolize these two distinct concepts. Menashe's name emphasizes total elimination of past evil, while Efraim's name alludes to focusing on constructive future activity, particularly mitzvos. Yosef and Yaakov differed regarding the relative significance of these concepts. Yaakov sought to bless Efraim prior to Menashe, an action which Yosef could not understand. He felt that we must first expunge evil before we can proceed to perform good deeds. Yaakov's experience in life taught him to be flexible. One cannot totally rid oneself of all evil without developing the capacity to "do good."

In their classic dispute regarding the neiros, lights of Chanukah, Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel also debate this issue. The light of the candle creates two forces: the power to burn; and the power to give off light. The Chashmonaim triumphed over the Greeks, destroying their evil. They came to the Bais Hamikdash to purify it of its tumah, spiritual contamination. They lit a jar of untainted oil, which they discovered. This oil miraculously lasted for eight days. We can view the light/fire of Chanukah from two perspectives. It is a flame that burns and destroys evil. This is symbolized by Bais Shammai's approach, pocheis v'holeich, decreasing in number each night. According to Bais Shammai, on the first night we should light eight candles. On each subsequent night, we should subtract one light, signifying the destruction of evil. Bais Hillel, on the other hand, holds that one must first be kum v'asai, take a positive approach, purifying oneself through serving the Almighty and performing His mitzvos. This avodah, service, will succeed in eradicating evil, according to Bais Hillel. Thus, they contend that one should be moseif v'holech, increase a candle each night, starting with one candle and adding an additional candle each night as the force of purity becomes stronger and brighter.

Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. (42:8)

There is a story told about Horav Chaim Soloveitchik,zl, and the infamous Jewish apostate, Professor Daniel Chivalson, who was a Bible scholar and critic in Czarist Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. Chivalson had the position of chief censor for Hebrew books. Despite his apparent betrayal of the religion to which he was born, he continued to act favorably to his "ex" co-religionists. He was in touch with many famous rabbanim of his time. He signed his letters with the name Yosef, the name by which he was called prior to his spiritual demise. When Chivalson reached his seventieth birthday, he received letters of congratulations from many communities and prominent rabbis as a display of gratitude for benefitting Jewish causes. Horav Chaim Soloveitchik was vehemently against this move, claiming that it was absolutely forbidden to maintain any relationship with an apostate.

When Chivalson became aware of this, he sent a note to Rav Chaim with the above pasuk from our parsha written on it: "Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him." He meant to imply that he, Yosef, remembered his Jewish brethren and continued to act on their behalf, but they -- his brethren -- act towards him as if he never existed. Why? Rav Chaim quickly responded, "The brothers sold Yosef. In this case, however, it was "Yosef" (Chivalson) who reneged and became a traitor!"

We cite this story for the purpose of deriving an important lesson from it. We see how far one can go in his error and hyprocricy. Chivalson committed the ultimate sin when he baptised himself. Yet, he had no qualms about maintaining a cordial relationship with the people he had forsaken. He continued to think that business went on as usual, which indeed it did! After all, did not those whom he denigrated continue to "recognize" him? All acknowledged him, except Rav Chaim Brisker. One person was secure enough in his belief, firm enough in his conviction. He had the temerity to stand up to this blasphemer, who had the gall to vilify the G-d for whom so many of his co-religionists had died for throughout history. When we honor those that have turned their back on our religion, we give them strength and encourage them to fortify their apostacy.

They said to one another, "Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us... Reuven spoke up...Did I not speak to you saying, "Do not sin against the boy." (42:21,22)

Realizing that things were not going well for them, the brothers became introspective. They recognized that Yosef's ill treatment of them was Divine retribution for their part in the mechiras Yosef, sale of Yosef. They did not, however, acknowledge any wrongdoing with regard to the actual sale, only in their lack of compassion towards him as he begged them to let him go. Reuven seems to be saying, "I told you so." He had attempted to thwart their plan and save Yosef. He claims to have said, "Do not sin against the boy." The Ramban questions this statement, maintaining that it is to be found nowhere in the Torah. It is true, indeed, that Reuven objected to the sale, but he never actually confronted them, saying "Do not sin against the boy."

Horav Tzvi Hirsh Ferber, zl, attributes Reuven's reaction to the fact that he had heard his brothers regretting only their lack of compassion as he pleaded with them. They did not regret their decision to sell him. He cites the Kesav Sofer who attributes another meaning to "tzaras nafsho" (which is commonly translated as "his heartfelt anguish"). Yosef was concerned about "nafsho," his soul, his spiritual well-being, if he were to be sold into an alien culture. He feared the spiritual contamination that would result from his living among pagans. They did not care; they felt his pleas were nothing more than a ruse. They decided that he only cared about his physical sustenance, not his spiritual welfare.

When the brothers saw Shimon being led away to be a captive in an Egyptian jail, thrown together with immoral degenerates and other undesirables, they realized that Hashem was giving them a message. Maybe Yosef had not been pretending. Perhaps he really did care about "nafsho," spiritual dimension. Perhaps Hashem was telling them to note what was happening to Shimon and to deliberate about what probably had occurred with Yosef as well. Regarding this, Reuven said, "Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy?" He was opposed to selling Yosef, because selling him to an alien culture would be worse than killing him! They were causing him to sin, to destroy "nafsho," his soul, which --- as Chazal teach us -- is worse than physical harm.

Perhaps we should stop and think about the consequences of our actions. When we act in a manner that is disdainful -- or even indifferent -- to someone whose spiritual affiliation is precarious, we literally distance them. We are responsible for their downfall or lack of growth. One can easily harm someone whose spiritual conviction is faltering. Our action or inaction can cause irreparable damage. "Do not sin against the boy" has long been the cry of those who have devoted their lives to making sure that every Jewish child receives the education he or she deserves. When parents place their personal vested interests before their child; when teachers disregard the emotional/social/religious background of a child; when communal leaders render decisions regarding Torah institutions based upon financial, rather than spiritual, need, then they transgress the parameters of "al techetu b'yeled," "Do not sin against the boy." The decisions we make today can continue to impact us tomorrow.

They had left the city...and Yosef said to the one in charge of his house, "Get up, chase after the men...and you are to say to them, 'Why do you repay evil for good?'" (44:4)

Yosef's choice of words, "Why do you repay evil for good?" is questionable. One who does evil in place of good is not "repaying." He either did not do good, or he performed evil. The term simply does not apply when one is acting wrongly. One does not pay evil for good. Horav Yitzchak Goldwasser, Shlita, explains that when we delve into the psyche of a kafui tov, one who denies the gratitude he owes and instead acts inappropriately, we note a remarkable phenomenon of human nature. One who has benefitted from another fellow is literally in debt to him. By failing to recognize the debt of gratitude which he owes, he thinks it will disappear. This is not, however, an easy task. The favor which he received stares at him, demanding appreciation, compelling him to respond in some way for the service he availed himself of. He attempts to hide from this debt, to cover it up. Hence the phrase kafui tov, derived from the word kafah, to cover. This concept is not that simplistic, because the idea of "tovah" is very compelling.

How does one deal with this "problem"? Psychologically speaking, a person's emotions respond to his actions. In other words, if one acts inappropriately or in a vulgar manner, in due time his personality will begin to conform to his actions. He will become a vulgar, negative person. While the kafui tov may not be a psychologist, he still feels that if he acts towards his benefactor in a disgusting manner, he will ultimately break the emotional hold that he has on him, and he will no longer feel beholden to him.

Indeed, it is said over in the name of the Chasam Sofer, that he once passed by a Jew who made it a point to make life miserable for him. He remarked, "I do not know why he causes me such anguish; I never did him a favor!" The understanding is that a perverted mind that does not want to return a favor, will instead be inconsiderate to that individual. Thus, we now understand the underlying meaning of Yosef's statement. One who is a kafui tov, who refuses to recognize and appreciate the favor he received, will pay back his debt of gratitude with a disservice.


1. What was the significance of Pharaoh's double dream?

2. The Egyptians stored their grain during the "years of plenty." What happened to that grain?

3. a. Were Yaakov and his family affected by the famine in Egypt?

b. If they were not, why did Yaakov send his sons to seek food in Egypt?

4. On what basis did Yosef accuse his brothers of being spies?

5. a. Did the brothers bring the same amount of money on their second trip to Egypt as on the first? b. Why?

6. What was unique about the fact that Yosef and his brothers drank wine together?


1. It indicated that the dreams would take effect immediately.

2. It all became spoiled, forcing the Egyptians to turn to Yosef.

3. a. They had sufficient food.

b. He did not want to arouse the envy of his pagan neighbors.

4. They entered the city through ten separate entrances, rather than entering together through a single entrance.

5. a. No. b. They would repay the money they had found in their sacks and have sufficient funds remaining to purchase food, even if the price had doubled since their last trip.

6. This was the first time that Yosef and his brothers had drunk wine since mechiras Yosef.

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