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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


These are the offspring of Yaakov: Yosef. (37:2)

The introductory sentence of "These are the offspring of Yaakov," suggests that the Torah is about to enumerate a long list of children. The Torah, however, proceeds to mention only one son - Yosef. The commentators offer a number of reasons for this. Rashi posits a reason that is somewhat questionable. He asserts that whatever happened to Yaakov, happened to Yosef. One example that he gives is that both were hated by their brothers - Yaakov by Eisav and Yosef by his brothers. The question that immediately confronts us is: How can we compare the two "hatreds"? Eisav's hatred toward Yaakov was driven by his evil streak, by his innate hatred of everything pure and holy. The tribes were tzaddikim whose "hatred" -- for want of a better term -- was motivated by idealism and grounded in halachah. While his brothers were ostensibly wrong in their assessment of Yosef, this is still no reason to compare their feelings toward Yosef to those of Eisav for Yaakov.

Horav Mordechai Gifter, Shlita, explains that Rashi is not comparing the actual hatreds, but rather the side effects and ultimate consequences of both hatreds. As a result of their brothers' animosity, both Yaakov and Yosef were forced to fend for themselves in such a manner that helped them to develop the strength to attain unimaginable heights. Yaakov was an "ish tam," a wholesome man, "yoshev ohalim," abiding in tents: this means that sitting in the bais ha'medrash, studying Torah, was his way of life. He knew nothing else. Eisav's hatred had forced him out of the study hall to spend twenty-two years with Lavan in an environment clearly antithetical to that of the yeshivah. While Yaakov may truly have possessed the potential to triumph in this challenging situation, only after he was compelled to accept the challenge did this potential achieve fruition. Yaakov was forced to leave home and access those hidden qualities of which he, under normal circumstances, would not have been aware. These qualities became active components in his personality and, subsequently, they appeared in his descendants.

Likewise, Yosef's brothers' hatred towards him effected an incredible change in his personality. He transformed from a sweet, complacent young man to a world leader. He was obliged to develop his hidden strengths and abilities to survive both physically and spiritually, climaxing in his ascension of the throne of Egypt as viceroy to Pharaoh. This ability to lead will be imparted to his descendant, our future leader, Moshiach ben Yosef.

They took Yosef's tunic, slaughtered a goatling, and dipped the tunic in the blood. (37:31)

The brothers' act of dipping the tunic in the blood holds great significance for us. The Ben Ish Chai says that we dip twice during the Pesach Seder is in commemoration of the "two dippings" associated with the galus, exile. The exile began as a result of sinaas chinam, unwarranted hatred, between Yosef and his brothers. Thus, the dipping of Yosef's tunic in blood marked the first step of the exile. The redemption began when Klal Yisrael was commanded to dip a bundle of hyssop in the blood of the Korban Pesach and touch the lintel and two door posts with it. This dipping in blood, as the Jews were about to leave Egypt, initiated yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. Horav Chaim Vitzal, zl, explains that the actual decree that Klal Yisrael would be enslaved for four hundred years originated at the Bris bein Ha'besarim, Covenant between the Parts. The fact that Egypt was to be the land of their exile and the extent of the affliction to which they were subjected however, was determined when the hatred of brother to brother caused them to dip the tunic in the blood. When Klal Yisrael together took a bundle of hyssop, symbolizing unity, and dipped it into the blood of the Korban Pesach, they understood that the key to redemption was - togetherness and unity. Unwarranted hatred led to the exile; unwarranted love will end it.

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, cites the Meshech Chochmah in his commentary to Parashas Acharei Mos. He explains why when we recite Shemoneh Esrai on Yom Kippur, we close with the brachah, "Ki atah salchan l'Yisrael u'machalan l'shivtei Ye'shurun", "ForYou are the forgiver of Yisrael and the pardoner of the tribes of Yeshurun." We do not find an allusion to the shevatim, tribes, in any of our other prayers. Why is this connection specified in regard to the tefillah, prayer, of Yom Kippur? He explains that while the sin of the Golden-Calf is the source of Klal Yisrael's transgressions throughout the generations, this only applies to those sins that are "bein adam la'Makom," between man and G-d. Those sins that are "bein adam la'chaveiro," between man and his fellow man, have a different source - mechiras Yosef, the brothers' sale of Yosef. In accordance with the lofty spiritual level of the shevatim, the sale of Yosef indicated a deficiency that reflected itself in sinaas chinam among Jews throughout the generations. He proves that wherever Jews are failing in their brotherly love, Hashem exacts retribution from Klal Yisrael for their ancestors' "sin." Thus, when we supplicate Hashem on Yom Kippur, we ask that He forgive us for two sins - the Golden- Calf and the sale of Yosef. As long as there is unwarranted hatred among Jews, we must answer for the sin of mechiras Yosef. In addressing our persecution visa-vis the various blood libels that were leveled at us throughout history, Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, suggests that in every bit of sheker, untruth, there is a bit of truth to maintain its credibility. What aspect of the blood libel could possibly be true? Rav Elchanan explains that the dipping of Yosef's tunic in blood is that bit of emes, truth, that has been sufficient to give credence to the blood libels throughout the generations. How incredible it is that after all these generations we still suffer as a result of that lack of brotherly love which destroyed the harmony of Yaakov Avinu's home! What we should ask ourselves is: Have things really changed since that tragic incident? Have we learned our lesson, or do we just pay lip service to the concept of achdus, unity? This may be one question which we just do not want to answer.

And everything that was done there, he would accomplish. (39:22)

Simply, Yosef succeeded in every endeavor that he undertook. The Veitzener Rav, Horav Tzvi Hirsch Meisels, zl, offers a homiletic rendering of this pasuk based upon an idea expressed by the Ba'al Shem Tov. The Ba'al Shem Tov once saw a Jew desecrating Shabbos. He immediately inspected his own actions to examine whether he himself might have participated in a tinge of chillul, desecration, of Shabbos. He explained that when one sees another Jew submitting to his evil-inclination and transgressing, Hashem is conveying a message to him: The individual himself had also been "nichsol," stumbled/fell, in a way similar to this sin. He is being availed the opportunity to see what he did wrong, so that he will repent. In other words, what we witness reflects what we do. When one notes another's inappropriate behavior, it is not by chance; it is by design to encourage us to wake up and look at ourselves. The Ba'al Shem Tov reminded himself that he once had heard someone speaking degradingly about a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, and he did not protest. The Zohar Ha'Kadosh says that a talmid chacham is considered on a level with Shabbos. Thus, one who is not concerned with the proper respect that should be accorded a talmid chacham is in effect analogous to one who desecrates Shabbos. The Ba'al Shem Tov understood that he was being given a message from Heaven. He immediately acted in response to it.

Horav Meisels cites Horav Shmuel Chaim Sofer, zl, who applies this concept to "exonerate" Yosef from the criticism leveled against him for speaking "lashon hora," slander, against his brothers. Yosef was actually chastising himself when he told his father that he saw his brothers committing certain sins. He felt that he observed his brothers' actions because he was deficient in these areas. Rather than seeking to cast aspersion upon his brothers, Yosef was reprimanding himself.

There is, however, a distinction between the incident involving the Ba'al Shem Tov and Yosef's situation. The Ba'al Shem Tov was privy to an unfamiliar individual's desecration of Shabbos. In contrast, Yosef was remanded to prison for an extended period of time during which he was exposed to every form of evil, to every type of miscreant. Surely, in such a situation one would not have to attribute all the "sins" with which he comes in contact as reference to his own deficiencies. Yet, says Horav Meisels, Yosef did not look for a way out. He did not make any attempt to rationalize the aveiros that he confronted as irrelevant, just because he was in jail. No, Yosef blamed himself "and everything that was done there." He could have easily invalidated as coincidence - all the sins and sinners with which he came in contact. No! Not Yosef - "he would accomplish", - he took the blame as if Hashem was telling him directly that what he had observed was an area of his own behavior that must be rectified.

Pharaoh became angry with his two officers…And they dreamed a dream, both of them…And Yosef said unto them, "Do not interpretations belong to G-d? Tell it to me, I pray you." (40:2,5,8)

The Torah tells us that Pharaoh's chief cup-bearer and chief baker were both punished and incarcerated in the jail at the same time as Yosef. We are not told, however, what their sin was: What did they do that warranted this punishment? Chazal tell us that a fly was found in the goblet of wine that the cup-bearer offered to Pharaoh, and a stone was found in the bread prepared by the chief baker. Yosef interpreted their dreams to mean that the baker would die and the cup-bearer would be reinstated to his previous position. Undoubtedly, Yosef interpreted their dreams through prophetic perception: Yet, there must have been some indication from their dreams that would have implied a positive direction for rendering an explanation for the cup-bearer's dream and a negative perception for the baker's dream. On the contrary, the cup-bearer's sin was greater than that of the baker. The cup-bearer should have noticed the fly floating on the surface of the wine. The baker could at least have attempted to excuse himself by saying that he could not have seen what was inside the bread.

Horav Yosef Tzvi Dunner, Shlita, comments that when one reads through the text of their dreams, it becomes apparent that Pharaoh's two chamberlains had disparate attitudes towards their positions. Their relative levels of devotion towards their ruler was, likewise, significantly different. People are inclined to dream at night what they think about during the day. When we peruse the cup-bearer's description of his daily endeavor, "And I took the grapes, pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I placed the cup in Pharaoh's palm," we note his total commitment to serving Pharaoh with reverence. His allegiance to Pharaoh was apparent from the way he depicted his work. His job was to bring wine to Pharaoh. Yet, we see the care he applies to its preparation from its very beginning on the vine! That is loyalty; that is devotion. So, he made an error - once; a grave error, but it was a single in the concept of tenure of faithfulness and loyalty. Such a person deserved another chance.

The baker's words also indicate his attitude - one very dissimilar from his counterpart, the cup-bearer. In the baker's dream, he saw "three wicker baskets were on my head." He did not dream about working in the fields, gathering the wheat, preparing the flour, and baking the bread. He saw everything prepared, ready to be served. He saw what he wanted to see. He did not care about the preparation of the bread. He simply wanted to serve the bread and be finished. Is it any wonder that a stone was found in the bread? Moreover, we see that the baskets were on his head - he did not care enough to hold them in his hands. Also, why would someone who is really concerned offer Pharaoh his bread in a wicker basket? Is not a king served on gold and silver? The dreams were the barometer by which Yosef determined each chamberlain's dedication to his position and his loyalty to the king. Only one who literally throws himself into his work, not anticipating special reward -- just simply out of a sense of commitment and work ethic -- will succeed.

Parashas Vayeshev is always read either on Shabbos Chanukah or the week before. There is a relationship between Chanukah and Parashas Vayeshev. We are confronted with the question: How did a small band of Jews triumph over the overwhelming odds that they faced? How did the "me'atim," few, overcome the "rabim," many, who were armed with all types of weaponry? Yet, they lost. How did this happen? Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, applies the above exposition to give greater meaning to the concept of "rabim b'yad me'atim." In the Talmud Chullin 92 Chazal assert that the dream of the vine is an analogy to Am Yisrael; the word "gefen," vine, represents Torah. Its clusters of grapes symbolize the tzaddikim, righteous Jews, of every generation.

The secret of Klal Yisrael's success and survival throughout the millennia has been our mesiras nefesh, total devotion to the point of self-sacrifice, for Torah and mitzvos. We were moser nefesh not to work on Shabbos, to keep kosher; to maintain family purity; and to see to it that our children were accorded a Jewish education. One who has such convictions will triumph over adversity and challenge, because Hashem will support him regardless of who or how powerful his enemy is. Our success is not dependent upon the size or strength of our army; it is consistent with our commitment and loyalty to Hashem. When we realize that our very lives are contingent upon our ability to carry out the ratzon, will, of Hashem, then we will do whatever is necessary to facilitate this success. Thus, the cup-bearer's dream has a far-reaching message.


1.) Whose facial features did Yosef's strongly resemble?

2.) The brothers' open animosity towards Yosef actually demonstrates their greatness. Explain this?

3.) Before Yosef went to his brothers in Shechem he went with Yaakov to ____ _____ to daven.

4.) a) How long did Yaakov mourn for Yosef?
b) With what did this period of time coincide?

5.) a) Who deceived his father by dipping Yosef's tunic in the blood of a young goat?
b) What was his punishment?

6.) a) Which animal has no shame?
b) Whose actions render her comparable to this animal?


1.) Yaakov's.

2.) They did not pretend to show what they did not feel in their hearts.

3.) Avraham's grave.

4.) a) 22 years.
b) Yaakov Avinu was away from his father's home for this same length of time during which he "neglected" the mitzvah of kibud av v'am. This was his punishment.

5.) a) Yehudah.
b) He, too, was deceived with a young goat, which was to be his payment to Tamar.

6.) a) The bear.
b) Potifar's wife.


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