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Parashat Vayeshev

Dedicated In Memory of Our Nephew Morris Treibitz by Zurrie and Beverly Grazi

Parashat Vayeshev

The parasha begins with the passuk, “Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojournings in the land of Canaan. These are the chronicles of Yaakov: Yosef at the age of seventeen was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock.” The Torah is telling us that Yaacov was looking forward to settling with his family and building Am Yisrael. But Hashem had a different plan for Yaacov, because the tzaddikim were never intended to have lives of leisure in this world. Yaacov still had much to accomplish in the building of Klal Yisrael.

The parasha goes on to say: “v’Yisrael ahav et Yosef mekol banav ki ben zekunim hu lo ve’asa lo ketonet passim — Now Israel loved Yosef more than his other sons since he was a child of his old age and so he made him a fine woolen tunic.”

Yaakov sent Yosef out to look for his brothers to inquire about their welfare. The brothers saw Yosef from a distance, and wanted to kill him.

The Formation Of The Jewish Nation

Why were the brothers so angry with Yosef that they wanted to kill him? Could this just be a simple case of sibling rivalry?

The formation of the Jewish people was characterized at all stages by a thorough filtering-out process, until only the finest remained to become the future nation of G-d. This filtering process began with Avraham Avinu. Avraham had two sons, Yitzhak and Yishmael. Yitzhak was chosen to be Avraham’s successor, while Yishmael was expelled and founded a nation of his own. This phenomenon recurred with Yitzhak’s two sons, Yaakov and Esav. Yaakov was the son who clung to his father’s ways, whereas Esav broke away and founded a separate nation.

In Yosef’s first dream, he declared: “Behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” In the second dream, Yaakov as well bowed down to Yosef, which meant that Yosef was to become one of the patriarchs.

Seforno comments that the tunic (ketonet passim) symbolized Yosef’s new position as a leader. It also designated Yosef for service to Hashem. Therefore, we find the ketonet among the garments worn by the kohen while serving in the Bet Hamikdash (Malbim).

From all these signs the brothers saw that there would be another division of the House of Yaakov, just as there had been with Avraham and Yitzhak, and they would not merit to be founders of the Jewish nation.

Now, what the brothers had to decide was whether the division was a divine decree, and their tradition that the Bet Yaakov would no longer be divided had been forfeited by their sins; or whether, this division was Yaakov’s work motivated by his free choice and not divine decree.

After their analysis, they reached the conclusion that the division was not a divine decree. The verse states: Yosef brought “evil reports about them to their father” (37:2). The brothers thought that Yosef’s informing against them had caused Yaakov to distance them, and choose the young Yosef as the one who would found the Jewish nation.

Yosef felt the opposing spirit of his brothers, and precisely because of this he told them his dreams. The Ohr HaHayyim (37:5) writes that Yosef wanted to indicate to them that his dreams were direct signs from heaven, meaning they did reflect a divine decree.

But the brothers felt that this was not proof. They claimed that these dreams were the fruit of Yosef’s imagination. This conclusion led them to see Yosef as what is known in halacha as a rodef, a pursuant (with intent to kill). In the brothers’ bet din they ruled that Yosef was a rodef. The halacha is that when a person comes to kill, his victim should rise earlier and kill him first. Therefore, Yosef’s punishment was death, as the Seforno states: “They thought that Yosef was a rodef… [who can be killed] if there is no other way to save the one being pursued.”

Within the above midrash is a profound message for all times, namely: Meriting to be a part of the Jewish nation means meriting life itself!

According to the Rabbis, the children of Yaakov had a tradition that this phenomenon would stop with them, and that there would no longer be any separation or expulsion: Each brother would be a partner in founding of the nation of Hashem. They also had a tradition that the nation of Hashem had to be founded by Yaakov’s sons, whose number had to be twelve. But killing Yosef would mean losing the twelfth son. Without him, all of their chances of building the Jewish nation would end.

The brothers decided that the number twelve could be built in a different way: Yaakov and eleven of his sons. The Rabbis continue to explain that the future heads of the tribes now found themselves facing a scenario that contradicted the tradition they had received that they would build the Jewish nation.

Another question arises: while Hashem revealed many secrets to Yaakov, He did not reveal to him the sale of Yosef. Why is this?

Midrash Tanchuma explains that the brothers placed a divine punishment (called a herem) upon anyone who would divulge the sale of Yosef. In order to place a herem, ten men are required. Only nine brothers were present, and so the brothers included Hashem, so to speak, as the tenth.

Do You Recognize This?

Yehuda spoke up and said, “What gain will there be if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?”

So Yehuda convinced the brothers to sell Yosef to the Ishmaelites as a slave rather than kill him. The brothers returned to their father Yaakov with a fabricated story that Yosef had been killed by a wild animal. As proof they brought their father Yosef’s beautiful robe, which they had dipped in goat’s blood. It was Yehuda’s idea, so he was the one who brought the coat to Yaakov and said the words “haker na — Do you recognize this?”

Later in the parasha, when we read of the story of Yehuda and Tamar, we see the very same words used by Tamar when Yehuda confronts her: “haker na — Do you recognize this?” Yehuda recognized his signet, wrap, and staff, and admitted his guilt.

A direct result of this is that Yehuda was elevated to the status of king over his brothers, and eventually over Am Yisrael. We learn two great lessons from this episode:

1. The reward for one who is able to admit his faults and mistakes — a trait that the vast majority of people find very hard to do.

2. How Hashem runs the world. One is judged in the very same manner as he conducts himself, midda k’neged midda. The exact words that Yehuda used when presenting his brother’s coat to his father reappeared when he was confronted by Tamar. Hashem was clearly sending Yehuda a message regarding his guilt in dealing with his father.

Hashem Alone

When Yosef was sold to the Ishmaelites (37:35) “They raised their eyes and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels carrying spices, balsam and lotus.” Rashi asks, “Why was it important for the Torah to mention the somewhat insignificant detail of what the Ishmaelites were carrying?” Rashi answers: It was to teach us the reward of the tzaddikim. Those caravans usually carry foul smelling cargo, such as naphtha and tar. In order to spare Yosef Hatzaddik from that offensive odor, Hashem arranged it that this caravan be the exception. This was a sign to Yosef that even in the most difficult situation, he must not despair. Hashem was still watching over him!

Rabbi Elimelech Biderman quotes a midrash on the words “Yaakov remained alone” (Vayeitze 32:25): “On that day, Hashem will stand alone, just as Yaakov.” The Baal Shem Tov, explaining this midras, teaches that someone who has enemies must believe that it’s not by chance that people are against him. It is pre-destined from above. Nothing happens without Hashem’s decree. If we can understand this concept, the Baal Shem Tov taught us that our enemies will disappear.

Whenever a person is put to a test, the way to overcome it is to go through it with Hashem, knowing that He is in total control.

Rav Lugassi told a story about a young man who was suffering in very difficult circumstances. His wife became sick and had to be hospitalized for an extended period. His house was in chaos. Medical expenses were putting him in debt, his children missed their mother, and he had to fill the roles of both mother and father. He went from living a very normal life to being thrown into an extremely difficult situation. He went to Rav Lugassi for chhizuk.

The Rabbi told him, “You can no longer live a standard life. You have a choice to make now. You can either feel sorry for yourself and be broken from this situation, or you can grow to the highest levels. This is your opportunity for greatness.”

The young man responded, “But I’m just a regular guy. Why is this test being given to me?”

The Rabbi told him, “We do not ask Hashem why He gives certain challenges to certain people. He knows who needs what.”

The young man decided that he wanted to grow, and began strengthening himself in emunah, mussar and Torah.

Baruch Hashem, his wife eventually recovered. Today, this man is a dynamic speaker for a world-famous organization, disseminating Torah to the masses. He overcome his challenges and became so strong that he is now helping thousands of people deal with their problems.

Hashem puts every person in the exact situation necessary to achieve his level of greatness. Just as Hashem engineered the events in Egypt that led Yosef from a twelve-year jail sentence for a crime he did not commit to the high position of viceroy of Egypt. This must be looked at as a message from Hashem for us, that whenever we are in a difficult situation, we should look closely and appreciate all the good that Hashem has bestowed upon us. It’s very easy to get lost in self-pity but a Jew should never despair. We must always believe that Hashem has a greater plan for us. Yosef learned this from his father Yaakov and knew that everything that was happening to him was all from Hashem.

As David Hamelech wrote in Tehilim (118/21) “Odecha ki anitaniy, Vetehi-li layeshuah” which means “I will give you thanks; for you (Hashem) have answered me, and through You is my salvation “. Another way of interperting the word “Anitani” is affliction. In other words and as crazy at may sound...I’m praising Hashem for my affliction and the difficulties in life that we go through because that affliction will pave the way for our redemption and give us the strength to overcome our struggles! Amen!

The Holiday of Hanukah

We are now approaching the celebration of the great holiday of Hanukah. We’ll be celebrating another great miracle where the Hashmonayim were able to fight off the powerful Greek army and protect the Bet Hamikdash. They didn’t look at their small numbers; rather, they relied on Hashem just as Yosef did.

There’s a very important question thats asked: Why don’t we celebrate the amazing military victory the Jew’s had over the powerful Greek army that greatly outnumbered them, but rather we celebrate the fact that we found one flask of oil that lasted eight days? The answer is that we are a nation that’s goal is to bring light into the world and not a nation that prides itself on fighting wars.

May we all learn to focus on all the good that Hashem bestows upon us in good times, but also realize His presence in the difficult times that we all go through. We must always remember that a Jew should never despair. Hashem is in control. Very often there’s a silver lining that Hashem allows us to see in all the trying times that we face throughout our lives.

Shabbat Shalom!

Discussion Points:

· Do we take responsibility for our actions and admit our faults as Yehuda did in the story with Tamar?

· In hindsight, can we see the silver lining in any of the difficulties that we’ve experienced throughout our lives?

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

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