Blog Vayeshev Kislev 23rd 5779 בלוג וַיֵּשֶׁב, כ”ג כסלו תשע”ט

In this saga, Vayeshev (and he settled) we see the typical dysfunctional family. It would be good if we could learn from the story of others so that we could avoid making the same mistakes. It is important to constantly re-examine ourselves because we have a very short memory. Jacob was finally back in his home land which he had left when he ran away from Esav. He was now ready to settle down with his wives, his sons and daughters, after going through such a hard time with his father-in-law Laban. We might think that he would have learned from the mistakes of his parents who had both favored one son over the other.

The Torah is so beautifully honest. Gen. 37 begins with “These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old…” With this simple statement we are able to see that Jacob only had eyes for Joseph. What can we glean from this to apply to our lives today? Do not show preference for one child over another. We parents do not always see how much we affect our children for good or bad. We need to be wise enough to recognize that each child is special and unique, even identical twins. It is very easy to connect with the child that is similar to us, but it takes wisdom and patience to deal with the child with an opposite personality. That child needs more of our time and attention. As adults, we may need to overcome much of the damage from our youth but if we do not deal with past traumatic experiences, we can suffer mental, emotional and even physical problems.

The story of Jacob and his sons paints a picture of rivalry among the brothers provoked by their father. He had his favorite son and showed it by having a special coat made for him. Perhaps he was repeating what his mother Rivkah had done when she knew that Jacob would be the chosen leader of the family not Esav. But if indeed he believed this about Joseph, he certainly did nothing to hide it. We see the division right from the beginning between the brothers with “King Joseph” being placed at the top. He was a spoiled brat and a tattle-tale which pushed his brothers to hate him. Knowing this, Jacob still sent Joseph to check on his brothers and report back to him. What happened next set the stage for the future of Israel as a people! Whenever we try to confront one another with violence, we destroy ourselves. We saw this in the case of Rabin’s murder. Israel can never be destroyed from outside, we can only be destroyed from within. Joseph’s brothers threw him into a pit and later when he was a slave in the house of Potiphar he once again was thrown into another pit, prison. This process finally humbled him and made him smart. He lost his arrogance and pride. Whenever we are “in the pits”, down, depressed, the only direction we can look is up. It is when we are at the top that we look down. When we examine the lowest times in our lives, we will always see that something happened to get us through. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem.

When Joseph had told his father and brothers his two dreams, he had been arrogant, and we see that he never gave credit to the Creator. Now in prison, Joseph would interpret the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker to the Pharaoh, admitting that it was the Boreh Olam who gave him their interpretation. His harsh experiences had humbled him. Joseph asked the cupbearer not to forget him when his position was restored. He however forgot, and it would be another two years until he would be rescued. This is the story of Israel; many forget us.

We can learn several lessons from this parashah. First, families are complicated entities and it requires tremendous wisdom, time and patience to build a healthy family. Secondly, children need a lot of our time. I realize that I myself did not give enough time to my own children. And third, we need to trust in the Creator. There was a purpose in everything that Joseph experienced in order to make him stronger and wiser. He went from being a know-it-all brat to a humble man who became the viceroy of Egypt used by God to save not only his own family but many nations from starvation.

Here in this community, we have several Josephs who may not realize it. You may be away from your families, but you are interceding and helping them to know the Creator, the Boreh Olam, the One who changes life. They may see you as someone strange, but your mere presence influences them. We may not know how to communicate about what we have but the best way is through how we live our lives, not through our words. At home, at school, at work, wherever we are, our actions speak louder than words.

We are entering the time of Hanukkah, a holiday which speaks against assimilation. When we accept the values of this world, and reject the values of Torah, we are assimilating. The world has lost the concept of right and wrong. When we are afraid of violating human rights and do not speak up for the values of Torah, we are assimilating. It is not ok to do whatever we want. That is being libertine. True freedom carries with it, responsibility.

Joseph learned this in the pit where he begged to be rescued; later when he was sold as a slave, he always remained loyal to the Creator. He never forgot where he came from nor did he forget who His God was. Are you a Joseph in this day and age?