Avi Strauss Torat Shraga
Parshat Vayeishev presents us with the travails of Yosef HaTzaddick. Sold by his brothers into slavery, “the dreamer” faces the difficulties of servitude, arayot and imprisonment. And while these are no challenges to sneer at, a peculiar midrash says that Yosef was in fact tested more than the Avot were. The midrash says that Yosef was upset that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all tested but he wasn’t. Hashem responds, telling Yosef that he would be tested more than they were. The implication of this midrash, according to the Netivot Shalom, is that his nisayon was harder than all the nisyonot of the avot combined. This extreme approach seems to be either belittling the incredible challenges and tremendous successes our avot had or making fantastic statements as to the nature of Yosef’s struggles, neither of which would seem to be the intent of the above midrash.
Furthermore, there is a famous verse in Tehillim (114:3) which states “the sea saw and fled”. What did the Yam Suf see that ultimately caused it to flee? The coffin bearing Yosef’s remains. How could this be? The zechut of Aharon, Moshe and the 600,000 Jews who we know didn’t succumb to the lowliness of Mitzrayim in whose midst they lived in for over 200 years wasn’t enough? Which of Yosef’s actions could have possibly warranted such an unparalleled zechut to split the sea?
The claim that Yosef’s tests were more difficult that the avot gains credence when seeing the gemara in Yoma (35b). The gemara explains that when a rasha tries to make excuses about why he didn’t engage in Torah study and says “I was handsome” and “entangled with my evil inclination”, he is quickly rebuked and asked “were you any more handsome than Yosef ?” The gemara then goes on to explain all the ways Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Yosef (with promises of wealth, threats of imprisonment, blindness, other physical harm etc.) and that Yosef adamantly refused. Perhaps Yosef’s overcoming of his own inclination was in fact a greater achievement than the triumphs of his forefathers. Yet, while continuing to explain the nisayon of Yosef the Netivot Shalom rightfully asks how this can be so if Yosef had the incredible zechut of growing up in the house of Yaakov, learning all the Torah that his father had learnt, and being in the presence of his grandfather Yitzchak. Wasn’t Yosef born into much better circumstances than some lowly reshaim? He was probably born into a situation more conducive for moral and spiritual growth than anyone else! No doubt he should be held to a higher standard. His refusals should have been both immediate and steadfast.
And they were. A quick scanning of the pesukim that discuss this story reveals just that; a continual, unflagging rebuff to the attempted seduction. (Even the trop gives an insight to the nature of his refusal- a shalsheles over the word , “he refused”, followed by a psik, a pause which sections of this word, making it more noteworthy). While this can serve to bolster the claim of Yosef’s righteousness, it should still have been what we expected of him. So why then do we hail his success as being more worthy of the zechut for the sea to split upon his arrival?
Netivot Shalom offers an answer explaining the gadlus of Yosef and why he earned such a great zechut from his actions. His deep sense of morality and subservience to Hashem are what got him that far without submitting prior to then (exactly what anyone would have expected of him). But, on that fateful day, he was burdened by the yeitzer hara, wielding the strength of all evil inclination in the entire world, and still did not yield to his physical desires. He rose above the natural order of the world, “and he fled and ran outside” (Bereishit 39:12). This supreme act of integrity and resolve, which overcame all evil will that exists in the world, truly was a rise above nature seemingly unmatched by even our great forefathers. It is no coincidence that when describing the zechut earned by way of this act later on in Tehillim to describe Kriyat Yam Suf, that the pasuk uses the same word “fled”. Just as Yosef rose above his humanly nature, so too the sea was willing to bend its own nature and split.
This idea obviously has bearing on each and every one of us as we go about our daily lives and experience challenges. These nisyonot, whether big or small can have a deep impact, beyond what we can even begin to fathom. They may appear be as difficult and obvious and Yosef’s, or more likely they will seem trivial and be disguised by the routine and ordinary. However, just as Yosef was unwavering in his commitment to Hashem and that which is right, even with the most powerful forces in the universe working against him, so to we must remain resolute and committed to our morals, endeavoring to break the shackles of desire and seduction all around us, in service of a higher purpose, service of Hashem.
Yoni Okin Mevaseret
This week's parsha details the events surrounding the sale of Yosef HaTzaddik, depicting his peak of being beloved and honored by his father over his brothers, as well as his fall from grace. And what a descent! Yosef ends up not only cut off from his father's warmth and cast away by his own brother to slavery, but also to the most depraved country of all time, Mitzrayim, which the Midrash informs us inherited nine of the world's ten portions of immorality and lewdness. The parsha indeed ends off with a cliffhanger, with Yosef seemingly forgotten by man and Creator alike, languishing in a jail cell for a crime he in fact did not perpetrate.
Yet, if one looks carefully at the inner workings of the events from start to end, one gets an appreciation for Hashem's ways, specifically those for his attributes of mercy and judgment, paralleled in depiction by only the Megilla. A casual glance over the Sidra leaves us to pity Yosef, who was thrust from one continual hardship to the next. However, not one was undeserved; Rashi assures us that each hardship was orchestrated by Hashem in His Mercy to help him atone for a lacking in a specific field.
Yosef's testimony to his father Yaakov, intended to chastise his brothers and spur their subsequent atonement, was in fact the causation for his own punishment and reformation. Yosef suspected his brothers of three failings in the areas of gilui arayos, aver min hachai, and bein adam lichaveiro. (It's worth noting that this last accusation especially was he himself failing in, as he should have first approached the brothers about their behavior rather than Yaakov, demonstrating his own lack of proper respect towards his brothers.) For these accusations, however uttered with proper intentions, Yosef was punished respectively with the Nisayon of Potifar's wife, having his coat dipped in goat's blood to deceive Yaakov and indicate his death, and his own sale into slavery.
Furthermore, we see later that Yosef was tested with Potifar's wife for another reason, for his self-beautification while his father was mourning him, so Hashem caused her to take notice of his "yafeh toar umareh." Indeed, the twelve years he spent imprisoned correspond to his belittlement of his ten brethren (for by mentioning how his brothers belittled their brethren, he too was belittling those brothers,) and his two requests to the chief butler begging for release over reliance in HaKadosh Boruch Hu.
Those are the examples of Middat HaDin; now for the Middat HaRachamim. Yosef was taken to Mitzrayim, in a caravan of delicious and fragrant spices so that he would not have to suffer the stench of the Yishmialim's usual cargo. The Torah goes out of its way numerous times to say that while in Potifar's house, and indeed, even in prison, Hashem was with him and blessed him with success, so much so that even his idolatrous master noticed and remarked about Hashem's involvement. Why, as soon as the twelve years of imprisonment were over, Hashem had the servants of Pharaoh rush Yosef from the prison so that he would not remain in discomfort a moment more than necessary. In fact, one might even say that the Mikra's use of "Viritzuhu" refers not only to Yosef's rapid ascent from the dungeon, but also to his stellar ascent into greatness as the ex-officio ruler of the world's largest empire.
Each of us has come to Israel, with a few variations and other conditions, to grow and nurture the Tzelem Elokim within us all. At times we're struggling, breaking our teeth over a sugya or trying to find our tafkid in life. We may feel frustrated over our slow or even seemingly nonexistent progress, in addition to any other troubles or hardships we see obstructing our paths.
Just remember these two simple yet infinitely powerful truths. First, everything happens for a reason. Whether it is to help us shed the skins of who we were so that we can become who we want to be, or to rid us of a spiritual failing we may not even be cognizant of, those hardships have a purpose. Daf hei of Mesechet Berachot explains to us that "Whoever Hashem desires," namely a tzaddik or someone of the like, "He afflicts with love," so you may be farther along in your progress than you think....
Second, and most important, Hashem is with you. He is helping and coaxing you to grow. Just as blades of grass first pass through cold, unwelcoming layers of dirt to bask in the sun, so too Hashem is waiting for us to surpass the hurdles, not obstacles, in our ascent to true Avodas Hashem. May we all be zocheh this year to become the person we want and deserve to be, who we should be, and who Hashem desires us to be, and thereby merit the coming of Mashiach, bimhaira viyamainu.
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