Archive for December, 2010

Do we know who Joseph was?

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

We were discussing the idea that the descendants of Yaakov became “pulled in” to the Egyptian world and became fairly comfortable in Egypt. This was the process that made the eventual slavery almost inevitable. Over 120 years, from the time they entered until the slavery began, they tried to assimilate (the Egyptians weren’t interested) and become at ease and welcomed in Egypt. One needs to remember that Egypt was the great Empire of its time, with all of the scientific progress in the world coming from Egypt.

Aaron Parker was at the class and made an interesting point. He pointed out that when the Torah begins the story of the enslavement it discusses Pharaoh “no longer knowing Joseph”. He wondered if that is a fully accurate description. Or can one truly say that “The Jews no longer knew who Joseph was”.

Once we forgot who we came from and what he stood for, it was quite easy for Pharaoh to do the same.

“Knowing Joseph” doesn’t mean knowing that he was a great Egyptian leader who helped during the famine. It also isn’t about knowing about his “coat of many colors”, those are biographical details. Knowing Joseph means understanding who he was spiritually and what he taught us.  

There are four main points every Jew needs to know about Joseph.

·        He had incredible faith in G-d, even as he went through the most terrible times in his life.

·        He wore his faith on his shirtsleeves; he let everyone know that it was G-d who gave him his abilities, not his own talents.

·        He resisted the incredible temptation of Potifar’s wife.

·        He had every opportunity to take full revenge on his brothers and didn’t.

We need to make sure we know who Joseph is. And for that matter who our forefathers are. If we don’t know who we are and who we came from, it is hard to expect the rest of the world to appreciate our accomplishments and importance.

Yosef’s development

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

The story of Yosef and his brothers is a very difficult one to understand. We have to start with looking at each side, recognizing that they were all spiritually great people  and trying to pinpoint a deeper view of the weaknesses and mistakes. 

Let’s look at Yosef right now in the beginning of Vayeshev. The Torah calls him a youth repeatedly in the story. He was 17 at this point. The other 10 older brothers were between 17 and 23 years old. So he was not the “kid brother” 10 years younger than everyone else. 

Rabbi Schwab says that the Torah calls him a youth to illustrate for us his weakness. That is the great weakness of youth – impatience.  Yosef struggles with balancing his future and potential (which were real and great) and waiting for them to develop in the “right time and place”. He seems to be getting ahead of himself quite often. 

This starts with him at home, telling on his brothers to his father, as though he is the older on e in authority. Continues with him telling them his dreams about becoming a leader / king, making his brothers uneasy and jealous. While he is clueless that his “looking ahead” is stoking the flames of hatred of his brothers, they are busy coming up with a way to get him out of the family. 

Even in Egypt, Rashi tells us when he starts to succeed as Potifar’s slave, he begins to think that his time to “rise the ranks” is here, he needs to fix his hair and so on. Once again jumping ahead. 

However, when tested with Potifar’s wife and her “vision of connection to Yosef (mistaken, because it’s her daughter he marries later, not her), Yosef realizes that even though something’s here, he needs to wait for the proper opportunity. 

In jail, he gets a bit too excited about the Butler and his opportunity to get out of jail, and on a microscopic level jumps the gun and thinks that now he’s going to leave via the butler, he is punished with 2 more years in prison. 

As we go full circle, by the time he is pulled out of jail, Yosef has totally matured and gained control of every situation. Personified by two events. 

·        When they rushed to take him to Pharaoh from prison, he refused to hurry to see the king, he insists on washing up, changing clothes and taking a haircut. Realizing this was his opportunity to make a deep impression, he slows everyone down and makes sure to do things right 

·        The whole story of Yosef pretending to accuse the brothers (for reasons that need to be explained) is an exercise of patience and self control on Yosef’s part. He is dying to reveal himself, embrace his family and see his father, yet he knows he needs to wait for the right moment.