Parashat Vayeshev 5769

Vayeshev- Mikaytz December 26, 2008 Last week in parashat Vayeshev we began the stories of Yosef and his brothers. The Torah portion begins with the following verses: “Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.” [Genesis 37:1-2] The commentaries note that there is a difficulty with the usage of the word generations here. Since one would expect to find a listing of generations of Jacob. The same way that we find a listing of Esau’s children and descendents in the previous chapter after the word generations is brought down. “And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in mount Seir: These are the names of Esau’s sons; Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Bashemath the wife of Esau.” [Genesis 36:9-10] Why then does the Torah begin to talk about Yosef instead of listing the generations of Jacob? Rashi explains that in regards to Esau in the previous Parasha the Torah chooses to list the names without going into detail since Esau is not important in the eyes of Hashem. On the other hand, when the Torah talks about Jacob it doesn’t want to only list his offspring but it wants to go into greater detail to relate the various events and happenings that the family went through until they established themselves. The medrash brings down a different explanation that reads the verse differently by connecting the two sentences together. “These are the generations of Jacob – Josef”. In other words, the Torah is emphasizing that Yosef is the offspring of Jacob. Why was Yosef singled out? The medrash teaches us that Yosef’s facial features resembled his fathers. In addition everything that happened to Yaakov happened to Yosef: This one was hated, and the other was hated; this one’s brother is seeking to kill him, and the other’s brothers are seeking to kill him. One may ask that in truth every child is similar to his father in many ways. It wouldn’t be too difficult to find similarities between the other brothers and Jacob as well. There must by some important message that the medrash wants to relate to us by stressing the likeness of Yosef to his father. In my opinion, the medrash seems to be emphasizing the point that Yosef is similar to his father because at first glace one may think otherwise. Yosef was definitely different from his brothers. Our rabbis teach us that he did things that were childish; he fixed his hair, and touched-up his eyes so that he should appear handsome. He would walk around with his heals up in pride. As the Torah mentions directly, he chose to hang out with the children of the maidservants Zilpa and Bilha instead of the children of the Matriarch Leah. Yosef also brought evil reports to his father about his brothers which can give one the notion that he is trying to stir of trouble. All this gave the impression that Yosef was heading in the wrong direction and that he was not fit to be part of the family just as Yishmael and Esau were cast out. The Torah, therefore, had to go out its way to teach us that Yosef is not, G-D forbid, like Yishmael and Esau. Although, on the outside he may seem to be problematic, one must look deeper into his inner essence and not judge a book by its cover. His brothers weren’t yet able to realize this and wanted to do away with him by throwing of Yosef into the pit and selling him to Egypt. The Torah gradually unravels the greatness of Yosef and shows us that he is indeed his father’s son. Jacob dreamt about the heavens and the earth in his dream of the ladder. “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it [Genesis 28:12]. Yosef also dreamt about the earth and the heavens. He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” [Genesis 37:7]Here Yosef is dreaming about the earth as sheaves grow on the on the earth. Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” [Genesis 37:9] Here we see that Yosef is dreaming about the heavens. The only thing that seems to be missing at this point is something that connects the heavens and the earth. This connection is brought down later in the story of Yosef and the wife of Potifar when Yosef reveals his secret ladder to the heavens. It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” But he refused … [Genesis 39:7-8] If one looks at the Biblical musical note (Hataam) that is on the word “refused” it is quite rare and only appears three times in the Torah! It is called a Shalshelet meaning a chain. It is expressed by going up and down three times, just like Jacob saw angels going up and down. This is the secret ladder of Yosef. Yosef is able to overcome the temptation of Potifar by revealing his holiness and thus showing us how connected he really is to Hashem and avoids falling in the trap of earthly desires. It is for this reason that Yosef is called the Tzaddik. It is here that the likeness of Yosef and his father begin to become clarified. In this weeks portion, Mikaytz, the ladder of Yosef to the heavens is revealed even more. It is only Yosef who has the spiritual connection to Hashem that can interpret the dreams of Pharaoh and prepare the world for a time of famine. It is Yosef’s ladder to heaven that brings down the abundance to man. Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith

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