Joseph’s Hasty Ascent

“Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon.” – Genesis 41:14, JPS 1917 Tanach

In the previous parashas, Joseph had asked the Cupbearer of Pharaoh, who had been imprisoned with him to remember him when he is restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court. Yet, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph; and, Joseph remained in prison for another two years. At this time, to the day, Joseph’s salvation was at hand. For Pharaoh had dreamed two dreams that portrayed the same admonition; yet, none of Pharaoh’s couriers could interpret the dream.

Now, the cupbearer recalled Joseph, who had interpreted his dream, and the dream of the chief baker while they were in prison. Joseph had interpreted their dreams correctly; so, the cupbearer related the story to Pharaoh with the intent of recommending Joseph to Pharaoh as someone who might be able to interpret his dream – for the dream was one dream, essentially, repeated a second time in a slightly different manner.

It is interesting to note that Joseph was brought “hastily” out of prison (see above). According to Sforno, when H’Shem brings about a salvation, it occurs in a quick fashion. Joseph immediately shaved and changed his clothes, before appearing in Pharaoh’s court. Incidentally, the culmination of the current Geulah (exile), the dispersion of the Jewish people outside of Israel, since the destruction of the second Temple will be an unexpected salvation.

Joseph’s Ascent

“And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: ‘Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou.’” – Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach

It is written in Kabbalah, that for every descent, there is an ascent: apropos to this week’s parashas, we see Joseph, whose feet were placed in “fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalm 105:19, JPS). Joseph’s descent began when his brothers threw him in a pit; they then sold him to a caravan of traders that was passing by Shechem. And, so Joseph was brought down to Egypt where he was sold as a servant to Potiphar. Under his service, he was accused wrongfully of indiscretion and sent to prison. Here, he did not languish; rather, he flourished. “And the Word of the L-rd was Joseph’s Helper, and extended mercy to him, and gave him favour in the eyes of the captain of the prison” (Targum on Genesis 39:21, sefaria.org).

Joseph flourished in prison; he gained notoriety as an interpreter of dreams, after correctly interpreting, b’ezrach H’Shem (with the L-RD’s help) the dreams of two prisoners who had been in stewardship in Pharaoh’s court. When the cupbearer, who was restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court, saw, two years later, how disconcerted Pharaoh was about his own dreams, he recommended Joseph to Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: ‘Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou’” (Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach). Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph’s interpretation, that he elevated him to second in command of Egypt, thereby charging him to care for Egypt during the famine, by developing a means to store food during the seven years of plenty, to be subsequently distributed during the famine that would ensue, according to Pharaoh’s dream. Thus, Joseph’s ascent followed his descent; he exemplifies the qualities of endurance, patience, and hope that contributed to his character.

Guilty Conscience

“And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew him not.”

– Genesis 42:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

About twenty years after Joseph was rejected by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and sold as a slave to a caravan that passed by Dothan, Joseph ascended to second in charge of Egypt, next to Pharaoh, who placed his entire kingdom at his disposal. Joseph preserved grain during the seven years of plenty that were prophesied in Pharaoh’s dreams. Then, he began to carefully distribute food, at the beginning of the seven years of famine. Jacob’s family needed provisions, for like everyone else on the known earth, they were affected by the famine. So, Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to purchase food, excluding the youngest, Benjamin, “Lest peradventure harm befall him” (Genesis 42:4, JPS).

When the brothers arrived in Egypt, Joseph was in charge of selling grain to all the peoples who looked to Egypt for food. “And Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down to him with their faces to the earth” (Genesis 42:6, JPS). Thus the dream he had as a youth was only partially fulfilled, so far; yet, in the dream all of his brothers bowed down to him. Although the brothers did not recognize Joseph, he recognized them. They saw an Egyptian prince standing in front of them; Joseph saw his long lost brothers. Yet, he spoke to them harshly, insinuating that they were spies. They said that they were part of a family with twelve sons, “and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not” (Genesis 42:13, JPS). So, Joseph declared that if they brought the youngest down to Egypt, that would prove that they were not spies. He put them all in prison for three days; then, he kept Simeon in prison as a surety for their return.

The brothers response to this turn of events was such that they realized that the guilt they incurred because of their prior treatment of Joseph twenty years ago was being requited by a divine judgment against themselves. “And they said one to another: ‘We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us’” (Genesis 42:21, JPS). This is a classic example of “the sins of the heels,” overtaking the transgressor, in the day of retribution. According to the Zohar, the sins that people neglect to acknowledge will accrue over time, until some evil overtakes the person. The brothers carried a guilty conscience all of those years; yet, not until the tides were turned did they begin to openly admit this to themselves.

We would be wise to learn from this example. The Zohar explains that subconsciously the sins that go disregarded by a person, i.e., sins that are not repented of, remain buried in the self, eliciting an unexplained fear. According to the Zohar, the source of the fear is the prescient sense of judgment that exists, unrealized, below the surface of consciousness. Perhaps, this is the underlying cause for so many people turning away from reflection upon themselves. Instead, we distract ourselves with endless preoccupations, trying to avoid the inevitable.

Joseph’s tikkun hanefesh

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayeishev 5782

 “The L-RD was with Joseph, and showed kindness unto him, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” – Genesis 39:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

Joseph was wrongly accused of an indiscretion, that he did not, nor could have committed, not only because of his values; rather, also, because were he to disgrace himself (G-d forbid), he would no longer be worthy to carry on the heritage of his father Jacob, as an exemplar of the Jewish people. Yet, his potential legacy, at the time of his near undoing, was sustained by a vision of his father, at the very moment when he almost gave in to temptation. For this show of resistance, he was wrongly accused by his master’s wife, who had attempted to seduce him.

Having been sent to prison, for upholding the integrity he had acquired, as the son of Jacob, he was favored by H’Shem, who made everything that he did prosper (Genesis 39:23). Thus, he flourished, even in prison, serving as the warden’s right-hand man, taking charge of the prison ward on behalf of the warden. “Joseph was sold as a servant; his feet ached in fetters, his person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalms 105:17-19, JPS). Inasmuch as H’Shem tested him, this served as a refinement of his character, otherwise comparable to a tikkun hanefesh (literally, repair of the soul).

Eventually, an event occurred that served as the means to begin his release from prison; two of Pharaoh’s courtiers, who had each offended him, were deposed; thus, they were both placed in prison. One day, Joseph saw that they looked particularly downcast: so, he inquired after their apparent dejectedness. They explained that each of them had dreamt a dream; however, neither of them could interpret their own dreams.

Consequently, Joseph interpreted their dreams, revealing that one of them would be restored to his position, yet, the other courtier would be executed for his offense. Joseph’s interpretation proved to be accurate; and, the wine bearer was restored to his former position. Joseph had asked him to put in a good word for him (see Genesis 40:14-15); yet, it wasn’t until two years later, that the wine bearer conveniently remembered.

Joseph’s Trials

dvar for parashas Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1 – 40:23) 5782

“Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colours.” – Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jacob, loved his son Joseph more than any other of his children, for Joseph was “the son of his old age” (Genesis 37:3). Joseph was the firstborn to Jacob’s wife, Rachel. Joseph was favored enough by Jacob to make him a coat of many colors (Genesis 37:3); the coat was a symbol, demarcating Jacob’s intention of elevating him to the status of the firstborn. Reuben had lost that status because of a previous transgression (Genesis 35:22). This would explain why Joseph was given the responsibility to check up on his brothers who were “feeding the flocks in Shechem” (Genesis 37:14).

Joseph’s brothers were already jealous of him; when he told them of his dreams that foretold he would rule over them “they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5). When Joseph was sent to check up on his brothers, they took advantage of the situation. And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph of his coat, the coat of many colors. Then, they threw him into a pit and sold him for “twenty pieces of silver” to a caravan that was passing through Shechem. Joseph’s brothers dipped Joseph’s multi-colored coat into the blood of a goat (Genesis 37:31); then, they took the coat to their father Jacob as evidence of Joseph’s alleged death by way of a wild animal (Genesis 37:20).

When Joseph arrived in Egypt, by way of the caravan of Ishmaelite traders, he was sold as a slave, and became a servant in the house of Potiphar. Even so, in the midst of his nisyanos (challenges), H’Shem was with him;  he had been put in charge of the household and became successful in all of his endeavors. Yet, he was wrongly accused of indiscretion by Potiphar’s wife; hence, he was sent to prison. Even there, H’Shem was him, and strengthened him; he was placed in charge of the prison ward. All throughout this time, Joseph’s plight was for the sake of his refinement: “Joseph was sold for a servant; his feet they hurt in fetters, his person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalms 105:17-19, JPS).

First Penitent

parashas Vayeishev 5782

Judah was the first to leave the derech (path), and the first to return: as is written, “Judah went down from his brothers,” depicting his spiritual descent when he left the company of his brethren; consequently, he went into a business partnership with an Adulamite. Being within those circles of influence that pertain to the commonalities of one’s profession with others of similar interest, he thereby became enamored of the daughter of a prominent merchant. The result being that he married her, who in all likelihood was a Canaanite. Note that Abraham had not permitted Eliezer to take a wife for his son Isaac, from amongst the Canaanites.

Yet, this did not turn out well for Judah. His first son was evil and died. His second son refused to honor his Levirate marriage to his deceased brother’s wife. H’Shem did not approve; so, Judah’s second son also died. Out of superstition, Judah delayed giving his third son to Tamar, the woman in question, after both her husbands died. Yet, justice prevailed for the sake of Tamar’s reputation, who took matters into her own hand.

According to the Zohar, that she had a prophetic vision, concerning Moshiach (Messiah). She envisioned that he would descend from her offspring; for that higher reason, she disguised herself as a harlot and enticed Judah. Incidentally, Judah’s wife had already passed away; this should, at least, be noted in regard to his cohorting with a harlot, who he did not realize was his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Regardless, his conduct may still be seen as morally reprehensible by some. Yet, G-d can bring about light out of darkness. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Judah’s repents, when he admits in front of many that the staff, cord, and signet that Tamar presented was his own, previously given to Tamar, who he thought was a harlot, as a pledge of payment due, namely, a goat from his flock. Judah’s acknowledgment of sin, ostensibly concerns his not giving his third son to Tamar. “And Judah acknowledged them, and said: ‘She is more righteous than I; forasmuch as I gave her not to Shelah my son.’ And he knew her again no more” (Genesis 38:26, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Yet, when we look at this overall narrative in closer detail, the nature of Judah’s straying off course may be brought into the light. It is implied from the first verse of the passage, that he had a spiritual descent, beginning when “Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah” (Genesis 38:1). He went down in esteem in the eyes of his brothers for his role in selling Joseph, and he turned away from his priorities as a son of Jacob, namely the spiritual heritage of the patriarchs. Only after his repentance of the end result of his misgivings occurred, was he restored.

motzei Shabbos: Chevlei Moshiach

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayishlach 5782 – Chevlei Moshiach (Birthpangs of Messiah)

“She called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.”

 – Genesis 35:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

On the way from Beth-el to Eprath, Rachel went into labor with great hardship. The midwife assured her, that she would indeed have a son. As Rachel’s soul was expiring, she named her son, Ben-oni, meaning, “son of my sorrow.” However, Jacob named him Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand.” The intent of Jacob, in emphasizing the positive side of the birth, was to reaffirm the sanctity of life. May our eyes be opened to this truth. Despite the tragic circumstances of the birth of Benjamin, the positive was emphasized, without diminishing the loss.

Even so, Jacob was distressed by the passing of Rachel, who died while giving birth to Benjamin. The prophet Jeremiah, speaking about the Keitz (the End of Days) alludes to Jacob’s distress, whereas he says, “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob, but out of it shall he be saved” (Jeremiah 30:4-7). The sages explain that this prophecy refers to the chevlei Mashiach (birthpangs of Messiah). As mentioned in the Talmud, the time that precedes the reign of the Messiah from Jerusalem will be a period of diminished light, immorality, and lack of social cohesion (as mentioned in Sanhedrin 97a).

Yet, K’lal Yisrael, when standing within the light of H’Shem will prevail. “Therefore fear thou not, O Jacob My servant, saith the L-RD; neither be dismayed, O Israel; for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall again be quiet and at ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with thee, saith the L-RD, to save thee” (Jeremiah 30:10-11, JPS).

The Deference of Jacob

“And Jacob sent messengers.”

– Genesis 32:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

“This parasha was written to show how H’Shem saved his servant from a stronger foe, and sent his angels to rescue him. In addition, it teaches us that he [Jacob] didn’t rely on his righteousness, and made every effort to save himself.” – Ramban, sefaria.org

Previously, the Torah speaks of two camps of angels, one that accompanied Jacob to the edge of the land of Canaan, and another camp that served to accompany him and his entourage once they entered Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants (see Genesis 32: 2-3). Now, at the beginning of parashas Vayishlach, the Torah, seemingly so, alludes to these angels that were assigned for protective measures (Genesis 32:4).

“Jacob sent messengers [malachim] before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the field of Edom” (Genesis 32:4, JPS). The Hebrew word, malachim can mean messengers or angels. In the literal sense, Jacob sent messengers to Esau; yet, on another level, the angels granted to him for protection may have also gone ahead of Jacob’s entourage.

Regardless of the interpretation, if Jacob had the opportunity to seek divine protection from angels who would actually defend his entourage, he did not rely on this; rather, he made a three-fold preparation for an encounter with Esau: prayers, appeasement, and a defensive strategy. He prayed to H’ Shem for deliverance from the hands of Esau; sent gifts to Esau to appease his resentment; and he divided the camp, so that if one camp was attacked, the other would have the opportunity to escape. Although Jacob could have prevailed upon H’Shem to rescue him through an angelic force, he chose humility, by subjecting himself in all deference to his brother, Esau.

Jacob and Esau

motzei Shabbos shiur for parashas Vayishlach 5782

Jacob and Esau. Their encounter. Their embrace; and, yet, there will always be enmity between Jacob and Esau (through their descendants).

Camping with the Angels

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayeitzei 5782

“And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of G-d met him. “And Jacob said when he saw them: ‘This is G-d’s camp.’ And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” – Genesis  32:2-3, JPS

An impasse was reached in the life of Jacob after his encounter with Laban at Mitzpah. This might also be thought of as a brief moment of respite, between the danger that had passed, regarding the threat of Laban, and the impending encounter between Jacob and Esau. After making a covenant with Laban to guard against future infringements against either of their sense of autonomy (Genesis 31:52), Laban departs, returning to his place, after having pursued Jacob, who, himself is on his way back to his father Isaac, bringing along with him, his wives and children. The Torah records, immediately following his treaty with Laban, that angels of Elokim (G-d) met him; so, he ascribes the name mahanaim to that place.

Literally, mahanaim means two camps; commentators note that this implies that two camps of angels met with Jacob. The first camp of angels were those that had accompanied him along the way from Laban’s land, where he had lived for twenty years; the second camp of angels are said to be those who will now accompany him into Eretz Canaan. Another rendering may be made as follows: that in the plain sense, perhaps, the name mahanaim refers to the two camps that met immediately preceding the appearance of the angels. That is the camp of Jacob and his family, who had set out to return home; and, the camp of Laban and his men, who pursued Jacob when he learned that he fled.

Where they actually met, and made a covenant after the confrontation, is referred to as Mitzpah, meaning “watchtower.” This place is mentioned later in kitvei kodesh (holy scripture) and seems to have continued to be a type of boundary marker between two peoples, the Israelites and the Ammonites. Thus the presence of the angels may concern the peace that is hoped to ensue after narrowly averting a potential conflict. Either way, in a more general sense, another implication may be the reassurance from G-d, that he watches over us in times of trouble, as he watched over Jacob. “For He will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalm 91:11, JPS).

“This heap is witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed; and Mizpah, for he said: ‘The L-RD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.”

– Genesis 31:48-49, JPS 1917 Tanach