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.

Vayeishev 5781

“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

Joseph was the firstborn to Jacob’s wife, Rachel. Joseph was favored by his father, Jacob who made a coat of many colors for him (Genesis 37:3); the coat was a symbol that demarcated 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 that 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. And, H’Shem was with him with all his undertakings, for he had been put in charge of the household. Yet, he was wrongly accused of indiscretion, by his master’s wife; hence, he was sent to prison. Even there, H’Shem was him, strengthened him, and he was placed in charge off the prison ward. After interpreting two of his fellow prisoner’s dreams, word got out to Pharaoh, two years later when he needed a dream interpretor. Thus, Joseph was brought into Pharaoh’s court; because he was held in high esteem, Joseph was promoted to viceroy.