Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Take 'Car'e of Yourself
The storyline of parshas Vayeishev centres around the sale of Yosef
as a slave to the Egyptians, and the ensuing events, with the
exception of one relatively small, seemingly tangential account of
Yehuda's separation from his brothers, and some of what went on
with him. Indeed, Rashi questions why the Torah chose to interrupt
its narrative of Yosef with something apparently unrelated.
As we know, the "sale" of Yosef first took root in the scheme of a
"Come, and let us kill him, and throw him into one of the
pits. And we will say, 'A wild beast devoured him.'"
Reuven was the first to modify the plan: "Rather than committing
murder, why don't we just toss him into a pit, and let nature take its
course..." His real plan was to come back later, when no one was
around, and rescue Yosef. When Yehuda noticed a group of
Ishmaelites approaching, he suggested that they could just as easily
"do away" with Yosef by selling him into slavery, thereby avoiding
taking his life, and at the same time making away with a tidy profit.
The rest is history.
With this background, Rashi explains, we can understand the
interruption of the story of Yosef with the separation of Yehuda from
his brothers: When the brothers saw their father, Yaakov's, unbearable
pain at the loss of his beloved son, they truly regretted what they had
done. Analyzing what had transpired, they became critical of
Yehudah. "You were the one who suggested selling him," they said.
"We listened to you, because you were a leader among us. Had you
told us to return him [to Yaakov], we would have listened to you as
well! (38:1)" Accordingly, the brothers temporarily removed Yehuda
from his leadership role, whereupon he separated from them ("At that
time Yehuda went down from his brothers... " [38:1-30]).
There seem to be a number of troublesome questions here. First of
all, whereas the best the other brothers could come up with was to
kill Yosef, Yehuda devised the far more compassionate plan of selling
him into slavery. It seems rather audacious to criticize him for "not
having done enough," when the other brothers were routing for his
death! It seems, too, that by the same token, Reuven should not have
escaped criticism, for he also successfully modified the plan, and
could have gone further yet didn't. But Reuven is not taken to task.
A harried New York businessman was once running late,
driving to work in his brand new car, when he came to a
standstill in front of a large truck, which didn't seem to be
moving. The truck driver got out of his truck. He motioned
to the car driver to lower his window. "I'm stalled," he said,
" - can't move. But look, there's still room between my
truck and the side-rail. It'll be a tight squeeze, but you can
make it. I'll go out front, and give you a hand."
Slowly, the driver inched forward. A few feet in front of him
stood the truck driver, motioning and gesticulating as he
animatedly waved to the driver: Right, left, right, stop,
slowly, a little more to the right, slowly now... His car was
almost through. But it was not to be. It was then that the
driver heard the unmistakable sound that every driver most
dreads, as the metal alloy of his car gave way, and he
wedged himself firmly between the truck and the side rail.
He was stuck. He couldn't even get out of his car. And he
was furious. He slowly rolled down his window. "You said
there was room," he said slowly, mustering every ounce of
self-control he could to keep from screaming at the top of
his lungs. "You told me to keep coming forward!"
"Well," said the truck driver, "maybe I did. But who ever
told you to listen to me... "
There are times in life when the best thing to do is "go with the flow."
And there are times when we must buck the trend. Life is full of trials;
situations that test our judgement, commitment, responsibility, and
integrity. Sometimes we must act based on our own sense of right
and wrong. Sometimes we follow the advice of others. But ultimately,
we must come to the recognition we are the drivers of the cars of our
lives; no one can take responsibility for our successes and failures
other than ourselves. There may be situations where we do
something in order to gain favour in the eyes of our friends, yet when
we go astray, they will not be there to pick up the pieces. They will
not take responsibility for what we have done, nor should they. That
is what free will is about - understanding that we choose which path
to take; when to stop, and when to go.
Reuven was not in a leadership position. It was not expected of him
to "take the reins," and show the brothers the error in their ways. He
receives only praise for taking the steps he did. But Yehuda was a
leader. He could have done more, and for that he had to bear the
blame. It must have been infuriating for him: The brothers wanted
blood. He steps in, saves the day, and in the end they blame him for
not doing enough. He must have wanted to scream: "You wanted to
kill him! I'm the one who had compassion, and now you throw the
blame on me?!"
Their answer? "Who ever told you to listen to us... "
As we gaze into the light of the Chanukah candles, perhaps we
should offer a silent prayer to Hashem for the insight to realize right
from wrong, for the ability to ignore others when their advice is not
timely, and for the inner strength to take responsibility for our lives
and our choices.
Have a good Shabbos, and a freilichen Channukah.