(37:2) Yoseph observed his brothers engaged in certain behaviors and was very critical of them. He told Yakov his concerns. (See Rashi 37:2) What did Yakov tell Yoseph to do with his criticisms?
2. (37:3) Yakov paid more attention to Yoseph than his other sons for two reasons. 1. Yoseph was a uniquely gifted student and was able to absorb from Yakov all the Torah that Yakov had studied in the academy of Shem and Ever. 2. In appearance Yoseph looked like Yakov more so than any other son. (Rashi & Targum) The verse implies that because Yoseph was such a special student and because he looked like Yakov, Yakov presented him with the multicolored coat. What did one have to do with the other? Furthermore, why wasn’t Yakov concerned about Yoseph’s ego and the negative effect his special attention would predictably have on his other sons?
3. (37:4) As Yakov should have suspected, the other sons noticed the special attention he paid to Yoseph and they “hated” Yoseph. Their animosity toward Yoseph was such that they could not speak to him peacefully. What was the manner of their communication? Are we to imagine that the brothers, ranging in age between 17 and 23 (except for Binyamin who was 9), made snide remarks to him, calling him names and other immature play-yard antics? Is that the meaning of “and they could not speak to him peacefully?”
4. (37:5-8) Yoseph had dreams and related them to his brothers. The brothers did not appreciate either Yoseph or the implied message of his dreams. (37:5) Yoseph’s dreams caused the brothers to “hate Yoseph even more.” (37:8) The brothers challenged Yoseph, questioning if Yoseph truly believed he would one-day rule over them as king. Before the Torah recounts the first dream it states, “And they hated Yoseph even more.” After relating the first dream it states, “The brothers hated Yoseph even more for his dreams and his word.” Why the repetition of the increased hatred both before and after recording the details of the dream?
5. (37:9) Yoseph had a second dream and related it to his brothers. Afterwards, he repeated the dream to Yakov in the presence of his brothers. (Rashi) 37:10) Yakov took issue with the dream; however, his critique was directed toward the practical aspects of the dream, not the intent of the dream. Yakov did not challenge Yoseph’s dreams of eventual royalty as the brothers had done. Yakov only challenges the impossibility of, “Are we to come ? I and your mother and brothers ? to bow down to
6. (37:11) The Torah concludes the episode of Yoseph’s dreams and the effect they had on his familial relationships by contrasting Yakov’s thoughts with the jealousy of the brothers. Although Yakov appeared to minimize the importance of Yoseph’s dreams, he considered them prophetic. “He waited to see the dreams fulfilled.” (Rashi) Why didn’t Yakov say something to the other brothers? Was he unaware that the brothers were jealous of Yoseph?
It is important to repeat Rav Dessler’s admonition to us regarding the “sins of the forefathers.” Rav Dessler explained that we must not take the description of the sins of the Avos (patriarchs), Shevatim (tribes – brothers), and Am Yisroel, in full literal meaning. Instead, the Torah used exaggerated terms to make its point, especially since those generations were closer to G-d and spiritually far more advanced than us. Terms such as hatred and jealousy must be understood in that context.
Yakov’s mission was to maximize the potential of his 12 sons and raise the next generation of Jews. They were going to be different than the three generations of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov. As I explained in previous issues, the Avos were unique in that they each were the composite of the entire nation. Their struggle was to integrate all the different components within themselves in service to G-d.
The family of Yakov, the fourth generation of Jews, the 12 sons, had a much different struggle. On the one hand they had their own internal struggles to integrate who and what they were in service to G-d. On the other hand, that integration involved far less for each of them than it had for the three Avos who preceded them. The three Avos were the total composite of the nation while the brothers each represented only 1/12th of that same whole. However, at the same time that they struggled to integrate themselves the 12 sons also had to integrate their eleven brothers with themselves and with each other.
I believe that it is far easier to deal with inner conflict and turmoil than it is to deal with external conflict and turmoil. With internal conflict, the individual knows the truth about each component of the conflict. With external conflict, the Talmud states, “A person never knows what is truly in the heart of his friend.” The Avos engaged in inner integration while the brothers had to contend with inner and outer integration. In maximizing the potential of his sons, Yakov needed patience and time for each of them to know themselves and to know each other.
As the Parsha tells us from the start, Yoseph was unique among the brothers. From the start he was focused on inner integration and external integration. Yoseph was both thermometer and barometer (Rabbi Naftoli Hexter). As a thermometer he was constantly engaged in personal conflict and growth, He sought out truth by immersing himself in Yakov’s teachings. As a barometer, he reflected the status of his brothers and their individual and collective struggles to personally grow and integrate individually and collectively.
Concerned about himself, his brothers, and their overall integration into a single national entity / family, Yoseph became the “reporter”, reporting to Yakov what was going on with the other brothers, especially his criticisms and concerns.
(Note: At the same time that we attempt to understand Yoseph we must remember that the Torah is critical of Yoseph’s “tattle-telling.” However, Yoseph’s youth must also be taken into consideration. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that we do not know that much about the Avos in their early years. Avraham was first introduced to us at 75. Yitzchak takes center stage at 37-40. Yakov became central – besides the purchase of the firstborn rights – at the time of the blessings when he was 63. With Yoseph and the brothers we see them struggling through teenage and young adulthood. It would be wrong of us if we didn’t take that important developmental factor into consideration when judging Yoseph and the brothers.)
Yakov’s response to Yoseph’s reports is not recorded; however, Yakov did take Yoseph into a confidence that was unique to the two of them. Because of Yoseph’s unique talents and impressive drive toward integration Yakov identified Yoseph as the interim-king-to-be. Knowing that the family must end up enslaved (Covenant Between The Halves) Yakov realized that Yoseph would be central to the family’s survival. Therefore, the training he gave Yoseph was specifically “the Torah that he had learned from Shem and Ever.” That was the special training Yakov had received as how to survive the Lavan’s and Eisav’s of the world. That, more so than any other aspect of his learning, was what Yakov taught Yoseph.
As the appointed interim-king-to-be, Yakov gave Yoseph a special garment that would identify him as such. It was surviving the multicolored spectrum of the melting pot of exile that was Yoseph’s talent. He alone could shepherd his brothers and their families through the labyrinth of extreme societal seduction. The brothers needed to know and trust his talents from the start so that they could integrate Yoseph’s uniqueness into their own.
However, successful leadership is part talent and mostly salesmanship. True, Yoseph had the talent. True, the brothers needed to know who he was and how he figured into their own personal and national integration. However, it was also up to Yoseph to present himself in a manner that was more easily palatable and less conflicting. The term used by the Torah in describing the difficulty of the brothers in accepting Yoseph was “They could not speak with him peacefully.” Shalom is far more than peace. Shalom and Shlaymus is the ultimate in integration. The brothers did not make snide remarks or use play-yard antics against Yoseph. The Torah states that their difficulty was integrating Yoseph and his talents into their own quest for wholeness. Unfortunately, Yoseph did not make it any easier for them. His approach, intended or not, was perceived as ego- driven and divisive rather than humble service and integrating.
Both before and after the account of the first dream the Torah told us that Yoseph’s dream-telling would back-fire. Nothing Yoseph would say to the brothers would be taken at face value. Instead, Yoseph’s need to share the future with his brothers under the guise of preparing them and their families would be heard as his personal dreams of grandeur and dominance. Rather than unifying his brothers within the framed vision of a future that they could only survive as a family, he reinforced their evaluation of himself as wishing to enslave rather than serve, divide rather than unify. Not only did they believe that they had justification to hate him before his dream, now his dreams confirmed their hatred.
Yoseph’s need to tell is the subject of discussion among the commentaries. If indeed the dreams were prophecies, Yoseph had no choice. As a prophet he was obligated to deliver his prophecy; however, not all dreams are prophecies even if they are prophetic. It appears that Yoseph did not first discuss his dreams with Yakov. Yoseph, filled with the urgency to prepare himself and the family for the future and reinforced by Yakov’s confidences in sharing his unique place in that future, may have concluded that the dreams were prophetic and needed to be shared. Even if his brothers did not like him, even if they hated him, they were still servants of G-d and subject to His rule. They would have no choice but to accept his position as the interim-king-to-be by virtue of the dreams / prophecies that he had received.
However, that wasn’t to be. True, we who know “the rest of the story” know that the dreams were prophetic; however, they may not have been prophecies. In fact, the dreams may have been meant for Yoseph and Yoseph alone to reinforce the loneliness of his mission and encourage him to stay the course of his personal training, regardless of the difficulties that he would encounter. As such, he was not supposed to share them with any one else except Yakov.
The second dream confirmed both the brother’s animosity as well as the significance of the dream’s content. We can also conclude that given Yakov’s critical response to Yoseph’s telling the dream in front of his brothers, that Yoseph had not first told Yakov the dream. Instead, Yakov criticizes Yoseph for repeating a dream as a prophecy when clearly he had not done the job of properly analyzing every feature of the dream to separate fact from fiction. Yet, Yakov did not negate the dream, and that was not lost on the brothers. Therefore, they remained jealous and Yakov remained expectant.
7. (37:12) The brothers, except for Yoseph and Binyamin, went to Shechem to oversee Yakov’s flocks of sheep. Rashi points out that the brothers had ulterior motives for going together to Shechem. Shechem had been the scene of their battle against Shechem. It was where the brothers had expressed their collective unity in defense of the family (Dina) and in opposition and disregard of all the other city-states. It was where they proclaimed to Yakov, “?Should we have allowed Shechem to treat our siste
8. (37:13) Yakov, knowing that the brothers “hated” Yoseph, instructed Yoseph to go and join his brothers in Shechem. Why would he have done so? The brothers were older than Yoseph and assumingly more experienced shepherds than him. What report (37:14) did Yakov need that he would subject his most beloved son to the animosity of his brothers?
9. Yoseph immediately agreed to do so. Rashi references the Medresh that points out Yoseph’s “humility.” Yoseph was willing to do as Yakov instructed even though he knew that his brothers hated him. Why does the Medresh classify his acquiescence as “humility?” If anything, it was courageous and respectful. Courageous because he knew that the brothers hated him and entering into their midst could not have been a pleasant prospect; and respectful, because he was listening to his father’s direct request. Why does the Medresh classify it as humility?
10. (37:15-16) Yoseph went in search of his brothers and encountered “a man.” The encounter is couched in enigmatic terms. Yoseph appears to be lost. He meets a Man who is not named. The Man asks Yoseph what he is seeking, not whom are you seeking. Yoseph answers, “I am seeking my brothers.” The Man just happens to have overheard the brothers saying where they were going. Yoseph goes toward his own enslavement and destiny. Why the mystery?
11. Rashi informs us (37:17) that the “Man” told Yoseph that the brothers went to Dothan “to find a legal reason to kill you.” Clearly, the Torah is contrasting Yoseph’s “I am seeking my brothers” with “they are seeking a legal reason to kill you.” What was really going on with this prelude to Yoseph’s sale into slavery?
To be continued?
Quick review of the laws of Chanukah
Chanukah is from Tuesday night Dec. 7 through Dec. 15. Hallel is said every morning and Al Hanisim is added to the Amidah and the Birkat Hamazon.
1. The Menorah should be lit ½ hour after sunset and remain lit for at least 1/2 hr. On Friday the Menorah must be lit before the Shabbos candles and remain lit for at least 90 minutes.
2. Candles should be placed in the Menorah from right to left and lit from left to right.
3. Olive oil or wax candles are acceptable; however, olive oil is preferred. Electric or gas lights are unacceptable.
4. Each family member except should light their own Menorah. A wife may light her own (there are differing opinions about whether she should or should not) and if agreed upon exempt her husband if he won’t be home.
5. The Menorah should be placed in a location where both family and public can see it. The best height is at 35′” to 40″, however safety must be a priority.
6 Brochos should be recited before lighting the Menorah. Talking is prohibited between the Brochos and the lighting.
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.