“Yaakov Loved Yosef More Than All His Brothers”
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 801, Oy! May Wallet Went Over Niagara Falls. Good Shabbos!
When studying the story of Yosef and his brothers, it is worthwhile to remember the famous “Din Torah” that took place in the Yeshiva in Volozhin, the mother of all Lithuanian Yeshivas. There was a dispute between two great Rosh Yeshivas who were on the faculty — Rav Chaim Soloveitchik and the Netzi”v — Rav Naftalit Tzvi Yehudah Berlin. One of the judges on the Rabbinical panel who were convened to hear the Din Torah was the Vilna Magid.
The Vilna Magid commented to the other Judges that the Din Torah coincided with Parshas VaYeshev. The other Dayanim did not understand what the Vilna Magid meant because it was not Parshas VaYeshev, it was a totally different parsha that week! The Vilna Magid explained: In the Book of Bereishis, up until Parshas VaYeshev, all disputes involved a “good guy” and a “bad guy”. There was the dispute between Adam and the Snake, between Yitzchak and Yishmael, and between Yaakov and Eisav. All of these were “no brainers” in terms of which side to pick in the argument. However, in Parshas VaYeshev – regarding the argument between Yosef and his brothers — we have great difficulty deciding who is right and who is wrong. Both sides were righteous individuals. Both sides had rationales for doing what they were doing. Therefore, it is not so easy to rule who is right and who is wrong. This is exactly the same situation in the dispute here in Volozhin between the Netziv and Rav Chaim, he noted.
It is important to bear this perspective in mind when we engage in any type of discussion of the “foibles” of the Tribes of G-d in these last few parshiyos of the book of Bereishis.
The pasuk says that the brothers saw that Yaakov Avinu loved Yosef more than them and they began to hate him. I saw an interesting psychological insight from Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, based on an interesting reading of the pasuk.
Many times, we have feelings we are not proud of. These are feelings that are base, petty, or otherwise stem from the non-glorious side of our personalities. The brothers sensed they were jealous of Yosef but they could not just come out and say “We hate Yosef because our father likes him better.” It was not Yosef’s fault that his father liked him better.
People have this uncanny ability to rationalize their behavior and try to elevate their very base and ignoble emotions; rationalizing them into something other than what they really are, in order that they may be proud of themselves. Therefore, the brothers concluded “it does not bother me that Yaakov loves Yosef more than ME”, what bothers me is that “Yaakov loved Yosef more than ALL HIS BROTHERS (kol Echav)”. Each brother was championing the rights of the underdog — his siblings who were being discriminated against because Yaakov loved Yosef more than THEM. “Personally, I am a ‘Baal Midos’ [person of high character] so I can handle this. I do not harbor petty jealousy, but I need to champion the rights of my downtrodden brothers.”
The irony of all this is that the same brothers who championed the rights of the underdog and took up the rights of the “other brothers” were themselves guilty of some degree of sibling oppression. Chazal say that Yosef befriended the sons of the handmaidens (Bilha and Zilpa) because they were looked down upon by the sons of Leah. However, regarding Yosef, they argued that “this Yosef is worthy of our hatred because he causes the other brothers to be looked down upon by Yaakov”. This did not prevent these same brothers from looking down upon their other brothers (Gad, Asher, Dan, Naftali). In that case, they failed to champion the “rights of the downtrodden”.
It is not an uncommon phenomenon that our own deeds indict us. Our arguments on behalf of the downtrodden are themselves demolished by things we ourselves do that are just as bad, if not worse, than the “evils” we are decrying.
Two Factors Which Allowed Yosef To Survive His Ordeal
Yaakov sent Yosef to check on the welfare of his brothers and the welfare of the flocks. The pasuk says: “And behold a man found him and he was lost in the field” [Bereishis 37:15]. This was in the days before GPS. There was no address to type in. It was a big country. He tried to find his brothers and got lost. “The man found him and asked ‘What are you looking for?'”. The Rabbis tell us that the ‘Ish’ [man] alluded to in the pasuk was actually the Angel Gavriel. Gavriel haMalach literally led Yosef by the hand and took him to his appointed place. But before he did this, the Malach asked Yosef “What are you looking for?” (Mah t’vakesh?) There is a word in this pasuk that does not fit in — namely the word “leimor” which means literally “to say over to others”. This word is not typically used in direct dialogue between two individuals. The pasuk should read “Vayishaleyhu haIsh, mah tivakesh?” (and the man asked him ‘What are you looking for?’); not “Vayishaleyhu haIsh LEIMOR mah tivakesh?”
What does the word LEIMOR here mean? The Kotzker Rebbe answers: Yosef is about to embark on an epic odyssey. In the next several parshiyos, Yosef experiences things that should not happen to any individual. He is going to be accused of murder by his brothers, he is going to be thrown in a pit to die, he is going to be ‘rescued’ and sold to a bunch of merchants, he is going to be transported against his will to Egypt, he will be purchased as a slave only to be accused of trying to seduce his master’s wife, and he will be thrown into jail for an extended period of time. Finally, Yosef will get out of jail and eventually become the viceroy of Egypt. This is like a roller coaster, except that most of the roller coaster is down in the valley. How does a person not give up when must contend with all this trauma? How does such a person not throw up his hands in despair? How does he remain strong to his Yiddishkeit? How was Yosef able to stand up to the seduction of Potiphar’s wife? What is the secret of his strength?
The Kotzker Rebbe explains that the Angel was telling him: “Yosef, I will give you the key. The secret is always to keep your mind on one thing: Mah Tevakesh? [What are you looking for?]”. You should constantly keep asking yourself “What is my goal?” When a person is focused on a goal, he can contend with the vagaries that life throws at him. He knows “I have a mission to accomplish and I will not let anything get in my way.” When a person has a clear understanding of “Mah Tevakesh?” then he can be tried with all these tests, all these ‘ups’, but mostly ‘downs’ in life and can remain true to his principles because he knows what his goals are.
This is what LEIMOR means here. It does not mean to say it over to anyone else, it means keep saying it over to yourself! Say it over and over again. Every time you find yourself confronting a test, a challenge, ask “Mah Tevakesh?” [What is my goal?] This prevents you from giving up, it prevents you from being seduced, and it keeps you honest.
This is one factor which allowed Yosef to survive. The following is a second factor in Yosef’s survival from Rav Mordechai Pogmeransky (who Rav Gifter always used to quote as being the prodigy from Telshe). The pasuk says that Yosef was sold to a group of Arab merchants carrying spices. Rashi quotes a famous Chazal pointing out that Arabs normally carried oil (some things never change) rather than spices. How was it that suddenly, these Arabs that bought Yosef were carrying spices? The answer is that the Almighty was precise in His execution of punishment. For whatever reason, Yosef had to be sold and transported to Egypt. However, Yosef did not need to suffer from foul smelling oil on the journey down there, so He arranged through Divine Providence that this caravan be loaded with the pleasant aroma of spices.
Rav Mordechai Pogmeransky asks — What difference does it make to a person when he is being carted off to jail whether he is being transported in the back of a Lincoln Town Car or the back of a paddy wagon? It is unlikely that Yosef, who had to psychologically deal with his separation from his parents, his family, his homeland, to say nothing of his freedom, would be very consoled by the fact that he had the “luck” of being in a pleasant smelling caravan! What is this Rashi teaching us?
There lies herein a very fundamental teaching. If a person has the ability — to see the Hand of G-d within the ‘tzoros’ [trials and tribulations] he is undergoing, he does not have the sense of abandonment. People throw up their hands in despair when there is no hope. If a person can see the silver lining in the cloud — but more importantly — if a person can see the Yad Hashem [Hand of G-d] in the cloud, then one will have the attitude: “I am going to get out of this! I have not been forsaken by the Master of the Universe.” When Yosef saw the strange phenomenon of an Arab caravan transporting spices, he realized that the Almighty was still watching over him regardless of the gravity of the situation in which he found himself.
This idea explains a phenomenon I see all the time, which always amazes me. People go through natural disasters — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc. They lose everything. Their entire neighborhood or towns may be wiped out. We may see pictures of the survivors: A woman is standing in front of the camera with her dog or with her wedding album or some kind of sentimental picture. She says, “Thank G-d — at least my pictures were not lost!” or “At least I have my dog!” Why do they look at it like that? They have lost everything! Are these pictures or the dog going to pay their bills now? How does this help them cope with the tragedy that has befallen them? The explanation is that they are able to find a silver lining within their troubles. In their minds, “G-d saved me and he gave me something to hang onto.”
That is what gives people the ability to continue. That is what Yosef saw over here. “In spite of all that happened here, I see that the Ribono shel Olam is watching over me. If the Ribono shel Olam is watching over me, then I have hope.”
These two factors — “Mah Tevakesh?” and the fact that he saw the Hand of G-d in the middle of his tzoros gave Yosef the ability to survive.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for this Parsha are provided below:
034 Chanukah Licht on Erev Shabbos
076 Katlanis: The Twice Widowed Woman
125 HaMalbin P’nei Chaveiro: Shaming Another
172 The Complex Issue of Child Custody
218 Grape Juice and Yayin Mevushal
262 Yichud and the “Open Door Policy”
308 Secular Studies
352 “Chamar Medinah” – What Can Be Used For Kiddush?
396 Artificial Insemination Before Chemotherapy
440 Third Night of Chanukah But Only Two Candles
484 The Ubiquitous Donor Plaque
528 Sending Someone on a Fatal Mission
572 Determining Paternity
616 Chanukah – Women Lighting for Husbands
660 Birthdays – A Jewish Minhag?
704 Sparing Someones Humiliation
748 The Menorah – Inside The House or Outside?
792 Observing Shiva for Grandparents?
836 Katlanis: A Third Marriage
880 Lying For The Sake Of The Truth
924 Bitachon Vs Hishtadlus
967 Can An Older Brother Object to the Younger Brother’s Engagement?
1011 Davening with a Minyan on Chanukah vs. Lighting On Time
1055 Can You Kill Someone Who Hashem Doesn’t Want To Die?
1098 Doing A Mitzvah in Face Of A Sakana
1141 Business Parnerships With Non-Jews
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