Parshas VaYeshev is Like a Puppet Show with G-d Pulling the Strings
The Rokeach, one of the early Chumash commentaries, make a very cryptic and enigmatic statement. The Rokeach says Parshas Vayeshev contains 112 pesukim and Chapter 92 in Tehillim (Psalms), which we say Friday night and Shabbos morning (Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos) contains 112 letters. So somehow, Parshas Vayeshev has a connection to the Chapter in Tehillim of Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos.
This is the type of statement that requires explanation. The Rokeach certainly had more in mind than making a type of “Gezerah Shavah” “112-112”. What does he mean? What is the connection?
In order to understand this, we need to see a very important Ramban on the pasuk “A man discovered him and behold! — he was blundering in the field…” [Bereishis 37:15]. Yaakov told Yosef to find his brothers. Yaakov instructed Yosef that the brothers were shepherding in Shechem. Yosef went to Shechem and did not find them. Yosef started wandering around. He was found by a “man” (Chazal say he was none other than the Angel Gavriel).
The Ramban writes that Scripture elaborated on this discussion to inform us that there were many reasons for Yosef to return safely to his father. Yosef, upon coming to Shechem and not finding his brothers, had every justification in the world to return home and claim that he tried but was unable to find his brothers. However, Yosef persisted over and above the call of duty until his mission was complete. The point of telling us all this was to emphasize the fact that when a decree is made in Heaven, it will inevitably be carried out. All the efforts and attempts that man might make to avert a Heavenly Decree will be for naught. Whatever Hashem wants to occur, will occur, regardless of all man’s efforts to the contrary.
The Ramban uses the Hebrew expression HaGezeirah Emes v’ha’Charitzus Sheker – the decree comes true; the efforts [to avert it] are in vain. This is equivalent to the old Yiddish expression: A mentch tracht un G-t lacht – man thinks and G-d laughs.
The Ramban adds that when it appeared that the meeting between Yosef and his brothers might not occur, Hashem sent a personal guide to make sure Yosef knew how to find them. Logically, Yosef should have turned back and gone home, but the Ribono shel Olam wanted this rendezvous to occur, and He made sure that it did occur. Unlike the simple reading of the pasuk that there was only one “man” who pointed out the way so that Yosef could find his brothers, the Medrash notes that the word “Ish” (Man) is written 3 times to indicate that 3 different messengers were sent to help Yosef at various points in his state of disorientation to locate his brothers. Finding his brothers needs to happen because this is part of the Ribbono shel Olam‘s Master Plan.
Parshas Vayeshev—if we can use such a mundane expression—is similar to a “puppet show.” The puppets, as it were, are Yaakov, Yosef, and the brothers. The puppeteer is the Master of the Universe and He is pulling the strings.
Yaakov Avinu is considered the most chosen of the Patriarchs. “A righteous Tzaddik who is the foundation of the world” is too tame an expression to say about Yaakov Avinu. However, Yaakov Avinu makes a basic parenting mistake here. He gives Yosef a Ketones Pasim and shows favoritism amongst his sons. The Talmud says [Shabbos 10b] that a person should never show different treatment to one child over another. A person does not need a Gemara to tell us this. Anyone who has had children knows that they all need to be treated the same. If someone does not treat them equally, the sibling rivalry that already exists will just become inflamed.
So how does Yaakov Avinu make such a mistake? The Torah explicitly states that Yaakov loved Yosef more than he loved all his other children. How could he do that? How could the wise patriarch violate the most basic rule of raising children?
The brothers are convinced that Yosef is a ‘Rodef’ (in pursuit of them with the intention to eliminate them). Convinced that he is about to kill them, they convene a court and rule about Yosef that he is a rodef who is deserving of death. This is Yosef haTzadik (the Righteous Joseph)! They were so off the mark! How do the Tribes of G-d make such a gross error of misjudgment about their brother?
The righteous Yosef suspects his brothers of sexual immorality and of eating flesh from a living animal! How did he make that mistake?
The answer to all these questions is that HaGezeirah Emes v’ha’Charitzus Sheker. This is part of the Ribono shel Olam’s Grand Plan, so the normal logical way people act all falls by the wayside. Hashem blinds all the “actors” here, and they do not think or act as they normally would.
This indeed is one way we can answer the question we discussed in the (non-transcribed) Halachic portion of this shiur. How could Yosef go on this mission? How could Yaakov send him on this mission? It was a dangerous mission—a makom sakana. A person normally may not place himself into an inherently dangerous situation.
Indeed, in other circumstances Yaakov would have never sent Yosef, and Yosef would have never gone. It would have been forbidden. But here they were merely playing roles. This is all part of the Almighty’s Grand Plan of getting Klal Yisrael down to Egypt, which was necessary for the construction of the Jewish People.
This is what Rashi means when he comments on the pasuk, “So he sent him from the valley of Chevron (m’Emek Chevron)” [Bereishis 37:14]: “from the deep counsel of the one who is buried in Chevron.” Rashi notes that Chevron is on a mountain, not in a valley, therefore, we must interpret the pasuk allegorically to refer to the prophecy of Avraham Avinu, who is buried in Chevron. Avraham had a prophecy that his offspring would be strangers in a foreign land, they would be enslaved there for 400 years, and afterwards they would leave with great wealth [Bereishis 15:13].
How was this prophecy going to occur? Knowing this tradition in the family, would we expect them to voluntarily go down to Egypt? Of course not! That is why all of this needs to happen. Yaakov makes this mistake, Yosef makes that mistake, and the brothers make their mistake. It all needs to occur, because somehow they need to get down there.
When we look at the story of Yosef, when we look what happened to him, the chain of events seem nonsensical. Yosef works for Potiphar. He is a 17-year-old boy, away from his parents. His master‘s wife tries to seduce him. He withstands one of the most difficult temptations. What is his reward? He is thrown into prison for twelve years. He could certainly have asked, “This is Torah and this is its reward?” We read the story and we say, “What is Hashem doing?” The whole story does not make sense. Of course, we know the end of the story. We know that in prison, Yosef meets Pharaoh’s Butler and Baker. He interprets the dreams. Eventually, he becomes second in command to the King of the Egyptian empire. He saves the whole world from famine. Eventually, he brings his family down to Egypt. This is how the Egyptian Exile began.
But what is the overriding theme of the parsha? It is that the Ribono shel Olam will make it happen and while it is happening it is inexplicable. However, with the passage of time, we understand almost everything.
This is the same theme of Tehillim Chapter 92, the paragraph of Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos. Chazal say that Adam composed this chapter. When Adam was created, the Almighty showed him the 6,000 years of world history. Adam expressed his reaction in this Psalm: “How great are your actions, Hashem” [Tehillim 92:6]. He was amazed at the world, at the universe the Almighty created. But he was also amazed at “the extreme depth of Your Thoughts” [ibid.]. The depth of Ribono shel Olam’s way of dealing with the world amazed him. He saw the entire scope of 6,000 years of history and how in the end, everything fits in. Adam did not only have the benefit of hindsight but of foresight as well. Adam states: “An empty-headed man cannot know; nor does the fool understand this. When the wicked bloom like grass, and all the evildoers blossom…” [ibid. 92:7-8]. We see how the wicked prosper and how the righteous suffer.
But what is the answer? The answer is, “how deep are Your Thoughts.” I know the answer, says Adam, because I see it all.
So Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos and Parshas Vayeshev address the same theme. They address the theme that we cannot understand things while they are happening, but sometimes looking back decades later, we can say, “You know, that was the best thing that could have ever happened to Yosef—that he got thrown into the pit, got sold into slavery, and made his way to Egypt, etc., etc.”
That, the Rokeach says, is the connection between the 112 pesukim of Parshas Vayeshev and the 112 words in Chapter 92 of Tehillim. It is the same message. They both teach “How deep are Your Thoughts.”
Rav Schwab, in his Sefer on Iyov, says that this is also what the last pasuk of Tehillim Chapter 92 is all about. Sefer Iyov is all about the horrific punishments that Iyov suffered, and how he questioned the Almighty’s justice. He could not understand, and he complained. A fellow named Elihu, towards the end of Sefer Iyov, tries to straighten him out. Elihu introduces to him the concept of “Tzadik v’Rah Lo” (A righteous person who suffers at the Hand of G-d). He explained, “That is what is happening to you, Iyov. You are right, you did nothing wrong. But this is a manifestation of ‘Tzadik v’Rah Lo“. In one of Elihu’s speeches, he uses the words “Essa dayee l’mei’rachok (I will raise my knowledge from afar), u’l’Poalee etein Tzedek (and I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker)” [Iyov 36:3]. Rav Schwab explains that the key to understanding what is happening here is to take the long view (mei’rachok), the long view of history. Someone who is shortsighted will never understand it. It is only because I take the long view that I can say u’l’Poalee etein Tzedek—I can justify what the Ribono shel Olam is doing.
This too is how Perek 92 of Tehillim ends: “They will be fruitful in old age; they will be full of sap and freshness.” [Tehillim 92:15] There will be old people who, despite their age, will be full of vigor. They will have all of their faculties and vitality, even in their old age. If someone lives long enough, he can sometimes say, “Now I understand what happened fifty years ago!” Therefore, these old people, who witnessed history and saw what happened, will be able to testify: “To declare that Hashem is upright, He is my Stronghold, in whom there is no injustice.” [Tehillim 92:16].
Imagine, says Rav Schwab, if someone had died in the middle of the story of Yosef, for example when Yosef was in prison. What would he have said? “Hashem is unjust.” Is this Yosef’s reward? The problem is that such a person did not observe for long enough. He did not see the final act. However, people who will be around long enough, as it proclaims at the end of Psalm 92, they will be able to testify that Hashem is upright, my Stronghold, in whom there is no injustice.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Vayeshev is provided below:
- # 034 – Chanukah Licht on Erev Shabbos
- # 076 – Katlanis: The Twice Widowed Woman
- # 125 – Ha’Malbim 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 Medina” — 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 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 Sakana
- #1141 – Business Partnerships With Non-Jews
- #1184 – Holding the Kiddush Cup – Exactly How? Always?
- #1228 – Saved Miraculously from a Car Accident? Special Bracha?
- #1272 – V’sain Tal U’Matar: Some Fascinating Shailos
- #1316 – Endangering Oneself To Perform The Mitzvah of Kibbud Av
- #1360 – Showing Favoritism Amongst Your Children
- #(2081) – Is Grape Juice As Good As Wine For Kiddush And Other Halachos?
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