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PARSHAT VAYEISHEV – JOSEPH’S SPIRITUAL ROLE IN OVERCOMING CHALLENGES

בס”ד

PARSHAT Vayeisheve – 5784

The Text

A small excerpt from this week’s Parsha that raises many questions but also provides valuable lessons. Let’s begin by reading the text and zooming in on various aspects.

Genesis 37:2-3

This, then, is the line of Jacob: At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father. אֵ֣לֶּה | תֹּֽלְד֣וֹת יַֽעֲקֹ֗ב יוֹסֵ֞ף בֶּן־שְׁבַע־עֶשְׂרֵ֤ה שָׁנָה֙ הָיָ֨ה רֹעֶ֤ה אֶת־אֶחָיו֙ בַּצֹּ֔אן וְה֣וּא נַ֗עַר אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י בִלְהָ֛ה וְאֶת־בְּנֵ֥י זִלְפָּ֖ה נְשֵׁ֣י אָבִ֑יו וַיָּבֵ֥א יוֹסֵ֛ף אֶת־דִּבָּתָ֥ם רָעָ֖ה אֶל־אֲבִיהֶֽם

Introduction

Parshat Vayeishev initiates Joseph’s narrative, featuring an intriguing link between Jacob and Joseph. Exploring Jacob’s concern about Esau’s numerous descendants sets the stage for Joseph’s pivotal role.

Joseph’s endearment as the “son of his old age” connects to holiness, embodying Yesod and Emunah crucial for midot and mitzvot. His journey showcases Emunah’s transformative power, turning challenges into opportunities.

Joseph’s unwavering faith, evident in adversity acceptance, illustrates Emunah’s profound impact on altering natural events. His story becomes a testament to the transformative strength of genuine Emunah, enabling triumph over overwhelming challenges.

As individuals trust G-d, miracles unfold, making G-d’s Kingship more visible. Joseph’s narrative invites a profound exploration into the core of faith’s transformative strength, echoing through generations.

Exploring the Spiritual Dynamics of Joseph’s Journey

Parshat Vayeishev opens with the narrative of Joseph, introduced as “These are the generations of Jacob: Joseph…”

The juxtaposition of Jacob and Joseph without separation in the text is intriguing, particularly when considering that, from our perspective, it might have seemed more logical to mention Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son from Leah, first. Additionally, the absence of a punctuation mark between Jacob and Joseph suggests that the text presents them almost as one name, as one entity.

What is the unity between Jacob and Joseph? To understand this, let’s first look at Genesis 36:15 where the leaders of Esau’s sons are mentioned: “These became the chieftains of the sons of Esau…” The Hebrew phrase “AluFei bnei Esav,” meaning “the chieftains of the sons of Esau,” can also be understood as “ALafim – the thousands of Esav.”

These are the clans of the sons of Esau. The descendants of Esau’s first-born Eliphaz: the clans Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, אֵ֖לֶּה אַלּוּפֵ֣י בְנֵֽי־עֵשָׂ֑ו בְּנֵ֤י אֱלִיפַז֙ בְּכ֣וֹר עֵשָׂ֔ו אַלּ֤וּף תֵּימָן֙ אַלּ֣וּף אוֹמָ֔ר אַלּ֥וּף צְפ֖וֹ אַלּ֥וּף קְנַֽז

Considering this, Jacob saw all these thousands standing against him, and he was afraid and astonished at how he could overcome these overwhelming numbers of Esav’s descendants. Their multitude was many times greater and stronger than himself or his descendants. And then the Torah testifies: “These are the generations of Jacob; Joseph.” It would be Joseph who could overcome this formidable multitude standing against Jacob. But how would that be possible?

Rabbi Nachman employs the analogy of a blacksmith observing a camel laden with flax, questioning where the immense bundle can possibly go. A wise man responds, “One spark from your bellows will burn the entire load.” [1] This metaphor signifies the potency of a spark, representing the “spark” of Joseph in this context. Joseph is linked with a flame that consumes Esau, as stated in Obadiah 1:18.

The House of Jacob shall be fire,
And the House of Joseph flame,
And the House of Esau shall be straw;
They shall burn it and devour it,
And no survivor shall be left of the House of Esau
—for G-D has spoken.
 וְהָיָה֩ בֵֽית־יַֽעֲקֹ֨ב אֵ֜שׁ וּבֵ֧ית יוֹסֵ֣ף לֶֽהָבָ֗ה וּבֵ֚ית עֵשָׂו֙ לְקַ֔שׁ וְדָֽלְק֥וּ בָהֶ֖ם וַֽאֲכָל֑וּם וְלֹֽא־יִֽהְיֶ֚ה שָׂרִיד֙ לְבֵ֣ית עֵשָׂ֔ו כִּ֥י ד’ דִּבֵּֽר

Jacob’s deep affection for Joseph, as we read in Genesis 37:3, was kindled by Joseph being “the son of his old age” and not just Rachel’s son. This term, “zekunim” in Hebrew, refers to an “elder of holiness:  and a “elder of the Other Side.”Jacob always tried to give strength to the side of holiness, to add fear of G-d wich “adds to one;s days”. Yosef was the ben zekunim, the son of the elder years, he how will add to the realm of holiness. 1

Jacob loved Joseph because he saw in him the capacity to overcome Esau, both literally in the physical world as spiritually.

This dual role is encapsulated in Joseph’s dreams – one involving celestial elements symbolizing spiritual strength and another with sheaves signifying material strength. This strength and steadfastness are qualities associated with Yesod, an attribute connected to Emunah, forming the foundation for all mitzvot.

In the context of Joseph and his role as a conduit for spiritual strength, it’s essential to understand the significance of Yesod and its connection to Emunah. Yesod, representing strength and steadfastness, serves as the foundation for various attributes (midot). However, it stands distinct, acting as a linchpin and a conduit for the realization of these attributes.

Consider the example of Chesed (kindness): one may possess extensive knowledge of it, but its true manifestation occurs when applied in practice. Yesod, as the foundation, ensures the concrete functioning of other attributes.

Yesod is intimately linked to Emunah (faith). Emunah serves as the foundation for mitzvot (Torah requirements), with Yesod being its counterpart in the realm of attributes. This connection is emphasized in Makkot 24a:, where the righteous person’s life is anchored in Emunah.

Isaiah then established the 613 mitzvot upon two, as it is stated: “So says the L-rd: Observe justice and perform righteous-ness” (Isaiah 56:1). Amos came and established the 613 mitzvot upon one, as it is stated: “So says the L-rd to the house of Israel: Seek Me and live” (Amos 5:4).  Habakkuk came and established the 613 mitzvot upon one, as it is stated: “But the righteous person shall live by his faith אֱמוּנָתוֹ / Emunah-to (Habakkuk 2:4).

Joseph had this complete faith/ Emunah in G-d. He accepts what happens to him and acknowledges that everything that occurs is from the hands of G-d. This is especially evident in Genesis 45:5.

Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that G-d sent me ahead of you. וְעַתָּ֣ה | אַל־תֵּעָ֣צְב֗וּ וְאַל־יִ֨חַר֙ בְּעֵ֣ינֵיכֶ֔ם כִּֽי־מְכַרְתֶּ֥ם אֹתִ֖י הֵ֑נָּה כִּ֣י לְמִחְיָ֔ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֱלֹקים לִפְנֵיכֶֽם

It was through Joseph and his complete trust/emunah in G-d that the nation was saved from the famine, and it was by the merit of Joseph that the Red Sea opened to allow the people to pass through to their freedom. [1]

Returning to the initial question: What is the unity between Jacob and Joseph? Jacob represents the fire of the Torah. However, having extensive knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean we can put it into practice or overcome the evil inclination (Esau). For that, we need the flame of Joseph—a strong foundation and Emunah. Together, these elements illuminate the path, making G-d’s Kingship increasingly visible, both in our individual lives and in the world at large.

This is a theme echoed in Psalm 114:1-2, where the Lord’s greatness is evident when Israel triumphs over its enemies.


When Israel went forth from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,
Judah became His holy one,-a
Israel, His dominion.
 

 ד’ מָ֖לָךְ יִרְגְּז֣וּ עַמִּ֑ים יֹשֵׁ֥ב כְּ֜רוּבִ֗ים תָּנ֥וּט הָאָֽרֶץ
ד’ בְּצִיּ֣וֹן גָּד֑וֹל וְרָ֥ם ה֜֗וּא עַל־כָּל־הָֽעַמִּֽים

Undoubtedly, His greatness permeates every aspect of existence, especially shining brightly when Israel prevails against its adversaries. The intertwined gematria value of 156 for both “Tsion” and “Joseph” serves as a powerful symbol, affirming that G-d’s victory over the nations transcends the spiritual realm, making it a palpable reality in our lives and the broader world.

In conclusion

Parshat Vayeishev highlights Joseph’s pivotal role in embodying Yesod and Emunah. His unwavering faith, mirrored in overcoming challenges, demonstrates the transformative power of genuine Emunah. The shared gematria of “Tsion” and “Joseph” symbolizes G-d’s tangible victory. Trusting in G-d unfolds miracles, illuminating His kingdom in our lives. Joseph’s narrative echoes faith’s transformative strength across generations.

From this story, we can glean several valuable lessons

1. **The Power of Faith Overcoming Challenges:**

   Joseph’s story teaches us that unwavering faith can help overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. In today’s world, facing personal or societal difficulties, maintaining a strong sense of faith can provide the strength needed for resilience.

2. **Trusting in Divine Providence:**

   Joseph’s trust in G-d’s plan, as seen in his response to his brothers in Genesis 45:5, serves as a reminder to trust in divine providence. In contemporary life, trusting that challenges have a purpose and seeking meaning in adversity can contribute to personal growth.

3. **Miracles in Everyday Life:**

   The narrative underscores that miracles are not confined to ancient tales but are possible in our daily lives. Having complete trust in G-d can pave the way for miracles, whether in overcoming illnesses or resisting negative influences.

4. **The Importance of Embracing Holiness:**

   Joseph’s role in upholding holiness against the forces of the Other Side emphasizes the importance of embracing values rooted in holiness. In a world filled with challenges, individuals can contribute to a positive and sanctified environment.

6. **Recognizing Divine Intervention:**

   The parting of the Red Sea, attributed to the presence of Joseph’s casket, suggests that even historical events may have divine intervention. Today, acknowledging moments of divine influence can foster a deeper connection to spirituality.

9. **Personal Growth through Adversity:**

   Joseph’s experiences, from being sold into slavery to rising to power, showcase that personal growth often stems from adversity. Embracing challenges with faith can lead to transformative personal development.

10. **Reflecting G-d’s Kingship in Daily Life:**

    The overarching lesson is that trust in G-d and the embodiment of faith can contribute to reflecting G-d’s kingdom in daily life. This involves living with values, resilience, and a sense of purpose aligned with spiritual principles.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources and Notes:

[1] Rebbe Nachman’s Torah

[2] This is what the sages teach based on Psalm 114:3.

TThe sea saw them and fled,
Jordan ran backward,
 הַיָּ֣ם רָאָה וַיָּנֹ֑ס הַ֜יַּרְדֵּ֗ן יִסֹּ֥ב לְאָחֽוֹר

The pasuk states, “Hayom Ro’oh Vayonos” — the sea saw and it fled. This took place on the seventh day of the first Pesach during which Israel left the servitude of Egypt. The Medrash on Tehilim (Shochar Tov, 114:3) addresses the issue of what the sea “saw” that triggered it to split. One of its well-known responses is “Ro’oh arono shel Yosef yored L’Yam” — it saw the casket of Yosef entering the sea. The Medrash continues, “Omar HaKodosh Baruch Hu, Yanus Mipnei Hanos” — it should flee because of the one who fled – namely, Yosef, who fled from the overtures of Potiphar’s wife, as it is stated (Bereishis 39:12

she caught hold of him by his garment and said, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand and got away and fled outside. וַתִּתְפְּשֵׂ֧הוּ בְּבִגְד֛וֹ לֵאמֹ֖ר שִׁכְבָ֣ה עִמִּ֑י וַיַּֽעֲזֹ֤ב בִּגְדוֹ֙ בְּיָדָ֔הּ וַיָּ֖נָס וַיֵּצֵ֥א הַחֽוּצָה

Vayonas Vayetze Hachutza”â” and he fled and went outside. A similar statement linking the splitting of the sea to Yosef’s casket appears in the Medrash Tanchuma, Sefer Bereishis (Parshas Yayeshev, 9).A

A Yosef’s Bones And Splitting Of The Sea: A Lesson In Unity

נתיבות שלום

Texts from Sefaria.org

With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration

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