Vayeshev 5773 – Gilayon #777

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Parshat Vayeshev

And they

sat to eat bread. They did not consider all that had transpired to be a

mishap or obstacle worthy of disrupting their eating schedule. The proper

reaction of taddikim such as themselves should have been like that of

others who had caused misfortune. For example, the behavior of Israel after

they killed the tribe of Benjamin, as is written: "And they sat until

evening before the Lord and raised their voices and wept bitterly and said 'Why,

Lord, God of Israel, did this happen in Israel etc.", and similarly when

Darius threw Daniel into the lion's pit, as is written 'The king then went to

his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and

his sleep fled from him." The reason this happened to them is that they considered

Yoseph to be a rodef – a pursuer, one whom it is meritorious to kill

when there is no other way to rescue the pursued. On their way down to EgyptFor they were the owners of the

camels, not merchants, and therefore with the bringing of merchandise to Egypt

their work was completed.

(Sforno, Bereishit 37:25)


 They sat to eat bread – …It is written in Midrash Tehillim (Psalm 10) "And they sat to eat bread", said

the Holy One, You sold your brother during eating and drinking, as is written 'and

they sat to eat bread', behold, your descendents will be sold in Shushan during

eating and drinking, as is written (Esther 1:3) 'In the third year of his reign etc.,' as is written (ibid. 3:15) 'And the king and Haman sat down to drink


(Rabbeinu Behayey, ibid.




Dreams good and bad

Daniel Epstein

From the beginning of Parashat Vayetse through the end of the Book of

Bereishit, dreams fulfill an important – if not decisive – function in the

process that leads from Abraham's departure from Ur Casdim till Yaakov's

emigration to Egypt

and the beginning of the formation of the Hebrew nation in exile.

The dream speaks not only of itself, as though it were addressed to

some anonymous reader; it appears in a specific context, its content and

meaning linked to the personality of the dreamer and the dreamer's ability to

relate correctly to the dream, in keeping with the time and place it appears.

From this aspect, a comparison of Yaakov's dream during the night of

his flight from his childhood home en route to Aram, and the dreams of Joseph who,

together with the sons of the concubines, herds his father's sheep, is highly




dreams have the grandeur of content in common.

In the first dream, "a ramp set against the ground with its head

reaching the heavens" – the head of the ramp or the head of the ladder? – "messengers

of God were going up and coming down it" – 'it' being the ramp or the

dreamer? The vagueness of the verse serves to enhance the lofty impression. And

as if this were not enough, God is poised at the head of the ramp and promises

the dreamer sweeping guarantees, no less than a divine insurance policy.

Yoseph also dreams, dreams suitable for young man deeply concerned

about his place among the brothers; he is the sheave standing the middle of the

field, and the brothers' sheaves bow to him; he is the star to which the sun

and moon and all the others bow down. In both cases, the dream strokes the ego

of the dreamer, and, as Dr. Freud claimed, it expresses the heart's desires, both

hidden and overt.

The great difference begins with the awakening. Yaakov awakes and says:

"Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know".        The next passage describes Yaakov's

attitude to his dream: "And he was afraid and he said: "How fearsome

is this place, this cannot be but the house of God, and this is the gate of the

heavens." The Sefat Emet (Bereishit,

Vayetseh, 5634, s.v. "and Yaakov awoke") offers a wonderful

explanation of Yaakov's somewhat surprising amazement:

This was written

in praise of our father Yaakov, of blessed memory, for any other man would have

been prideful, whereas fear and awe fell upon Yaakov. This is a sign that he was

a man of truth.

Yaakov, who deceived his brother and his father, is termed 'a man of

truth'; "You have given truth to Yaakov"'. But what is "a man of

truth"? The Sefat Emet ["Emet" means "truth"] teaches

us: A man of truth is one who does not deceived himself about himself.

Yaakov knows that the vision of the ramp with its top reaching the

heavens does not describe his true situation as he flees his brother; he has

yet to prove himself and cope with life's challenges before he can be called Yisrael.

Therefore his dream fills him with awe, not with conceit. The man of truth

cannot take pride in the great dreams which come to him. He is frightened by

the presumptuous aspiration, dangerous to himself and others. Hence, adds the

Sefat Emet:

As a result of this awe his descendents merited that this location

would be the site of the Temple, as is written "the house of God" and

it appears (Bereishit Rabba 89, 7) that

He showed it [the Temple] to him both built and destroyed etc., for the

existence of the Temple is dependent upon this awe.

The existence of the Temple is not dependent upon the holiness of the

site nor upon divine pledge; it depends upon man's fear – if he is indeed a man

of truth – of losing "the house of God"; it depends upon the

trepidation of man who is aware of the gap between his heavenward aspirations

and his human situation, between the head resting on the stone and the head

hovering in the heaven of the ideal.

The site of the Temple

is in this gap which is called "fear of God" [lit. "fear of

heaven"], fear of the ontological gap that separates imagination from



And now

from Yaakov's dream to Yoseph's dreams

The dreamer in Parashat Vayeshev is a youth who informs his father of

his brothers' misconduct. He earns his father's affection and takes pride in

the amazing technicolor coat. He is the one whose brothers – and we well

understand them – "cannot speak to him in peace".

It is noteworthy that in this story, no one "can":

The father, who

longs for his loving wife, cannot help preferring her son over all the other

brothers; the brothers cannot but despise their preferred and conceited

brother, and Yoseph himself cannot keep from relating his transparent,

hate-inducing dreams.

Each of the above is imprisoned within his inner world, each caged

inside a world picture which he has created from inner conviction and solid

proofs of his righteousness and his adversary's wickedness. In such a

situation, no man can speak to his brothers in peace. Therefore the mission

with which Yoseph is charged, "to see how your brothers fare and how the

flocks fare" [Lit. "see the peace of …"] is doomed to failure

from the start.

A long road must be traversed before all can reach their true personalities

as men of truth, able to recognize their situation and the gap between their distorted

perceptions and reality. For each of them, the change will occur when the

initial "cannot", based on blindness to the truth and misguided

perception due to this self-incarceration, will be replaced by a different kind

of "cannot", the "ethical inability" to which Emanuel

Levinas refers when he says: I can (physically) murder the other, but I am

unable (ethically unable) to do it.

We can only allude to the amazing transformation at the end of the


When Yoseph is tested in the seduction scene with Potiphar's wife, he

says to her (39:9): "He is greater in

this house than I, and he has held back nothing from me except you, as you are

his wife" – the grandiose "I" is on the verge of returning – but,

continues the passage: "I cannot do this great evil and give offense to


And at the moment of truth, when Yoseph says to his brothers: "I

am Yoseph, does my father still live?" their reaction is: "His

brothers could not answer him, for they were afraid of him." And

Yoseph? "And Yoseph could no longer hold himself in check".        

That ethical inability – evolving from the demand for truth by the "God-fearing

person" – is "the Gate of Heaven". It opens the gate of the

heart, which is – in slightly hyperbolic language – the Gate to the Geula.

And through

this awe, an opening is opened everywhere, as is written "and this is the

gate of heaven" (Sefat Emet, ibid.)

Daniel Epstein is a rabbi and philosopher who teaches

in Matan, in Midreshet Lindenbaum, and in various groups in Israel.




settled in the land of his father's sojournings" – Yaakov, too, had

the patience to wait

Because the

previous chapter had told us that his brother Esav inherited Mt. Seir by

virtue of his father's merit, Scripture had to inform us of Yaakov's

inheritance, saying: "Yaakov settled in the land of his

father's sojournings". This is intended to make us aware of his

fine quality, that he behaved as a stranger, even though he saw

that Esav had already realized his inheritance. And the Lord had been careful

to tell him that he alone would inherit this land, as I had explained in the

earlier parasha on the passage "I will give it to you" (Bereishit 35:12) even so, he made no

sign [of ownership], but dwelt as a stranger as did his father, in the

land of Canaan. This means, that he behaved as though he were

in a land not his own, but in the land of CanaanOr,

it can be said: Even though the Land of Canaan was given him as an inheritance,

even so he was a stranger therein, until events evolved from the

begetting of Yosefas it is written: "These are

the begetting of Yaakov, Yosef…" . And he was sold to Egypt, and our fathers went down to Egypt, and they were brought up from Egypt

by He who promised to keep His promise regarding the Land, and they inherited

their land.

(Ohr HaHayyim of Rabbi Hayyim ben Attar, Bereishit




Brings Jealousy, Hatred, and Violence

And he

made him a coat of many colors – Resh Lakish said

in the name of R. Elazar ben Azaryah: A person should not

discriminate between his children, since the coat of many colors which our

father Jacob made for Joseph resulted in they hated him

(Bereishit 37:4)



Simon ben Lakish said in the name of

R. Elazar ben Azaryah: [It is written:] Go and see

God's works (Tehillim 66:5),

and later it is written, He changed sea into dry land (verse 6). Why was it that they

hated him? So that [as a result of the historical process set of by

their hatred they would enslaved in Egypt and eventually redeemed and]

the sea would be torn asunder for them into passim [strips].

(Bereishit Rabbah 84:8)


That all this

was not judicious or wise, that Jacob should not have listened to his tattle,

that altogether to show favoritism to one child had only evil effects in the

history of our forefathers, as indeed it has in any home,

is stressed bitterly enough in the pernicious results which are shown

in this story. They are weaknesses which occur only too frequently in people's

lives, but are none the less weaknesses.

(Rabbi S.R. Hirsch on Bereishit 37:3, Levy



And when his

brothers saw that their father loved him (Bereishit 37:4) 

Otherwise, they would have thought it was because he was the son of the beloved

Rachel, that he loved her sons more than the rest. But when

they saw that he was best loved of all the brothers, including

Benjamin, they were sure that it was because of the ill reports that he

would bring about them, their disrepute gaining him honor and prestige from

their father. That is why they hated him – this is plain to


(Meshekh Hokhmah ad. loc.)



grasping man reviles and scorns: An Act of Worship Becomes a Curse and a

Desecration of the Divine Name.

When Joseph

was sent by his father to visit his brothers, they thought about killing him,

for it says They said to one another…let us kill him (Bereishit 37: 19) and they stood and threw

him into the pit and said "let us eat and drink, and afterwards we'll pull

him out and kill him." They ate and drank, and time came to say the grace

after meals. Judah

said to them: "We are about to kill, and we are blessing God? We are

nothing but scorners!"


does What do we gain by killing our brother mean? Judah

told them: The grasping man reviles and scorns the Lord rather, come,

let us sell him to the Ishmaelites (Bereishit

37: 27).

(Pesikta Rabbati 10)


Yehuda and

Tamar – the Moral Message

From the story

of Judah a noble moral habit

and equity in conduct may be learnt; this appears from [Judah's] words: Let

her take it, lest we be put to shame; behold I sent this kid (Bereishit 38:32). The interpretation of

this is as follows: Before the giving of the Torah sexual intercourse with a

harlot was regarded in the same way as sexual intercourse with one's wife is

regarded after the giving of the Torah. I mean to say that it was a permitted

act that did not by any means arouse repugnance. The payment of hire that was

agreed upon to a harlot was in that time something similar to the payment now

of a wife's dowry when she is divorced, I mean that it was one of the rights of

the woman with regard to which the man had to discharge his obligation… This

is the excellent moral habit that we learn from this story. As for the precept

of justice by which we profit, it is to be found in the word in which he

answers that he is innocent of all violence with regard to the woman, that he

does not go back on his word, and that he does not diminish the price agreed

upon with her: Behold, I sent this kid, and so on. That kid

was indubitably one that among those of its species was possessed of the

highest excellence; therefore in referring to it he employs [the demonstrative

pronoun] this. This is the justice that they had taken over from

Jacob, Isaac and Abraham: namely, that one must not make changes in one's word

or break one's promise; that all obligations must be discharged fully and

integrally… and there is no difference between one who withholds the wages of

a hired man and one who does this to his wife.

(RaMBaM, Guide of the Perplexed III:49,

Pines translation)


"Taamei HaMikra" – Double

Meaning ("Taamim" refers to the musical notation which punctuates

the Bible; it also means "reasons" or "rationales)

"But he

refused and he said…my master…" The cantillation of the word "And

he refused" indicates the prohibition of the act and that he was

totally prevented from doing so, for through the notes of the Torah we

understand that which is not overtly recorded, similar to man's movements from

we divine his thoughts.

(Rabeinu Bahaye, Bereishit 49:8)



that through the notes which accompany the text, we can understand that

which is not expressly written. The rabbi's intention is to say that a person

has facial expressions and vocal nuances, which enables us to reveal and know

something about his mood and mental-spiritual condition; mimicry and

gesticulation of a person, and the shadings of his voice, help us know when is

actually taking place in his inner consciousness.

In the narrative

of Yosef and Potifar's wife who tries to seduce him, he withstands temptation

and does not comply. The Torah expresses his restrained behavior with the term "and

he refused". The term is accompanied with the very rare "shalshellet" note.

(The shalshelet is a series of

siren-like rising and descending tones.) 

The Massorah's assignment

of this particular note to "and he refused" is

hardly accidental. Through it, the massora wanted to let us

know that in that situation Yosef conducted a very difficult struggle, an act

involving tremendous spiritual courage, in order to withstand this test of

temptation. Therefore, great is the merit of Yosef, termed by tradition "Yosef

the Righteous", who emerged victorious from this conflict. His refusal is

not at all a simple matter; it is "he refused" to the tune of

shalshellet, with its melodic line thrice ascending and

descending, like a warning siren accentuating the merit of the Biblical figure

who refused, who conquered his desires, Yosef the dreamer.

(Y. Leibovitz: Seven Years of Discussion of the

Weekly Parasha, p.151)


Said the

philosophers: One who rules over his soul – even though he performs good and

important acts – he does so while inwardly desiring and longing for the

forbidden acts, yet he conquers his desires; his actions contradict his

desires, he does the proper thing. He suffers from the stormy conflict between

his two inclinations.

The righteous

person, however, is one whose actions follow from his desire and his

attributes; he does good – his desire is to do good, and for that he longs. The

philosophers all agree that the righteous man (who is free of the battle

between his inclinations) is a spiritually more perfect man than one who

subdues his inclination. – because the latter's very desire to do evil is a

defective trait of the soul. King Solomon, may he rest in peace, said

similarly: "The desire of the wicked is set upon evil." (Proverbs 21:10). And he spoke of the joy of

the righteous in the good deed, and was saddened by the person who is not

righteous in his actions: "Justice done is a joy to the righteous; to the

evildoers, ruination" (Ibid.,

ibid., 15). This which is seen in the words of the prophet [David and Saul] is consonant with the views of the


But upon

examination of the words of our Sages on this subject, we find the following:

One who desires sin and longs for it [yet does not sin] – he is more important

and perfect than he who has no longing for sin, and suffers none by avoiding

it. Our Sages said: the more important and perfect a person is– the greater

will be his longing for sin, and the more acute his suffering at not satisfying

his desire. They cited sources: "The more a person is greater than his

companion, so is his inclination greater". They were not satisfied with

this, and they added: The reward given one who conquers his inclination is

proportionate to his pain in ruling over his inclination. They said "In

proportion to the pain – the reward." Yet more, they encouraged man to

desire sin; Let him not say: By nature I have no desire for this sin – even had

the Torah not forbidden it to me. "Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel says: Let man

not say: 'I have no desire to eat meat with milk; I have no desire to

wear shaatnez; I have no desire to have an illicit sexual

relationship' – rather let him say: 'I desire, but what can I do? – my Father in

heaven decreed!"


comparison of the words of the philosophers and of our Sages would seem to

indicate contradiction – but such is not the case. Both are true, and there is

no contradiction at all. The evils of which the philosophers spoke when they

said that one who has no inclination for evil is more important than the one

who has the inclination but conquers it – these are those matters universally

considered to be "evils": such as bloodshed, theft, plunder,

cheating, damaging someone without just cause, doing bad to one who has

benefited him, disrespecting parents, etc. These are the commandments of which

Chazal said "Even were they not written, they would have worthy of being

written ("mitvot ha'sichliyot', rational commandments).

Without doubt a soul which longs for these evils has a defective soul…But

those matters of which the Sages thought when saying that one who conquers his

inclination is more important – and receives greater reward – are the "torot

shim'iyot", those prohibitions which, had the Torah not

proscribed, would not at all have been considered bad.

(RambamEight Chapters, Chap. 6)



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