To Do 'Tikkun' - The Weekly Shiur - Parashat Vayeishev 5780

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Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Welcome. This week’s Torah portion is Vayeshev and the comments of Rav Neriah are especially pertinent: “Since we already heard the Torah portions of Yosef’s story in the past, we cannot learn and absorb them as we would if we were hearing them for the first time. We know the end of the story, and so the tragic tale of the sale of Yosef by his brothers is not shocking. But we need to learn every parasha anew in order to experience what happens as if we were there, to feel what Yaakov and his sons felt as the story actually unfolded, and then we will see the entire parasha in a different light and with a deeper understanding.” (Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah)

Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl writes about the parasha as follows: The most terrible sin between man and G-d is the sin of the golden calf which influences us until today.  Therefore we need to learn all the parashot that are associated with that sin because it is the prototype of all sin and impurity, and all sins derive from it.

Similarly, the most terrible sin between man and man is the selling of Yosef. We will tell Yosef’s story from the standpoint of two figures, Yosef and Yehudah. Some of what I am going to say will be familiar to you but, as Rav Neriah says, we will try to find new meaning as if we are reading the story for the first time. I am embarrassed to admit that only while preparing this lecture did I learn for the first time about the circuitous route that Yehudah travels, yet both Yehudah and Yosef undergo a tikkun, a dramatic character transformation, and as we walk in their footsteps, we will learn much from their experiences. Let’s begin with Yosef.

The Journey of Yosef

וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן

אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב יוֹסֵף בֶּן שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה נְשֵׁי אָבִיו וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת דִּבָּתָם רָעָה אֶל אֲבִיהֶם

Jacob dwelt in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob: when Joseph was seventeen years old, being a shepherd, he was with his brothers with the flocks, and he was a lad, [and was] with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought evil reports about them to their father. (Genesis 37:1-2)

And Rashi comments: evil reports about them: Any evil he saw in his brothers, the sons of Leah, he would tell his father: 1) that they ate limbs from living animals, 2) that they demeaned the sons of the handmaids by calling them slaves, and 3) that they were suspected of illicit relationships. . . Whatever evil he could tell about them he told.

How sad.

These evil reports are just the beginning. Afterwards, Yosef receives the beautiful coat from Yaakov, a gift of love not given to his brothers, and then he has his dreams. In these dreams, Yosef rules and all bow down to him. Here are the reactions of his brothers to these dreams:

וַיִּרְאוּ אֶחָיו כִּי אֹתוֹ אָהַב אֲבִיהֶם מִכָּל אֶחָיו וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ אֹתוֹ וְלֹא יָכְלוּ דַּבְּרוֹ לְשָׁלֹם

וַיַּחֲלֹם יוֹסֵף חֲלוֹם וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶחָיו וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ... וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ עַל חֲלֹמֹתָיו וְעַל דְּבָרָיו... וַיְקַנְאוּ בוֹ אֶחָיו

And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully. And Joseph dreamed a dream and told his brothers, and they continued to hate him. . . And they continued further to hate him on account of his dreams and on account of his words. . . So his brothers envied him. (Genesis 37:4,5,8,11)

Notice the words - whose impact, above all others, is with us until today - that appear in these verses: love, hate, peace, envy. This is the picture before us as the parasha begins. So what should be done? How can this be fixed? Watch what happens now to Yosef, which I wish would happen to all of us, today’s tribes of Israel. Here’s the turning point:

וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ וְהִנֵּה תֹעֶה בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיִּשְׁאָלֵהוּ הָאִישׁ לֵאמֹר מַה תְּבַקֵּשׁ

וַיֹּאמֶר אֶת אַחַי אָנֹכִי מְבַקֵּשׁ הַגִּידָה נָּא לִי אֵיפֹה הֵם רֹעִים

Then a man found him, and behold, he was straying in the field, and the man asked him, saying, "What are you looking for?" And he said, "I am looking for my brothers. Tell me now, where are they pasturing?" (Genesis 15-16)

The words “What are you looking for?” instigate change. Rav Dov Berel Wein, commenting on “Then a man found him,” says that this man that Yosef meets is an emissary or angel or designated human being with a message especially meant for Yosef. The question is one that every person can ask himself: “What are you looking for?” The Kotzker rebbe would say that these words are meant for us, whatever  or wherever we happen to be at this moment: “What are you looking for? What do you want? What is the purpose of your life? What direction have you taken?” In other words, people ask us these questions all the time or, if not literally, give hints that we should be asking these questions of ourselves in order to change and fully develop into what we are meant to be. Rav Wein tells a story about someone from his congregation who became religiously observant and how it happened. He was traveling one night to a concert with a friend when the police stopped their car and blocked the street. The driver became upset, honked, and a large black police officer approached him and explained: Tonight is Yom Kippur and we are blocking the street because Jews in this neighborhood are going to the Kol Nidrei prayer. We’ll open the street shortly. The driver was in shock because he had no idea it was Yom Kippur, and this incident changed his life.  This was a moment of “What are you looking for?” and “Who are you?” Rav Wein summarizes as follows: We need to notice the messages that are woven into the path we take through life.  There are angels and messengers in human form and our job is to notice them and take heed of their messages.

Yosef heeds the message he hears and answers: “I am looking for my brothers.” However, these words have nothing to do with looking for a place on the map, but are a general statement, a longing of the heart. Yosef is looking for companionship, mutual understanding, brotherly love, unity and peace. From here on, Yosef is transformed into a model for coping with distressful situations and rising to meet the challenges they present, from being thrown to the bottom of a pit to becoming the viceroy of Egypt. This is not only a physical ascent from the depths to the heights, but an ascent in every respect. We will accompany Yosef as he faces four challenges or tests:

Test #1 – What is success?

וְיוֹסֵף הוּרַד מִצְרָיְמָה וַיִּקְנֵהוּ פּוֹטִיפַר סְרִיס פַּרְעֹה שַׂר הַטַּבָּחִים אִישׁ מִצְרִי מִיַּד הַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים אֲשֶׁר הוֹרִדֻהוּ שָׁמָּה. וַיְהִי ה' אֶת יוֹסֵף וַיְהִי אִישׁ מַצְלִיחַ וַיְהִי בְּבֵית אֲדֹנָיו הַמִּצְרִי

וַיַּרְא אֲדֹנָיו כִּי ה' אִתּוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר הוּא עֹשֶׂה ה' מַצְלִיחַ בְּיָדוֹ

 וַיִּמְצָא יוֹסֵף חֵן בְּעֵינָיו וַיְשָׁרֶת אֹתוֹ וַיַּפְקִדֵהוּ עַל בֵּיתוֹ וְכָל יֶשׁ לוֹ נָתַן בְּיָדוֹ 

וַיְהִי מֵאָז הִפְקִיד אֹתוֹ בְּבֵיתוֹ וְעַל כָּל אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ לוֹ וַיְבָרֶךְ ה' אֶת בֵּית הַמִּצְרִי בִּגְלַל יוֹסֵף וַיְהִי בִּרְכַּת ה' בְּכָל אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ לוֹ בַּבַּיִת וּבַשָּׂדֶה

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, Pharaoh's chamberlain, chief of the slaughterers, an Egyptian man, purchased him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and whatever he (Joseph) did the Lord made prosper in his hand. And Joseph found favor in his eyes, and he (Joseph) served him, and he (Potiphar) appointed him over his house, and all he had he gave into his hand. Now it came to pass that since he had appointed him over his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the house of the Egyptian for Joseph's sake, and the blessing of the Lord was in all that he had, in the house and in the field. (Genesis 39:1-5)

These verses raise a familiar question: Is it possible to combine success at work in an alien culture with a strong Jewish identity? Notice that the recurring expression of “successful man” could have been taken from today’s morning papers. To be successful. In the financial pages or heard on broadcast news, a successful person is someone who is rich or famous, and often physically attractive, too. That’s what is called “successful.” In the Torah, success means something else. In the Torah, a successful person continuously associates success with its ultimate source. Even Yosef’s Egyptian master Potiphar attributed Yosef’s success to G-d.  On Potiphar’s observation that “the Lord was with him (Yosef),” Rashi explains that “the name of Heaven was frequently in his mouth.” In other words, everyone who knew Yosef heard him talk about G-d. He did not attribute his success to himself and even strangers who made contact with him understood his identity at once.  The Midrash writes that Yosef “whispers when he comes in and whispers when he goes out.” In other words, Yosef prays throughout the day, in the course of his work, not forgetting for a moment where he comes from and who he is. We need to recall that Yosef finds himself in the completely foreign culture of Egypt, where it would have been extremely difficult to maintain your spiritual identity. Moreover, we cannot forget that, only a short time before, Yosef’s brothers had thrown him into a pit. So it appears that his brothers had cut themselves off from him and he has plenty of reasons and excuses to be angry at his family and even to assimilate, but Yosef does not cut himself off from his father’s house and his identity.  Furthermore, if it had been nothing but harsh and bitter for Yosef in Egypt, it would be understandable that he would turn to G-d, but Yosef continues to act this way even as he achieves great success. Acting like this is not a simple matter, yet the principle here is that one who reveres heaven is revered by other people.

Test #2 – Potiphar’s Wife

Yosef’s reaction to Potiphar’s wife when she tries to seduce him demonstrates his faith and his values. He addresses Potiphar’s wife as follows:

וְאֵיךְ אֶעֱשֶׂה הָרָעָה הַגְּדֹלָה הַזֹּאת וְחָטָאתִי לֵאלֹהִים?

How can I commit this great evil and sin against G-d? (Genesis 39:9)

“G-d” is his code. He takes his cues from G-d. Even if this is not understood in the culture that surrounds him, this is the code by which he lives. A human being has three abiding partners throughout life:  G-d, his father, and his mother. Our sages explain how his parent partners helped Yosef pass this second test:

“At that moment, his father’s image appeared to him in a window, and said to him: Yosef, in the future your brother’s names will be inscribed on the ephod (vest of the High Priest), and your name will be among them. Do you want your name to be erased from among theirs?” (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 36b)

The idea of “his father’s image” is familiar to us but there is also another source regarding his mother’s image: “And he also saw the image of Rachel his mother.” (Jerusalem Talmud, Horayot 2:5)

There is a deep message here: Yosef sees his father and mother and this prevents him from sinning.  In other words, when do we know that our children have truly learned from what we taught them? When they are on their own. It’s so easy when they are right next to us to say “nu, nu, nu,” that’s forbidden, that’s allowed, yes, no, cross the street, don’t cross, come home at 8 o’clock. But what happens when they’re far away? That’s when education really shows. That’s the deeper meaning of “his father’s image.”

Test #3 – Prison

Yosef arrives in the Egyptian prison without having committed a crime. He has every reason in the world to close himself off, isolate himself, to be sad and preoccupied solely with himself. But notice the description of what happens next, when two ministers of Pharaoh are thrown into prison alongside him:

וַיָּבֹא אֲלֵיהֶם יוֹסֵף בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּרְא אֹתָם וְהִנָּם זֹעֲפִים

וַיִּשְׁאַל אֶת סְרִיסֵי פַרְעֹה אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ בְמִשְׁמַר בֵּית אֲדֹנָיו לֵאמֹר מַדּוּעַ פְּנֵיכֶם רָעִים הַיּוֹם. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו חֲלוֹם חָלַמְנוּ וּפֹתֵר אֵין אֹתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף הֲלוֹא לֵאלֹהִים פִּתְרֹנִים סַפְּרוּ נָא לִי

And Yosef came to them in the morning, and he saw them and behold, they were troubled. And he asked Pharaoh's ministers who were with him in the prison of his master's house, saying, "Why are your faces sad today?" And they said to him, "We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter for it." Yosef said to them, "Don't interpretations belong to God? Tell [them] to me now."  (Genesis 40:6-8)

Redemption begins with an innocent question: “Why are your faces sad today?” Concern for others is everything. The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that Yosef could have easily been mad at the world after what he had gone through but he decides to take an interest in others and so redemption begins. Since he interprets the dreams of the ministers, one of them will be reminded of him when Pharaoh has dreams that no one can interpret and Yosef will be rushed from prison to listen to Pharaoh’s dreams. Yosef then successfully interprets the dreams, saves Egypt from starvation, and becomes the most powerful figure in the Egyptian kingdom. Later, his brothers will arrive in Egypt and the family will reunite. All of these events ultimately lead to the Exodus from Egypt. And what was the small act that began to move the wheels of redemption? Concern for others, sensitivity towards others, paying attention to whoever is by your side.

Test #4 – With the Brothers

Sometimes it’s easier to be with foreign prisoners than with brothers of your own family.We finished with Yosef’s rise to power but when will we know that the story of Yosef and his brothers is over? In parashat Vayigash, we will read the following:

וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו גְּשׁוּ נָא אֵלַי וַיִּגָּשׁוּ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲנִי יוֹסֵף אֲחִיכֶם אֲשֶׁר מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי מִצְרָיְמָה

וְעַתָּה אַל תֵּעָצְבוּ וְאַל יִחַר בְּעֵינֵיכֶם כִּי מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי לְמִחְיָה שְׁלָחַנִי אֱלֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם

Then Yosef said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me," and they drew closer. And he said, "I am your brother Yosef, whom you sold into Egypt. But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you.” (Genesis 44:4-5)

Notice that here’s a “good report” – as opposed to the “bad report” Yosef gave to Yaakov regarding the conduct of his brothers at the beginning of this story. And yet, you could say that now the brothers should be subject to a truly “bad report.” After all, at the beginning of our parasha, Yosef gossiped about his brothers when they had not done anything wrong. But now Yosef has a fat dossier full of incriminating facts regarding his being sold and abandoned by his brothers all these years. In spite of this, Yosef says: “Do not be sad . . .for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me before you.” Now the circle has closed, the tikkun of Yosef’s character transformation is complete, brotherly love returns. “I am looking for my brothers” – and they finally arrive.

The Journey of Yehudah

Now we come to the other tikkun of the parasha, which concerns Yehudah.  Because without Yehudah’s story, this parasha will not be complete. Yosef’s story teaches us about brotherhood and peace, but alongside peace there is also truth. The story of Yosef teaches us about finding peace but Yehudah reminds us of the importance of truth. Notice the small details regarding him that are hidden throughout the parashah.

The brothers, as you recall, are shepherding their flocks in the region of Dotan when Yosef “the dreamer” approaches them. They want to kill him and throw him into a pit. Reuven suggests that they only throw him into the pit, but not kill him, as Reuven plans to return and save Yosef later. However, Reuven’s plan fails as, meanwhile, Yosef is sold to a passing caravan. The brothers take Yosef’s beautiful coat, throw him into the empty pit, and sit down to eat bread. It is apparent that Yosef is going to die in the empty pit, where there is no water, only scorpions and snakes. He is going to die a natural death from starvation and thirst. The brothers sit down to eat, exactly when a caravan of Ishmaelites passes by. At this moment, Yehudah jumps up with a suggestion:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה אֶל אֶחָיו: מַה בֶּצַע כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת אָחִינוּ וְכִסִּינוּ אֶת דָּמו?

לְכוּ וְנִמְכְּרֶנּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים וְיָדֵנוּ אַל תְּהִי בוֹ כִּי אָחִינוּ בְשָׂרֵנוּ הוּא

וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶחָיו יוֹסֵף

And Yehudah said to his brothers, "What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh." And his brothers harkened.  (Genesis 37:26-27)

Regarding this suggestion, our sages comment:

“Whoever blesses Yehuda is a blasphemer.” (Sanhedrin 6b)

Wait a minute. What’s going on? After all, Yehudah succeeds in saving the life of Yosef and in Yehudah’s merit Yosef lives. Yehudah saves Yosef from certain death, or from the hands of his brothers, or from the scorpions, snakes, hunger, and thirst if he had stayed in the pit. In Yehudah’s merit, Yosef is sold and lives. Yehudah deserves a medal, no? He succeeds in compromising and softening his brothers. There are two extreme opinions – to kill Yosef outright or just leave him in the pit to die – and yet Yehudah works out a compromise. And regarding this our sages say that whoever blesses Yehudah is a blasphemer, a curser, had made a horrible mistake. Why? What’s so terrible about this?

(Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl is the source of the thoughts on Yehuda presented here, which can be found in his book, edited by Yosef Eliyahu, on the weekly Torah portion.)

And so we find here a powerful and fundamental principle: compromise, in general, is a good thing. To defuse an argument or conflict by means of a compromise which brings peace is wonderful. But compromise can also lead to destruction of the entire world. There are matters and values that cannot be compromised.

Rav Nebenzahl spoke with his students in 1980 at the height of the American hostage crisis in Iran. The Americans were held captive there for 444 days, during which time there was a revolutionary change of government and the entire world wondered what would be the hostages’ fate.  Regarding this crisis, Rav Nebenzahl said: We encourage moderation. Our sages praise it since it brings peace, but the question is whether someone is truly moderate or simply apathetic and calls this “moderation.” Take for example someone who tends towards moderation and compromise in the case of the Americans today held hostage in Iran. Such a person would probably say: true, we are speaking about hostages who may be executed, but it still does not make sense to put the whole world at risk for their sake and there is no need to resort to force. Is this person a moderate? Perhaps it simply doesn’t matter to him what happens. These are not his family members. And yet this same “moderate” person could burn tires in anger and shout about a rise in the price of milk because this affects him directly. Most people are moderate as long as something does not affect them, but when it affects them, they appear completely different. (Rav Nebenzahl says the same thing regarding violation of Shabbat. Our apathy on this issue shows that we do not really care about it in the depths of our souls. To say we are moderate in such a case is just an excuse for being apathetic.)

Now let’s return to Yehudah and his “compromise.”  If Yosef is innocent of any crime – what is Yehudah proposing? He should want to release Yosef completely! He should tell his brothers to simply let Yosef go. Yehudah should speak his peace and tell the truth. What kind of compromise is this? Does Yosef agree to this compromise? It looks like nothing but a compromise at Yosef’s expense. This is not a compromise but a huge injustice towards Yosef.  Shimon and Levi claim that he should be killed. Reuven plans to save him. But Yehudah, if he believes in Yosef’s innocence, should be willing to go all the way, in the pursuit of truth. And yet, from this low point, Yehudah also begins to change and to rise higher and higher.

Test #1: “She is right, (she is pregnant) from me.”

וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא וַיֵּרֶד יְהוּדָה מֵאֵת אֶחָיו וַיֵּט עַד אִישׁ עֲדֻלָּמִי וּשְׁמוֹ חִירָה... וַיַּכֵּר יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר צָדְקָה מִמֶּנִּי.

Now it came about at that time that Yehudah was taken down by his brothers, and he turned away until [he came] to an Adullamite man, named Hirah. . . Then Judah recognized [them], and he said, “She is right, [she is pregnant] from me.” (Genesis 38:1,26)

“And Yehudah was taken down” has a double meaning. Rashi comments that after Yehudah’s “compromise” he was demoted from his greatness by his brothers.

And now comes the sin with Tamar, Yehudah’s other descent, followed by Yehudah’s teshuvah/repentance.  Yehudah admits and simply says: “She is right.” Therefore, fittingly, his name is Yehudah, which comes from the word “modeh” or admit, as he admitted that Tamar, not he, was right. And therefore a Yehudi - a Jew - is someone who admits the truth.  Here Yehudah makes amends for his previous behavior: this is not a compromise, not avoidance of responsibility, but movement towards the truth without compromises, along with the readiness to pay for his mistakes. Our sages speak of Yehudah’s reward: “Since he judged with a judgment of truth regarding Tamar, he became judge of the entire world.” (Midrash)

Test #2 – The Mutual Guarantee: Each for Each

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה אֶל יִשְׂרָאֵל אָבִיו: ...אָנֹכִי אֶעֶרְבֶנּוּ מִיָּדִי תְּבַקְשֶׁנּו

And Yehudah said to Israel, his father. . . “I will guarantee him; from my hand you can demand him.”

(Genesis 43:8-9)

Yehudah uses the word “guarantee,” and then demonstrates before Yosef his sense of responsibility towards Binyamin and, in a larger sense, that the fate of each Jew is indistinguishable from that of every other Jew:

וְעַתָּה יֵשֶׁב נָא עַבְדְּךָ תַּחַת הַנַּעַר עֶבֶד לַאדֹנִי וְהַנַּעַר יַעַל עִם אֶחָיו 

כִּי אֵיךְ אֶעֱלֶה אֶל אָבִי וְהַנַּעַר אֵינֶנּוּ אִתִּי?

“So now, please let your servant stay instead of the boy as a slave to my lord, and may the boy go up with his brothers. For how will I go up to my father if the boy is not with me?” (Genesis 44:33-4)

Again, no compromises, no avoidance of responsibility. Yehudah makes amends for the sale of Yosef and agrees to be taken as a slave in place of Binyamin. Binyamin, like Yosef before him, is innocent of any crime, but this time Yehudah does not suggest a “compromise” but instead agrees to sacrifice himself. The reverberating question he asks, “For how will I go up to my father if the boy is not with me?” should have been asked years before, at the time of the sale of Yosef. Rav Nebenzahl summarizes the change that took place in Yehuda as follows: “During the years that passed since the sale of Yosef, Yehuda went to great lengths to derive a lesson from his mistake. Through striving and rising to spiritual heights, Yehuda is prepared to be a slave in Egypt to the end of his days, if only not to compromise at the expense of Binyamin.” (Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl)

Yehudah, Yosef, and the Splitting of the Red Sea

This uncompromising attitude developed by Yehuda becomes characteristic of his tribe, whose descendants would become the kings of Israel. At the Exodus from Egypt, Nachshon Ben Aminadav, leader of the tribe of Yehuda, does not suggest compromises, does not suggest waiting until the sea calms down, and does not attempt to persuade everyone to jump into the sea together. Instead, he is the first to jump into the sea, and all by himself. Nachshonim, in modern Hebrew, are people with a pioneering spirit and bold investors. In Psalm 114:2, it is said regarding the splitting of the sea that “Yehudah became His holy nation, Israel his dominion.” Once again, the name of Yehudah is sanctified, the kingship will be his, and the nation of Israel will be under his rule. In the next verse of this psalm, we learn that “the sea saw and fled,” so awesome was Yehudah’s uncompromising courage, to be embodied in the kings that would come from Yehudah’s tribe.

And, in parallel, also because of Yosef – to be precise, the bones of Yosef that Moshe carried with him out of Egypt – “the sea saw (the bones of Yosef) and fled.” It fled from Yosef just as Yosef had fled from the wife of Potiphar when she tried to seduce him. Measure for measure. That is, both Yehudah and Yosef change their nature, transform their inborn character traits and, in so doing, change nature itself.  When confronted with a person who has changed his nature, nature changes, too.

“G-d saw the coffin of Yosef descend into the sea and said to the sea: flee before the one who fled, as it is said: “and he left his garment beside her and fled outside.” (Genesis 39:13)

The sea saw and fled before the tikkun of Yosef and before the tikkun of Yehuda.  The brothers had both changed their nature and so the sea changed its nature, too.

Let’s summarize: If we look at this parasha, we see opposing attitudes, yet they are really two sides of the same coin. Ultimately, on one side of the coin, the tribes are willing to be soft and compromise, and we see that there is brotherhood, love, and dialog between them. We even see a willingness to listen to criminals when Yosef asks, “Why are your faces sad today?” On the other side of the coin, however, we encounter uncompromising situations, where determination and singlemindedness are demanded. In such situations, where our principles and values are at stake, compromise would be dangerous, destructive, and deadly. So, on the one hand, peace is the motivating factor while, on the other, truth is our only concern.  And here we find much to learn from our parasha that is relevant to our own times.

Thanks very much to all of you. Next week – Hanukkah, and there will not be a class. Happy Hamukkah!


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