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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayeshev

An Exception-al People

One must take full advantage of the opportunities which G-d sends us, utilizing any and all possible avenues to safeguard our health and improve our lot in life. That is the rule. But Yosef was the exception to the rule!
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Our sedra begins the captivating (pun intended!) saga of Yosef, an amazing adventure that will take us all the way to the end of Sefer Bereisheit. Yosef’s story, in many ways, encapsulates the lives of the Avot who preceded him: Like Avraham, he is forced to leave his ancestral home, but ends up influencing many of the people he meets. He will suffer a near-death experience, as did his grandfather Yitzchak, but will survive and go on to become a righteous "Tzadik." And, like father Yakov, he will be targeted by his brother(s) and end his life in exile, yet he, too, will also become a "father figure" who provides for the entire family.

At the end of our parsha, as Yosef correctly interprets the dreams of the baker and the butler, he asks the butler to "remember" and "mention" him to Paro when he is released, so that Yosef, too, might be freed from prison. For this "sin" of trusting in the butler, rather than in Hashem, Yosef must spend an additional two years languishing in jail. (This is the meaning of the opening phrase in next week’s sedra Miketz, "at the end of two years..").

But why was Yosef punished? Is a person not allowed, perhaps even required, to use all means at his disposal to save his life? Was it so wrong for Yosef to believe that G-d had sent the butler into prison specifically to aid in his release? So why NOT eagerly enlist his assistance?!

Chazal answer that it is true, one must take full advantage of the opportunities which G-d sends us, utilizing any and all possible avenues to safeguard our health and improve our lot in life. That is the rule. But Yosef was the exception to the rule! He is an example of someone who is totally, completely in the hands of Hashem, whose every move is being guided and guarded by G-d. At every point, Yosef is saved from harm and continually taken from the pit to prosperity.

As such, Yosef should have recognized that he was being directed from above, and should have relied only upon the Almighty.

Yosef’s example of intense "Hashgacha Pratit, Divine supervision" is being mercifully, miraculously repeated here in Israel, the "exception-al" nation whose firm connection to Hashem is palpable and ever-present.

Is it possible that we could have formed a state, against such overwhelming odds, without Hashem’s direct help? How could we win 6 wars, absorb millions of immigrants – most of them indigent; and create one of the world’s great economies, ll on our own? Could a nation embody national resurrection, T’chiyat Ha-metim, if G-d did not will it?

Only the most blind – or hopelessly stubborn – of people could deny the pervasive, perpetual presence of G-d in Israel. All it takes to see that is to open our eyes and open our minds, to acknowledge Hashem’s presence - and be a part of it.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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