Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayeshev
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From Teen to Tzadik


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Kislev 19 5780
Life is all about growth, & so is the Torah. All the Mitzvot & midot & minhagim we practice are designed to help us grow – as a human being, as a Jew, as a tzelem Elokim.

Now, there is no one in the Torah whose story is more about growth than Yosef, the teen who would be Tzadik. Yosef begins as a rather arrogant, self-centered kid. He knows that he is the favorite of father Yakov – the Torah even tells us so! (37:4). In fact, as Rav Soloveichik says, he was given the "coat of many colors" as a visible sign to all that he has been designated as the heir-to-be in the family.

As the young son of Rachel – Yakov’s "favorite" wife – he knows he is being groomed – literally! The Midrash tells us that he spent long hours in front of the mirror curling his long black hair. No wonder Yakov remarks in his final bracha to Yosef (49:27): "Yosef is beautiful to behold; all the girls climb up high just to get a glimpse of him!"

Yosef informs on his brothers, who resent his chutzpa & his superiority complex. Yet eventually, he goes to seek them out in Shechem, a place that exemplifies the unity of the siblings, for here they banded together to save their sister Dina. He declares to the Unknown Stranger, "Et achaiy anochi m’vakesh – it is my brothers I seek."

But by then it is too late. The brothers are so resentful of Yosef that it says, "V’lo yachlu dabru l’Shalom;" they could not even greet him with "L’Shalom." Remarks the Vilna Gaon, we say "Lech l’Shalom" to a live person, but "B’Shalom" we only say to a dead person. The brothers already considered Yosef dead to them; & so they prepared to either kill him or sell him into slavery & be done with him.

But that is when Yosef’s growth really begins. He befriends those even less fortunate than he is, in the dungeon; he agrees to help interpret their dreams. He humbly says to Paro, "I’m no miracle-worker, it’s Hashem who has the power!" And even when he becomes Viceroy & is surrounded by luxury & Kavod, he still is haunted by his past. He is desperate for his family, & so he keeps asking his brothers, "Ha-od avi chai? Does my father yet live?"

Ultimately, Yosef will re-unite with his family in one of the most emotional & dramatic scenes in all of literature. As Yakov & Yosef finally hug one another, they embody – says Rashi – the two Batei Mikdash, the place where all Jews will someday gather to unite in spiritual glory. Yosef will sustain & support his entire family, situating them in Goshen, where they will greatly multiply and prosper – at least temporarily.

Significantly, Yosef will be the first of the brothers to die. This is a graphic demonstration of his mida of self-sacrifice, a trait that runs in the family of Rachel, who also sacrificed for her sister Leah so that she could marry Yakov; & Esther, who risked her life to save the Jews of Persia. Yosef thus has comes full circle: The self-centered teen has grown into the selfless Tzadik.
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