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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayeshev

From Teen to Tzadik

Rabbi Stewart WeissKislev 19 5780
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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.
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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