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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayigash

Stop, Look..…and Listen!

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The saga of Yosef & his brothers comes to a dramatic denouement in our Parsha. As compelling as this story is in its own right, it also has critical ramifications for the future, as it plays a central role in the Exodus, as well as in the Geula – then as well as in the future.

In the course of his 22 years away from home, Yosef undergoes an amazing transformation – from impetuous dreamer to "Tzadik." I suggest one key to his growth is his ability to Listen. As a teenager, Yosef loved to talk. He spread negative rumors about his brothers, he talked about his grandiose plans for the future, he recounted his dreams to anyone & everyone who would listen. His "motor-mouth" led him into disfavor, & then into disaster.

But then he is cast into the pits. There, he takes the time to listen to the dreams of the baker & butler, eventually leading to his freedom from prison. He then listens to Paro’s dream, not just hearing, but perceiving what is so important to Paro – Egypt’s economy & status as a world power. And so Yosef alone rightly "reads" the dreams.

The ability to listen – to take an interest in others & hear their pleas & pain – is a wonderful quality that is essential for leadership. When Yosef’s brothers finally confess their crime, they say, "We sinned when we did not listen to our brother Yosef as he cried out to us from the pit." And when Shlomo HaMelech (in last week's Haftora) asks G-d for just one thing, do you know what it is? Not wisdom, as most people think, but rather a "Lev Shomaya, a listening heart! (Look it up in the beginning of Melachim I).

Once, a town invited two Rabbis to interview for the position of Rav. One of the candidates was distinguished, well-trained, polished & erudite; the other pretty much of a shlemeil - shirt not tucked in, unprepared, a make-it -up-as- you-go-along kind of guy. They were each asked to deliver a drasha for Shabbat, & checked into a local inn.

The first Rabbi, though already quite prepared, spent Friday night in his room rehearsing aloud his masterful Drasha, over & over. The other fellow had nothing whatsoever in mind. But, to his good fortune, the inn’s walls were thin, & the shlemeil could hear the sermon from the adjoining room. And so, in the morning, he innocently asked if he could go first in shul. "You always are profound and witty," pleaded. "I'm not in your league. But maybe if I go first, that will help me!"

The rabbi magnanimously agreed, but imagine his shock when he heard the shlepper give the very same drasha he had so carefully prepared the night before! But the rabbi was a quick thinker. As he rose to speak, he told the shul: "You know, it’s important to speak well, as my colleague just did. But it’s even MORE important for your Rav to a good listener. So, to prove I know how to listen well, I will now repeat the drasha you just heard – word for word!"

He got the job, of course.
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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