VAYESHEV – HARAV SHLOMO AVINER

The brothers did not accept Yosef’s kingship because he did not represent or express their special makeup and task in the world.  Yosef capably organized the physical world to function honestly and properly, but he was unable to perform their task of building up the spiritual content of the world. 

VAYESHEV

by HaRav Shlomo Aviner, Head of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim.

Sections:

  1. Yosef’s Capacity to Bring Blessing
  2. Yosef’s Nature
  3. The Clash Between Yosef and His Brothers
  4. Yosef’s Leadership

 

  1. Yosef’s Capacity to Bring Blessing

After the pair of the Torah portions Vayetze and Vayishlach which dealt with our forefather Yaakov comes two Torah portions which discuss the sons.  Among the sons, Yosef is conspicuous as an imposing personality.  Yosef’s special abilities are reflected in the blessings given to him by both Yaakov and Moshe, which surpass his brothers’ blessings both in content and length. These blessings are sweeping and all encompassing: “[Yours will be] the blessing of heaven above and the blessings of the water lying beneath…[The Blessing will be] until the endless bounds of the world’s hills… It [the blessing] will come upon the head of Yosef, on the brow of the elect of his brothers.”[347]  “The blessings of your father surpassed the blessing of my parents.”  Yaakov gave Yosef a greater than he himself received.[348]  Yosef was also split up into two tribes: Efraim and Menasheh.  He was one of the sons but was treated like one of the forefathers in that both his sons were separate tribes.  He possessed both the qualities of a forefather and of a son.  Onkelos translates the word “even” (usually meaning “stone”), which describes Yosef, as a combination of two words “av – father” and “ben – son.”[349]  He was both.  Yaakov was aware of Yosef’s numerous and diverse talents so he made him a coat of many colored strips.  He was distinct in this way from his brothers, who only had coats of a single color indicating a specific talent for each one.  Yosef was however all encompassing.  Yosef himself also knew of his numerous talents.  This showed up in his dreams which revealed his deepest thoughts.  He dreamt: “And my sheaf stood erect, and your sheaves circled my sheaf and bowed down to it”[350] and in a second dream: “And behold the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.”[351]   These dreams were expressions of economic leadership and success.  The dreams were not vain or coincidental but were true and in fact materialized when Yosef was promoted to a top position of economic leadership.

 

  1. Yosef’s Nature

Yaakov, the “double man” (as explained in previous sections), received two blessings.  He received Avraham’s blessing to continue spiritualizing mankind, a task that Avraham himself had begun, and he also received Esav’s blessing of conducting and bringing progress to the physical world.  Esav’s material task of supervising and improving the national, political, military, economic and organization aspects of the world was, for the time being, his responsibility.  This two-sided man therefore had two wives – Rachel and Leah.  Rachel constituted the visible, physical world, while Leah embodied the inner, spiritual world.  Rachel’s son, Yosef, inherited from her and from Yaakov the task of building and organizing life in the material world.  Yosef was Esav’s adversary.[352]  He was able to tackle him because he had the very same characteristics that Esav possessed, but better.  The culture and talents of the non-Jews could not compete with him.  One of his sparks could consume them all.[353]

 

Yaakov was fully aware of Yosef’s talents and so he “equipped” him appropriately.  Our Sages interpret the verse: “‘because he was a wise son’[354] – all that he [Yaakov had learned from Shem and Ever, he taught him [Yosef].”  The wisdom of Shem and Ever is the universal human wisdom which is common to both us and the non-Jews.  Shem and Ever were distinguished people, who had reached the peak of human culture and morality, and one could build a virtuous and moral world.  This knowledge belonged to Yosef because his task was to build a virtuous and decent world.  The mission of the other brothers was to elevate the inner spiritual content of existence and so they were engaged in the specific Jewish elements of the world which are above general world culture.  Shem and Ever’s wisdom was therefore transmitted to Yosef and not to them.  Yosef’s genius in arranging activities became apparent later on.  This was his blessing and he thus succeeded in everything he did.  When he was in the house of Potifar, it says: “His master realized that G-d was with him [Yosef] and that G-d granted success to everything he did.”[355]  Later when in prison it says: “The prison warden placed all the prison inmates in Yosef’s custody…The prison warden did not need to supervise anything that was in his charge since Hashem was with him, and whatever he did Hashem made successful.”[356]  The climax of his successes was his appointment as viceroy of the king of Egypt.  Egypt was the world power of the time (like Russia, America and Europe all together, today).  Pharoah, king of Egypt, was overwhelmed by Yosef’s capacity and said: “There can be none with as much insight and wisdom as you.”[357]  Pharoah in fact relinquished the task of managing public affairs and handed it over to Yosef, as it says: “by your command shall the whole nation act.”  It does say: “I shall outrank you on my throne,” but in fact he remains “honorary president,” while Yosef ruled the land for all practical purposes.

 

  1. The Clash Between Yosef and His Brothers

There was continuous and mutual antagonism between Yosef and his brothers.  Yosef brought “bad reports” about them.[358]  His dream revealed his criticism of his brothers.  “We were binding sheaves in the field when my sheaf suddenly stood up and remained erect.  Your sheaves formed a circle around my sheaf and bowed down to it.”[359]  My sheaf stood upright ready for action while yours stooped sluggishly.  H accused them of inaction and ignorance of the practical world.  They also have complaints against him.  Yehudah charged him: “You are just like Pharoah,”[360] i.e. “you are just another Pharoah and are only involved in the material side of life!”  They suspected that his only concern was the physical arrangement of the world, which is the task of the non-Jews, not of the Jews; while he was neglecting our special Jewish mission of building the inner spirituality of the world.

 

The brothers sensed that Yosef was starting something new.  He had the coat of many colors, showing that he incorporated all the different talents and he therefore outstripped them.  This man slandered them to their father and was causing a rift in the Jewish Nation.  He was dangerous and destructive to the unity of the “House of Israel.”  They remembered full well the refining process that the family had undergone in which Yishmael was rejected while Yitzchak remained and Esav was rejected while Yitzchak remained.  They reflected: “Is this processing continuing?  Will someone be weeded out now?  Yosef called them and said: “Listen to the dream that I had,[361] I want you to know who I am.”  They knew exactly who he was but wanted to clarify the point.  “Do you want to be our king?  Do you intend to rule over us?”[362]  “Do you mean to consult with us or is your plan to dominate us as a dictator?”[363]  “If you intend to consult with us okay, but if you intend to lord over us – it’s a no go!”  They were at loggerheads, it was either them or Yosef.  It could not be both.  The issue was through whom the Jewish People would continue: the brothers or Yosef.

 

Sibling rivalry and clashes did not commence with this dispute.  It had been preceded by strife between Kayin and Hevel, Yitzchak and Yishmael and Esav and Yaakov.  It is true that there are numerous explanations of these interpersonal clashes and of national conflicts.  Some are based on economic considerations, others on class tensions and still others on psycho-sexual problems, etc…  Our Sages were fully aware of all these interpretations, and in fact the Midrash brings a dispute concerning the cause of Kayin and Hevel’s quarrel.  One view is that both of them claimed the right to have the second female twin that was born with Hevel (a psycho-sexual interpretation).  Another view is that the dispute was over the division of the earth’s resources between them (an economic interpretation).[364]  However, the deep-rooted reason that caused the quarrel over these issues was their fundamental difference in nature, a clash at the deepest point of their inner essence.  Their diverse qualities suited them for entirely different tasks in the world.  The visible reasons for the quarrel were only superficial manifestations of a far deeper dispute.  This is also true of the jealousy over the coat of many colors.  The brothers were not kindergarten children who wanted a beautiful piece of colored silk.  Yosef’s talent made him competent to arrange and order the world but this clashed with the character of his brothers who were befitted to correct and improve the inner forces of the world.  Yaakov, by giving Yosef the coat of many colors, had indicated that of all the brothers, Yosef had been chosen to lead the clan.

 

  1. Yosef’s Leadership

Question: Why wasn’t Yosef’s authority accepted?

Answer: A true leader is one who encompasses and includes all the qualities, thoughts and aspirations of the people led by him.  For example, the “leader of ten”[365] contains all the qualities of the souls of the ten people under him.  That is why these people accept his rule over them.  They know that he feels and understands them and will thus faithfully represent their aspirations.  If this is not the case, the people under his tutelage will not accept his rule.  The brothers did not accept Yosef’s kingship because he did not represent or express their special makeup and task in the world.  Yosef capably organized the physical world to function honestly and properly, but he was unable to perform their task of building up the spiritual content of the world.  Yosef did not embody their world and thus could not lead them.

 

Question: Why wasn’t Yehudah chosen to be the leader?

Answer: To a minor degree, Yehudah did serve as a leader.[366]    However, for the moment, he did not possess Yosef’s practical talent.  Only in the days of King David and later in the days of the Mashiach ben David are the practical and spiritual talents harmoniously united in one person.

 

Question: If Yosef and Yehudah were both capable leaders in their respective fields, why was it so important to ensure that Yosef ruled first?

Answer: Because the appropriate order in building the world is firstly the structuring of the material world and only afterwards the build-up of the spiritual world.  The Mashiach ben Yosef precedes and paves the way for the Mashiach ben David.  In the final analysis, however, it became clear that both these forces are essential and that they complement each other.  Yosef and his brothers embraced each other cried and kissed each other: “And he [Yosef] kissed each of his brothers and wept on them.”[367]  The full stature of the “House of Israel” will only he built when the two forces unite in harmony.

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