The Battle of Life
“He (Yosef) refused (to sin with Potifar’s wife)” (39:8). “וַיְמָאֵ֓ן… (לט:ח).”
It is interesting to note the trop, reading note, found on this word “vayima’ain, he refused.” The cantillation mark is that of the shalsheles, שלש֓לת. This note is only found in four places in the entire Torah. Let us glean an interesting lesson hinted from this phenomenon.
The four places are as follows:
1- In Parshas Vayera, ויתמהמה, Lot tarried when the angels were trying to evacuate
him from Sedom.
2- In Parshas Chayei Sarah, ויאמר, when Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, prayed for
Hashem to guide him in finding a wife for Yitzchok.
3- In this Parsha, וימאן, when Yosef refused to sin with his master’s wife.
4- In Parshas Tzav, וישחט, regarding the slaughtering of one of the sacrificial animals.
What is the common thread between these four occurrences of this unique trop, the shalsheles? The word shalsheles means “long chain.” It is read with a long thrice-repeating tune to connote consistency and continuance. It hints to the Yetzer Hara, the Evil Inclination. The Gemara in Berachos (61a) compares the Yetzer Hara to a pesky fly. He continually tries to get us to sin throughout our entire life. We rise to the challenge, but he always lurks waiting to get us again! This is his constant presence always trying to chain us down! Additionally, just as the shalsheles has three parts to it, so too the Gemara in Bava Basra (16a) tells us that the Yetzer Hara has three names.
Now we can plug this in to explain the story-line hinted by the tune’s four occurrences:
1-“And he said”- The Yetzer Hara speaks to us by planting a bad idea in our mind…
2-“And he refused!”- Our job is to cut off his words and not to listen…
3-“And he tarried”- If however, one hesitates and gives himself time to slip…
4-“He slaughtered” then the Yetzer Hara has you in his hands! You’re gone!
The lesson to learn from Yosef is how to fight and win. When we see that a course of action is correct and just, we should grab onto it and not delay to pursue that action. If however, a course of action is not correct, then we strive to stop immediately without hesitation! This is how successful people live their lives, no delays! This is a most fascinating point gleaned from a unique cantillation mark.
“והוא נער את בני בלהה ואת בני זלפה…” (לז:א). “He (Yosef) befriended the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah” (37:1).
Rashi tells us that the sons of Yaakov were disrespectful of their four brothers born from Yaakov’s secondary wives (Dan, Naftoli, Gad, Asher) and called them, “sons of the maidservants”. Yosef was very unhappy with this disrespect and so he reported it to his father and made an effort to help out and befriend them.
What is quite impossible to understand is that despite this effort, they still sold him!? Ten brothers were involved in his sale and this included the four sons of Bilhah and Zilbah! The very four people whom Yosef dedicated his efforts to protect and care for?! More so, they were the ones who brought the Yosef’s bloody garment to Yaakov to inform him that Yosef had been “killed”. How could they do this to him after all that he did for them?!
Let us rewind to an earlier episode and draw a powerful lesson from it, which I believe answers this question as well. Rachel requested of her sister, Leah, that she please provide her with the Dudaim (mandrakes) which were a known remedy to help her have children. Leah screamed at her and said (Bereishis 30:15), “is it not enough that you stole my husband; now you want to take my Dudaim as well?!” Rachel then made a tradeoff with her, and never challenged those words.
The question is, this is preposterous, how could Leah speak this way? Rachel was the one who gave up the Simanim (prearranged secret “password” that Yaakov made up with Rachel to ensure that he was marring her) to Leah in order that she shouldn’t be embarrassed and could marry Yaakov in her place. What was Leah saying?!
The most amazing answer that emerges is that: somehow in Rachel’s giving over the Simanim to Leah, Rachel did it in such a way that Leah never even knew the kindness that was done for her! You may want to read that again! Perhaps Rachel approached Leah before the wedding and said, Yaakov asked me to teach you these Simanim etc. Absolutely amazing!
So too, Rachel taught this to her son Yosef. She instilled in him a passion for chessed and the dedication to care for others regardless of whether they were aware of the favor they were receiving. (How this lesson ties into the meaning of Yosef’s name is for you to figure out!)
This is how it was possible for the four brothers to be involved in the sale of Yosef. They weren’t even aware of all that Yosef did for them. The ultimate chessed is that which has no expectations of recognition in return.
Who Was Number Ten?!
I mentioned earlier that TEN brothers were involved in the sale of Yosef. The Seforim say that the incident of the Ten Martyrs (Asarah Harugey Malchus) took place as an atonement for the TEN people involved in the sale of Yosef. However, this needs to be understood. We know that Yaakov had twelve sons. Three of them were not involved in the sale! Binyomin wasn’t there, Reuven was away at the time, and Yosef didn’t sell himself! In that case, only nine people were involved, who is the tenth?
Here are three approaches:
1- Shlah explains that since Reuven initially agreed to throw Yosef into the pit (and to sell him), he was held accountable even though he wasn’t present at the actual sale.
2- Others state that Yosef himself was held accountable because of his actions that caused the brothers’ animosity as well.
3- Arizal (word of caution: this needs to be understood properly) states that Hashem Himself had joined in the Beis Din to allow the brothers to sell Yosef and thus He desired atonement for Himself as well. Rabbi Akiva was the martyr who died for Hashem. This is why his soul departed with the word “Echad, The Holy One”.
Effort and Wisdom
Last week’s Parsha ended with a list of Eisav’s elaborate descendants. Scores of kings and families are mentioned. This is contrasted by the opening verse of this week’s Parsha which only mentions Yaakov as the father of Yosef. Rashi (Bereishis 37:1) is perplexed by this comparison and brings down the famous Midrash which explains the lesson.
There once was a faithful blacksmith. One day, an evil salesman entered the city and began to bring in camel-loads of flax to sell. He quickly took over the city with disregard for the fact that his flax was infringing on people’s private property. As the camels poured in, the streets were completely filled with flax. The blacksmith was very concerned that he would lose business as his store was no longer visible. A wise man pointed out to him, “do not fear, one spark will fly out from your anvil and burn down the myriads of flax!” So too when Yaakov saw all of the multitudes of Eisav, he was scared. Hashem however reassured him, “do not fear! You are like fire and Yosef is like the traveling flame, he will destroy all of Eisav’s masses. (This is referring to the time of Mashiach and in general to the fact that Yosef’s trait of self-control combats Eisav’s passion for sin.)
I have always thought it interesting that the blacksmith specifically took down the flax merchant by way of one “accidental” spark. The blacksmith spends his day making metal weapons and hard objects. However, he did not use those weapons to subdue the flax or its owner. Rather it was from the spark that shot out of his swing that won the war. This is to show us that so many times in life, we do not gain victory or success by natural means or from our personal plans. Our job is to put in effort and to try our best; ultimately Hashem is the One Who delivers success. He waits for our efforts and that is where success emanates from, sometimes from the most surprising places, like a shooting spark!
“Many ideas are planned in man’s heart (לב), but the counsel of Hashem is what prevails (Mishley 19:21).” The heart is the center of human emotions. When the heart recognizes that Hashem is in full control, that is the ultimate achievement of wisdom. However, before that point, man ineffectively thinks that his own strength (כח) is what brings him success.
The human hand contains 14 joints (3 on each finger and 2 on the thumb). Thus both hands combined contain 28 joints. This hints to the natural reliance one has on his own strength and hands (כ”ח (literally: strength) =28). However, when the Kohen pronounces the Priestly Benediction, he spread his hands into four parts representing the four letters of Hashem’s name. This adds 4 to the 28 thus totaling 32 (=לב), the deep and emotional recognition that Hashem runs the world.
The Kabbalists write that man has 28 teeth plus four additional molars, totaling 32 (לב). The number twenty-eight hints to Koheles (Chapter 3) where Shlomo enumerates twenty-eight varied human actions and emotions that fill the average life-span. A time for… birth, death, laughter, crying, war and peace, etc. The complete gamut of life stages, the natural world. The purpose of the Jew is to add the recognition of Hashem’s presence (represented by the four letters of Hashem’s name) and guidance into all his endeavors. This is the significance of the “wisdom teeth”. They are the additional four molars that bring the teeth total to 32 (לב). The Kabbalists write that the 32 teeth correspond to the 32 paths of wisdom which are found in the Torah and can be contained in one’s heart. The teeth represent the ultimate wisdom (just as teeth dissect food and effect expression, so too wisdom is the dissection and expression of knowledge). The knowledge and security of knowing that Hashem is in full control of our destiny is true wisdom that brings warm feelings to one’s heart and a beautiful smile to one’s face!
Behind The Mask
Yosef HaTzaddik was in jail for a crime that he didn’t do. The butler and the baker both had a dream that seemed to tie into the outcome of their trials. Yosef saw that they were down and offered to help them. He told the butler that Pharaoh would soon remove him from prison and that he would be back to serving drinks in no time; the baker would be executed. They recognized the validity of Yosef’s interpretations and were amazed. Before the butler was freed, Yosef said to him (Bereishis 40:14-15), “please remember the kindness that I did for you and mention me favorably before Pharaoh so that I can get out of jail. I was kidnapped from my Jewish family and I was placed in jail under false accusations.” This would not be the case; the butler forgot about him immediately and whenever he tried to recall him, Hashem made him forget it again (Bereishis Rabbah 88:7). Chazal say that Yosef was punished with two more years in jail because of his request to the butler.
The famous question is: What did Yosef do wrong? Was he expected to pass up the opportunity to have someone speak on his behalf to Pharaoh? Are we not required to do our part in trying to get things done? Additionally, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 88:3) makes a perplexing comment here that needs to be understood. “Hashem got a master (Pharaoh) angry at his servants (the butler and baker) to raise up Yosef and Hashem got servants (Bigson and Seresh) angry at their master (Achashveirosh) to bring greatness to Mordechai.” What do the two have to do with one another and what is this all about?! We also find a Midrash regarding Megillas Esther (Esther Rabbah, Introduction 9) that states: “Hashem made a master (Achashveirosh) kill his wife (Vashti) on the advise of his loved one (Haman) and then He made a master (Achashveirosh) kill his loved one (Haman) on the advise of his wife (Esther).” What is this all about?
The answer lies not in what Yosef did or said, but rather in what he was thinking in his heart when he said it. Bereishis Rabbah (89:3) says that “praiseworthy is one who relies on Hashem and does not turn to haughtiness and false avenues (Tehillim 40:5).” Yosef had every right and in fact was required to ask the butler for help; the fault lies in what he was thinking in his heart when he made his request. If he would have thought how Hashem is the Only One that can save him, then this would have been a great deed. He however forgot himself and was thinking that the butler was his only way out. Hashem was strict with Yosef and gave him two more years in jail so that he could contemplate and deeply come to terms with the reality that only the Will of Hashem comes to prevail. Yosef grew tremendously from this lesson and in fact the first words that he uttered upon leaving jail were a deceleration of Hashem’s rulership and greatness. Pharoah asked Yosef, “I heard that you interpret dreams?” Yosef replied, “It is not I, Hashem will grant me the wisdom to do so (Bereishis 41:16).”
The above quoted Midrashim focus on the theme of reversed roles. They show the power of Hashem to do what He wants in a manner that He pleases. He can move a king or simpleton in any way and for any purpose, even contradictory roles. That is the entire lesson of Megillas Esther, “V’nahapoch Hu, it was revered (Esther 9:1),” a day that was intended by the enemy to be one of destruction of the Jews was miraculously flipped to be a day of victory, inspiration and celebration for the Jews.
Indeed, if we wish to have blessings in life we are taught to give credit to Hashem Who is the source of all blessings. When we turn to Him and recognize that He is the One behind all of our bounty, we have uplifted and elevated our lives. He may use other messengers to deliver goods, but we must not get distracted by the mask. We strive to only pray to Him for our needs. We are sure to thank Hashem for all of gifts and bounty in any way that He delivers them.
You can’t stop the inevitable. Chazal (Berachos 55b) tell us that when one has a dream it can be open to interpretation. One should be careful to interpret it in a positive light so that something negative does not transpire. Although there are many conditions and details concerning this rule, we can explore one concept in our parsha.
Yosef HaTzadik had dreams about stacks and stars bowing to him. His brothers knew the implication of the dreams and were enraged. They yelled at him stating, “You will never rule over us; we will never be forced to bow to you (Bereishis 37:8)!” Rabbeinu Bechaya asks, why didn’t the brothers simply give a negative interpretation for the dreams and thereby thwart the plans? He answers that it was Hashem’s Will that prevented the brothers from even thinking about giving alternate interpretations to the dreams. When Hashem decides that something will happen, nothing can stand in the way. The Maharsha has another approach.
Maharsha asks many questions from contradictory Gemara sources about whether or not dreams do indeed follow their interpretations. We find in Parshas Mikeitz that Pharaoh dreamt about seven fat cows that were swallowed by seven skinny cows. Pharaoh was disturbed and offered a great reward to anyone who could interpret the dreams. His astrologers told him that he would have seven daughters but they would quickly die or that he would conquer seven lands and then lose them. Pharaoh was not satisfied with their approaches until he got the interpretation from Yosef about the years of plenty followed by years of terrible famine for Egypt that were to follow. Pharaoh heard this and rushed to appoint Yosef to be second in command. How do we understand this, the other interpretations were said first and should have come true?
The Daas Zekanim asks this question and gives three answers. Firstly, a dream’s interpretation only comes true if the dreamer accepts the interpretation as valid. If he does not, then the dream remains open to interpretation. Since Pharaoh didn’t accept any interpretation until Yosef came, Yosef’s approach became the only valid outcome. Secondly, Pharaoh’s dreams were unique in that he himself had also dreamt the interpretation but when he woke up he could not remember it. It was only when Yosef came and gave the proper interpretation that Pharaoh recalled it exactly as Yosef had said and was thus convinces of Yosef’s greatness. Thirdly, Pharaoh’s dream was a form of prophesy that kings get about their country and thus was not open to interpretation at all no matter what was stated. Maharsha states that Yosef’s dreams were of the same nature and thus the brothers could not alter the outcome even if they would have tried.
Rabbeinu Bechaya understood that Yosef’s dreams were indeed open to interpretation. He wishes for us to focus on all of the miracles that Hashem brought about in order to get Yosef to where he was meant to be. He had to lay the groundwork for his father and brothers who would be headed down to exile in Egypt in twenty-two years. When we read through the parshiyos we focus on all of the minute details of how Hashem made sure that each feature turned out exactly as it was supposed to be.