Chazal tell us that after enduring many years of difficult challenges, including dealing with Lavan, confronting Esav, and dealing with his daughter’s assault, Yaakov Avinu wished that he could finally live in peace and tranquility. Unfortunately for him, he was forced to deal with another tragic turn of events - the debacle of Yosef and his brothers.
The Midrash adds that God felt that Yaakov should not have expected to live in peace and tranquility. Is it not enough that he will spend his life in the World to Come in peace? Does he deserve to spend this world with that comfort as well?
This criticism of Yaakov is puzzling. Was it wrong for him to wish to finish his life with contentment, especially considering that he had already endured so many challenges?
Rav Nissan Alpert explains that until that point, Yaakov had fended off enemies from the outside. He was forced to run from Esav, to deal with Lavan’s trickery, to confront Esav one final time, and to deal with an assault on his daughter. These were all challenges from people who did not share his values and world-view and wanted to take advantage of Yaakov and his family. But in focusing all his energy on protecting himself from the world around him, he neglected to notice the problems that were brewing within his very own family. With such intense hatred surfacing between his sons, he could not have expected to live out his life with ease; he should have confronted the internal challenge and solved it before it would be too late.
Chazal and the Rishonim often point out parallels between the lives of our Avot and the history of our nation. There are many examples of the Jewish people succeeding in dealing with challenges from the unfriendly world around them, only to be crippled by internal conflict and hatred.
We must be careful to avoid this tragic error ourselves. As we hope to succeed in securing a safe, peaceful and spiritual existence for Klal Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, we must be able to transcend our political or religious differences to coexist peacefully. We must show respect and appreciation for all those who have taken the courageous step to live in Eretz Yisrael and confront our national challenge on the front line.
What Goes Around
by Josh Markovic
This week’s Parsha stresses the theme of Middah Kineged Middah, literally measure for measure. Middah Kineged Middah is the way Hakadosh Baruch Hu punishes people in the manner in which they sinned (and rewards us in a manner that corresponds to our good deeds). For example, when Am Yisrael was in Mitzrayim, the Egyptians were punished with the Ten Plagues, each of which was a form of Middah Kineged Middah. For instance, the Midrash explains that the plague of blood in the river corresponds to Pharaoh’s decree to drown all the Jewish first born sons. According to the Midrash, Parshat Vayigash contains numerous such instances of Middah Kineged Middah.
The first example is Yosef and his relationship with his brothers. The Midrash describes Yosef telling his father Yaakov that his brothers are eating an animal that was not slaughtered. Yosef is actually wrong in this accusation, since the animal was the fetus of a slaughtered mother (Ben Paku’ah), which is Halachically permissible to eat even if it is not slaughtered itself. Because of this false accusation, Hakadosh Baruch Hu punishes Yosef with Middah Kineged Middah when the brothers show Yaakov Yosef’s coat stained with blood after they sold him. Yosef speaks Lashon Hara about his brothers when he judges them by the sight of animal blood, so using Middah Kineged Middah, Hakadosh Baruch Hu judges Yosef, too, with blood.
A second (Midrashic) example of Middah Kineged Middah in this Parsha is when Yosef tells Yaakov that Leah’s sons are calling Bilhah and Zilpah’s sons “the children of slaves.” In actuality, however, the brothers were not calling these children’s mothers slaves, because they knew that Yaakov had freed the women before he married them. So Hakadosh Baruch Hu once again punishes Yosef, dooming him to be a slave himself.
Of course, this concept is true of our everyday lives as well. If one cheats another person in business, for example, Hakadosh Baruch Hu may punish the offender with his own monetary loss. However, Middah Kineged Middah can also go the other way. If one treats others well and fairly, he will be treated the same way in return. If we do as Hillel’s famous “summary” of the entire Torah states, “Do unto others only as you would have done unto yourself,” we will surely merit similar treatment ourselves.
by Ariel Herzog
At the end of Parshat Vayeshev, Pharaoh’s butler and baker ask the imprisoned Yosef to interpret their dreams. Upon hearing their request, Yosef responds, “Don’t dreams belong to God?” (40:8). To explain this very ambiguous Pasuk, the Radak proposes that what Yosef really means is that Hashem “owns” the interpretations of dreams. Each dream has an interpretation, for a primary purpose of dreams is to be a means of communication from Hashem to us, and Hashem will allow us to know the meaning of a particular dream.
This Radak may help us understand the life of Yosef as explained by the Ramban. Yosef grew up being hated by his brothers, and spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Then, the scales tipped the other way. He correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, became second to king, and finally his entire family bowed down to him! Regarding this last event (42:9), the Ramban comments that Yosef did not reveal himself to his brothers until all eleven were standing in front of him because he believed the dreams he dreamt in his youth were an agenda he was destined to fulfill. His first dream had been that all his brothers would bow down to him. If Yosef revealed himself to his brothers without Binyamin (who was still in Eretz Yisrael) present, they would have brought back Yaakov with Binyamin, and Yosef knew that eleven brothers would bow down to him without his father. Therefore, Yosef made an excuse to bring back Binyamin alone. It was only after all eleven had bowed that Yosef was willing to reveal himself. Yaakov could then come and bow down with the rest of the family, thereby fulfilling the second dream.
How, asks the Ramban, could Yosef dare not to let his father know as soon as possible that he was alive? He should have sent for him immediately! The Ramban answers that Yosef’s drive to fulfill his life’s dream-shaped agenda was so strong that he felt it had to override anything. In the moment his brothers stood before him, he suddenly understood the purpose of all the confusion and turmoil of his entire life.
The Radak’s comment about dreams gives support to this Ramban. Dreams, according to Radak, are all in the power of Hashem. Although the interpretations are not always given immediately, they will, if Hashem sees fit, eventually be revealed. So, too, the life of Yosef, and our lives as well, all have purposes, even though sometimes they are not revealed to us until a later time in our lives. We must trust Hashem that He will help us in all that we do, and that while fulfilling our mission we will have a life of Simcha, health, and Torah.
Halacha of the Week The Chayyei Adam (67:20) writes that it is forbidden for parents to be excessively demanding of their children, as this will cause them to violate the Mitzvot of honoring and fearing one’s parents. Rather, writes the Chayyei Adam, parents should be “Mocheil on their Kavod” (waive the honor and fear due them) as permitted by Halacha (Kiddushin 32a). We might add that the same applies to Rabbanim, Rebbeim and teachers. One of the sources of the Chayei Adam’s ruling seems to be the Gemara we discussed in this week’s Halacha column that teaches that it is sometimes prudent to waive the honor that one is due.
However, children have the obligation to do their best to fulfill their obligation to honor and fear their parents. Families should strive to create a healthy balance where parents avoid causing their children to violate their obligations to honor and fear their parents, and children do their best to fulfill their obligations to their parents. It seems that the Mishnah Berurah’s urging (239:9) all to be Mocheil offenses committed against them, every evening before they go to sleep, should be understood in light of the Chayyei’s Adam’s ruling and our discussion of the conflict between Rav Shimon ben Shetach and Yanai.
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