The Rage of Yosef by Rabbi Zvi Grumet


On the opening phrase of the Parsha, Rashi (לבראשית ל"ז:ב' בסוף ד"ה אלה) comments, "ביקש יעקב לישב בשלוה, קפץ עליו רוגזו של יוסף." Essentially, this means that after a lifetime of struggling with his brother, his wives, his in-laws and even his own children, all Yaakov wanted was to return to his ancestral home and live out the rest of his life in peace. Unfortunately, that was not to be, as the "rage of Yosef" leapt upon him. The notion of Yaakov seeking respite from his travails and attributing the denial of that rest specifically to the "rage of Yosef" bears further examination.

Perhaps one could suggest a different reading of Yaakov's struggles and quest for tranquility. Rather than the obvious, external confrontations that he endured, perhaps they refer to a deeper, internal battle which Yaakov fought with himself. After all, Yaakov begins life as an "איש תם ישב אהלים" - a quiet, introverted, spiritual character, "dwelling in the tents" (שם כ"ה:כ"ז). When he dreams, he dreams of ladders linking Heaven and earth with angels fluttering up and down (שם כ"ח:י"ב). As circumstances dictated, however, Yaakov was soon thrust into an environment that couldn't be more different. Lavan is a crafty fellow, and Yaakov learns from him how to interact with others. In fact, Yaakov learns so well that he even eventually outsmarts his own teacher. Yaakov has been transformed from a man of the tent to a man of the world, wealthy and successful. When he now dreams, he dreams of sheep, with angels guiding the growth of his fortune (שם ל"א:י'-י"ב).

As much as Yaakov has been drawn out of his shell, however, there still remains inside him the simple ישב אהלים. Yaakov lives in two worlds and struggles to resolve the inner tension that tears him between them. He has become successful as a businessman, yet strives to recapture those pristine spiritual moments that marked his early life. Upon returning home, he thought he could finally leave behind his inner struggle and revert to the quiet tent. But Yosef would interfere, and Yaakov was not to achieve his peace. Why Yosef?

There is an interesting and well developed selection in the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah (פרשה פ"ד סימן ו'), part of which Rashi cites in his aforementioned comment (שם), paralleling the lives of Yaakov and Yosef. In essence, the Midrash notices how similar Yosef's life, with all its diversity and defining moments, was to that of his father. It could be said that Yosef continued what Yaakov had started or that Yosef was, in fact, an incarnation of Yaakov. Not only were the events in Yaakov's life mirrored in Yosef's, but the very essence of what Yaakov stood for was bred into the son described as his בן זקונים, the apple of his eye (בראשית ל"ז:ג').

Included in Yosef's fiber was the inner struggle that gripped Yaakov his entire life. Yaakov succeeded in transmitting to Yosef the value of trying to resolve living simultaneously in two very different worlds. Upon his return home, Yaakov wanted to put that internal conflict behind him. Immediately, the rage of Yosef leapt upon him. How could his father and mentor, the one who imbued him with the appreciation and necessity of the struggle with oneself, suddenly give up? If grappling with oneself is truly worthwhile, then it must continue no matter what stage in life one has reached. And if it's not important enough to carry on to one's golden years, then why burden the young with it? How dare his father thrust him into a lifelong quest for inner equilibrium while his father retired from the battle?

Yosef was a good student of his father and mentor. Too good. It was his rage that reminded Yaakov that, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, there is no respite from the eternal struggle to define ourselves and our roles in two competing worlds.



The Lashon Hora of Yosef by Noam Davidovics

Yaakov's Difficult Choice by Pinchas Becker