In Parashat VaYeishev, we begin to read about Ya’akov’s children, with special attention paid toward Yosef. Of all his brothers, Yosef is favored by Ya’akov, who appears to be grooming him for a leadership role among the later generations. Yosef certainly appears to be the best choice in terms of spirituality, being Ya’akov’s primary Talmid after Ya’akov studied in Yeshivat Sheim VeEiver for 14 years, according to Chazal. Ya’akov undoubtedly thinks it crucial to sustain the Mesorah, and hopes that by selecting Yosef, the most learned of his sons, the Mesorah will continue. Furthermore, Ya’akov sees himself reflected in Yosef. This reflection of his father seems to make Yosef the next of the Avot, a continuation of the legacy. Ya’akov does not mean to offend all the brothers; rather, he believes that since Yosef most resembles the Avot, it must be that Hashem wants Yosef to become a leader.
Contrary to popular belief, Ya’akov takes Yosef’s dream about the wheat and his dream about the stars as positive signs. The dreams prove that Yosef is the right leader. Although Ya’akov firmly believes he picks his leader justly, the brothers nevertheless become jealous over the favoritism exhibited, especially regarding the gift of the Ketonet Pasim. They eventually become so frustrated with Yosef that they sell him to slavery, and he is quickly brought to Egypt.
Once in Egypt, Yosef is sorely tempted by Eishet Potifar, his master’s wife. As Chazal teach, just as Yosef is about to sin with Eishet Potifar, he sees his father’s face in the window and remains strong. This resistance ties into the second reason Ya’akov chooses Yosef: Their strong facial resemblance. This resemblance is so powerful that it keeps Yosef from deviating from the proper path.
In his prominent leadership roles in Mitzrayim after interpreting Par’oh’s dreams, Yosef once again encounters assimilation and misdeeds. Still, he retains his Jewish identity by always remembering his father.
There are many factors that can sway us away from Judaism; therefore, we must actively protect our Jewish identity. Even when second-in-command of a polytheistic nation, Yosef honors and maintains his Jewish identity, and he is rewarded with a double portion of the land in Israel. We can see that being Jewish is not only about Davening and Mizvot, but also about keeping our Jewish identity alive. We must learn from Yosef to be proud of and to remember our Torah even in the most uncomfortable situations.