Parshat Vayeishev 5784: Leadership and Taking Responsibility

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Vayeishev is being sponsored by Moshe and Lauren Pitzele and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh in in honor of their son Yosef Shalom’s eleventh birthday on 25 Kislev, the first night of Chanukah. To the Pitzele family, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

Friends, you can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Vayeishev 5784: Leadership and Taking Responsibility

by Moshe Burt

Our parsha opens by relating how Yosef, born to Rachel, was Yaakov’s favored son — his “Ben Z’kunim” (“son of his old age” Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 3 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash) to whom he bestowed a multi-colored coat which sources indicate could have been the coat of Eisev which was worn by Yaakov in receiving the B’rachot from Yitzchak. Yosef’s favored son status aroused jealousy amongst his brothers. Yosef’s tale-bearing about his brothers, as well as his dream-telling aroused anger and hatred of him in the brothers.

They saw Yosef’s tale-telling — often without knowing all of the facts and his pronouncement of his dreams, as fostering their perception that he sought to rule over them, that he sought their subservience to him. They viewed Yosef in the light of the family history — their great grandfather’s Avraham’s reluctance to separate from his other son Yishmael and their grandfather Yitzchak’s apparent favoritism for his son Eisev, that “master of kibud Av,” who nonetheless was wicked and not connected with Shemayim.

“The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman on Sefer Breish’t explains (page 350) :

It seemed to them (the brothers) that Yosef by his conduct was attempting to win the position of Yaakov’s only successor. Hence they considered all thoughts and plans against him a mitzvah. They were unaware that they were actually distorting the truth as a result of their envy.

“Torah Gems”, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg cites Tiferet Yehonatan (page 274-275) on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 4, above:

They hated him [Yosef]; and they were not able to speak to him peaceably.” …Had they sat down together, they would have spoken to one another and told… what bothered them. Then they would have ironed out their differences. The trouble… is that there is no common language and no one listening.

Yosef’s brothers, while acting inappropriately out of anger, jealousy and hatred, perceived Yosef as a threat to the future nation that was to grow from them as the offspring of Yaakov.

In short, Yosef and the brothers stood on two polarizing sides, totally lacking in any sort of dialogue with each other.

When Yaakov sent Yosef in search of his brothers and he found them in the fields of an area called Dothan,Torah then relates:

“They [the brothers] saw him from afar… and they conspired toward him to kill him.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 18, as rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary”)

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin summarizes the events leading to Yosef’s sale and transport to Mitzrayim (Egypt) in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text” (Sefer Breish’t, Parshat Vayeishev, page 201) :

Reuven, the eldest, objects and convinces the others to thrust Yosef into the pit alive, rather than murder him… Reuven fully intends to return later, release Yosef and bring him safely back to their father.

Yosef arrives [to his brothers’ location]. The brothers rip off his cloak and throw him into the pit.

But it seems that Reuven left the company of his brothers at that point. This author has yet to see a definitive, unequivocal explanation of why Reuven left, but some say that he went to serve his father, while “The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman on our Parshat (page 354) indicates:

Reuven left the company. He never partook in meals since he was constantly fasting and praying for having committed the sin of disarranging his father’s couch.

The conspiracy discussions continued amongst the other brothers until they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites, with their camels carrying spices and balsam and headed toward Mitzrayim (Egypt).

Yosef languishes in the pit filled with snakes and scorpions, but, years ago before this author’s aliyah, Rav Pinchas Yehoshua Kaganoff, then Rav of Beit Knesset Ahavas Torah in Northeast Philadelphia equated with Chanukah how miraculously the snakes and scorpions remained confined in their holes, as Yosef emerges unscathed when the brothers lift him out of the pit to sell him.

That was one of a number of miracles Yosef was zoche to which this author would equate with the miracles of Chanukah during his meteoric rise from being sold as a slave to aromatic spice merchants, to handling the affairs in Pontiphar’s home, to his escaping a judgement of death regarding Pontiphar’s wife’s false accusations and his sojourn in the dungeon where he emerged as assistant to the warden, his being remembered, albeit after two years, by the wine steward for his translation of dreams resulting in his interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams and being appointed Viceroy, 2nd only in power to Pharaoh, his selection for marriage of Asnat bat Dina, out of all the women who tried to charm him, and finally, the massive wealth that he amassed as Viceroy.

Rav Goldin’s summary continues:

When… the brothers observe an approaching caravan, Yehudah convinces his siblings of the benefit of selling Yosef as a slave rather than allowing him to die in the pit.

As the caravan passes, Yosef is pulled from the pit and sold into bondage for twenty pieces of silver. Reuven returns, finds the pit empty and bemoans the loss of Yosef. The brothers return to their father and lead him to believe that Yosef has been killed by a wild beast.

Torah relates Yehudah telling his brothers ( As rendered to English in The Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posukim 26-28) :

“… ‘What gain will there be if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites — but let our hand not be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened. Midianite men, traders, passed by; they pulled and brought Yosef up from the pit and sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; then they brought Yosef to Mitzrayim.”

Torah relates how the brothers then feigned Yosef’s death by slaughtering a male goat and dipping Yosef’s fine woolen tunic in the goat’s blood before returning home to Yaakov to report Yosef’s alleged death. Upon hearing the news and seeing Yosef’s blood-stained woolen tunic , Yaakov was inconsolable in his grief mourning for his son Yosef endlessly (Summary – Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posukim 31-35).

Our Parsha relates:

“They took Yosef’s tunic, slaughtered a goatling, and dipped the tunic in the blood. They dispatched the fine woolen tunic and… brought it to their father, and said, ‘We found this; identify, … Is it your son’s tunic or not?'” As rendered to English in The Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posukim 31-32)

“My son’s tunic! An evil beast devoured him. Yosef has surely been torn to bits.” (As rendered to English in The Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 33)

Although the other brothers sought to kill Yosef, they blamed Yehudah, who they had looked to as King, for the inconsolable grief and suffering of their father. And Yehudah, as leader, made the errant decision to sell Yosef into slavery, and manufacture evidence of Yosef’s death, errors which he would come to learn and grow from on two subsequent occasions.

Torah relates (As rendered to English in The Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 1) :

“It was at that time that Yehudah went down from his brothers and turned away towards an Adullamite man whose name was Hirah.”

The Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary notes (page 426) :

To teach you that [Yehudah’s] brothers took him down from his greatness, i.e. from his position of of leadership among them, when they saw the distress of their father. They said, “You said to sell him. Had you said to return him to Yaakov, we would have listened to you.” And he turned away from his brothers unto an Adullamite man — he became a [business] partner with him.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 2 – 5) relates that Yehudah married the daughter of “prominent merchant” who conceived two sons, and later, a third son.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash (page 208) cites Sforno who relates on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 1 – 10) :

Because of Yehudah’s culpability for Yaakov’s suffering, he was repaid by losing his two oldest sons, so that he would experience the same grief that he had caused his father.

With this separation between Yehudah and his brothers begins the story of Tamar. We learn that Tamar, the daughter of Shem (Rashi on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 24 as cited from The Tanna Ephraim Maksha’ah in the name of R’ Me’ir) married the first of Yehudah’s three sons, Er, but Er was evil and Hashem caused him to die. Yehudah then had his second son Onan enter into levirate marriage with Tamar, but Hashem caused Onan to die for the same reasons as Er.

Rashi notes in The Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary (Rashi on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 6-8):

… Like the death of Er was the death of Onan, i.e., they both died for the same reason. Why would Er destroy his seed? So that [Tamar] should not become pregnant, and thereby spoil her beauty.

Our Parsha then relates (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 11, as summarized by this author, as well as Rashi commentary and citing Divrei David; Be’er BaSadeh) that Yehudah then told Tamar to remain a widow until his youngest son Shelah is grown, as a pretext to push Tamar aside, fearing that Shelah too would die if he marred Tamar.

Torah relates (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 11) that: “Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.”

In a summary of the subsequent posukim (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 12-26, “The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman on our Parshat, page 364 ) relates:

Upon the death of his wife, after the mourning period, Torah relates that Yehudah went to his sheep shearers in Timnah. Tamar was told that Yehudah was coming, and that Shelah had grown and that she had not been betrothed to him. Tamar had been modest in the time that she had lived in Yehudah’s home, and thus she would not be recognized. Knowing that Yehudah was heir to Kingship, Tamar acted L’Shem Shemayim (in the Name of Heaven) in her intentions seeking to conceive by Yehudah. She changed from her widow’s clothing, covering her face with a veil and wrapped herself in order to deceive Yehudah. She positioned herself at a crossroads on the way to Timnah. Yehudah, not recognizing his daughter-in-law, saw a woman that he thought was a harlot and asked to be with her. Tamar asked remuneration and Yehudah promised her a kid goat from his flock. Tamar requested Yehudah’s signet, his wrap and his staff as pledge against the kid goat.

Yehudah attempted to satisfy the pledge by asking his Adullamite friend to locate the harlot and to deliver the kid goat, but to no avail as the Adullamite could not locate the harlot at the crossroads.

That pledge was to be key to saving Tamar’s life and to Yehudah’s asserting righteous leadership which would serve as paradigm for future Jewish Malchut (Kingship) both regarding Tamar, and subsequently, in standing up to Egypt’s Viceroy on behalf of his youngest brother Benyamin.

Tamar conceived twins, Peretz and Zerah, as a result of the liaison. Not knowing that the assumed harlot was actually Tamar, three months passed and Yehudah was told that his daughter-in-law had committed harlotry and was pregnant. Yehudah ordered her to be taken out and burned.

Torah records (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 25-26 as rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition, Torah with Rashi Commentary) :

“She was being taken out [to be burned], and she sent (word) to her father-in-law, saying, ‘By the man to whom these belong I am pregnant.’ And she said, ‘Recognize, if you please, whose are this signet, this wrap, this staff.’ Yehudah recognized; and he said, ‘She is right; it is from me, inasmuch as I did not give her to Shelah my son’… “

Rashi relates (ibid, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 25) that Tamar said to Yehudah:

“Recognize, if you please…” The… context expresses nothing but request. Tamar implied, “Please recognize your Creator –and do not destroy three souls,” i.e. Tamar and her unborn twins.

Torah then records (ibid, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posukim 27–30):

“And it came to pass at the time she gave birth, and behold! [there were] twins in her womb. And it happened as she gave birth, one put out a hand; the midwife took a crimson thread and tied it to his hand… and… as he drew back his hand, that behold! his brother emerged. And she [the midwife] said, ‘With what strength you asserted yourself!’ …And he [Yehudah] called his name Peretz. Afterwards his brother on whose hand was the crimson thread came out; and he [Yehudah] called his name Zerach.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash (page 213) cites Aggadat Breish’t on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 38, posuk 29 that from the descendants of Peretz came the Malchut [Kingship], and will come Moshiach.

The point of this entire narration for our times seems to this author to be Yehudah’s learning and growth as a result of his errors in urging the other brothers to sell Yosef into slavery and manufacturing Yosef’s bogus death, as well as falsely concluding that Tamar had sinned. Yehudah could have acted against Tamar, as only she had known what he had done. But instead, as told in “The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman on our Parshat (page 367) :

When Yehudah saw the pledge, he felt ashamed and was tempted to deny that it was his. But he won the battle against his yeitzer hara (evil inclination), thinking, “I would rather be put to shame in this world than be ashamed before my righteous fathers in Olam Haba.”

He admitted, “She is right. I was at fault for not letting her marry my son Shelah. She is with child by me.”

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash (page 212 – 213) provides an additional commentary that today’s political and governing leaders of Israel would do well to learn from conceptually:

Hashem repaid Yehudah measure for measure. With the expression; “If you please: Is it your son’s tunic or not?”, Yehudah had caused his father, Yaakov, untold amguish. Tamar now confronted Yehudah with the same expression, and its impact registered solidly upon him. (The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash citing Sotah 10b)

Yehudah’s response testifies to his moral integrity. Though his public admission surely subjected him to the jibes [this author understands that the use of the word in this sense denotes: criticism, ridicule] of the populace, he did not hesitate to admit that he was the father. Nor did he pretend to pardon Tamar by showing her clemency, thereby protecting his dignity. He thought, “It is better for me to be ashamed before my righteous fathers in the World to Come…” (The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash citing Rashi, Targum Yonatan)

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently re-settled in Gush Katif, once the IDF, by the Yad Hashem, destructs and eradicates Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and if necessary Iran, and that our brethren be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, as well as the buildings of Yishuv Elchanan, all at total government expense. May our Chayalim return from battle unharmed — physically, mentally and spiritually and may all of the hostages brutally taken by the wild beasts of Hamas be liberated and returned to their families. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nine years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we see, in 5784, the REAL Jews from the Ukraine and Russia make Aliyah enmass — via thorough review by Misrad HaPanim. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese Wuhan Lab corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Chanukah Some’ach and Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.