Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Vayeishev

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V’hinei ha’shemesh v’ha’yareiach v’achad asar kochavim mishtachavim li (37:9)

Yosef dreamed that the sun, the moon, and 11 stars – which represented his father, mother, and 11 brothers – would bow down to him. Rav Chaim Kanievsky relates that a jokester once asked him why Yosef didn’t see a 12th star in his dream, which would correspond to his sister Dina?

In next week’s parsha, Yosef marries a woman named Osnas (41:45). The Daas Z’keinim writes that Osnas wasn’t the Egyptian woman one would assume she was. When Sh’chem defiled Dina (34:2), she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. This daughter was sent away and through a tremendous miracle of Divine providence, she was wedded to none other than her uncle Yosef.

The jokester concluded, bringing a smile to Rav Chaim’s face, that according to the explanation of the Daas Z’keinim, Dina wasn’t only Yosef’s sister but also his mother-in-law, and nobody would imagine his shvigger (mother-in-law) bowing down to him even in his wildest dreams!

Chaya ra’ah achalashu (37:33)

In order to convince Yaakov that Yosef had been killed, his brothers slaughtered a goat, dipped his special coat in the goat’s blood, and took it home to show it to their father. Yaakov immediately recognized the garment, and was overwhelmed with grief at the realization that a wild animal had devoured his beloved Yosef and torn him to pieces. However, the Rogatchover Gaon ingeniously finds a deeper meaning in Yaakov’s words.

The Gemora in Niddah (19b) teaches an interesting biological fact: the blood of a male who hasn’t had relations before the age of 20 will be redder, like that of an ox, than the blood of one who has done so. Additionally, the Gemora in Yoma (56b) says that the blood of a goat is very light in color.

The Rogatchover explains that when Yaakov saw the light goat’s blood on the garment, which he was led to believe came from the 17-year-old Yosef, he was astonished to realize that it was much lighter in color than he would have expected. Yaakov feared that the light shade of Yosef’s blood revealed that he had engaged in forbidden relations with a woman.

Yaakov’s concern that “a wild animal has devoured him” can also be interpreted as referring to the wildest animal of all, the yetzer hara (evil inclination), to which he suspected Yosef had fallen prey. It was Yaakov’s fear that he had been misled about the spiritual level of his prized son and student that left him inconsolable. Although this was in reality not the case, Chazal teach (Kesuvos 62b) that the words of the righteous are fulfilled to accomplish even unintended consequences, and it was this pronouncement of Yaakov’s which caused Yosef to be tempted by the seductive wife of his master Potiphar.

Vatomer hakeir na l’mi ha’chosemes v’ha’pesilim v’ha’mateh ha’eileh (38:25)

Before having relations with Tamar, Yehuda promised to send her a goat. She insisted that he leave a pledge with her, which she would return upon receipt of the goat. However, the messenger with whom Yehuda sent the goat was unable to locate her. Three months later, Yehuda was informed that Tamar was pregnant. Because had worn a veil so that Yehuda wouldn’t recognize her when they had relations, Yehuda assumed that she had conceived through immoral means and sentenced her to death.

Tamar knew the truth, but she didn’t want to publicly embarrass Yehuda by revealing the secret. Instead, she sent the pledge to him and explained that the man to whom the pledge belongs was the father of her child. She asked him to please look at the items to identify their owner. Rashi explains that she was beseeching him to remember his Creator and admit the truth, rather than kill three innocent people (Tamar and the twins with whom she was pregnant). Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro points out how astonishing it is to realize that even the righteous Yehuda, who merited kingship for his descendants, might not be willing to acknowledge his actions if not for Tamar’s plea that he remember Hashem. A person’s natural aversion to embarrassment is so strong that without focusing on his fear of Hashem, even Yehuda wouldn’t be able to confess, even at the expense of three innocent lives, two of whom were his sons from whom Dovid HaMelech and Moshiach would descend.

Rav Moshe Shmuel suggests that our strong fear of humiliation can also be used for the good. The Targum writes that in the World to Come, everybody will be aware of all of our actions, and those who sinned will suffer from eternal shame. Similarly, in relating Yosef’s refusal to sin with the wife of his master Potiphar, the Torah uses (39:10) a seemingly redundant expression: V’lo shama eileha lishkav etzlah lih’yos ima – Yosef did not listen to her life to lie with her, to be with her. Rashi comments that the additional expression “to be with her” refers to the World to Come. The Chofetz Chaim explains that wherever Yosef would go in that world, this sin and a picture of Potiphar’s wife would accompany him for all to see, to his everlasting shame. In light of the intense humiliation we will feel if we behave improperly, we should use our natural aversion to embarrassment to prevent ourselves from sinning. Rav Elchonon Wasserman was known for his stern demeanor, and it is claimed that he only smiled three times in his entire life. One of the smiles was in response to a parable told to him to illustrate this concept. A simple farmer needed to travel to a big city for an urgent medical procedure. He was told that the fastest way to get there was to take a train, a concept which was completely unfamiliar to him. The farmer scraped together the money to purchase a third-class ticket and set off on his journey.

He found his accommodations to be quite hot and uncomfortable, but he had little recourse until the train entered a long tunnel. The farmer assumed that the direction of the trip would pass in darkness, so he decided to cool off by removing his clothes. He was finally starting to get comfortable and enjoy the ride when, much to his chagrin, the train emerged from the tunnel. This parable is an analogy for our time in this world, in which many people think that they can get away with removing their “spiritual clothing” and committing whatever sins strike their fancy, relying on the fact that nobody will be any the wiser. However, when the time inevitably comes to emerge from the tunnel into the pure brightness and truth of the World to Come, they will be pierced to the core by sheer mortification.

B’od shloshes yamim yisa Paroh es rosh’cha v’hashiv’cha al kanecha (40:13)

The Gemora in Berachos (55b) teaches that the meaning of a dream is determined by the interpretation given by those who hear it. The Brisker Rov asks an interesting question. Why didn’t Yosef, upon hearing the dream of the cupbearer, “interpret” it to mean that his death was imminent, which would then come to pass, just as it occurred with the baker? In other words, if it was in Yosef’s hands to cause a non-Jew to die, why did he save him by giving an alternate interpretation?

The Brisker Rov answers that the baker decided to relate his dream to Yosef only after he saw that Yosef offered a positive interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream (40:16). However, if he had told the cupbearer that his dream forebode imminent death, the baker would have feared for his own life and kept his dream to himself, thereby depriving Yosef of the opportunity to bring about his death by interpreting his dream to mean that he would die. In other words, regardless of how Yosef would interpret the dream of the cupbearer, one of his cell-mates would die and one would live. The difference was that if he had “killed” the cupbearer, the baker would have lived and eventually been freed from prison, but he would have felt no sense of gratitude toward Yosef. Therefore, Yosef concluded that it would be preferable to give a positive interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream. This would leave the cupbearer indebted to him for his freedom, which he hoped would help bring about his release from prison, while still giving him an opportunity to “kill” the baker.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Torah records (38:5) that after Yehuda’s wife gave birth to two sons, Er and Onan, she conceived a third time. She bore a son and named him Sheilah, while Yehuda was in Cheziv at the time of his birth. Why was it necessary for the Torah to relate this seemingly insignificant information about Yehuda’s whereabouts during Sheilah’s birth? (Daas Z’keinim)

2) Did Yehuda betroth Tamar prior to having relations with her (38:18), and if so, through what means did he do so? (Bereishis Rabbah 85:8, Moshav Z’keinim, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Maharsha Sotah 10a, Chavos Daas Yoreh Deah 192, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

3) After Yosef was sold into slavery in Egypt, the wife of his new master Potiphar tried everything in her power to convince him to sin with her. Despite her greatest efforts, the righteous Yosef refused. Exasperated, she tried a new tactic: she grabbed his garment, “to say” lie with me (39:12). How is this peculiar expression to be understood, and why did she think that this new strategy would be more successful than her previous futile efforts? (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.