VaYeishev (5779)

Drash Cards for VaYeishev 5779

by Marc Mangel

  • Susan and I are sponsoring the Kiddush as a kind of thank you/celebration for the continued recovery from my knee replacement.
  • Recovery is a process: one is both healing and far from healed. Every day I can do a bit more than I could even a day before, and certainly than a week before.  I am healing.  However, I am quite unable to do the things that I used to do — the PTs ask me to assess my status relative to where I want to be.  The lowest value they have is 1 out of 5 and I am still there (but hope to move up to 2 out of 5 soon!).  I am far from healed.
  • Our reading from the Torah today (Ch 39:1 to the end of the parsha) emphasizes the importance of process. Here’s my focal question: why did Joseph have to get thrown into prison.
  • Ch 39, v2-5: “[Joseph] became a successful man, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master…[Potiphar] put him in charge of his household, entrusting all that he owned to his care. As soon as he had put him in charge of his household and all that he owned, God blessed the Egyptian’s household in Joseph’s merit. God’s blessing was evident in everything that Potiphar had, both in the house and the field.”
  • We then have the incident with Potiphar’s wife and Joseph ending up in prison (v 7-20).
  • But in prison [v 21-23] “God was with Joseph and made him well-liked [among the inmates]. God also made the warden of the prison favor him. The warden of the prison placed all the prisoners who were in the prison in Joseph’s charge, and whatever was done there was done under Joseph’s direction. The warden of the prison could not find fault in anything that was under Joseph’s charge, and God granted him success in whatever he did”.
  • We then have the story of the cupbearer and baker, their dreams, and the outcomes (cupbearer restored, baker hung – with some interesting Midrashim about why).
  • But here’s an alternative story line: God makes Potiphar recognize how exceptional Joseph is and then Potiphar tells Pharaoh about him, saying “This is somebody you can use” and Pharoah appoints Joseph immediately. We avoid prison, and the stories of the baker and cup-bearer. After all, Joseph could have just as easily interpreted Pharoahs’ dreams if he were already in an administrative position.
  • Why don’t we have that story line?
  • The answer is this. The incident with Potiphar’s wife and prison has to happen because it is necessary for Joseph’s maturation and development.  Beginning with encountering the man when looking for his brothers, Joseph is undergoing a process.  No matter how good his organizational and administrative skills are in Potiphar’s house, Joseph is not fully ready for the task ahead of him.  He needs the prison time and experience as part of the process to make him the leader he needs to be. It is all about process, not end point.
  • The same is true with our own spiritual development: it is a process. Indeed, the word for Jewish law is “Halacha”  — to be observant is to be on a path.  It is the process of going on the path that matters, not the end point.
  • Torah reading is a good example. Nobody is born knowing how to read Torah. Learning to do it is a process: learn how to read Hebrew, learn the trope, develop the confidence to stand in front of people (of which there are two kinds – those who know how hard it is to read the Torah and are thus forgiving and those who are not yet on the path and so are in awe of anybody who does), and then to get better and better with practice. It is a process.
  • Spiritual development is a never-ending process for everyone. In his commentary on this week’s portion, Rabbi Michael Fine (Modern Orthodox), tells the following story about Moshe Feinstein, one of the three luminaries of Orthodox Judaism in the 20th century, the others being the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rav Soleveitchik.
  • “It is reported that Rav Moshe’s wife once urged him to sleep later than this customary 4 am rising. He responded that if he got up any later, his Torah learning would suffer and he would remain ignorant. This statement came at a point in his life when he had the entire world’s respect as gadol hador, a leader of the generation.
  • “Rav Moshe understood that even he needed to strive continually, and that no success comes automatically, and at the same time he understood the significance of his personal Torah study. He knew the meaning of the world having been created for him – and he urged others to recognize this truth and to act upon it”
  • Let us all act in the process of our spiritual development knowing that the world was created for each one of us.