VaYeishev (5780)

by Marc Mangel

• This is the second part of a three part drash on how each of us as a conduit for the Abrahamic discovery.  The first part was Toldot and the third part will be VaYigash in two weeks.

• Today we have the end of the beginning of the transmission of the Abrahamic discovery.

Nehama Leibovitz says “This week’s sidra marks the beginning of the story of Joseph”.

• S Ludmir, in Torah Gems writes “From parsha Vayeishev until the end of Sefer Bereishit, the focal point transfers from Yaakov to his sons, particularly his son Yosef”

• By my count, Joseph is mentioned by name 30 times in the sidra, Jacob is mentioned (as Jacob/Israel/the father) 7 times, and the other sons (either as sons/brothers/by name) 24 times (most of those are because of the story of Judah and Tamar).

• Nehama also writes “The Patriarchs were three in number – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The title Patriarchs /“Avot” was reserved for them alone. Their children were called not Patriarch but simply tribes.” 

• That is, we are beginning to end the transmission of the Abrahamic discovery by one person to the transmission of the Abrahamic discovery by many people – including us.

• A reminder about the Abrahamic discovery:  there is one God, who created all of us, who does not want human sacrifice, and who can be worshipped in many different ways.

• Jonathan Sacks makes the point that the Abrahamic discovery is what causes people who think that there is only one way to do things to revile the Jews, because by our very existence we challenge that perspective.

• Why do we go from a single person being the conduit of the Abrahamic discovery to multiple people?

• One answer comes from the Sefat Emet  who notes that  Abraham and Isaac respectively represent chesed (kindness/openness) and gevurah (discipline/restriction) and that Jacob represents Tiferet, which is understood to blend chesed and gevurah. 

• Jacob Shochet in Classical Concepts in Chasidism  gives the acronym  ChaGaT to Chesed, Gevurah, and Tiferet and says  “These are the three essential Midot [characteristics] in relation to which others are derivatives”.  The three Avot are ChaGaT and we are all derivatives of the mixture found in Jacob.

• With Jacob we have the requisite blending of Chesed and Gevurah necessary for the Abrahamic idea to be spread among 12 tribes.

• One more point from Nehama.  “But one of the tribes, and only one, was awarded the designation of the ‘righteous one’ (Tzaddik)’”. But of course, we do not have a tribe called Joseph – we have Menashe and Ephraim. A puzzle.

• However,  Ludmir also quotes R. Velvele, the Magid of Vilna, who disagrees with Nehama anf says that every Shabbat in his Torah lesson he tries to compare the Rasha vs the Tzaddik “[but] whenever I get to the Parsha or VaYeshev and Yose and this brothers, I am baffled. On whose side shall I stand?  Both sides are zaddikim, they are both holy and pure”.

• With all respect to the Chazal, I differ. Joseph  and his brothers are in fact deeply flawed people.  The chance that we could be like Abraham is virtually impossible; we know less about Isaac but it is equally unlikely that we could be like him.   But to be like Joseph or the brothers – that we can do (come back for more of this with VaYigash).

• And this raises a second puzzle– why are we called Jews (after Judah) instead of Josephs/Joes (after Joseph)?  Come back in two weeks for the answer to both of them.