The Parsha this week begins with the story of Yosef and and his brothers. The details are the kind that family therapists thrive on: single parenting, favoritism, backstabbing, attention seeking, cold shoulders, provocation, parental ignoring or lack of intervention. Yosef starts the action by bringing lashon hara of the brothers’ misgivings to their father. Then Yakov adds fuel to the fire by presenting Yosef with a special robe to designate Yosef as their leader. Jealousy is the obvious result. If that wasn’t enough to upset the balance, Yosef begins to share his “dreams” of power and control over the rest, and the emotions of hatred spread. It’s one thing to taunt your siblings in the backyard, but Yosef’s “chutzpa” doesn’t stop there. He proceeds to tell his second dream at the family dinner table, belittling even his father Yakov. Yakov seems to mildly reprimand his young son, but the section ends with Yakov’s biding his time to see how it would all turn out.
If this were any normal family we would not be surprised by many of the events that took place. However, the fact is, this is the story of Yakov Avinu and the 12 holy tribes! The Torah must be trying to relate to us a deeper hidden message behind the seemingly typical behaviors of Yakov’s family.
Let’s start by asking a few questions. Why did Yakov treat Yosef differently than the rest of the brothers? Didn’t he see what happened between Esav and himself when his parents seemingly played favorites? Yakov saw Yosef as a ben zekunim, a son of his old age. Onkeles translates this as bar chakim, his wise son. Yakov studied chavruta with Yosef. The ultimate sale of Yosef came as a result of this special relationship. How did Yakov not see this coming? Why did Yosef actively worsen the situation by sharing his private dreams? What did he hope to accomplish besides arousing more jealousy and anger?
These are just some of the troubling questions the commentaries raise on this story. I would like to present the answers based on the Netivot Shalom.
Tzadik Yesod Olam-. Chassidut in general has a very strong premise concerning the central role of the Tzaddik. The Tzaddik is not merely a more pious Jew than the layman, one that Davens with more Kavanna, or is more meticulous about his Mitzvot. The Tzaddik is actually responsible for the connection between Hashem and the Jewish people. Via the Tzaddik the Jewish people can receive Hashem’s Bracha (Shefa). Every Jew therefore has a collective responsibility to assist and support the Tzaddik in his mission to get close to Hashem. In order to benefit from the Tzaddik’s Dveykut, the Jew must strive for his own personal closeness and connection to the Tzaddik himself.
The Tanya brings the Gemara on the passuk VeDavka Bo and you shall cling to Him, Eilu Talmidei Chachamim, these are the Rabbis. If one strives to cling to Hashem himself, since He is not tangible, one can only perform this lofty goal by clinging to Talmidei Chachamim.
In this vain the Netivot Shalom tries to explain the entire episode of Yakov, Yosef and the brothers. The Chassidic Master known as the Divrei Shmuel explains the passuk VaYitapak Vayomer Simu Lechem, and (Yosef) restrained himself, and he (Yosef) said put out bread (at the time when Yosef held himself from revealing his identity to his brothers, and asked to serve them bread). When a Jew restrains himself from satisfying his physical desires, Hashem proclaims: Simu Lechem, give this man everything he needs. In Kabbalistic terms the ability to push off worldly pleasures enhances our connection through a channel called Yesod. It is through this channel, Yesod, that Hashem provides the Shefa (Bracha) to this world. The more a Jew can perform VaYitapak the more Hashem says Simu Lechem!
This is also the case on the national Klal Yisrael level. The Jewish people can receive Shefa when they strengthen their belief in Tzadik Yesod Olam. And that Tzaddik in our story is Yosef. By subjecting themselves to the Tzaddik the Jewish people will be blessed with Hashem’s bounty both in the physical and in the spiritual realms. Hashem will aid the process by opening their hearts to Torah and Avodat Hashem.
This was Yakov’s understanding at the time. He understood that the brothers desired to grow in their Avodah. He tried to encourage them to open the Shefa by submitting to Yosef’s leadership and piety. Yakov loved Yosef over all the other brothers. Not to create jealousy but to establish the pipeline for all of the Bracha to come. The special robe was a sign that Yosef was selected as Tzaddik.
Yosef’s dreams were also indicative of this belief in that they described both physical (wheat) and spiritual (heavenly stars) blessings. All the brothers needed to do was to connect through the channels of Yesod, and they would live a spiritual prosperous life in Eretz Israel.
Darchei Hashem Nistarot. Hashem unfortunately had other plans. As much as Yakov tried to steer the Jewish people towards spiritual perfection, Hashem had previous plans for Yakov. The ultimate sale of Yosef was Divinely inspired and essentially the brothers were acting without control to further the necessary plan.
May we always strive to see the positive and righteous motives of the holy Avot. And may our Emunat Chachamim only get stronger.
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach