I will be traveling across the country by train for the first time in three years to attend the bar Mitzvah of my nephew. I intend to post some updates – a travelogue – of my journey along the way. I will be travelling, after this event, to visit my mother who will not be attending, because of a serious heart condition. If you feel inspired to contribute a few dollars for my travelling expenses, I would greatly appreciate your contribution.
dvar for parashas Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1 – 40:23) 5782
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colours.” – Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach
Jacob, loved his son Joseph more than any other of his children, for Joseph was “the son of his old age” (Genesis 37:3). Joseph was the firstborn to Jacob’s wife, Rachel. Joseph was favored enough by Jacob to make him a coat of many colors (Genesis 37:3); the coat was a symbol, demarcating Jacob’s intention of elevating him to the status of the firstborn. Reuben had lost that status because of a previous transgression (Genesis 35:22). This would explain why Joseph was given the responsibility to check up on his brothers who were “feeding the flocks in Shechem” (Genesis 37:14).
Joseph’s brothers were already jealous of him; when he told them of his dreams that foretold he would rule over them “they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5). When Joseph was sent to check up on his brothers, they took advantage of the situation. And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph of his coat, the coat of many colors. Then, they threw him into a pit and sold him for “twenty pieces of silver” to a caravan that was passing through Shechem. Joseph’s brothers dipped Joseph’s multi-colored coat into the blood of a goat (Genesis 37:31); then, they took the coat to their father Jacob as evidence of Joseph’s alleged death by way of a wild animal (Genesis 37:20).
When Joseph arrived in Egypt, by way of the caravan of Ishmaelite traders, he was sold as a slave, and became a servant in the house of Potiphar. Even so, in the midst of his nisyanos (challenges), H’Shem was with him; he had been put in charge of the household and became successful in all of his endeavors. Yet, he was wrongly accused of indiscretion by Potiphar’s wife; hence, he was sent to prison. Even there, H’Shem was him, and strengthened him; he was placed in charge of the prison ward. All throughout this time, Joseph’s plight was for the sake of his refinement: “Joseph was sold for a servant; his feet they hurt in fetters, his person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalms 105:17-19, JPS).
“This parasha was written to show how H’Shem saved his servant from a stronger foe, and sent his angels to rescue him. In addition, it teaches us that he [Jacob] didn’t rely on his righteousness, and made every effort to save himself.” – Ramban, sefaria.org
Previously, the Torah speaks of two camps of angels, one that accompanied Jacob to the edge of the land of Canaan, and another camp that served to accompany him and his entourage once they entered Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants (see Genesis 32: 2-3). Now, at the beginning of parashas Vayishlach, the Torah, seemingly so, alludes to these angels that were assigned for protective measures (Genesis 32:4).
“Jacob sent messengers [malachim] before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the field of Edom” (Genesis 32:4, JPS). The Hebrew word, malachim can mean messengers or angels. In the literal sense, Jacob sent messengers to Esau; yet, on another level, the angels granted to him for protection may have also gone ahead of Jacob’s entourage.
Regardless of the interpretation, if Jacob had the opportunity to seek divine protection from angels who would actually defend his entourage, he did not rely on this; rather, he made a three-fold preparation for an encounter with Esau: prayers, appeasement, and a defensive strategy. He prayed to H’ Shem for deliverance from the hands of Esau; sent gifts to Esau to appease his resentment; and he divided the camp, so that if one camp was attacked, the other would have the opportunity to escape. Although Jacob could have prevailed upon H’Shem to rescue him through an angelic force, he chose humility, by subjecting himself in all deference to his brother, Esau.
“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.”
– Proverbs 3:6 , JPS 1917 Tanach
If the path of life seems broad to the individual, who deems that he is freely given the reins of his life, to think, feel, and choose as he would like, a second thought is required. In fact, are not most of us more likely to think that we are free, because there is such a vast array of choices to choose from in life? Yet, if we reflect on our choices, we may find that we are not free at all. Rather, we are subject to the influence of others in ways that we may not even recognise. It is often our peers, who influence us during our childhood years, perhaps, even more so than our family, depending on the circumstances. Even so, if we look closely at our own character, we will invariably have to admit the similarities to our parents.
In families where the reins were kept loose from an early age, the world may appear to be an amusement park; yet, there may be no rational basis in our early years, in regard to the formation of a worldview; hence, we are shaped by our peers, as well as our own rebellion from whatever family values, we feel may have been imposed upon us. If our teenage spirit is not reined in by a balanced perspective of life, regarding some amount of self discipline and self control, then we are subject to follow the unbridled dispositions of our heart.
Not that I mean to make a sweeping generalisation; yet, this seems be the norm, unless brought up in a more traditional home, wherein, religious, ethical, or academic standards were clearly demonstrated and inculcated. These are my thoughts, encapsulating my limited perspective, on the issue of personal identity, having to find my own, after partaking of the smorgasbord of life, without carefully considering the ramifications of my appetite.
My standard is now grounded in the wisdom of G-d, rather than the shifting sands of my emotions, inclinations, and worldly perspective. Rather than a leaf, being blown in the wind, I have grown roots into the rich heritage of my belief and practice. Reishis chochma yiras H’Shem – the beginning of wisdom is fear of the L-RD (Psalm 111:10). In what will continue to be a lifelong attempt to walk a fine line down the road of life, I try to foster a balanced perspective, based on the little that I understand, from gleaning the guidelines set before me, within the pages of the original blueprint of the world.
This blueprint is found within the pages of what may amount to the most popular self-improvement book, that surprisingly enough, can never be found on the shelf where all of the other self-help books are located. That is because, the book that I am referring to can not actually be categorized as a self-help book at all; rather, it is a book wherein one may improve his or her life with the help of G-d. With the inspiration of the words from this book, along with the authoritative words of those who have studied this book more than me, my roots continue to bring spiritual nourishment to my soul, strengthening my resolve to follow the derech (path) set before me.
“The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
Yearning for a connection, beyond the panorama of my assimilated life, so unlike my ancestors from Europe, many who grew up in the shtetl. An insulated environment, sheltered from the influence of the surrounding peoples, who eventually turned, for the most part, against their fellow neighbors – the divide between Jew and gentile, during the antisemitic climate that reached its peak during WW2. The Shoah, also known as the Holocaust, was the tipping point between right and wrong, good and evil, friend and foe, exposing the hidden intentions of the hearts of millions.
My forebearers clung to G-d, Torah, and their sense of yiddishkeit (things Jewish). How can I walk in their shoes? Modern values clash with the sense of propriety that is still honored amongst Orthodox Jews around the world. The television, Internet, and Hollywood compete with the instititions, traditions, and way of life of a Jew. There is a tenuous line that is drawn in the sands of time across the generations. How shall I walk?
How I occupied my time in my younger years is no longer kosher (fit). Like clothes out grown, favorite pastimes are cast aside, in favor of time-honored traditions that are the building blocks of a life of sanctity. Yet, the call to a high set of morals is still met with wavering and hesitation on my part, even fifteen years after I began this journey. A journey back in time to the shtetls of my great grand parents, and great great grand parents. That is where I find solace.