Imrei Shefer - Parshas Vayeishev

What is the connection between the first two posukim?

(37,1) “And Ya’akov settled in the land of the sojourning of his father, in the Land of Canaan. These are the generations of Ya’akov; Yosef was seventeen years old…”

To explain the connection between the first two posukim of our parsha - something which the various commentaries had difficulties with - we can explain as follows:

We have already discussed at length in parshas Noach that the posuk “Behold, they are one people and one language” teaches how great is the trait of peace. And Chazal taught on the posuk in Hoshea 4:17 “Ephraim is joined to idols”, that even if Yisrael are worshipping idols, if there is unity and peace amongst them they will be forgiven.

Now, in parshas Lech Lecha, when Hashem promised to Avrohom that He would give to him the Land of Canaan as an inheritance, Avrohom questioned this, saying (15:8) “How will I know that I will inherit it?”. For this he was punished: “And He said to Avrom: You shall surely know that your offspring will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years.” This four hundred years in fact started from when Yitzchok was born, since he was already considered a stranger in a land which was not yet his. However, the servitude part of the punishment only started later, and the question we need to ask is why it did not start at the same time?

The answer is that as long as there was peace amongst them the punishment of servitude could not start, but when there started to be conflict and discord between Yosef and his brothers this punishment immediately began, that is, the process which led to the enslavement in Egypt was initiated. From this we again see how great is peace, and how detrimental is strife and division.

This is the meaning of our posukim: “And Ya’akov settled in the land of the sojourning of his father, in the Land of Canaan” in the merit of “these are the generations of Ya’akov” - in the merit of the unity and peace that existed amongst his sons he was able to dwell in tranquillity. (I have mentioned a similar idea on the posuk “But Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem. These are the generations of Noach” that even Noach was saved only because of the merit of his offspring.) And the proof that Ya’akov’s tranquillity was due to the unity and peace of his children, is that when “Yosef was seventeen years old” discord began, and thus began also the process of servitude.

Why was Ya’akov not allowed to live in peace and quiet?

(37,1) “And Ya’akov settled in the land of the sojourning of his father…”

Rashi wrote here that when Ya’akov sought to dwell in tranquillity, the ordeal of Yosef was sprung upon him. The righteous seek to dwell in tranquillity, but the Holy One, Blessed be He, says: What is prepared for the righteous in the world to come is not sufficient for them, but they seek also to dwell in tranquillity in this world!

We mentioned above that the decree of the four hundred years started from the birth of Yitzchok, and we raised the question of why Yitchok, Ya’akov and his sons did not suffer the yoke of servitude - only the generations that came after them suffered this. If the decree started from when Yitzchok was born, then they should also have suffered servitude.

We can answer this by first understanding that for a true Tzaddik, even if his house is full of fabulous wealth it would be considered like nothing in his eyes, and he would consider himself to be like a stranger in his own house. Like Dovid Hamelech said in Tehillim 119:19 “I am a stranger in the land”. Therefore, Yitzchok and his sons who considered all the wealth of this wealth to be as nothing, it was sufficient for them to fulfil the decree of servitude by the fact that they had not yet taken possession of the Land of Yisrael. (If they do not feel themselves to be masters since they consider themselves to be just temporary residents, it follows that they are servants, enough at least to fulfil the requirement of servitude).

But afterwards, when the generations degenerated and they focused on this earthly world, if they would have had great wealth and not been enslaved to Pharaoh their life would have been considered very good in their eyes and not at all like exile. (This, unfortunately, is like our generation, where people with great wealth do not wish to pray for redemption from our exile, saying "Let us dwell here, for it is very good for us", and they do not in the least bit feel that they are in exile). Therefore, they had to then suffer real servitude, since without this they would have no feelings of being servants.

According to this, as long as Ya’akov did not seek to dwell in peace and quiet, he did not consider the tranquillity of this world to be of any significance, and then he did indeed have peace. But once he sought to live in peace and started to give significance to this, it was necessary that some turmoil be brought into his life in order to fulfil the decree of exile. (He did not need to experience slavery, it was enough that he felt a lack of mastery in his life).

This is what Rashi brought from the Midrash: If that which is prepared for the righteous in the world to come is not sufficient for them - that they do not consider only this to be of importance, but instead they seek also to dwell in tranquillity in this world - if so, they can no longer have this tranquillity.

Why did Ya’akov deserve that Yosef be taken from him for 22 years?

(37,1) “And Ya’akov settled in the land of the sojourning of his father…”

The Midrash comments on the posuk in Iyov 3:26 “I was not at ease, neither was I quiet, and I did not rest, and trouble came.” I was not at ease - from Eisav, neither was I quiet - from Lavan, and I did not rest - from Dinah, and trouble came - the turmoil of Yosef.

This Midrash is puzzling, because everything it says seems to be explicit in the Torah. Furthermore, why in the first three cases does it speaks in the first person, but with Yosef it says “and trouble came”? Why here did it not also say "I did not rest from Yosef"?

To explain this Midrash we first have to look at the gemora in Megillah, which teaches that the reason that Ya’akov was punished by having Yosef missing from him for 22 years, was because he himself had been remiss in honouring his father for 22 years. But this is difficult to understand - surely his father Yitzchok himself had commanded him to go to Padan Aram to take a wife from there. In truth, however, it seems from the posukim that only Rivkah commanded him to dwell there for some time because of his brother, Eisav, but Rivkah did not say to Yitzchok that she was sending Ya’akov away because Eisav planned to kill him. Instead, she told him that the daughters of the Land of Canaan were evil in her eyes, and therefore Ya’akov should go to the house of Lavan to take for himself a wife. For this reason Yitzchok agreed, but it was his intention that Ya’akov should return immediately, and since he did not, he was punished.

But surely Ya’akov had a good excuse, because the rule is that Hashem releases a person from his obligation in cases of adverse circumstances, and here there were clearly such circumstances that prevented him from returning home. The first seven years that he was in Lavan’s home was because of fear that Eisav would kill him. And he had to stay there specifically for seven years, because, as the Midrash explains, the ‘several days’ that Rivkah had commanded him to remain with Lavan actually meant seven years. It was for this reason that Ya’akov stipulated with Lavan that he would work for him for this length of time. Alternatively, maybe Lavan would have given him Rochel without having to work for her, and so he could have gone straight home, but because of his fear of Eisav he was forced to remain with Lavan. But Lavan was unwilling to support him for free, nor did he wish that Ya’akov would work for him for free - since he was afraid of Ya’akov, as the commentaries have written - therefore Ya’akov was forced to work for his daughter, Rochel. Even after this when Eisav’s anger had already abated he was not able to return home, because Lavan tricked him and gave him Leah instead of Rochel, and he refused to give him Rochel unless he worked another seven years for her since this what Ya’akov himself had stipulated originally. So he was forced to remain another seven years. Then, on the way home, he was forced to delay for some time because of what happened to Dinah and the subsequent killing of the inhabitants of Shechem by his sons, which caused the surrounding citizens to gather against him to make war.

Another reason why he was forced to work for Lavan for a wife, was because although Ya’akov originally left home with plenty of money in his possession and so he could have taken a wife from the house of Lavan with that money without having to work, Eliphaz came and took all of his money. Thus he arrived at Lavan’s house penniless, and so had to work in order to acquire a wife.

Thus we see that the majority of the 22 years that Ya’akov delayed from going home was not his fault, and so he should not have been punished for the lack of honoring his father during this time. Because of this the Midrash explains that Ya’akov wondered to himself: It would be understandable that I should be punished if I had deliberately delayed going home and thereby not honored my father all these years. But really it was not of my choosing - ‘I was not at ease from Eisav’, because Eliphaz, his son, took everything from me. And so granted that my father had commanded me to return home promptly, that was based on the fact that he had given me plenty of money, but due to adverse circumstances caused by Eisav I was forced to delay seven years in the house of Lavan.

After this, when Eisav’s anger had died down, ‘I was not quiet from Lavan’, who cheated me and consequently I was forced to spend another seven years in his house. After that, on the way home, ‘I did not rest from Dinah’, and therefore I delayed. Everything was due to adversity, and therefore it was not fitting that I should be punished, and even so ‘trouble came’ - the ordeal of Yosef, and I was punished with the disappearance of Yosef for 22 years!

Why does the Torah tell us that Yosef was 17 at the time he was sold?

(37,2) “These are the generations of Ya’akov; Yosef was seventeen years old…”

To explain what the Torah is alluding to by telling us how old Yosef was at this time, we first need to explain why the Torah mentions “that it was good” twice on the third day of creation.

The Kabbalists write that the name of G-d which is written with the letters Aleph Heh Vav and Heh are the initial letters of the words את השמים ואת הארץ (the heavens and the earth), and is the seal with which the heavens and the earth were sealed, and has the gematria of 17. Also, the first three days of the week are considered to belong to the previous Shabbos, and so Shabbos 'finishes' at the end of the third day. And Shabbos teaches us about the creation of the world, as it is written in Shemos 31:17 “it is a sign forever that in six days Hashem made the heavens and the earth”. Furthermore, the creation was completed on Shabbos, as it says in Bereishis 2:2 “And G-d finished on the seventh day”. (For this reason some have the custom to light 17 candles on Shabbos, the same value as this name of G-d with which the heavens and the earth were sealed). Therefore, on the third day, which is considered to be the completion of Shabbos, the phrase “that it was good” was written twice, to correspond to this name of G-d, because the word good - טוב - also has the gematria of 17.

Now, since the time of creation the whole world was hanging in the balance, because it was dependent on the eventual receiving of the Torah by Yisrael on the sixth day of Sivan. This is hinted to on the sixth day of creation, when the Torah writes “the sixth day”, hinting to the sixth of Sivan. And it is written in Yirmeyohu 33:25 “Thus said Hashem: If not for My covenant of day and night, the statutes of heaven and earth I would not have placed”, which is interpreted to mean that if not for the covenant of the Torah which is learned day and night, I would not have created the heavens and the earth.

But the giving of the Torah was a consequence of the servitude in Egypt, because Yisrael were enslaved in order that they would be able to receive the Torah afterwards, as the Alshich and other commentaries explain. If so, the existence and completion of all the worlds was contingent on the slavery in Egypt. And this itself was a consequence of the selling of Yosef, and so the existence and completion of the worlds was contingent on his being sold. Therefore, the Torah says that Yosef was sold at the age of 17 to allude to this name of G-d with which the heavens and the earth were sealed, thus alluding to the fact that this sale was essential for the existence of the world. So it seems to me, and may Hashem reveal to us the wonders of His Torah.

What was Yosef’s intention in telling his brothers about his dream?

(37,5) “And Yosef dreamed a dream and he told his brothers, and they hated him even more. And he said to them: Listen now to this dream which I have dreamed.”

There is a difficulty with these posukim, because first it says that he told his brothers his dream and that they hated him for it, and then it again says he told his brothers his dream!

But Chazal taught in the gemora Berachos that the joy which is experienced as a result of having a good dream can suffice to act as its fulfilment, so that it will no longer actually come to pass. This is why Yosef related the dream to his brothers even though he knew that they would hate him for it, because if he did not tell them, his joy would cause the dream not to come to pass. But by telling them the dream it would cause him distress, and so it would certainly come true.

Thus the posuk means that “he told his brothers” so that “they hated him even more” - this first posuk is telling us why Yosef told them his dream in the next posuk, because he wanted them to hate him in order that the dream would come true.

Why was Yosef informed in a dream that he would become a ruler?

(37,5) “And Yosef dreamed a dream and he told his brothers, and they hated him even more. And he said to them: Listen now to this dream which I have dreamed.”

It seems that the reason why Hashem revealed to Yosef the future in a dream and not whilst he was awake was because Hashem had decreed that Yosef would become a ruler, but as Chazal teach, Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous, and thus here too He desired that Ya’akov and Yosef should pray for this. But since they could not be expected to pray for something which had never occurred to them, therefore He gave them this idea in a dream. And once Ya’akov had interpreted the dream favorably - that it meant that Yosef would be a ruler - it became the decree of a Tzaddik, and that which a Tzaddik decrees, Hashem brings about, and Yosef indeed became a ruler. (Chazal tell us that the outcome of a dream depends on its interpretation).

With this we can understand his brothers response - “Will you surely reign over us, or will you surely govern us”, why does the Torah repeat the same idea, and each time using a double expression? Also, why after the first dream it says that they hated him, but after the second dream it says that they were jealous of him? But they were saying to him that either way his dream was clearly false. Because if he was destined to become their ruler, then Hashem should have informed him of this whilst awake and not in a dream. And if the intention of being in a dream was that they should interpret it, and through their favorable interpretation he would rise to greatness since they were also tzaddikim and therefore Hashem would fulfil their interpretation, they knew that they hated him, so how could it possibly be that he would come to govern through them, since they surely would not interpret his dream favorably.

Therefore, since Yosef had not told them his dream in the presence of their father, they said to him “will you surely reign over us?”. This is impossible, because if so you should have been told this whilst awake, and if you will claim that the dream was in order that we cause your rise through our interpretation, “will you surely govern us” - do you think that this will happen through us? Certainly this cannot be! So, either way, your dream is clearly false.

However, afterwards when he dreamed also about his father, and his father did interpret it favorably, as a result “his brothers were jealous of him”, because they then understood that he been informed in a dream in order that the decree should come from the mouth of their father.

Was Reuven really the first person to sin and repent?

(37,29) “And Reuven returned to the pit and behold, Yosef was not in the pit, and he tore his clothes.”

The Midrash asks: From where did he return? Said R. Eliezer: He returned from his sackcloth and fasting. Said Hashem: Never before has a person sinned before Me and repented - you are the first to initiate repentance. By your life, also your offspring will be the first to initate repentance (exhort the public to repent). And who is that? Hoshea, as it says “Return Yisrael to Hashem your G-d, because you stumbled in your sin” (Hoshea 14:2).

Behold, all the commentaries wonder at this Midrash. Firstly, it proclaims that until that time nobody had ever sinned and repented, but we know that Adam HaRishon and Kayin sinned and repented! Furthermore, Chazal asked elsewhere: Who caused Reuven to repent? Yehudah - hence we see that Yehudah repented earlier than Reuven! Secondly, the Midrash’s assertion that Hoshea was the first to exhort the public to repent is problematic, because Moshe already said in the Torah “and you shall return to Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 4:30), and thus we see that Moshe was the first to do this and not Hoshea!

But it seems to me to explain that behold form the point of view of logic it would seem that we do not need repentance except for a willful sin, since he knows that it is a sin and even so he brazenly transgresses, therefore he needs to repent. But for an unwillful sin, where he does not know that it is a sin at all and does not intend to go against the will of Hashem, from logic he does not need to repent at all.

And behold, Adam HaRishon  when he sinned and ate from the tree of knowledge he sinned willfully, because he knew that Hashem had commanded him not to eat it. And so too was Kayin willful, and so it was not innovative that they repented. But with Reuven it says “and Reuven went and slept with Bilha the concubine of his father”.

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