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Torah Talk with Rabbi Eliseo D. Rozenwasser

December 7, 2023

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah! Hag Urim Sameakh!

When we read Parshat Vayeshev, this week’s Torah portion, we usually concentrate on Joseph’s dreams, on the privileged treatment that Joseph received from his father, symbolized by the multicolor coat and then, the tragedy that followed. Joseph’s brothers decided that, instead of killing him, they would get rid of Joseph by selling him to a caravan of merchants who were passing by. This is how Joseph ends up in Egypt. We can claim, as Joseph did when years later he reunited with his brothers in Egypt, that he held no grudge against his brothers because it was all God’s design; God had put Joseph in Egypt for him to be the agent who saved his father and brothers from the famine in their homeland Canaan.

Before we learn about the final outcome, we need to agree that Joseph’s story shows drama and dysfunctionality that no family should know about.

First, by demonstrating a particular preference for Joseph, their father Jacob is the one who creates uneasiness among the brothers. Joseph feeds into this dynamic through his dreams.

Oblivious to this already toxic dynamic, Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers. Shouldn’t he had to be a little more careful about the consequences of this visit?

Sometimes parents think that by pushing their children into the heat of the conflict, the conflict will get worked out, or will mysteriously go away. This was, clearly, not the case with Joseph and his brothers.

There is one piece in the story that goes unnoticed to most of the readers, which could give us the key into what is about to happen between the brothers.

“A man came upon him (Joseph) wandering in the fields. The man asked him: ‘What are you looking for?’ He (Joseph) answered: ‘I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?’ (Genesis 37:15-16)

Who is this man? What are the fields where Joseph is lost?

According to Maimonides, the alleged man is not a man but an angel. We don’t hear about this man ever again. Without him, the story could have been completely different.

More importantly, the Kli Yakar, (a name that makes reference to the works of Rabi Shlomo Ephraim Lunschitz, who was a Rosh Yeshiva in Lvov, Poland and then served as the rabbi of Prague in the early 17th century) brings the following to our attention:

“The midrash of this phrase is that Joseph made a mistake in the matter of the field; that was the field of Cain and Hevel.  For Joseph should have paid closer attention to what happened to Hevel—that because of jealousy, his brother Cain killed him.”

If we go back to the Cain and Hevel story, we find out the following:

“…And when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Hevel and killed him. Adonai said to Cain, ‘where is your brother Abel?’ And he (Cain) said, ‘I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:8-9)

The Kli Yakar brings up to our attention, in a brilliant way, the parallels between these two texts and the similarities between the two scenarios.

Both stories take place in the field, and while Joseph is looking for the wellbeing of his brothers, Cain challenges God’s question by saying, am I my brother’s keeper?

According to the midrash, Cain and Abel where fighting about land. Joseph might have thought to himself, my brothers and I are not fighting about land.

Wrong assessment! It is not about what the fight is about. There is jealousy and there is fight. What the fight is about is almost irrelevant.

The Kli Yakar insight and suggestion shed so much light onto this story!

Our most bitter conflicts are often with those who are closest to us.  In those disputes, we often use physical commodities to play out our rage.  But the truth is, once jealousy has taken over, we will fight over anything.  If only Yosef had understood all this, he could have steered clear of all the tragedy that awaited him on the other side of that field.

An additional important lesson, Joseph was gifted and was the only one who could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, but he could not see the danger that he was getting himself into by checking on his brothers.

Too often, we think that we are stronger than what we really are. His own suffering and being in the pit, humbled Josef and gave him the maturity and the ability to see clearly through what was happening. Only then, he could become the leader that saved his father and brothers from the famine that was taking place in Canaan.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!


Rabbi Eliseo D. Rozenwasser

Sat, December 9 2023 26 Kislev 5784