Vayeshev Torah Portion

Josef’s story is probably the best example for us, as believers, to examine our faith in divine providence. Joseph's figure is coming to teach us about the importance of cultivating the awareness that for him seems to come so naturally: Awareness that we are seen, cherished and loved by the divine – always

We are about to enter to Vayeshev Portion during which we would also find ourselves in a remarkable place in time and a very special date - the 19 of Kislev. The 19 of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar marks the “birth” of Chassidism. This date is celebrated as the “Rosh Hahsana of Chasidism”. It was on this date, in the year of 1798 that the founder of Chabad Chasidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Ladi was freed from his imprisonment in Russia. But more than a personal liberation, this was a watershed event in the history of Chasidism, heralding a new era in the revelation of the “inner soul” of Torah.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman saw his imprisonment and the liberation as events that reflecting what was transpiring above. He regarded his arrest as but the earthly echo of a heavenly indictment against his revelation of the most intimate secrets of the Torah, and he saw his release as signifying his vindication in the heavenly court. Following his liberation on 19 Kislev, he redoubled his efforts, disseminating his teachings on a far broader scale, and with more detailed and “down-to-earth” explanations then before.

This special date however, 19 Kislev was also the date of the passing of the Maggid of Mezritch, the successor of the Baal Shem Tov – The founder of Chasidism, in the year of 1772

Also at the same date on 2003 Saddam Hussein was captured, and on on 2011 the Iraq war came to an end and even two years ago, on 19 Kislev 2017, the U.S.A. President, Donald Trump, publicly and formally announces that Jerusalem is the Capital of the Nation-State of Israel, and declared that the US Embassy shall be relocated to the city. So as we can see, this is a remarkable date we should celebrate - whether it will be liberty or victory - again and again, when 19 Kislev is coming we witness divine providence.

And this portion – Vayeshev as we shall see, is talking exactly on this topic. Asking us to remember that G-d is with us, watching, all the time. This portion is asking us to cherish our relations with the Divine and remember the providence. Now as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said "Learning the Torah should result in practice" So… Let us go to our portion and discover the hidden layers of this week’s story.

In Vayeshev portion, from the forefathers consciousness - from the individual Patriarchs Abraham, Issac and Jacob, we are spreading onto 12 dimensions of ourselves, which are signified by the 12 children of Jacob. This process of conscious separation and the appearance of multi-dimensional self will naturally not come easy and with no consequences. In our portion, the story shifts from Jacob to his children. Here in this portion as the story of the Jewish family progresses, the tension we have already sensed between Leah and Rachel, is transferred to the next generation in the form of the rivalry between Joseph and his brothers.

This story, that is about to twists and turns will eventually take us to the end of the book of roots - Genesis. Our story’s main figure now has shifted from Jacob to Joseph his son. Joseph is the eleventh of the 12 brothers. As the firstborn of the beloved wife Rachel he is also Jacob’s favorite son so It is not for no reason that this family had few issues… The envy and antagonism that Josef’s brothers felt towards him lead them to sell him into slavery in Egypt, an act that will many years later result in the entire family (by then a nation) being enslaved.

We can say that Josef grew up as a spoiled child. As the beloved son who received gifts and special attention from his father, he saw himself as the true heir to his family prestigious legacy. He was also in a way, according to the story, somewhat of a wonder child who have being given the divine gift of dreams – and not regular dreams but dreams of prophecy. Yet nothing in Josef’s life has gone the way he presumably wanted or expected.

Growing up an orphan, he was hated by his siblings who thrown him into an empty pit in the middle of nowhere. Abandoned and lost, he was sold into slavery, had to change his identity and unwillingly leave his homeland. Later, framed by an Egyptian princess who accused him in raping her, he was condemned to the dungeon where he was falsely imprisoned.

Interestingly, Joseph - that same spoiled boy who wasn’t so fortunate during his childhood and adolescence, at the age of 30 rises to become the viceroy of Egypt and the savior of the Children of Israel. As well as the mind behind the plan that actually saved the entire nation of Egypt.

Is there any connection between the two parts of Joseph’s life?

And where was G-d in this story?

If through Josef the redemption of Israel is to take place, then how come this child was falsely accused and abounded by all?

Why did G-d allow all those things to happen to him?

Josef’s story is probably the best example for us, as believers, to examine our faith in divine providence. G-d is watching over us, and he is doing so by allowing life to take its natural course. Because of His concern for our ultimate growth and success, He refrains from preventing us from falling. We have been placed in a reality that allows us to err, to know grief and heartache, to endure pain, for under such circumstances we have an opportunity to grow. It is through the struggle, the turmoil, that we become fully alive to the significance of life. Joseph was blessed even in his downfalls. Both of his imprisonments served as steps in his personal journey.

  • The first brought him out of his father’s home and down to Egypt where he began his rise to power.

  • The second established him as an indispensable, invaluable resource to Pharaoh, the highest power of the world back in the days.

In that sense, paradoxically, the prison – a place which is restricting our personal movement, can put us on the path toward playing a humongous role in national redemption. Now let us take Joseph story and ponder… Let us find out more about our story in this portion and in the figure of Joseph. Sometimes we can find ourselves trapped and imprisoned (just like Joseph) in a situation we did not ask for. We can be imprisoned in our thoughts, imprisoned in our feelings, or in choices we have made, imprisoned by circumstances… imprisoned by others, imprisoned by ourselves. Sometimes life seems too narrow and unsatisfying for us. We can be ill or lack the motivation to do anything and therefore feel imprisoned at home, or at a work. Sometimes we feel trapped by relationships that do not benefit us or simply live under the impression that the place we are in life captures us and does not allow us to grow and evolve.

Parashat Vayeshav asks us to examine those feeling as it takes us exactly there. Joseph signifies this place within ourselves on two occasions:

  • The first, when Joseph found himself deep down in a dark and gloomy pit, full of snakes and scorpions. His brothers put him there against his will. They imprisoned him, deprived him of the ability to rise up and save himself. Prevented him from communicating with his father, he could not even call for help.

  • The second time Joseph found himself in a dungeon - in the Egyptian prison, after Potiphar's wife accused him of wrongdoing. There, again, he found himself detached from the outside world and unable to free himself from the situation forced upon him by others. There too, just as in the pit, he was cut- off from the outside world and put into a dark and isolated place against his will.

We read the story and we immediately feel sympathetic towards Joseph, but here, we have to remember, or to be reminded, that even when things happen to us which are against our will, just like things happened to Joseph, there is a higher will than our will. In fact, we need to remember that we live our lives in a somewhat narrow frame of consciousness, and that we do not really have the ability to understand, grasp or comprehend the Divine - the greater will - the will of the Creator - The will of God. Which is most of the times is very different then our own.

Eventually, Joseph's experience of being alone and isolated in a dark place against his will, led him to become one of the most influential people in the entire world. As he became the right hand of Pharaoh, who was the most powerful king of that era, and reigned over the greatest and most influential kingdom of those days.Notably, the Torah tells us that even when Joseph was in the darkest of circumstance, God was with him. Joseph’s relationship with divinity remains strong and clear no matter the circumstances. When alone in the dungeon or the pit, he was in a way forced to communicate with whoever was there, and under those situations the only thing he could have done was to communicate with the divine presence. He made back then a close connection with divinity, and he would rely on that connection with the divine to interpret dreams for other prisoners, a move that will lead him to interpret the dreams of no other than Pharaoh himself.

The Or HaChayyim (Chaim ibn Attar who was born in Morocco in the 18’s century) teaches that the inspiration of Shechina - the divine Presence - flows through a person proportionally to that person’s openness to its presence within themselves. For the Or HaChayyim, “God was with him” means that Joseph opened himself to divine flow, constantly looking for the divine presence in his life in all that happened. This biblical figure was so submerged in connection with the divine and with the love of G-d, that whatever happened he could not see or feel bad circumstances and was completely protected.

Joseph’s Journey enabled him to reach exactly the right place to be able to save the nation, and his family, from famine. God remembers and accompanies him always. Josef’s figure is coming to teach us an important lesson: Joseph feels God with him even while being unfairly punished, whether it is when his brothers abandon him, whether it is when he is being slaved or being accused for something he did not do and sent to the dungeon. Because-his sense of God’s presence is so strong, his sense of self isn’t shaken. This is a huge lesson to us. This quality in Joseph we must try to adjust within ourselves. We most aspire his deep connection with God.

What Joseph’s story comes to teach us is the importance of cultivating the awareness that for him seems to come so naturally: Awareness that we are seen, cherished and loved by the divine – always. Even if circumstances seem bleak, even in the face of unethical behaviors from others, we can and must seek to find in every downturn an opportunity to lift our eyes up, and lift our heart up, to G-d and his will and powers, which are beyond ourselves. When having this sense of oneness with God we cannot fear. We are literally able to go through anything once we are adopting the right mindset.

And isn’t it interesting? That in the entire opening chapter of this week’s portion - Parshat Vayeshev - contains not even one mention of God’s name. The entire chapter is Jacob’s family story about the relationship between the brothers, the relationship between Joseph and Jacob. As we witnessed the story progresses, we know God is acting in the background, but at same time, there is no explicit reference to God. And by noticing this in continence to all we know now – there are two lessons that are immediately must be derived from our Torah portion this week.

  1. First is learning the value of communication with God, not to think – never – he is not their watching over us. Just like Joseph, we are to feel the presence of G-d always, even and precisely in times when we cannot really sense it.

  2. Second, is the importance of being a deliberate reader of Torah. We have the ability, if we read sensitively and carefully enough, we can literally hear the voice of God speaking to us through the text.

In numerous places in the Torah, if we are attentive, we can hear God not only speaking to our ancestors but also to us, for God’s presence is not only in the heavens it is here, on earth–in our own existence. As we live from day to day, our life can seem like a meaningless sequence of random events, a series of accidents and happenstances that have no shape or inner logic. Life as we experience it can sometimes feel like a random call of somebody else’s circumstances. However, by looking at everything happened to us back and again, life begins to make sense. The opportunity we missed here, led to an even better one there. The shame we felt at our unintentionally offensive remark makes us more careful about what we say in the future. Our failures, seen in retrospect many years later, turn out to have been our deepest learning experiences. We live life facing the future, but we understand life only when it has become our past. And this idea is set out clearly in the story of Joseph in this week’s portion.

At the beginning of next week’s portion, we will discover that all this has been leading to Joseph’s supreme elevation. Pharaoh makes him Viceroy over Egypt, the greatest empire of the ancient world. At the age of only thirty and after a long crazy life, Joseph has become the second most powerful man in the world. From the lowest pit, he has risen to dazzling

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