Sharing Torah Insights

Physical and Spiritual

Posted on כ״ג בכסלו ה׳תש״ע (December 10, 2009) | in VaYeshev | by

In Parshat VaYeshev we read of the descent of two of Yaakov’s sons. Yosef is sold by his brothers to slavetraders, who take him to Egypt. Yehuda, too, is sent away from his brothers, seemingly as a response for his role in the sale of Yosef.

These two stories run parallel to each other and one can learn much from analyzing them side by side. I would like to focus on just one on of these similarities

Throughout his story, Yosef is seen as a very passive player. Yosef doesn’t object when his father sends him to find his brothers, whom he knows despise him. We don’t even see any mention of Yosef resisting when the brothers throw him into a pit and subsequently sell him. The Torah’s language itself attests to this, saying “וְיוֹסֵף, הוּרַד מִצְרָיְמָה – And Yosef was caused to go down to Egypt. (39:1 בְּרֵאשִׁית

Once in Egypt as well, Yosef seems to take a passive role. As an example, in next week’s Parsha, Yosef explains Pharoah’s dreams telling him that there will be 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine. Yosef then says:

וְעַתָּה יֵרֶא פַרְעֹה, אִישׁ נָבוֹן וְחָכָם; וִישִׁיתֵהוּ, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.

Now therefore let Pharaoh find a man discreet and wise, and place him over the land of Egypt

Even though Yosef must have known that he was the most qualified man for the job, he resists suggesting so. Yosef doesn’t even choose his own wife as the Pasuk says וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ אֶת-אָסְנַת בַּת-פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אֹן, לְאִשָּׁה – And [Pharoah] gave [Yosef] Osnat daughter of Poti Phera priest of On for a wife.

In fact, Chazal tell us that the one time Yosef did try and control his own destiny, by asking Pharoah’s butler to speak to Pharoah for him, HaShem punished him with two extra years in prison for not having proper faith.

Yehuda, on the other hand, is an active participant in his stories. He suggests selling Yosef and then chooses to leave his family (וַיֵּרֶד יְהוּדָה – 38:1 בְּרֵאשִׁית And Yehuda went down) and find himself a wife. He chooses Tamar to marry his son Er and insists that his son Onan marry Tamar after Er’s death. After Onan also dies Yehuda prevents Tamar from marrying his third son Shelah.

Even in Tamar’s deception of Yehuda, we see how Yehuda plays an active role as it says “וַיֵּט אֵלֶיהָ And he turned to her“. Yehuda is certainly active when he saves Tamar’s life by publicly admitting that he was the one who impregnated her. Finally, later in the story, as Yosef is trying to keep Binyamin in Egypt, Yehuda is the one who steps forward to insist that Binyamin come back with them (וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה Then Yehuda came near to him)

In Egypt, Yosef was responsible for the physical well-being of the country by storing up food during the time of plenty. Yehuda, on the other hand was responsible for the Jewish people’s spiritual well-being. We see this idea explained by Rashi on Bereishit 46:28. When going down to Egypt, Yaakov sends Yehuda ahead לְהוֹרֹת לְפָנָיו to direct him and Rashi tells us

להורות לפניו לתקן לו בית תלמוד שמשם תצא הוראה
להורות לפניו means to establish for him a house of study, from which teaching would emanate.

We see here how even though we have to work hard for our physical sustenance, like Yosef, we must always realize that we are really just passive players who receive only what HaShem decides to grant us. Our spiritual growth, however, as Yehuda demonstrates, demands continual action and effort in order to be successful.

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