Welcome to Yeshiva Tiferet, your post-highschool American yeshiva in Jerusalem, Israel.

Parshas Vayeshev/Miketz/Chanuka

Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Parshat Vayeshev

Oct 21, 2009

 

The posuk says, "Eileh toldos Yaakov, Yosef ben sh'va esreh shana." (1) (These are the children of Yaakov, Yosef was 17 years old). We find Yosef Hatzaddik referred to as the "children" of Yaakov. It is clear from this passage that the entire subsistence of Yaakov's children hinged upon Yosef. (2) Thus, the children of Yaakov were Yosef.

The Posuk continues to relate his attributes. He was the first born son of Rochel, the main wife of Yaakov, yet he was a humble shepherd. (3) Although the sons of Leah treated their half brothers, born from the maidservants, Bilha and Zilpa, with disdain, they were his companions. The posuk calls him "Ben Zekunim" (Son of Yaakov's old age). He is the repository of his father's wisdom. (4)

It is therefore interesting to note that he is described as "Vehu naar" (He is a youth). Rashi quotes the Medrash as saying that he acted as a youth. He would fix his hair and touch up his eyes in order to appear "yafeh" (beautiful). (5) This is seemingly out of context. Why is such conduct mentioned among the praises of Yosef?

This point is raised again later in the parsha. Yosef was subsequently sold to Potifar in Mitzrayim. He was highly successful. The posuk relates "Vayehi achar hadevorim haeileh". (6) And it was, after these things, the wife of Potifar lifted up her eyes to Yosef and said "lay with me". After what things? Yosef, after viewing himself as a ruler (in charge of the house of Potifar) began to eat and drink and array his hair. Hashem said, "Your father is in mourning and you are involved in arraying your hair? I will incite a bear (Potifar's wife) against you. Immediately, the wife of Potifar raised her eyes. (7) Yosef was censured for his conduct. But it was not the act of arraying his locks that bought criticism upon him. It was the timing. His father was in mourning. It was not deemed appropriate for him to be involved in his beautification at such a time.

What is this preoccupation with hair? Why does it come to the forefront when Yosef sees himself as a ruler? And why is it that the repercussion of such involvement is to be set upon by a "bear".

To better understand this, let us delve into an interesting phenomenon. Yosef's seeming "affinity" for pits (boros). At the time of his sale, he is thrown into a pit by his brothers. And he thrives within the pit. The snakes and scorpions in the pit cause him no harm. (8) It is the nature of these wild creatures to attack humans. They went against their own nature. As a result of the scandalous libel of Potifar's wife, he again finds himself in a pit. Hashem blesses his handiwork and he is elevated to the lofty position of "Master of the Pit!" (9)

Pharaoh has a disturbing dream. The interpretation of which, eludes the experts of Mitzrayim. The former cellmate of Yosef, the Sar HaMashkim, recalls how Yosef accurately interpreted his dream. He is loathe to mention this to Pharaoh. Finally he approaches Pharaoh and tells him of Yosef. He tells Pharaoh of Yosef's "qualifications." "He is a fool, and not worthy of being elevated to greatness. He is a Jew, and does not know our language. He is a slave, and it is written in the laws of Mitzrayim that a slave may not be made a ruler or wear royal garments. (10) (Naar eved ivri)"

It is clear that he somehow foretold the fortune of Yosef ruling over the entire Mitzrayim and endeavored to prevent it from coming about.

Similarly the terminology used to describe Yosef's success in Potifar's house is that he viewed himself as a ruler.

He found favor in people's eyes in the worst of circumstances. (11) The snakes and scorpions were awed by him. Potifar's wife was attracted to him. Potifar and the jailer were impressed with him. And Pharaoh saw fit to elevate him to the highest post in the land. Eventually, the entire world was sustained during the years of famine through his offices.

A few words about "pits" would be in order. The function of a pit is to hold rainwater. Water is one of the most precious commodities. It is the mainstay of all living things. The downside of a pit is that it has its limitations. Once the water inside has been depleted, it has no potential to regenerate new water. It is a totally self enclosed entity, unattached to any source. For all its life giving properties it is basically devoid of life.

A wellspring, on the other hand is called "mayim chayim" (12) (living water). New water constantly gushes forth, replenishing any shortfall. An entity that has a permanent bond with its source can never die. It constantly receives a rejuvenation of life.

Mitzrayim is the ultimate of pits. The entire splendor of the world was contained within. So much wealth, so much beauty. Yet it is also known as the center of "Kishuf". (13) Kishuf (sometimes referred to as magic) is the harnessing of the natural forces to be used against the Creator. (14) The denizens of Mitzrayim cut the world off from its source. They don't feel the need to rely upon a higher power. They can obtain anything they desire via their practice of "kishuf". It is appropriately called "Mitzrayim", which means "limitation" (as in the posuk, "min hametzar karasi yah"). It is nothing more than a dead pit.

Yosef flourished in the pit, the pit of Mitzrayim.

There are two related incidents regarding Yosef that bear inspection.

Yaakov gave his favorite son a coat of many colors. This brought the brother's jealousy down upon Yosef. The commentators explain the special nature of this coat. It symbolized (and embodied within it) the garments of the Kohen Gadol . (15) Yaakov Avenu was the Kohen Gadol of his generation. (16) It was this stature that he passed on to Yosef upon giving him the coat of many colors.

When Yosef nearly succumbed to the charms of Potifar's wife, a vision of his father appeared, gazing on him from a window. He said, "There will be a Beis Hamikdash served by a Kohen Gadol who will be wearing the Choshen Hamishpat. Every tribe is represented by a stone in the Choshen. Is it your will that your brothers' stones should be present and yours will be missing?" (17) This is what gave Yosef the fortitude to resist temptation.

The Kohen Gadol was clothed in splendorous garments. His service in the Temple was invalidated without them. (18) He was required to have his hair cut in a special fashion that could not be duplicated. (19) In our Yom Kippur prayers we sing of the beautiful countenance of the Kohen Gadol when emerging from the Kodesh Hakodoshim.

The laver which was used to wash the hands and feet of the Kohanin was fashioned from the mirrors donated by the Jewish women in the desert. Why mirrors? Rav Yochanon Luria explains, for the Kohanim to beautify themselves before beginning their service in the Beis Hamikdash.

This is not mere physical beauty.

There are those who worship beauty as an end within itself. The culture of beauty. Beauty for the sake of beauty. If it's beautiful, then, how could it be wrong? This is to be compared to a pit filled with beautiful waters, without a connection to a source.

Beauty was created to enhance the honor of the Creator. To serve as an attraction to His service. A literal wellspring of beauty.

Yosef was given a coat of many colors. His task in the world is to unite all the multi-splendored beauty in the world under one banner, into one coat. He is uniquely qualified for this task. His stone is not only found among his brothers' stones in the Choshen, but also higher up, on the shoulders of the Kohen Gadol. The straps of the Choshen are suspended and supported from Yosef's stones. He is what holds all his multi-faceted brothers together in one unit. (20) Hence, the children of Yaakov are Yosef. Now it is clear why Yosef is singled out as the children of Yaakov in conjunction with labeling him as a "naar" (a youth - concerned with his appearance). He connected with his brothers, the children of the maidservants. He was especially equipped with the ability to elevate the lower ones. (Vehu naar es benei bilha)

Hair is the one part of the body that is totally non-functional. It doesn't "do" anything. Hair enhances the appearance of the person. It crowns him with beauty. Yosef specialized in directing the finery of this world in enhancing the honor of the Creator. His meticulous care of his hair was an integral component in his work.

A true ruler is not merely a petty tyrant. He is one that is able to control all aspects of his kingdom and make them function as one for the betterment of all. He creates a symphony out of the colorful variances within his domain.

Yosef exhibited the character of a true monarch. He possessed the ability to delve into the depths of "anti-G-d" beauty and reconnect it to its source. As a result of his interpretation of Pharaoh's dream, Pharaoh exclaimed that Yosef is filled with the Ruach Elokim (21) (the spirit of G-d). The inconceivable, Pharaoh recognizing G-d?!

Only Yosef was capable of such an achievement.

Yosef was faulted for his timing. He saw his success in Potifar's house as a sign of his ascendancy to monarchy, attaining the true trait of majesty. He was fastidious in his appearance, in the arrayal of his hair. This was considered improper conduct. It is inappropriate to act thus when one's father is in pain. He has not yet achieved perfection in this regard and needed to be tested further.

Potifar's wife is likened to a bear. Chazal compare the Persian nation to a bear. They eat and drink like bears, they grow their hair like bears. (22) They are wily and constantly in motion. (23)

Yosef, who ate, drank, and fixed his hair at an improper time, was being tested. A beautiful crafty bear was set against him. One who would give him no respite from her wiles, being constantly in motion.

He needed to achieve the ultimate level of control over his tendency for beauty. A level which superceded the natural world. The posuk states "Vayanas vayetzei hachutza", he fled and exited outside. When the moment of truth arrived, when he was poised over the chasm of committing the grave sin of bonding with the wife of Potifar for all eternity, he broke free of his limitations and exited the physical world. The temptations of this world no longer had a hold on him. He became a total master over himself. (24) This is the grandest level of majesty.

Even snakes and scorpions instinctively sense this, as well as members of the human race. He possesses "Ruach Elokim" - the spirit of the Creator. He is an actual partner in the process of creation, bringing the splendor of creation towards the goal it was created for.

The connection between Parshas VaYeshev and Chanuka becomes quite obvious. The Greeks brought a new form of heresy to the world. Worse than idolatry. They spread the culture of "Yofi" - superficial beauty. (bnei yefes) They literally attempted to detach the physical beauty of the world from the Creator. They propagated the pursuit of beauty for beauty's sake, wherever it is to be found, the study of wisdom, because of the beauty within. This approach made inroads into Torah study. Learning Torah is the sole way of embracing the Creator. One does not study Torah solely for purposes of intellectual stimulation. Such study is death incarnate. This is what is meant by the phrase in "Al HaNissim" - Lihashkichom Torasecha - They endeavored to cause us to forget your Torah, to forget the true depths of your holy Torah.

The miracle of Chanuka was brought about through the self sacrifice of the Kohanim. The ones who dedicate their lives to bridging the gap between the physical world and the source of creation. In the Beis Hamikdash there is no separation between the physical and the spiritual. It is all one.

This, of course, is the significance of the miracle of the Menorah. The beautiful light of the pure oil was not constrained by time and space. It continued to burn beyond the physical limits.

Chazal refer to Yosef as Yosef HaTzaddik. The posuk states "Vetzaddik yesod olam" (25) - a tzaddik views the world as a "yesod", a foundation, to be built upon for purposes of arriving in the world devoid of limits, the World to Come. (26) May we all be zoche.

Footnotes:
(1) Perek 37, posuk2
(2) Ohr HaChayim
(3) Chizkuni
(4) Rashi, Perek 37, posuk 3
(5) Rashi, Perek 37, posuk 2
(6) Perek 39, posuk 7
(7) Rashi, Perek 39, posuk 6
(8) Rashi, Perek 37, posuk 24
(9) Perek 39, posuk 22
(10) Rashi Parshas Miketz, perek 41, posuk 12
(11) Perek 39, posuk 4 and posuk 21
(12) Jeremiah, perek 2, posuk 13. See Rashi
(13) Rashi, Parshas Va'erah, perek 7, posuk 22
(14) Meseches Chullin 7b
(15) Kli Yakar, perek 37, posuk 3
(16) Baal Haturim, Parshas VaYetzei, perek 28, posuk 20
(17) Meseches Sotah 36b
(18) Meseches Sanhedrin 83b
(19) Meseches Nedarim 51a
(20) Maskil L'Shlomo
(21) Parshas Miketz, perek 41, posuk 38
(22) Meseches Megilla 11a
(23) Rashi and Tosafos, Meseches Avoda Zara 2b
(24) Kli Yakar, perek 39, posuk 13
(25) Mishlei, perek 10, posuk 25
(26) The Alshich expounds on the verse in Tehillim (50,2) "Mitzion michlal yofi" - From Zion is the totality of beauty. The numerical value of "Tzion" is 156, the same as the name "Yosef". The letters of the word tzion form the letter "tzaddik" followed by the word "Yavan".


 

Site Contents ©2017 by Yeshiva Tiferet. American Friends of Yeshiva Tiferet is a tax exempt non-profit organization under the IRS code 501(c)(3). Terms of Use Site Security Credits