Weekly Manna – Parashat Vayeshev

Did they cry?

As I read through this week’s portion, that is the question that kept going through my mind.  Did they cry?  Did Yosef cry?  Did Tamar cry?   I know I would be crying if I was in their shoes!  And I think crying is a natural reaction to life’s difficulties……but in measure.  After we have a good cry, we can take from the examples of both Yosef and Tamar some very important lessons.

Sinah (hatred) distorts, blinds, alters, and perverts.  When we hate, we misjudge, misconstrue and misunderstand.  Anger negatively affects our ability to remain rational.

In his book “The majesty of Bereishis”, Rabbi Schnerman writes that Yosef’s brothers gave in to emotions that belong to Esav, but have no place in the family of Yaakov.  Namely, hatred (37:4) and jealousy (37:11).

 “We can understand why someone hates an enemy, but why should someone hate a person who means him no harm?  It is an unpleasant part of human nature that we can sometimes dislike a person who is obviously better than we are.  He makes us look bad.  He makes us suffer by comparison.  He makes our desires look petty and our excuses seem foolish.  Such a person, especially if he exercises his obligation to lead, become a nuisance, an enemy of the people.  And he is hated.”

Esav kills whomever he hates; that is what makes him Esav.  But Yaakov’s sons?  Much more is expected of Bnei Yisrael!

Onkelos teaches that Yosef was the premier Torah scholar of the family.  Were the brothers possibly jealous of that?  Perhaps!  But as Rabbi Schnerman points out, the Torah is the property of all, therefore, none of the brothers could be justified in condemning him for excelling in an area where they were free to match him.

We all have free choice.  If we spend our day pursuing worldly gain and worldly pleasure, we are not going to be Torah scholars or masters of our midot.   End of story!  No exceptions.  Where one places importance, and exerts effort, is where one will excel.

“According to the effort is the reward”  Avot 5:26

No one is forced to act, for good or bad.  G-d does not tamper with our free choice.  What does often happen though, is that G-d gives opportunities. To those whose previous deeds have earned them the privilege, He gives opportunities for constructive action.  And for those whose previous deed have conditioned them to do wrong, He brings opportunities for evil.  We are conduits for spiritual energies, but we choose if the energy we generate is positive or negative.

“They cause merit to come through deserving people, and harm through bad people” (Shabbos 32a)

Life unfolds in ways we never expect.  I have many times said: “I don’t know if I had a plan, but I’m certain this wasn’t it!”.  I say that tongue and cheek, but it is a fact, that life rarely plays out the way I would have orchestrated or desired, plan or not.  And yet, I realize my so-called “troubles” are sent to me by G-d.  What we need to realize ladies, is that blessings usually come disguised and it is our job to see through the disguise and unmask the blessing hidden within.

This portion tells us two stories, which, from our point of view, might appear tragic.  And yet, are the stories of Yosef and Tamar actually stories of tragedy? Or of Divine favor?

Stop and smell the roses

“Then they sat down to a meal.  Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilad their camels bearing gum, balm, and ladanum to be taken to Egypt.”  Bereishis 37:25

Why do we need to know what this caravan of Ishmaelites was carrying?  Rashi to 37:25, cites the midrash that teaches this was Hashem’s intervention on behalf of Yosef.  By allowing this to be a caravan carrying sweet smelling spices, Hashem was sending a message to Yosef.   A message not to give up hope.

Hashem cares, therefore there is reason to hope!

Yosef had faith and trust in Hashem and in His Divine Providence.  He realized something we often fail to realize or we forget: that everything that happens to us is all part of the plan – the Divine plan!  And the sweet smell was an assurance that Hashem still cared for him.

Our challenge is to seek the silver lining beneath the dark clouds. To find the rose among the thorns.

I’ll be honest, if I were in Yosef’s shoes, I might have a difficult time noticing the sweet fragrance.  But ultimately our senses play a major role in allowing us to regain our composure during difficult times.  And it is specifically during the difficult times the we must stop and examine every occurrence in an effort to identify the positive signs from Above.  Hashem sends messages, but we must look, listen, and even smell for them.  Take a deep breath and inhale the sweet scent.  And if necessary, play some calming music, light a candle, take a bubble bath.  Do whatever calms you best.  And accept the hugs and affirmations He sends your way through others.  And don’t forget to thank Hashem for the little gifts of reassurance that He still cares!  They are always there, if we care to notice.

We might think that as we grow spiritually, we will either become immune to life’s difficulties, or that maybe G-d might grant us a reprieve, a sort of reward for good behavior.  But Avraham’s tests, Yitzchak’s challenges, and Yaakov’s seemingly never-ending ordeals tell us differently.  It is the struggles of life that provide us with the opportunities to grow.  As the saying goes: “No pain, no gain”.

How we view life’s trials and tribulations is a matter of perspective.  We can view them as a punishment or as a blessing.  As unwanted struggles, or as opportunities for spiritual growth.  The trick is to turn our adversity into hope.  To learn how to maintain an inner peace and joy when dealing with life’s challenges.  To acquire the ability to stop and smell the sweet fragrances.

Every single event, even the most minute, is orchestrated from Above for one reason, and one reason only………to set the stage for the coming of Mashiach.  Yosef and his brothers, Judah and Tamar, King David and Bathsheba are all proof of this. We can see with hindsight that G-d orchestrated each of these situations for this ultimate purpose.

The hand of Heaven was at work when Yosef was sold into slavery and taken to Egypt:

“Our father Yaakov would have had to descend to Egypt in chains and a collar.  Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, ‘he is my firstborn son, shall I bring him down there in disgrace? …….Rather, I will lead his son before him and he will be forced to descend after him.’” (Bereshis Rabbah 86:2, cf Shabbos 89b)

Tamar was a righteous woman and she risked her reputation and ultimately her life for the sake of fulfilling what she felt was her destiny: to give birth to the line of Israel’s monarchy.  G-d orchestrated the whole affair so that the Davidic dynasty and ultimately Mashiach would descend from her line.

Many commentaries explain the same thing in the matter of King David and Bathsheba.  G-d orchestrated the entire incident to provide David with a test.  If he passed the test he would have advanced spiritually, and his successor to the throne would have still come from the union of he and Bathsheba, but in an uncontroversial manner.  If he failed, as we know he ultimately did, we are provided, through this sweet singer of Israel, with the ultimate model for how to repent and return to G-d’s good graces.

The outcome of each situation is predetermined, the only question is how it will unfold.  No one is ever forced to act, for good or bad.  G-d does not tamper with our free choice.  The Divine plan called for Yaakov’s family to descend to Egypt.  But did Yosef have to lose his brothers love, become a slave, then a king, to be the instrument through which his family would descend into Egypt?  However it happened, ultimately, Yosef recognized it was all part of G-d’s plan!

“Besides, although you intended me harm, Hashem intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result – the survival of many people.” (Bereishis 50:20)

Like Yosef, we must try to understand how our current situation could help to fulfill G-d’s plan.  Although it might seem “bad” when we are going through a trial, we need to remember that G-d intends it for good.   We are rarely aware of our role, but be assured, we are all agents for spiritual energies, although it is usually beyond our ability to understand.

The Patriarchs were tested in ordeals that were contrary to their basic instincts.  Yosef is the symbol of peace.  His tests were therefore predicaments involving strife and alienation.  His tests involved suffering jealousy, hatred, accusations, assault, and loss of freedom at the hands of those who should have loved him, to see if he could remain the seeker of peace and harmony through it all.  It is only through such tests that greatness can be established.

Which brings me full circle, back to my opening question.  Did he cry?

I believe he did.  And yet, he did not allow his sorrow to prevent him from doing the task at hand.  Ditto for Tamar.  Come on ladies, she made herself into a prostitute, something against her righteous nature.  How humiliated she must have felt.  I’m sure she cried many tears.  But ultimately, she too did what needed to be done. And in the end, she gave birth to “Breakthrough” and “Radiance” (Peretz & Zerach).

Life is messy.  And we don’t see the beginning from the end, so it is difficult for us to understand how “this” (whatever it is) can possibly be for the good.  But if we stay on course, smell the sweet fragrances, and look for the signs that Hashem still cares, we too can, after a good cry of course, “pull up our big girl panties” and get with the program.

Just imagine how much differently Yosef and Tamar might have felt if, while they were going through their ordeals, they had had our advantage of knowing how it all works out.  I don’t know if they had prophetic vision or not.  I know I don’t!  However, if I can imagine reasons why a “bad” situation might result in something good, maybe it can help me to not only endure it, but to even thank G-d for the opportunity to service Him through it.

Ladies, let’s become a force to be reckoned with!  Let’s examine our midot.  If we are honest about our strengths and weaknesses, we will then be able to work on improving ourselves.  And we will more easily identify the reason for our trials.  And we will create positive energies, not negative.  We can be the change we desire to see in our world!!  Life is not going to follow our plan.  That’s why we must empty ourselves and allow Hashem to lead us on the path He has prepared for us.  To lead us to our pre-determined role.  The role only we can play in ushering in Mashiach’s return and the Messianic era.  May it be soon and in our days!

Be blessed and be a blessing,


Note: Midot literally means “measures”, and is used to refer to the measure of our character traits – if you are not a student of Mussar, you should be!!  I will be eternally grateful to my Rebbe, R’ Yehezqel, for leading me to the path of mussar.  Want to learn more about mussar?  Leave a comment and let us know!



About the author
Rhonda has traveled from Utah to Toronto in what seemed to be a season of wanderlusting, which ended up being a relocation in the making. Using her life experiences, Rhonda teaches from the heart and is a perfect example of what it means to follow your heart and dedicate yourself to your spiritual community. Join Rhonda every week as she gives us our Weekly Manna on the Torah Portion for Women.

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