Machon Daniel Torah Weekly
“To Stir the Mind and to Light up the Shabbos and the Holidays”
Parshas Vayeishev 2017/5778
The Relationship between a Child’s Punishment and a Father’s Misdeeds
“וישב יעקב בארץ מגורי אביו בארץ כנען” (בראשית לז:א)
“And Yaakov dwelled in the land of his father in the land of Canaan” (Bereishis 37:1)
Rashi quotes the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 84:3) which explains the wording “וישב יעקב” / “And Yaakov dwelled” to mean that Yaakov wanted to sit (and learn) in peace, and as a result, the anger of Yosef jumped upon him. The righteous want to sit in peace, and in response Hakadosh Baruch Hu questions, is the (reward) which awaits them in the next world insufficient so that they need to request to sit peacefully in this world as well!?
Question! If Hakadosh Baruch Hu has a question regarding Yaakov’s actions, why should this result in Yosef being punished, for the Torah teaches us that a person is only punished for his own actions and not for those of his father, as it is written “לא יומתו אבות על בנים ובנים לא יומתו על אבות איש בחטאו יומתו” / “Fathers shall not receive the death penalty because of their childrens’ sins and children shall not receive the death penalty because of their fathers’ sins; each person will die in his own sin” (Devorim 24:16). If you’ll say that it is brought in the Sifri in explanation of that stated above“איש בחטאו יומתו” / “each person will die in his own sin” that men die as a result of their own sins, whereas young children die because of their fathers’ sins!? This is not applicable here as the posuk tells us that Yosef was already seventeen years old.
It appears that we can answer the above question through a careful reading of Rashi’s wording קפץ עליו רוגזו של יוסף / the anger of Yosef jumped upon him. Are we talking about the anger of Yosef!? Are we not talking of Hashem’s anger toward Yaakov for wanting to sit in peace!? Rather, from here we learn that Hashem had a claim against Yosef as well. Actually, Hashem’s main anger was against Yosef and thus Yosef was not punished because of his father’s actions but because of his sins alone. The Torah hints to this in posuk 37:2 (see Rashi’s commentary).
With this in mind, we can explain the expression קפץ עליו רוגזו של יוסף / the anger of Yosef jumped upon him. That is, Hashem’s anger was directed mainly toward Yosef, but it jumped, so to say, from Yosef onto his father Yaakov.
However, we still need to understand why the anger toward Yosef was turned toward Yaakov?
We can explain, with G-d’s help, that the Torah is hinting to us that if Yaakov had not caused Hashem to question his actions, Yosef would have been spared punishment!
This idea is hinted to in the words “אלה תולדות יעקב יוסף” / “These are the generations of Yaakov, Yosef”. Was Yosef the only son of Yaakov!? Certainly not! Rather, this wording teaches us that Yosef was only punished because he was the offspring of Yaakov. That is, Yosef had not done any wrongdoing which warranted punishment. However, when Yaakov’s actions made Hakadosh Baruch Hu question his behavior, this awoke the miniscule lacking in Yosef’s actions and as a result he was punished.
If you’ll ask, did we not mention above that a person is not punished for his father’s sins? True, however the Torah says in another place“פוקד עון אבות על בנים” / “He places the sins of the father on the children” (Shemos 20:5). The Gemora in Brachos (7a) explains that the posuk in Shemos is referring to the case where the child continues in the evil ways of his father. In this case, the children receive punishment for their own actions and also for the actions of their fathers! Therefore in our case, we must explain there was a miniscule claim against Yaakov and as well a miniscule claim against Yosef and it fell into the category of a son who follows in the evil ways of his father and thus Yosef was punished because of his father’s sins as well. (Thus, he was punished twice, once because of his actions toward his brothers, and for this he was thrown into the pit, and once by being exiled to Egypt and thus not able to honor his father; this in punishment of his father’s actions as the rabbis have taught us that Yaakov was negligent in this regard.)
According to this, we can better understand the Gemora in Sota (36b, brought in Rashi) which explains that which it states “ויבא הביתה לעשות מלאכתו” / “and he came home to do his work” (Bereishis 39:11), Rav and Shmuel; one explains that Yosef went to do his chores as viceroy and one explains that he went to be with the wife of Potifer. What prevented him from following through with his intention to be with her? The image of his father appeared in his mind (Medrash Rabba Bereishis 87:7)! And why was he helped in this manner? To teach us that just as Yosef was punished because of his father, so too he was saved from sin by him!
Changing Yosef’s Verdict
“ויאמר אליהם ראובן אל תשפכו דם השליכו אותו אל הבור הזה… ויקחוהו וישליכו אותו הבורה” (בראשית לז:כב-כד)
“And Reuven said to them (his brothers) don’t spill blood, throw him into this pit… and they took him (Yosef) and threw him into the pit” (Bereishis 37:22-24)
It appears that it is unnecessary to say “ויקחוהו” / “and they took him” for Yosef was already under their control and thus it would only be necessary to write “וישליכו אותו הבורה” / “and they threw him into the pit”!?
To answer the above question we can suggest, with G-d’s help, that when the brothers heard Reuven’s suggestion to throw him into the pit, they deliberated among themselves whether to kill him with their hands or to throw him into the pit where he would die on his own! In the end, they voted to throw him into the pit as Reuven had suggested and not kill him directly!
This is the meaning of “ויקחוהו” / “and they took him”, meaning, they took Yosef from his original punishment to kill him directly and brought him to the new decision to kill him indirectly by casting him into the pit.
How to Fight the Evil Inclination and Defeat It
“וימאן ויאמר אל אשת אדוניו הן אדוני לא ידע איתי מה בבית… ולא חשך ממני מאומה… ואיך אעשה הרעה הגדולה הזאת וחטאתי לאלקים” (בראשית לט:ח)
“And he (Yosef) refused (to give in to the plea of his master’s wife) and he said to his master’s wife, it is true that my master is not aware of that which happens with me in the house… and he has not withheld from me anything… and (therefore) how can I do this great misdoing and I have sinned to G-d” (Bereishis 39:8)
Now, apparently the posuk should have reversed the order of its wording and precede the reasons for his rejecting his master’s wife’s plea to sleep with him to his actual rejection of her plea!? However the Torah is teaching us here how to fight the evil inclination and how to defeat it! And this by means of a two-stage solution: Firstly, to sit in solitude and contemplate between himself and his Master in Heaven on the seriousness of the sin, and secondly, to come to an absolute decision not to be persuaded by the evil inclination to violate Hashem’s will! As a result of this preparation, when the evil inclination presents his claims stressing how worthwhile it is to follow his advice, the person will stand firm in his resolution and immediately and outrightly reject the words of the evil inclination. This method gave Yosef the strength to say “וימאן” / I refuse!
The above idea is reflected as well in the final words of Yosef’s refutation of his master’s wife’s plea “וחטאתי לאלקים” / “I have sinned to G-d”, meaning, as we mentioned above, that all his claims against her stemmed from his initial reckoning between himself and G-d!
We can add that the word “וימאן” / “And he refused” comes from the same root as מאומה stated in the story of the Akeida “ואל תעש לו מאומה” / “and don’t do anything to him” – nothing at all! And thus we learn that Yosef as well, even before he was approached by his master’s wife, had decided not to give in to her at all! This saved him from the hands of the most powerful of evil inclinations, and in addition, imbedded in his offspring a plan and the power to reject the call of the evil inclination!
The story of Yosef and his master’s wife is not a lesson in history, but a guide by which we too, each person according to his own level of avodas Hashem and in his own particular situations, can stand firm in the face of the persuasive evil inclination even when he persists in his efforts to derail the person from following Hashem’s way. May we take to heart the advice the Torah is offering us and thus always remain faithful servants of Hashem (and not faithful servants of the evil inclination)!