For the week ending 20 December 2008 / 23 Kislev 5769

Parshat Vayeshev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Yaakov settles in the land of Canaan. His favorite son, Yosef, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Yaakov makes Yosef a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips. Yosef exacerbates his brothers’ hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Yosef and resolve to execute him. When Yosef comes to Shechem, the brothers relent and decide, at Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Yosef out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites. Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Yosef’s tunic in goat’s blood and show it to Yaakov, who assumes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. Yaakov is inconsolable. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Yosef has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers. In the Parsha’s sub-plot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach. Meanwhile, Yosef rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His extreme beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his master’s wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Yosef of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In prison, Yosef successfully predicts the outcome of the dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward, who is reinstated, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef languishes in prison.


The Light of Truth

"Then they brought Yosef to Egypt" (37:28)

Charisma in the eyes of secular society is a dangerous blessing for a Jewish leader.

Someone who becomes the darling of the chattering classes walks a tightrope. On the one hand, the chattering can turn to gnashing when the fangs of anti-Semitism emerge quite suddenly from behind the gin-and-tonics.

On the other hand, the court Jew can find himself so enamored with his own brilliance and societal acceptance that he unknowingly betrays his heritage and promotes a counterfeit Judaism estranged from the Torah's eternal truths. Currying favor with the media can be an overwhelming, if unconscious, temptation.

When a Jewish leader is overflowing with Torah like wine from a cup, however, no alien ideas will take hold in his worldview. There is simply no room for them to gain a foothold. The Torah is like a mikveh ritualariumthatpurifies and refines his thought process. When he is nothing but Torah he is immune to both the approbation and the opprobrium of secular society. His universe is the four cubitsof halacha, all that is left of true spirituality in this world.

A Jewish leader lacking the Weltanschauungof deep Torah knowledge is a half-empty cup waiting to be filled with an alien brew.

In this week's Torah portion Yosef begins his rise to power in Egypt. Yosef represents the ideal relationship between the Jew and society. He has the ear of the nation. He is celebrated and showered with accolades wherever he goes, but he never forgets Whom he represents.

There could have been no more difficult place to bring up Jewish children than Egypt three thousand years ago. And yet when a father blesses his son on Friday night, the universal paradigm of blessing is that his sons should be like Ephraim and Menashe, the two Egyptian-born (but far from bred) sons of Yosef.

Every Chanuka "contains" a Shabbat. Both Shabbat and Chanuka are "statements". Every time we keep Shabbat, we are making the statement that there is a Creator who created everything in existence from nothing. This statement disputes the Greek contention that the world was always here. If the world was always here there can be no absolute.

Everything is relative. Ultimate good and bad have no meaning in a steady-state world, a world where there is no G-d. When you take G-d out of the world, things just are "better" or "worse" and dictated by pragmatism or sentiment. Without G-d, nothing is ultimately good or bad.

The symbol of Chanuka is the pure flask of oil hidden in the Holy of Holies. Chanuka is the festival of light, the unadulterated light that shines in our Holy Torah. Chanuka says that not only does absolute truth exist, but it exists in this world.

It's exclusive, but it's also available.

It's exclusive because it exists only in the Torah, not in the Koran nor the New Testament nor the Bagavad Gita nor the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It's only in the Torah.

Of all the places that a searching Jew looks for spirituality, the Torah is probably the last. Nowadays, all the holiest things are hidden. Nowadays, anything that smacks you in the eye is the opposite of the Truth.

If you look hard enough, however, if you seek it like pearls and precious stones, there is absolute truth in this world.

That truth was clear for all to see when it shone once at the dawn of Creation in the "hidden light" and was sequestered for the righteous in a future world. That same light shines on in the lights of Chanuka.

And, most of all, it shines on in the depths of our Holy Torah.

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