(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)
(written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Explaining Why Yosef was Sold and The Complex Events of Yehudah and Tamar
In every Parashah everyone finds things that they positively relate to, great events that he benefits from. But our Parashah, Parashat Vayeishev is very sad. How could there be such friction between the brothers, it escalated to the extent that it [almost] lead to killing? “…they began to hate him. They could not say a peaceful word to him”, “They saw him in the distance…they were plotting to kill him” (Bereishit 37:4,18). How can it be that the Hashem’s Tribes , the holy Tribes could have such strife? Just because of one long colourful coat that his father made him that they would hate him so much? And because he dreamt some dreams, he should deserve to be hated so much? They could have made his “dream better”, and said, “dreams speak follies”, [see Berachot 55b] and that should have sufficed! How can it be that they hated Yosef to the extent that they almost killed him.
The matter is so serious that after Yosef was sold, Yaakov Avinu, the father of the Tribes, sat and cried! For 22 years he sat mourning! He didn’t sleep in his bed but on the floor like a mourner. They sat to eat, Yaakov cried, “Where is Yosef, who used to sit with us that he could say some Divrei Torah?” And they would all cry together! This is how it was for 22 years. There was no difference between day and night, just 22 continuous years of mourning. All because of what they did, they sold Yosef. These Tribes, “Tribes of Yeshurun”, all tzaddikim, all beloved, how could this have happen to them?
Our chachamim explained this with just a few words. Yaakov Avinu said to Yosef, “’Then see how your brothers and the sheep are doing,’ [said Yisrael]. ‘Bring me a report’. [Yisrael] sent him from the Chevron valley, and [Yosef] arrived in Shechem.” (Bereishit 37:14). Our chachamim ask “the Chevron valley”, and is Chevron in a valley? Doesn’t it state “They went up through the Negev and they came until Chevron” (Bamidbar 13:22), this implies that Chevron was at the incline of a mountain, so what does the “the Chevron valley”, mean? Our chachamim explain “from a ‘deep’ plan of Hashem”, that Hashem said to Avraham, “Know for sure that your descendants will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs for 400 years. They will be enslaved and oppressed” (Bereishit 15:13), and our chachamim said (Talmud Shabbat), that really Yaakov should have gone down to Egypt shackled in iron chains, in order to fulfil the decree made to Avraham, he should have gone down as a prisoner, restrained, to Egypt. But Hashem saw Yaakov Avinu’s righteousness, “the complete one of the forefathers”. Hashem said it is not befitting for Yaakov to descend forcibly to Egypt. Therefore the events transpired that there was enmity amongst the brothers until they devised a plan to sell Yosef to Egypt. Yosef became the ruler over all of Egypt, literally a king. But he was unable to leave Egypt even for a few days just to tell his father about his situation, because Paro wouldn’t let him leave. If so, how will Yaakov meet him. So there was no choice other than for Yaakov himself to descend to Egypt. “’It’s too much!’ Yisrael said. ‘My son Yosef is alive! I must go and see him before I die!’” (Bereishit 45:28). This was the “deep plan” that was brought about by Hashem.
There is a further surprising complexity in the Parashah regarding Yehudah, the chosen one of the Tribes, he was in fact the king over them, everything he said they would follow his instruction. He said to his brothers “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover his blood? Let’s sell him to the Arabs and not harm him with our own hands” (Bereishit 37:26), and all the brothers listened to him, but afterwards when they saw what pain Yaakov Avinu had been caused, they removed Yehudah from his position of greatness and they ceased to listen to him anymore. They said to him, you are guilty of all this anguish! Because of you our father is in pain! If you had said to us to return Yosef to our father, we would have listened to you! Therefore they demoted him, as the passuk states “Yehudah went down from before his brothers” (Bereishit 38:1) but he remained one of the Tribes.
What do we see afterwards? Yehudah went and Tamar was sitting like an immodest woman “Yehudah saw her, and because she had covered her face, he assumed that she was a prostitute” (Bereishit 38:15). It appears unfathomable, an immodest woman covers her face? On the contrary, such a woman would ordinarily apply make-up, foundation, red, blue and green, she wants people to admire her beauty. Was she a bride [under the chuppah] that she covered her face? Our chachamim explain that she had previously covered her face in her father-in-law’s home! All the time Tamar had lived in Yehudah’s home, when she was married to Er and afterwards to Onan, her face was covered and Yehudah had never seen her. Therefore now when her face was uncovered Yehudah didn’t recognise her! She was a tzaddeiket for her sole intention was to merit to bear children from Yehudah and she wasn’t considering any benefits from this temporal world. Therefore she appeared to him so, and he didn’t recognise her because she had previously covered her face when in his home.
This is what our chachamim said, [Rebbi Shmuel ben Nachmeini said in the name of Rebbi Yonatan] any bride that is modest in her father-in-law’s home merits to establish Jewish kings [and prophets]” [Megillah 10b]. Tamar had been modest in her father-in-law’s home, and she merited to bear Peretz and Zerach. Kings came from her, David, Sholomoh, Chizkiyah, Yoshiyahu and others. All these kings were her offspring and all because she had been modest.
But we need to understand how Yehudah a tzaddik, the Tribe amongst the Tribes, should see an immodest woman and say to her “Let me come to you” (Bereishit 38:16). What an embarrassment! How could the Tribe of all the Tribes behave so?
We should know that Hashem wanted Mashiach to redeem Am Yisrael and He sees until the end of all the generations. However, He knew that if Mashiach does not come from King David, then there will be no salvation for Am Yisrael. The Satan is an adversary, like a thorn in the eyes, advocating against Mashiach coming for Am Yisrael. For our chachamim said that in the future Hashem will take the Satan and slaughter him before the tzaddikim! [See Sukkah 52a] Therefore he stands and acts as an adversary, and it isn’t possible for Mashiach to arrive.
But if Yehudah will come and approach a strange woman, then the Satan is happy and dances! He makes a grave mistake! He doesn’t know that in this process Hashem is preparing Am Yisrael’s redemption! Therefore Hashem made it happen in this unusual way, that Yehudah’s heart would be engulfed with desire, and in the process he and Tamar had righteous children from whom came Mashiach ben David.
To what is this analogous? There was a great chacham who had a yeshivah and had one big rule, which he had received from his teachers before him, that he will never issue “semicha” (rabbinical qualifications) until his students are married, but never to single students!
The rav had a particular student who was a prodigy and his father was very wealthy. The wealthy man turned to the rav and asked him for a favour, to give his son semicha even though he isn’t yet married! The rav replied to him “I have a rule and I cannot override it; I never give semicha to an unmarried student!” The father heard this and bided his time.
After a while, the wealthy man’s son, the prodigy, married and they arranged the wedding. But the rav was a miser. He didn’t have headed note paper as many rabbanim have, bearing his name, title and position. What did he do? His wife went to the grocery store and bought groceries, chalva, cheese etc. and these products were wrapped in white paper. The rav took the paper which wrapped the chalva and wrote a “semicha certificate” on it. Beautifully worded, appropriate rhetoric, “the wonderful young man, full of Hashem’s glory, a beautiful fresh olive an A-class fruit, the prestigious young man” and similar praises and beautiful figurative speech.
The wedding date arrived. They invited the rav to oversee the marriage ceremony. Between reading the ketubah and the sheva Berachot, the rav stood and began to read the semicha and presented it to the young man. The wealthy man, the young man’s father, saw this and was extremely happy. He thought in his heart I will take the semicha certificate and frame it in glass and hang it in my home! After the wedding the father took the semicha certificate and saw that it was full of blotches, full of oily stains! The content and figurative speech was beautiful, but the paper was all dirty. He despaired and decided that he cannot frame the semicha.
After a while Purim arrived the wealthy man turned to his servant and said to him, “Get me wooden block that they salt the meat on!” The servant said to him, “But the block is all dirty!” The wealthy man firmly instructed him “Please do what I have asked”. The servant brought the block. The wealthy man put it down using it as a tray. He placed on it beautiful fruit, tasty sweets and in the centre a golden cup and in it golden coins! After he turned to his servant and said to him, “Please go and bring me the dirty tablecloth that we used last Shabbat, it’s in the washing machine”. The wealthy man wrapped the tablecloth around everything and asked his servant to go and give it to the rav as “mishloach manot”!
The servant entered before the rav. The rav was sat at the top of his table and around him many respected people, and he was speaking Divrei Torah about Haman and Achashveirosh, beautiful things. Suddenly the servant arrived and placed the mishloach manot on the table. The rav asked him “Who sent you?” The servant replied, “May master the wealthy man sent me!” The rav removed the dirty cloth and saw a wonderful gift and a golden cup full of gold coins, but the tray! Filthy! Full of blood and salt! Disgusting! He placed the gold coins in his pocket, and he threw the tray in the bin. He returned to give the Divrei Torah with the honourable people that sat before him.
After a few days the rav met the wealthy man in the street. He turned to him and said, “I am cross with you! Thank you very much for the wonderful gift that you sent me but why did you send it on the board that you salt the meet! And a dirty cloth? You embarrassed me in front of honourable people that came before me!”
The wealthy man responded, “I acted as you acted! Didn’t you give me semicha for my son. You had known that I had waited years for this semicha and you took the chalva wrapper?! Is this how to behave? It was beautifully written, but such paper? What? You are a miser? You should have written it on shiny paper. So I did what you did. I gave you beautiful mishloach manot with gold coins on the inside but filthy on the outside!”
So it is with our Parashah. Yehudah saved Yosef, they all were angry with Yosef, they wanted to kill, and he saved him. But not in the best fashion. What did he do? He took the long colourful coat and dipped it in blood and said to his father, “Try to identify it. Is it your son’s coat or not?” (Bereishit 37:32). Is this the way to behave to your father? This is Yaakov, a tzaddik, a scholarly man who remained within the tents, is this the way to behave to him? Hashem said to him, it is true that you saved Yosef and I will bring Mashiach from you but not in a nice way but in one covered in blood. He behaved to him as he himself had behaved!
He didn’t behave in the nicest way, it shouldn’t have happened to him in this way that he would go to a woman in secret, in shame and disgrace. Rather he should have married Tamar under the chuppah with kiddushin. He would have performed “yibum” (levirate marriage) and have children with her. But because he didn’t behave correctly this happened to him.
Hashem said to him, you said, “Try to identify it. Is it your son’s coat or not?” so to you they will also say, “If you would, identify (recognise) [these objects]. Who is the owner of this seal, this wrap and this staff?” (Bereishit 38:25). Indeed in Hebrew when we want to indicate a “measure for a measure” we say “recognise recognise” and the source is from here, so too they said to him “recognise”!
In any event, Mashiach Tzidkeinu will come and redeem us a complete redemption and then we will light the 8 lamps of Channukah with joy. Mashiach (MaShiYaCH) in Hebrew acts as an anagram for the Hebrew words “Madlikin Shemonat Yemei Channukah” – “we light the eight days of Channukah” speedily in our days, Amen.