These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Night Seder Dvar: Vayeishev

Posted on December 16, 2011 by Shibley

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Our parasha, Vayeishev, concludes this week with Yosef sitting in the prison of Pharaoh. Yosef has just concluded interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the cupbearer and the baker, both of whom had committed relatively minor crimes in the eyes of Pharoah. Why would Yosef care about the dreams of anybody? Remember, Yosef has been thrown into a pit, sold to traders, and wrongfully imprisoned. He has every reason to ignore or be fearful of any stranger who enters his world, after all he was betrayed by his own brothers. However, he does not go in that direction. Instead, he notices the fury burning in the faces of Pharaoh’s inmates, asks about their well-being, and even interprets their dreams. After his apparent unconditional kindness the cupbearer forgot about Yosef.

Our tradition takes advantage of countless opportunities to inform us of the importance of unconditional love and kindness. Notably, Vayikra 19:18 states, “you should love your neighbor as yourself.” Additionally, two mishnayot in Pirkei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers) come to mind. Mishna 1:2 states that the world stands on three things. Torah, Avoda (service of Gd), and gemilut chasidim (loving kindness). Later in the same chapter, mishna 15, we are taught that we must greet every person with a pleasant countenance. In the negative formulation, sinat chinam (baseless hatred) was the cause of previous downfalls, according to traditional interpretations. The imperative for kindness clearly has roots throughout our texts, undoubtedly there are other examples. This still does not show the either the extent or the reasoning for Yosef’s behavior.

Breshit 39:21 tells us that Yosef had a Gd given chesed within him. Rashi explains, using a mishna from Ketubot that the chesed caused his face to radiate similar to the face of a beautiful bride. Aside from the divine inspiration, there was simply no reason for Yosef’s demeanor, as we mentioned, Yosef had every reason to have his suspicions, especially of those with whom he was sharing a cell. What makes Yosef’s actions even more remarkable to me is that the ferocity that he saw in the faces of the baker and cupbearer did not deter him from inquiring about their wellbeing. Chapter 40:6 uses the word zoafim which from Kings 1 20:43 and Micha we know means a certain type of fury. It seems like we now have a better idea of the extent of Yosef’s actions, approaching two fiercely angry men in prison at a time when he himself should be looking over his shoulder.

Thus, Yosef should be our model to unconditionally ask, listen, and interpret.

Close your eyes and imagine it is just after five, classes have concluded, or the office has just closed, the day has been a disaster. Your gemara reading was off, the boss pointed out every mistake, lunch was cold, the big merger fell through, you cried in class, the computer crashed. We have all been in situations like this, frustrated, angry, or a handful of other unpleasant emotions.

Imagine, somebody unconditionally notices your dilemma, asks, listens, and interprets.