Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1 – 40:23)

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GOOD MORNING!! Welcome to my, once-a-year only, Davar Appeal. I provide this service free of charge, but I offer the opportunity for you to express your appreciation by contributing to the work that I am doing. In particular, this year, I am trying to raise funds to expand the reach of my ideas and materials. Please follow this link if you are able to contribute. Thank you so very much!  

Channukah begins this evening and continues for eight days. During a dark part of the year, it is a time that we remember to hope for brighter future. There is a wonderful story told by holocaust survivor rabbi Hugo Gryn. A few weeks before the festival, his father started storing part of his very meagre margarine rations to use for the candles at Channukah. Hugo said to his father that this was a situation of a danger to life, in which case almost all of Torah’s commandments are pushed aside – certainly Channukah lights. His father beautifully answered. ‘My son, a person can live for a few weeks without food, a few days without water and a few minutes without oxygen. But, a person cannot survive for even one moment……without hope.’

Please also remember to sign up for our Light up a Life Christmas volunteering programme. 

torah portion

This portion is one of my absolute favourites. It charts the development of Joseph, Jacob’s second youngest son, from a seventeen-year-old ‘youth’, through slavery and prison in Egypt, until he is a moment away from taking responsibility for the welfare of the entire world. And it’s quite some story. Innocence. Prophetic dreams. Jealousy. Slavery. An ancient Mrs. Robinson. Prison. And more dreams. It is one of the Torah’s absolute classic stories. The more I think about it, the more I love it. 

davar torah

Over the years I’ve given at least three different reasons why I believe Joseph is the only person in the entire Bible to be given the accolade hatzadik, the righteous one. Joseph is my favourite character in the entire Old Testament and so I want to offer one more.

Let me set the scene for a moment. Joseph is a hormonal teenager; orphaned from his beloved mother at a young age; rejected and sold into slavery by his brothers; no relatives around him and very short on friends; cast adrift and isolated in a lonely and intimidating world – one would imagine that he was craving affection and love.

And into his life waltzes his Mrs Robinson. The Princess Diana of ancient Egypt. Glamorous, gorgeous and dazzling. An older, experienced woman in a loveless marriage who falls head over heels for the irresistibly handsome young Joseph – the man in charge of her husband’s household.     

If ever there was an accident waiting to happen, this was it.

And yet, shockingly, unimaginably, he says no. When he has every reason in the world to say yes. So, day by day, she tries it on with him, alluring, seducing, enticing. Remember, he is a young, lonely, lost young man unloved and unsupported. It would have been so easy for him to take refuge in the arms of an older mother figure. In a final and desperate push for the finish line, she waits until he and she are alone in the house and physically grabs him, urging him to ‘lie with me’. Mind-bogglingly, he says no once again, fleeing headlong before he changes his mind.

But here’s the important bit. Why does he say no? Because it was wrong. That’s right; it was wrong! No subjective reason, no personal benefit. It was simply wrong. And Joseph, the tzaddik, always did the right thing – no matter the consequences. After all, that’s what a righteous person does – the right thing.

Potiphar’s wife was simply off limits. She had entered a holy vow of marriage with another man. To ‘lie with her’ was to assist her in dishonouring a sacred commitment that she had made to another human being.  It was wrong, wrong, wrong with no mitigating shades of grey. And Joseph was simply unwilling to do that.

Maimonides tells us, in the tenth chapter of his Laws of Repentance, that a person should not serve God for personal benefit, nor because of fear of punishment. In such cases, he is serving himself, not God. Rather, he should ‘do what’s right because it’s right’. Personally, that is a central motto that I live by. Always try to do the right thing. 

Much of the time it is fairly easy to do the right thing. But the truly righteous person does the right thing even when doing the wrong thing is so much easier. Even when he or she has a great deal to lose by doing the right thing. Even when he or she is lonely and lost and desperate. For a person who wants to be righteous, there is never an excuse for doing the wrong thing, never mitigating circumstances, never situations that make it acceptable or even understandable. It doesn’t matter how hard it is, doing the right thing is always the right thing to do and Joseph exemplified that during the most difficult test imaginable. 

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