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Vayeshev - Transition of Leadership

By Rabbi Aron Tendler

The focus of this week's Parsha is the transition of leadership from the Avos to the Shevatim, from the Fathers to the Sons.

Yaakov was 108 years old and his twelve sons ranged in age from Reuven, who was 24, to Binyamin, who was 11. As the Parsha states, "And Yaakov settled in the Land where his Father dwelled..." Rashi references the Medresh, "Yaakov desired to dwell in peace..."

The Medresh seems to imply that Yaakov was looking forward to his golden years. He had battled and bested the likes of Lavan and Eisav. He had worked hard and done well. He was returning to the place of Yitzchak and to presumed safety. He had raised a family under challenging conditions and could proudly bask in his success as a father and leader. Now it was time to enjoy the good life. A life filled with the undisturbed study of G-d and the rich bounty of his children and grandchildren.

However, it was not to be so. First, Yaakov was confronted by the trauma and politics of Dina's abduction. Then Yoseph's disappearance imposed itself on his tranquility. Yakov was seemingly beaten. What Lavan and Eisav could not do, time and circumstance managed to accomplish. Overwhelmed by his loss and tragedy, Yaakov could not be consoled. He was a broken man.

What happened to Yaakov's resilience and unfaltering energy? Where was the father who had tirelessly stood guard over his family for twenty years while living with Lavan? Neither heat nor cold could deter Yaakov's vigilance and determination in protecting his children from Lavan's influence. "The guardian of Israel neither slept nor slumbered!"

Yet, something changed. Yaakov remained silent when negotiating with Shechem and Chamor in the aftermath of Dina's abduction. Why was Yaakov silent? Why did he allow the brothers to dominate the conversation? Why was Yaakov relatively uncritical at what the brothers had done to the inhabitants of Shechem? He seemed to accept the judiciousness of their actions and was only concerned about how the incident would affect the family's safety. Where was the righteous outrage that Yaakov had displayed in the final showdown with Lavan?

In this week's Parsha, Yaakov was certainly aware of the brothers' animosity toward Yoseph. Rashi (37:7) explains that Yaakov scolded Yoseph for his "foolish dreams" because even though he knew that the dreams were prophetic he did not want the others to be jealous. Why was Yaakov silent about the possibility of jealously? Where was Yaakov the teacher and father? Why didn't he take direct issue with the devolving relationship between the brothers and Yoseph? Why was he silent?

To make matters worse, Yaakov singled out Yoseph for special attention. Yoseph appeared to be his favorite. Yoseph was loved more than his brothers because he was the "son of his old age." Yaakov make Yoseph "a jacket of fine wool" (multi-colored). Had Yakov gotten so old and feeble that he no longer cared about petty jealousies? As father and mentor of his twelve sons, why was Yaakov silent?

What single criteria, if any, set the Avos apart from the Shevatim; and how was Yoseph different from the rest of his brothers?

Early in Shemos (6:3), the Medresh stated that G-d "missed the Avos", because they never questioned His judgment. Starting with Avraham, the Avos displayed a singular capacity of subjugating themselves to the will of Hashem. Their faith extended way beyond "listening to the word of G-d". The Avos did not even question G-d's commands. They did not even allow themselves the luxury of wondering about His instructions. The Avos simply did as they were told.

The incident with the Akeidah is the most extreme example of this capacity. Avraham listened to G-d's command, and Yitzchak fully accepted Avraham's word that his "sacrifice" was divinely mandated. Both men were incredible intellects who had spent every waking moment engaged in the exploration of G-d's will. They wanted to know and to understand, yet, even though the Akeidah went against everything they both knew to be G-d's will, they unquestioningly suspended their own judgment and followed the stated will of G-d.

In many ways, Yitzchak was even more unique than Avraham. Avraham had the benefit of hearing the command from G-d. Yet, Yitzchak willingly and unquestioningly accepted his father's word regarding the decree as the will of G-d! (Rashi 29:9). This same capacity was evident in Yakov as well. Whether from his father or his mother, Yakov accepted their instruction as divine and as fact. For sixty-three years he sat at his father's feet - learning from Yitzchak as if he was learning from G-d Himself.

Avraham had cause to do the illogical and the contradictory. He truly believed that "G-d told me so!" Yitzchak, however, had to trust his father without the benefit of hearing it from G-d Himself and studied G-d's will. Yakov was raised to trust the teachings of his father and mother. Additionally, after leaving their home he studied another fourteen years at the feet of the great Ever, the great-grandson of Shem. In the end of his 77 years of continuous study, Yakov's subjugation to G-d's will was so absolute that he alone earned the title of "The chosen among the Avos."

The Avos were unique because they willingly subjugated themselves to the will of G-d, without question or reservation. This was not so with the brothers. It is true that they were G-d fearing and righteous. It is true that they are called, "The Tribes of G-d" because of the pride G-d felt for them. However, they were not Avos. They did not display the singular unquestioning devotion and subjugation of their father, grandfather and great-grandfather. They did not earn the tile of Av - father. (The same criteria was true for the Imahos as well).

The only exception to the difference between the Avos and the Shevatim - tribes was Yoseph. It was Yoseph who earned the partial title of Av. He was the only one of the brothers who did not become only a tribe. There is no tribe of Yoseph. He, like Yakov before him, gave rise to two Shevatim - tribes, Menashe and Ephrayim. He too exhibited a degree of subjugation worthy of this singular designation.

Starting with last week's Parsha, the brothers exhibited an independence that had not been displayed by the Avos. In negotiating and then punishing Shechem, they did not first confer with Yakov. Even after Yakov chastised them for having compromised the family through their impetuousness, they continued to disagree. "Is our sister to be treated as a prostitute?"

In this week's Parsha, their decision to do away with Yoseph, revealed a degree of independence that altered the history of the entire world. Rather than having brought their concerns to Yakov for analysis and intervention, they judged and sealed the fate of the B'nai Yisroel.

Yoseph, on the other hand, was different. He was no less independent than the rest of his brothers. In fact, it might be argued that he was more independent. The difference was that he willingly subjugated himself to his father's teaching.

It is unrealistic to expect every descendant, student and subsequent generation to subjugate themselves entirely to their predecessors. The dynamics of Torah study is such that as soon as the Torah is taught to more than just one student, Torah is "no longer in heaven." Each teacher does his best to impart his understanding and each student, as they assimilate the knowledge and information, becomes the master of his own Torah.

The classic presentation of the Mesorah (transmission of Torah from generation to generation), "Moshe received the Torah from the Elders..." defines the statement, "Moshe's face was like the son while Yehoshua's face was like the moon." Yehoshua only taught what had been taught to him by Moshe, just as the moon only reflects the radiance of the sun. On the other hand, the Elders, Prophets, and the countless others who followed participated in the evolution of our Torah tradition. Of course, tradition suggests the accurate transmission of information from generation to generation. However, once Torah was passed on to seventy elders, accuracy and tradition inevitably suffered, and insight, interpretation and novelty became unavoidable.

From Moshe to Yehoshua, accuracy was maintained; however, not in its entirety. They did their best to remember and transmit the Torah of Moshe/Yehoshua, but with each passing year the accuracy and clarity suffered. You might say that the difference between what we were taught and what we teach should be considered as creative, human Torah. It is not necessarily divine Torah.

Yoseph was to Yaakov, what Yehoshua was to Moshe. The brothers were to Yaakov what the Elders were to Yehoshua. However, the inevitable lack of accuracy is not a bad thing, it is reality. It is impossible for an oral tradition to be accurately transmitted in its entirety to so many people. Therefore, G-d must have intended for the brightest and most responsible among us to engage in the process of making His Torah their own.

Yoseph, the most unique among the brothers, devoted himself to imbibing as much truth from Yaakov as possible. He became his father's favorite. Yaakov recognized Yoseph's qualities of "fathership" and nurtured his young, and at times, insufferable righteousness.

The brothers, on the other hand, needed the freedom to make the teachings of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov their own. They needed to feel the responsibility, make the decisions, make the mistakes, and live with the consequences.

Yaakov's silence was not a lack of concern or vigilance. Yaakov's silence was letting go of the era of the Avos and ushering in the development of his nation - giving the next generation, his sons, the right to make mistakes and assume true leadership.

Identifying Yoseph's uniqueness was also part of their training. Greatness must be identified if it is to be respected. Yoseph needed to learn how to wear royalty with humility, and the brothers needed to learn that Yoseph was not like them. He was an Av! Therefore, the issues of special designations and jealousies between the sons would have to be given the time to take their natural course as they struggled with each other's uniqueness.

When Moshe asked G-d to appoint his successor, he asked that the individual be able to deal with the inherent differences and complexities of B'nai Yisroel. "Just as the face of each person differs from all others, so do the ideas and attitudes of each one differs from all others." Moshe's successor would have to a leader that could deal with each and all of them.

It is interesting to note that the Medresh says that Yitzchak looked exactly like Avraham and Yoseph looked exactly like Yakov. Yitzchak, who looked like Avraham subjugated himself entirely to his father. Yoseph, who looked exactly like Yakov, subjugated himself entirely to his father. However, the rest of the brothers, "Just as their faces were different, so too were their thinking and attitudes." They were the ones who struggled with the issues of heir own independence and the subjugation that is the necessary foundation for the accurate transmission of G-d's Torah.

Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.



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