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
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
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
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 Sinai...to
Yehoshua...to 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
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
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.