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Parashat Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

“They took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a goatling, and dipped the tunic in the blood.”  (Genesis 37:31)

Parashat Vayeishev describes a messy family.  Joseph talks smack about his brothers to their father (Gen. 37:2) who favors him over the other boys (Gen. 37:3, 4).  Conventional wisdom blames the brothers selling Joseph into slavery because of their anger at his tattling (and arrogance).  But nowhere in the Torah does it say Jacob actually relays to the brothers what Joseph tells him. The S’fat Emet (1847-1905; Yehudah Leib Alter, the 2nd Rebbe of the Gerer Chassidim) suggest a different reason for Joseph’s the descent into Egypt:  he is sold into slavery because his gossip would have caused Jacob to ignore his brothers and their tribes would ultimately wither away.  Joseph is sold into slavery because of his shortcomings, not his brothers’.  Joseph has some learning to do.

The S’fat Emet explains:  the rabbis refer to Joseph as hatzadik, the righteous.  Now, a tzadik is someone who defends the Children of Israel to God, not someone, like Joseph, who puts down his brothers to their father.  Only when Joseph suffers as a slave in Egypt does he learn how to establish authority by praising others, rather than condemning them as a way to achieve and maintain power.

Vayeishev is more than a story of personal improvement, though.  The Joseph saga is a leadership parable:  Joseph ultimately becomes the first leader of a Jewish community in diaspora.  The S’fat Emet reminds us heredity alone is not enough for leadership.  Joseph is Jacob’s son, but only when he learns to see the good in people, is he qualified to lead them, and be considered a tsadik.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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