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Joseph - וישב

Thursday, 29 November, 2018 - 8:27 pm



His brothers misunderstood him.

Joseph's spiritual composition, attitude and skills were different than their own, different than their father’s and grandfather’s. If anything, Joseph seemed similar to their uncle Esau.

The Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in a spiritual realm. To them, the only true reality was G-d; the world did not present a challenge to their spiritual pursuits, for, to them, the worldly temptations were meaningless and had no appeal. The Talmud refers to them as the “chariot of G-d”, meaning that they had no desire other than to serve as a vehicle and a conduit to fulfill the will of G-d on this earth.

The children of Jacob, however, experienced the earthly reality. To them, the world was full of challenges and temptations. For them, the world around them, with its material pleasures and temptations, was seductive. For them to remain loyal to the teachings and lifestyle of their forefathers, they had to retreat from society and surround themselves with the tranquility of the shepherd's lifestyle.

Joseph was different than his father and grandfather in that, to Joseph, the world presented a spiritual challenge. Joseph appreciated the perspective of the contemporary culture and was not oblivious to its appeal. Joseph was also different than his brothers, in that he could not see himself as a shepherd removed from city life. Joseph aspired to engage in agriculture and commerce, and to embrace the world around him.

The brothers could not connect to Joseph’s approach, they viewed him as a foreigner in  the family, and when they saw that their father favored him, they kidnapped him and sold him as a slave to Egypt. From their perspective they were engaged in an act of spiritual greatness, removing the threat that Joseph’s path and aspirations presented to the family legacy.  

His brothers misunderstood him.

Joseph was blazing a new path, superior to those of his father and brothers. Joseph did not remain aloof from the worldly, as his father did, nor was his spiritual life threatened by engaging the world, as were his brothers. Joseph perfected the art of entering the world and transforming it. Instead of being influenced by the values of contemporary society, Joseph was successful in influencing society while remaining loyal to his own inner identity.

Jacob understood his son Joseph. He looked forward to the fruition of Joseph's dreams that foretold how the brothers would bow to Joseph, symbolizing that they would accept the superiority of Joseph’s approach. Jacob favored Joseph's path for he understood that for the world to reach its purpose, each of us will have to follow Joseph’s leadership. We must not remain aloof, unaffected by the world and it’s challenges. We must not retreat from facing the temptations of the material world.  Like Joseph who descended into Egypt as a slave yet ultimately ruled over and influenced all of Egypt we must engage and transform. We too descend into this world in order to engage it and transform it so that it too will express the truth of the creator.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Vayeshev 19 Kislev vol. 25.


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