This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeishev (5767)
This week we read the tragic saga of Yosef; one of the purest souls in the history was sold by his own brothers into slavery in the home of Potifar and from there sentenced to life in Egyptian prison for a crime he did not commit.
But in both instances; in slavery and in prison, the Torah tells us that ….. Yosef succeeded!
In Potifar's house it says, "Everything he (Yosef) did, G-d made succeed in his hands" (39:3) and in prison "Everything he did G-d made succeed. (39:23)"
At first glance this is completely not clear.
First of all, why does the first sentence end with the words "in his hands" while the second sentence does not?
Secondly, G-d creates and controls every detail of the entire world constantly and He favored Yosef and wanted him to succeed. So why did poor Yosef have to suffer slavery and prison?
We can ask similarly about the Jewish people… if we are His chosen people then why make US suffer for the last 2,000 years?
To understand this here is a story. (Siporim Noraim pg. 77)
Some two hundred years ago lived a great Tzadik (miraculous Jew) called the Magid of Kosnitz. He was known from far and near for his superhumanly deep insights and accurate advice, and here is an example.
In the community of Kosnitz were many great Talmudic scholars; Chassidim of pure spirit and impeccable character that spent almost all of their waking hours deeply immersed either in prayer, learning Torah or helping others.
But one such fellow, we will call him Reb Yitzchak, had a problem. He was a pauper. He was a talented fellow and had tried all sorts of jobs but they all ended in failure. And he wouldn't have complained if only he suffered but he had a wife and ten children who were constantly on the verge of starvation because of his bad luck.
Of course he could always beg for charity… but just the thought of it made him cringe so, with no other choice he decided that he had to bother the Rebbe; the Magid of Kosnitz, for advice.
He received an audience almost immediately. The Rebbe heard his question, thought for a moment and said.
"Listen, I see that there is only one craft that you will really succeed in but I'm sure you won't want to do it.
"No no!" he protested "I'm willing to do anything. My family is starving! No matter how manual or degrading …. just as long as it leaves me a few hours a day for learning and praying."
"Oh" the Rebbe answered "This job will leave you a lot of time. In fact it is clean and quiet and with the proper attitude you will even enjoy it and be a success …. but I don't think you will take it."
Reb Yitzchak was almost in tears. Was the Rebbe playing with him? His wife and children were suffering and the Rebbe is playing jokes?!
"Rebbe!" He pleaded "I promise I'll do it. What is it?"
"Stealing" He answered. "To break into stores and houses and steal. You have no idea what a talented thief you are and I guarantee it will make you a rich man."
Reb Yitzchak could not believe his ears. "Rebbe!" He gasped. "A thief? A sinner? But…. Rebbe! I could never …!"
"See I told you." He replied shrugging his shoulders as he looked into the book before him indicating that the meeting was over.
That night Reb Yitzchak couldn't sleep. The crying of his children and words of the Rebbe gave him no respite. He put on his coat, left his house and walked the empty streets of Koznitz accompanied only by the moon and the wind rustling in the tree tops. He made up his mind; tomorrow he would beg. His back was to the wall.
But suddenly he noticed that the front door of one of the stores was open and a glittering coin was lying on the floor in front of the counter. It was as though the store was calling to him.
The next thing he knew he found himself turning the doorknob and entering.
In fact the door wasn't open, it was just unlocked, and the coin wasn't exactly on the floor but in the cash box under a bunch of papers behind the counter… but it was so easy to find; so…. obvious! He took one golden coin and left.
The next morning when the store owner found his door opened and his cashbox on the floor he let out a bitter cry! He was sure he had lost his week's earnings… but, lo and behold! Only one coin was missing.
The next day all the store owners heard the news and began to worry and when the same thing happened again a few weeks later they went to the police.
But it didn't help. After a few more weeks the thief struck a third time and a month later a fourth! The storeowners were frantic. They put on new locks, the police added more men, longer hours, promised rewards, increased surveillance; but nothing helped. The thief seemed to always know where to go when no one was looking and exactly where the money was hidden.
But what was most perplexing was that he never stole more that one or two coins.
Finally the chief of police himself decided to join the battle. This thief was making a fool of him and his entire police force; his job and reputation were at stake! But really, deep inside he had another motivation.
On one hand this man was a master criminal; a perfect genius! But on the other…. why did he steal such small amounts!? It simply baffled him. He had to catch him!
Meanwhile Reb Yitzchak was going strong and, although his conscience bothered him terribly, he was strangely beginning to enjoy it. After all, he was only stealing small amounts, no one was really being damaged, he had every intention to pay back every penny, his family finally had what to eat and ….. he did 'sort of' have a blessing from the Rebbe!!
But that next night he got caught.
He walked the streets unnoticed, like every night, went into a store at the precise moment that the guard was gone, entered found the cash box and just as he was opening it suddenly heard a booming voice from behind him … "HANDS UP!! Don't make a move or you're dead! So you're the thief ehhh? Don't turn around!!" It was the chief of police himself who was also gifted with a sixth sense that had told him exactly where the break-in would be.
But suddenly he had a weird urge.
Instead of just taking him to custody he pulled up his coat collar and pulled down his hat so as not to be recognized and said in a disguised voice; "Listen Rabbi. I know who you are but do you know who I am? I'm the head of the thieves in this town and because of you the town is crawling with police and my men can't work.
"So I'm giving you your choice. Either I turn you in and get the reward… which will shame you and your family to death or you do what I say."
The Rabbi began crying. "Don't kill me! Don't turn me in! What do you want?"
"Good!" the disguised Chief of police continued. "Now listen. I have inside information that the Chief of Police just won a million English Pounds in the British national raffle and it's hidden somewhere in his house. I want you to get into his house and tell me exactly where it is hidden. If you do it then I'll give you one hundred gold coins and let you go. If not ….. death and degradation!"
Poor Reb Yitzchak had no choice. Then and there they left the store and went to the Chief's house. Reb Yitzchak told his 'captor' to wait and in just minutes in the dark of the night he went around to the back of the house, scaled the wall and entered an open window.
But just moments later he returned, huffing and puffing.
"What happened? Did you find the money?"
"No!" he answered. "Something even better! Listen!" he whispered excitedly. "I got into the house and from the room I was in I overheard two of the house servants saying that tomorrow morning they are going to put poison in the Chief's tea, steal his money and divide it!" He paused to catch his breath and continued. "Early tomorrow morning go tell the chief and I'm sure he will reward you! You'll get the money honestly. Listen, if you want you can hold me prisoner till you tell him, I swear I'm telling the truth."
The chief couldn't believe his ears. He managed to conceal his surprise, told Reb Yitzchak to go home and warned him not to leave the town and the next morning when his servants served him his tea he pulled out a pistol and ordered them to drink it. Of course they refused. So he gave a couple drops of the tea to his dog who fell over half dead and then promptly arrested them for attempted murder.
That day he went to Reb Yitzchak's home, revealed his true identity and gave him half of the million pounds… and needless to say, from then on transformed into a friend of the Jews.
Just as the Rebbe said… Reb Yitzchak became rich from stealing!
This answers our questions.
Yosef was, in many ways, the ideal Jew. The purpose of the Jewish people is to bring blessing to the world… or in the language of Chabad Chassidut "To transform this world into a 'home' for the Creator." [As it was in the Holy Temples and something like how Reb Yitzchak in our story transformed himself and the police chief.] and that is exactly what he did.
But in order to accomplish this, Yosef had to really 'enter' the lowest aspects of this world, awaken new soul powers previously unknown to humanity… and still adhere to all the rules of the Torah.
In fact, his very descent into slavery and imprisonment revealed these new soul powers to transform and illuminate the world!! [Just as the Jews are likened to olives which, only when put under pressure, produce pure oil that can illuminate the darkness (also a connection to the upcoming holiday of Chanukah)].
This is the 'success' the Torah is really talking about here. And Yosef revealed that there are two levels of it:
The first is "G-d made succeed in his hands" In other words the success seemed to be a joint effort of Yosef and G-d.
But the second is, "Everything he did G-d made succeed"; namely that everyone saw that it was all purely the work of G-d; the 'hands' of Yosef were not noticeable.
So too with us Jews in exile; through our observance of Torah and the Commandments under pressure we first reveal G-dliness in the world ….. and with the arrival of Moshiach we will 'transform' the world into G-dliness; as we say twice daily:
"Listen Israel....G-d is ONE!" (see Rashi Deut 6:4)
Yosef began the way and the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that ours is the generation that will finish it. It's up to us to do all we can to reveal…
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