This week we study Parashat Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40).
* Even rabbis like Tim Tebow’s public displays of prayer. In the Gospels, the Pharisees are criticized for praying publicly and ostentatiously, but Tim Tebow is the most public prayer in the world today.
* Alexander Technique teacher Sandra Bain Cushman tells me: “I once had a student who was progressing really well but she was a pronounced atheist and I had this weird feeling that if she was going to continue to take lessons, she was going to have trouble keeping that iron-clad atheism. So one night, I was lying awake and worrying about it. I think it is coming soon where she will feel more than she is feeling right now and I don’t know what to do. I got up the next day and I had a message on my machine. She cancelled her lesson and she never came back. That was my weird confirmation that this work is spiritual work.”
* Joseph is like the prototypical Jew, always telling people things they don’t want to hear.
* “When the brothers went to feed the flock in Shechem, Jacob sent Joseph to see whether all was well with them.” Freedom and community are antipodes. If you don’t want people checking up on you, then you don’t want people looking out for you.
* Joseph went looking for his brothers but when he found them, they wanted to kill him. This has happened to me many times. I’ve had little idea of the animosity people held for me and they put me in pits and sold me to white slave traders.
* “Joseph was handsome, and Potiphar’s wife repeatedly asked him to lie with her, but he declined, asking how he could sin so against Potiphar and God.” You don’t know how many times this has happened to me, only I wasn’t as strong as Joseph. My good looks are a curse and my ability with words hypnotizes women. It’s a burden.
* “One day, when the men of the house were away, she caught him by his garment and asked him to lie with her, but he fled, leaving his garment behind.” This has happened to me too and people poke fun at me for walking around naked on Pico Blvd but it was only that the woman of the house had stripped me and I had run away to preserve my purity.
* There are going to be fat years and there are going to be lean years so during the fat years, you need to save for the lean years. Also, some years you are going to be more successful than others, but even when you are on top of things, you need to preserve your relationships with your family and friends so that when things turn tough, you can ask them for help. One of the worst things that welfare does is that it makes people feel like they don’t need to preserve their ties to others.
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Though Yitzhak attempts to somehow salvage Eisav as well, in the end he fully recognizes that only through Yaakov can the mission, of uniqueness and Godliness that is to become the Jewish people, be fulfilled.” Not every Jew can be a kiruv Jew. It is good to reach out, but it is more important that you keep up your own end. I’ve found that in reaching out, I often compromise my Torah observance. I’ve gone out on a Friday night to a secular party and talked to girls and it was not Moses would’ve wanted.
Rabbi Berel Wein writes: Yaakov feels that he is entitled to rest on his laurels and savor his accomplishments. He has somehow overcome all of the wiles and aggressions of his external enemies and sees only peace and serenity ahead. He is therefore unprepared for the internal struggle within his own beloved family that, in the words of Rashi and Midrash, “now leaps upon him.”
His very longing for the peace and serenity that has eluded him his entire lifetime is his very undoing because he does not choose to see the festering enmities and jealousies that are brewing within his own house and family.
Wishes and desires, illusions as to how things should be, often blind us to the realities of how things really are and we are therefore blindsided by events that could have been foreseen had we not indulged so mightily in our fantasies.
I think that is what Rashi and the Midrash had in mind when they quoted God, so to speak, that the righteous should not expect serenity in this world. The Talmud even goes so far to say that even in the World to Come the righteous are not at tranquil rest but rather are bidden “to go from strength to strength.”
Luke: Many of us find reality so painful that we live in fantasies about our own greatness. This does not serve us. It may dull the pain while we are drifting off into thought, but watch what happens to you. You lose awareness. You start compressing and pulling down.
Anyone who has lived an observant Jewish life knows it is primarily hard work. You get up early and you have a full plate of mitzvos (divine commandments) to take care of.
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Judaism does not know of the concept or value of “retirement” as it is formulated in modern parlance. It certainly allows for changes in circumstances, occupations and interests. But “man was created for toil.” One must always be busy with productive matters – Torah study, good deeds, self-education, etc. – even till the end of life.”
* Yosef is a dreamer who meets reality. I’ve spent much of my life dreaming about being a great man who others bow down to me. This has not served me well. I’m like that guy on the bar stool next to you telling you about how great he is.
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Yosef is also sorely tempted by opportunities that arise in his life. Alone and in servitude, he is seemingly easy prey for the jaded wife of Potiphar. Yet at the last moment he resists the passion and temptation of the moment and realizes the destructive consequences of immoral behavior. At great risk and danger he resists the temptation of the flesh and through that act of momentary self-denial attains for himself the title of Yosef hatzadik, Joseph the righteous. The Torah and the Midrash in recounting this tale of Yosefs temptation and triumph point out the strengths that allowed Yosef to resist the advances of the wife of Potiphar. They included, but are not limited to, the upbringing and education he received from his father, his own visions and dreams and ambitions in life, his inherent holy nature and its ability to clearly identify right from wrong and his refusal to sin against God.”
I tell young men tempted to self-abuse to instead think of their mother’s pure love for them. Ask yourself, how would my rebbe feel about what I am about to do? The more you are connected to other people, the less likely you are to go off the rails. I keep going off the rails because I live in solitary style, lost in my fantasies about my own greatness.
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Yosef remains a holy Jew, in spite of his being exposed to the decadence of the prevailing Egyptian culture. He is an integral part of the Egyptian court and world, but he really is only an outsider looking in and not really desirous of “belonging” to the culture that surrounds him. Yosef is the model for the Jew who is successful in the general world but doggedly determined to remain faithful to his own soul, tradition and destiny as a son of Yakov.”
Much the same could be said about my immersion in a certain sector of the entertainment industry.
Rabbi Wein: “Yehuda is much more cautious and conservative. He has seen the outside world, the general society and is frightened to become part of it. Yehuda has lost sons, has suffered tragedy and disappointment, has made errors and risen from sin, and is willing to sacrifice all to remain Jewish and save other Jews. Yehuda does not wish to be Yosef. He sees Yosef’s way as being too dangerous, too risky – certainly for the masses of Israel. Yosef, on the other hand, cannot see a future for Israel if it is completely isolated from the general society, of which it is a part, no matter what Israel’s preference in the matter may be.”