Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Vayeishev 5775, December 2014: The Tzaddik in Each of Us

This week's parsha is often difficult for people to understand as a simple narrative, but two simple keys open the door to comprehension.

1. Almost every action in the parsha involves tzaddikim acting l'shaym Shamayim (according to what they understand is G-d's law), and
2. Tzaddikim are not Malachim, angels. Tzaddikim are by definition human beings with free will, who have a desire to put G-d's law and G-d's will ahead of their own desires at all times.

We discussed this a few weeks ago briefly in trying to understand the situation with Esav and Yaakov. Both had free will, both grew up with Torah learning opportunities, both had the ability to make choices in behavior and fulfillment of G-d's commandments. So it is with any tzaddik. He has the opportunity to fulfill mitzvahs and the understanding of what those are, but he must make the choice to act and follow through to actually become a tzaddik. Merely thinking or learning is not enough.

So how could Yaakov favor Yosaif over his brothers? Yosaif had the greatness of Reuven, the nobility of Yehuda, the prophetic ability of Levi, and the wisdom in Torah of Yissachar (Rabbi Behaya according to Chazal); he also had remarkable similarities to Yaakov himself. Yaakov also saw prophetically that Yosaif had a great destiny (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer).  It was because of Yoseif's great Torah knowledge that Yaakov made him a gift of a special dyed silk garment (Bereishis Rabbah).
Silk woven in many colors
Ruach haKodesh rested on Yosaif and he had two dreams of the future, one in which sheaves of wheat representing his brothers bowed to the one representing him; and one in which the sun and moon and stars bowed to him. Both dreams were truly the prophetic dreams of a tzaddik. But to tell them to his brothers was simply the act of a young man mature in Torah but possibly immature in personal relationships. In any case, (Zahor haGadol), the fact that the brothers doubted the veracity of the dreams delayed the rulership of Yosaif over Egypt for twenty two years, for the fulfillment of any true dream is still dependent on the interpretation, and they ridiculed it, as did even Yaakov after the second dream.

Yaakov sent Yosaif out to find his brothers in Sh'chem; he thought that keeping him fairly near would protect him. On the way, Yosaif encountered the Malach Gavriel, who tried to persuade him to turn back, hinting at him by saying that the brothers had journeyed away that the brothers had not only traveled geographically but felt they had distanced their bonds of brotherhood with Yosaif.

The brothers saw Yosaif approaching and as tzaddikim discussed what was appropriate to be done with him. Was he liable for death for what they perceived as repeated lashon hara?  They sat in judgement because they considered that he had attempted to kill them with his words to their father reporting what he perceived as capitol crimes but which were in fact innocent actions (supposed offenses against kashrus, supposed improper affairs with women). Yosaif the tzaddik was zealous in protecting Torah. Yet Yosaif the youth was not mature enough in behavior and decision making to discern the truth of the situation in each event. Reuven interceded though, feeling that while they were acting in a Torah manner, it was possible the brothers as a group also didn't have the full picture of Yosaif's actions, and might come to regret putting him to death.  Yehuda then took the lead in convincing the brothers that by their understanding of Torah, it might be proper to sell Yosaif as a slave, but not to put him to death.

This now gives us the ability to appreciate what's often seen as the "interruption" of the story of Yehuda and Tamar. It's not truly an interruption, it makes perfect sense at this juncture to see the continuation of multiple tzaddikim all acting at odds because of different understandings of a single situation. Yehuda married his oldest son Er to Tamar, daughter of Shem. Her Torah learning was so great that it was reflected in her physical beauty, and Er chose not to risk harming that physical beauty by impregnating her. For this sin, as well as for that of his father in making Yaakov believe his son Yosaif had died (Tanhuma Buber), he was condemned to death. The tzaddik Yehuda now followed his understanding of halacha immediately and married his second son Onan to her in levirate marriage. Onan however behaved the same as his older brother and was likewise punished. Yehuda then feared that there was some aveira related to Tamar herself that was causing his sons to die, and tried to postpone a second levirate marriage between her and his third son Shaila.

Tamar, being truly a tzaddekes, arranged to marry Yehuda himself according to halacha, in order to fulfill the Torah commandments. This is why rather than any true payments she accepted from him only three symbolic ones, a ring (a usual requirement of Jewish legal marriage), a staff (representing the poles of a chuppah), and his tallis kattan (some say his cloak) (representing the chuppah itself).  When it was obvious that she was pregnant and she was brought before the Torah court, she refused to humiliate Yehuda even at the risk of her own life. Yehuda himself realized what the truth of the matter was, and that she was in fact permitted to him since her marriages to his older two sons had never been consummated. It says both in Sotah and Rashi that in fact a heavenly voice rang out announcing that Tamar would be the ancestress of royalty and prophets, and in fact that the line of descent from her and Yehuda would bring about Moshiach.

And so it is that the nature of a Tzaddik is not to be inhuman, removed, or even perfect in understanding. It is to be trying at all times to act l'shaim Shamayim, with only Torah intentions, which can only happen if we strive to learn Torah and understand it as best we individually can with our own intellects and ability.
We can each strive to learn Torah and become Tzaddikim

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