Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Vayeishev.

The Inner Truth

In the Torah portion of Vayeishev, Joseph tells his brothers about his dreams, the gist of which is that in the future, he would rule over them. The fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams came about when hunger forced Ya’akov and his sons to descend to Egypt, where Joseph served as viceroy. Their descent served as the precursor to the Egyptian exile, the source of all subsequent exiles.

Although the Jewish people are exiled from their land as a result of their iniquities, the underlying purpose of exile is to propel the nation to a level far superior to that attained prior to exile. Thus, at the time of the final Redemption, the Jewish people will be on an even loftier level than they were while the Beis HaMikdash existed.

When one ponders the state of our world, each day spiritually darker than the one before, one might despair of ever having the strength to illuminate the world with the light of Torah and mitzvos. But all spiritual descents, states of darkness and concealment, etc., are only external manifestations. The inner truth is quite different.
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This week’s Parshah mentions the selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers. When discussing this puzzling narrative, our Sages note that Reuven — the oldest of Jacob’s sons — had originally protested against selling Joseph and after discovering that he had been sold, bemoaned the pain that this would cause their father Jacob.

So where was Reuven when Joseph was being sold? Some explain that he was involved in fasting and repentance in solitude. He had seriously offended his father’s honor previously, and from time to time would go off to lament the gravity of his offense. While he was away trying to atone for his deeds, his brothers sold Joseph.

This narrative gives us a clear perspective on how a person should order his priorities. Because Reuven was crying over his sins, Joseph was sold into slavery. By mourning the past instead of acting to correct the present, Reuven allowed his brother to be taken to Egypt.

Certainly, a person must be concerned with his own spiritual development and he must seek to correct his personal failures. But this concern should never stand in the way of steps that are immediately necessary to help his fellow man. When a person realizes that someone else is in danger — whether physically or spiritually — he should temporarily put aside his striving for self-development and deal with the pressing problem at hand.
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To be Selfless

In Parshat Vayeishev, we learn how out of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, how he served as a servant in the home of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s courtiers and how he was framed and thrown into prison.

While Joseph was in prison, Pharaoh became enraged with two of his courtiers, the butler and the baker, and threw them into the same cell. Joseph did not share his misery with them. Instead, he did everything he could to lift their spirits.

Too often, we get caught up with ourselves and our problems, real or imagined worrying about the problems we face. Even when our problems are genuine, heaven forbid, we must not allow them to take over our lives.

What gave Joseph the ability to focus on others rather than on himself, was his awareness and his trust that everything that happened to him came from G‑d. Later on when his father passed away and his brothers feared that he would take revenge for their selling him into slavery, he told them: “Although you meant to do me harm, G‑d intended it for the good.”
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Above Nature

After Joseph was thrown into prison on false charges, he languished there for eleven years. Providentially, Pharaoh became enraged with his chief butler and chief baker and cast them into prison as well. Both of these officers had disturbing dreams. Joseph interpreted the chief butler’s dream encouragingly, foreseeing that he would be returned to his position.

Joseph asked the butler for a kindness: to recall him favorably to Pharaoh. Our Sages teach that Joseph was punished for making this request and his release was delayed for another two years.

We are however taught not to rely on miracles. Seemingly, Joseph sought a means within the natural order through which G‑d would help him, why then, was he punished?

Generally, G‑d relates to mankind according to the pattern of nature. When G‑d relates to a person in such a manner, the person should seek an appropriate medium and create a natural vessel or conduit for the fulfillment of his needs.

There are, however, times when G‑d relates to people in a manner that does not accord with the pattern of nature. When G‑d relates to a person in such a way, a higher level of trust is demanded of him. He is expected to do nothing more than trust G‑d, confident that G‑d will certainly help him by arranging his affairs in an appropriate manner. Joseph was on a level on which G‑d continually related to him on a level that transcends nature. Therefore he should have conducted himself at the loftier level of trust.

Even when it is necessary for a person to seek a natural medium or conduit for his material needs, the medium should hold no importance in its own right. He should know that G‑d alone is the source of the blessings he receives.
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Two States of Exile

Joseph had two dreams foretelling his ascendancy over his brothers. Both dreams came true: the ten brothers – including Benjamin – prostrated themselves to Joseph when they went down to Egypt the second time; and they prostrated again later after Jacob and Bilha joined them there. But the first time the brothers – minus Benjamin – bowed to Joseph was on their first trip to Egypt. Why wasn’t that foretold in a dream as well?