Parashas Vayeishev

In this week’s parashah, the Torah relates the episode in which Yosef’s brothers captured him and ultimately, at Yehudah’s suggestion, sold him into slavery. It was to Yehudah’s credit that he dissuaded his brothers from their initial plan to kill Yosef, but still the Sages consider him blameworthy for not suggesting that they free Yosef. Right afterward, the Torah relates the episode of Yehudah’s union with Tamar, which resulted in the birth of Peretz, the ancestor of Mashiach. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 85:1 links these two episodes, building on the statement with which the Torah introduces its account of the second one (Bereishis 38:1): “And it was at that time, that Yehudah went down from his brothers and he turned aside to an Adulamite man whose name was Chirah.” The Midrash expounds as follows:
And it was at that time, that Yehudah went down from his brothers. It is written (Malachi 2:11): “Yehudah has betrayed, and an abomination has been done within Yisrael ….” Hashem said: “Yehudah, you have repudiated. Yehudah, you have lied. An abomination has been done within Yisrael. Yehudah has become unsanctified.” [As it is written further in the verse in Malachi]: “For Yehudah has defiled Hashem’s holy one, whom He loved.” And it was at that time. It is written (Michah 1:15): “I will yet bring over to you a dispossessor, O inhabitant of Mareshah; the glory of Yisrael will come way up to Adulam.” To Adulam will come the sovereign and the holy one of Yisrael. As it is written: He turned aside to an Adulamite man. And it was at that time. R. Shmuel bar Nachman expounded: “It is written (Yirmiyah 29:11): ‘For I know the thoughts.’ Yaakov’s sons were engaged in the sale of Yosef, Yosef was engaged in his sackcloth and fasting, Reuven was engaged in his sackcloth and fasting, Yaakov was engaged in his sackcloth and fasting, Yehudah was engaged in taking a wife for himself, and the Holy One Blessed Be He was engaged in creating the light of King Mashiach.” And it was at that time, that Yehudah went down from his brothers. It is written (Yeshayah 66:7): “Before she went into labor, she gave birth.” Before the first subjugator came into being, the final redeemer was born. And what is written right before? “And the Medanites had sold him [Yosef] to Egypt” (Bereishis 37:36).
The Maggid presents a lengthy discourse on this Midrash. I present here the first portion of the discourse. I hope in future years to present the remaining portions.
In another Midrash, the Sages teach (Devarim Rabbah 4:1):
A question in halachah: Is it permitted to split the reading of the תוכחה (litany of curses) into multiple segments? Thus the Sages taught: “We do not interrupt the reading of the curses.” … Said R. Chiya bar Gamda: “For it is written (Mishlei 3:11), ‘The chastisement of Hashem, my child, do not disdain, and do not abhor His rebuke (אל תקוץ בתוכחתו).’ Do not break up the litany of admonitions into separate ‘thorns’ (קוצים). Rather, one person should read them all.”
The Maggid sets out to explain what R. Chiyah bar Gamda had in mind in seemingly interpreting the word תקוץ in a manner far removed from its literal meaning. The Gemara states (Berachos 54a): “A person must recite a blessing on bad events just as he recites a blessing on good events.” The Gemara goes on to say that the blessing on a bad event must be recited with joy. Surely there is a deep message underlying this teaching, and it behooves us to find it. We can explain the Gemara as follows. On some occasions, Hashem’s generous goodness towards a person can be seen clearly, such as when He grants him wealth, possessions, honor, and so on. On other occasions, Hashem works for a person’s good by putting him into a situation which appears to our mortal eyes to be bad, but which He knows to be to his benefit.
It is just like a fool watching a skilled tailor taking a large sheet of cloth and cutting them into small pieces, seemingly haphazardly– the fool thinks that the tailor is destroying valuable cloth, but in fact he is in the process of making a fine suit. Or, as another example, consider a fool watching a builder preparing wood for building. The fool sees the builder taking large, nice-looking cedar logs and chopping them into beams and other variously-sized pieces according to his building needs, including some very small, thin pieces to be used for frames and the like, and drilling holes into some of these pieces. The fool thinks the builder is chopping the expensive logs haphazardly and figures he is crazy. But an understanding person realizes that everything the builder is doing is necessary for building purpose, and when the various pieces are put together the result will be a magnificent building.
Thus it is with the way Hashem manages a person’s affairs. Hashem’s wisdom is unfathomable. We cannot always understand how He deals with us, for His reckonings are very deep. A person may find himself undergoing occurrences that he experiences as very bitter, but which Hashem put into operation to produce great benefit, and without which the benefit could not come about. Thus, our Sages teach that a person must recite a blessing over events that appear to him bad, for underlying such events is unimaginable good.
We can still ask, though, why the Sages stressed that a person must recite the blessing with joy. Why does it not suffice for the person to rejoice when he sees the ultimate beneficial result? After reflecting on the matter, we can give a simple answer. If a person we accepts a seemingly bad event joyfully and with firm faith in Hashem’s goodness, Hashem will be pleased with him and deem it fit to bring His plan to completion and produce the benefit He intended. But if the person does not accept the event joyfully, and instead reacts with anger and questions Hashem’s ways, far be it, Hashem might decide to discontinue implementing His plan in the middle of the process, in which case the person will have suffered the painful experiences without gaining the benefit that they were meant to produce.
We can bring out the point by returning to the analogy of the builder. Suppose that the fool, when seeing the building chopping the logs into the various beams and smaller pieces, screams at him, saying: “Why are you destroying these beautiful and valuable logs?” The builder might decide out of anger to stop his work and leave all the building materials out on the ground, and then they will remain as fragments, for no one is there anymore to put them together. Questioning Hashem’s ways may lead to a similar result. In this vein, David HaMelech, speaking of the wicked, declares (Tehillim 28:5, homiletically): “Because they do not understand Hashem’s actions and the work of His hands, He will tear them down and not rebuild them.”
We can now understand very well the Midrash about not stopping in the middle of the תוכחה. R. Chiya bar Gamda in fact is not interpreting the word תקוץ in Mishlei 3:11 in a manner far removed from its literal meaning; on the contrary, in his interpretation of the verse in Mishlei, he reads the phrase אל תקוץ בתוכחתו in full accord with its literal meaning: Do not abhor His rebuke. He exhorts us not to question Hashem’s dealings with us when we experience misfortunes, and afterward describes the consequence that will come about if we do: Hashem will discontinue implementing the plan He had in mind when sending the misfortunes, and leave them lying, so to speak, as separate thorns.
The same idea underlies the verse in Yirmiyah that the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah quotes: “‘I know the thoughts that I am thinking over you,’ says Hashem, ‘thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’” On the surface, Hashem’s words are bewildering. Who doesn’t know the thoughts behind his own actions? Everyone knows, of course, even before the job is completed, for the result was already in mind when the work was started. What, then, is Hashem saying? In light of our discussion above, we can give an answer. We may see a person who undergoing occurrences which to our mortal eyes appear to be completely bad, but our perception is limited – we do not have the knowledge and wisdom to understand the true nature of these occurrences. Hashem is the only one who knows the thoughts behind what He does, and recognizes clearly that what He is doing is for our good.   
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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