Running to Refuge

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Vayeishev
Running to Refuge

Yosef is famously called a tzaddik (righteous person). He was also an incredible Torah scholar. All the teachings which Ya'akov had learned from the Academy of Shem and Eiver was transmitted to Yosef. Yosef absorbed and mastered all of those teachings (Vayeishev 37:3; Onkolos; Rashi citing BereishisRabba 84:8, Rebbi Nechemia).

Yet, Yosef behaved very much out of character. Yosef would engage in childish behaviors such as arranging his hair and fixing his eyes so as to appear handsome (Vayeishev, 37:2; Rashi citing BereishisRabba 84:7; Vayeishev 39:6, Tanchumah 8).

Although Torah scholars are supposed to keep themselves neat and clean, Yosef seemed to have taken his appearances to an extreme. It was almost as though he obsessed about the way he looked. His conduct mirrored that of a modern-day teenager.

This is why the Torah describes Yosef as a "na'ar" (child, lad, youth; Vayeishev 37:2). His behavior was immature.

How could such a tzadik spend so much time on meaninglessness? How could such a Torah giant lower himself by paying so much attention to these shallow aspects of life? This is not the typical conduct that we find by other righteous Torah scholars. What was Yosef doing?

Moreover, if Ya'akov indeed taught Yosef everything that he had learned from the Yeshiva of Shem and Eiver, why didn't Ya'akov also teach Yosef about how a Torah scholar is supposed to carry himself?

Additionally, right after the verse describes Yosef as a "na'ar", it says, "With the children of Bilha and with the children of Zilpa." Rashi comments that the sons of Leah were disgracing the sons of Bilha and Zilpa, calling them slaves. Yosef went to befriend them.

Apparently, there is some sort of a connection between Yosef behaving like a "na'ar" and his hanging out with the sons of Bilha and Zilpa. What is that connection?

The Zohar (Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 70, pg. 137a) and the Arizal (Sefer Hagilgulim, preface, 31) say that Yosef was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Chanoch who lived before the Mabul (flood; Parshas Bereishis 5:18). There are some hints which support this idea.

Yosef is described as a "na'ar" and Chanoch had the constitution of a "na'ar" because he left this world at such a relatively young age. Chanoch only lived for 365 years (Parshas Bereishis, 5:23). Compared to everybody else who lived well into their 800's and 900's, Chanoch was practically a spring chicken. Hashem took Chanoch up to Heaven alive. There, he was transformed into the angel Matatron (Yonasan ben Uziel, Parshas Bereishis, 5:24).

Not only did Chanoch have the essence of a "na'ar" on account of his early death, but Chanoch was also called a "na'ar." This can be found in the verse that says, "Chanoch Lana'ar Al Pi Darko" (train the youth according to his way; Mishlei, 22:6). Although the word "Chanoch" in this verse is a verb which means to "train" or to "teach," the Zohar views this verse as also conveying a hint that "Chanoch", the person, was called a "na'ar."

The word "na'ar" used in the Torah by both Yosef and Chanoch is meant to teach us that Yosef was a gilgul of Chanoch.

If the word "na'ar" by Yosef was supposed to teach us that he was a gilgul of Chanoch, why was it necessary to learn about this specifically right before Mechiras Yosef (the sale of Yosef)?

Furthermore, why was it even necessary for Chanoch to come back down to this world as a gilgul? The purpose of gilgulim is either to fix a sin that was committed in a previous life or in order to accomplish some unfinished business. However, Chanoch was so great that he became an angel. Apparently, Chanoch reached spiritual perfection. If so, why would he have to come back down to this planet as a gilgul?

The Chasam Sofer (Parshas Lech Lecha) says that Chanoch was indeed a Tzadik. However, he was the type of Tzadik who separated himself from the rest of humanity. He never left the confines of his home because he was concerned about becoming negatively influenced by the vagabonds of society who lived in his generation.

All day long, Chanoch learned Torah, prayed, and meditated on Hashem's Presence. He was already kind of an angel. It was not surprising that he became an actual angel. This seemed to be the natural progression of things.

However, we do not find Hashem taking Avraham Avinu up to Heaven alive. We do not find God transforming Avraham into an angel. This is because Avraham realized that the purpose of creating man was not so that man should become an angel. Avraham realized that Hashem already has myriads of angels. Avraham realized that the purpose of creating man was so that we go out, connect with other people, and strengthen each other, by bringing each other closer to Hashem.

Avraham left the comfort of his home and reached out to others. This made Avraham greater than the angels. After Avraham invited the three angels, disguised as Arabs, into his home, the verse says that, "He stood over them" (Parshas Vayeira, 18:8). This does not just mean that Avraham waited on them, but, it also means that he towered over them spiritually. When man does what he is supposed to do, he becomes greater that an angel who does what he is supposed to do.

Yes, Chanoch had to come back down as a gilgul because he fell short of God's expectation for man. Chanoch did not reach out to others in an attempt to bring them closer to God. This was considered to be a failing for which he had to rectify.

Chanoch came back down as Yosef because Yosef, in Mitzrayim (Egypt), paved the way for the rest of his family to maintain their holiness there, even though they would be surrounded by a decadent society. By Yosef fortifying himself against immorality, Yosef taught, by example, how they could also fortify themselves against immorality (Vayikra Rabba, 32:5; Rav Huna and Rebbi Chiya bar Aba).

It worked! The Jews in Mitzrayim never assimilated with their Egyptian counterparts. In the merit of this deed alone, they deserved to be redeemed.

Yosef even reached out to the Egyptians by having them undergo circumcision (Rashi, Parshas Mikeitz, 41:55 citing Bereishis Rabba 91:5). This was intended to be a way of spiritually elevating the entire Egyptian populace. Imagine the ripple effect this could have on the rest of the world. Egypt, a superpower, made a move towards holiness. This could have moved the entire civilized world towards spirituality.

There were many other gilgulim going on in this story-line besides Yosef and Chanoch. When Chanoch was Chanoch, he did not reach out to the people in his generation. As a result, they all perished in the Mabul. What ever became of all those people?

The Arizal (Sha'ar Hapesukim, Parshas Shemos) says that they were all reincarnated into the Dor Haflaga (the generation that was dispersed after making the Tower of Babel, used to wage war against God). They were supposed to correct their previous mistakes. Instead, they made things worse by sinning further. The Dor Haflaga was eventually wiped out. What ever became of them?

They were all reincarnated into the people of Sedom and Amora. They were supposed to correct their previous wrongs. Instead they continued to ruin themselves with Sodomite behavior. So, they were all wiped out. Whatever became of them?

They were all reincarnated into the Jews in Mitzrayim. This time, God was not going to wait for them to correct their mistakes. Instead, Hashem orchestrated that they would have to undergo Egyptian bondage to serve as a means of purifying themselves.

Chanoch's passivity triggered this spiraling out of control. Chanoch failed the people in his generation. Therefore, Yosef (alias Chanoch) had to serve and assist the Jewish people in Mitzrayim (alias the Dor Hamabul). What goes around comes around.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why we had to be told, specifically before Mechiras Yosef, (with the word "na'ar"), that Yosef was a gilgul of Chanoch. This was meant to teach us the ultimate reason, behind the scenes, for Yosef being sold. It was so that Yosef could go out into the world and mingle with others, in order to bring them closer to God which served as the tikkun he so much needed for his failure in his previous life as Chanoch.

The Divrei Yechezkel (Parshas Vayeishev) says that we can now understand how such a tzadik and Torah scholar like Yosef could get involved in such silliness like curling his hair. With his Ruach Hakodesh (Divine Inspiration), Yosef saw that he was a gilgul of Chanoch. Yosef understood that he was on a mission to help others spiritually.

However, when he was in Mitzrayim, every time he tried reaching out to others, they all seemed to run in the other direction. Yosef could not figure out why. Eventually, Yosef realized that he looked too Jewish. His religious looking garb put people off. They felt threatened by it.

So, Yosef decided to shed his Jewish clothing, and don Egyptian garments. In this way, he would be accepted by the masses. Then, from within, he would be able to plant seeds of spirituality into their minds and hearts without being detected.

Suddenly, Potifar's wife tried to seduce him (Parshas Vayeishev 39:7). Yosef was looking so much more attractive to Potifar's wife now than when they first purchased him as a slave. In the beginning, Yosef's religious look was not so enticing to her. But now, with his new style of dress, he looked much better to her. He looked much more modern.

Yosef could not figure out what sin he was guilty of which caused her to behave in this way towards him. So, one fine day, Yosef came home to "do his work" (Parshas Vayeishev 39:11). Onkolos says that this means Yosef came home to check his "accounting books." The Divrei Yechezkel says that Onkolos is not simply referring to monetary accounting books. Righteous people always keep a little notebook with them in which they write down their sins. They frequently review these journals in order to help them improve their ways. Yosef had such a diary. Yosef was doing a "cheshbon Hanefesh" (soul-search) in order to find out what sin he was guilty of that motivated Potifar's wife to seduce him. Yosef could not find anything wrong with himself other than exchanging his Jewish attire for Egyptian clothing. Yosef wondered if that had anything to do with her behavior towards him.

As Yosef was contemplating this thought, Potifar's wife suddenly came waltzing in to seduce Yosef again. The verse says that she "grabbed him by his clothing" (Vayeishev, 39:12). Yosef said, "I knew it! It's the Egyptian clothing that got me into this mess." That's why it says, "And he left his garment in her hand" (ibid). Yosef was done with dressing up like an Egyptian. He was still committed to outreach, but not at the expense of compromising his own identity. If some people would not listen to Yosef because of his religious looking Jewish clothing, it would be too bad. Results are up to Hashem. All we can do is to try our best.

There was something else which convinced Yosef to abandon his Egyptian attire. When Potifar's wife grabbed him, an image of his father appeared to Yosef in the window (Rashi Vayeishev 39:11, citing Sota chap. 7, "Eilu Ne'emarin", pg. 36b). In this hologram, Yosef saw just how religious looking Ya'akov was. The message was clear. Even when reaching out to others, one must never compromise his own identity.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand the connection between Yosef being called a "na'ar" and his hanging out with the sons of Bilha and Zilpa. The sons of Leah were harassing Bilha's and Zilpa's children. Imagine what that could have resulted in. Here are the frumest (most religious) kids on the block, from the finest family (Leah's children) making fun of Bilha's and Zilpa's children whose ancestry on their mother's side was not as impressive as that of Leah's sons.

This could have caused the sons of Bilha and Zilpa to go OTD (off the derech; to become irreligious). What kept those children committed to Judaism? Yosef. Yosef was described as a "na'ar" which teaches us that he was a gilgul of the other "na'ar", Chanoch. Yosef's mission was to correct his old passivity as Chanoch by reaching out to others. The description of "na'ar" is deeply connected to Yosef spending time with the children of Bilha and Zilpa. Yosef's mission in life led him to reach out to those kids at risk. As Rashi says, Yosef went "Likarvan" (to bring them near and close to Hashem).

Ya'akov did teach Yosef everything that he had learned about behaving like a Torah scholar. In fact, Ya'akov learned in two academies. He learned in the Academy of Yitzchak, and he learned in the Academy of Shem and Eiver. The Emes L'Ya'akov says that the difference between these two academies was that in Yitzchak's Yeshiva they taught a Jew how to behave like a Jew when he is surrounded by other observant Jews. However, in Shem and Eiver's Yeshiva they taught a Jew how to behave like a Jew when he is surrounded by gentiles or non-observant Jews.

What is accepted in one environment may not be accepted in the other, and visa versa. Ya'akov needed the teachings of Yitzchak as he was growing up because at that time he was surrounded by other observant Jews. But, before going to Lavan, Ya'akov had to spend fourteen years in Shem and Eiver's Yeshiva in order to learn how to conduct himself as a Jew in an environment antithetical to Torah and its values.

Ya'akov taught all of his children the teachings he had learned from Yitzchak's Yeshiva. They all needed those teachings in order to know how to conduct themselves amongst each other who were observant.

However, Ya'akov only taught the Shem and Eiver teachings to Yosef. Ya'akov did not teach those lessons to his other sons. This was not favoritism. It was simply because Ya'akov saw, with his Ruach Hakodesh, that only Yosef would dwell amongst the gentiles all alone for a period of time. Ya'akov's vision was not clear. He did not know the specific details of Yosef's journey. He just knew that Yosef would need to learn how to maintain his Jewishness even amongst the nations. Therefore, Ya'akov taught Yosef all the lessons he had learned in Yeshivas' Shem and Eiver.

The reason why Ya'akov did not teach his other sons this Torah was because he knew that they would not need it. The other sons would always be surrounded by observant Jews. Even after they descended to Egypt, the other sons always lived in the Jewish ghetto of Goshen. They would always be living in a spiritual bubble. They only needed to know about Yitzchak's teachings.

So, yes, Ya'akov did educate Yosef properly. However, it was precisely the Shem and Eiver training that Ya'akov imparted to Yosef which inspired Yosef to begin making himself appear handsome. This is because, from Yosef's standpoint, he knew that he was a gilgul of Chanoch. He knew that his mission was to reach out to others. Yosef was also exposed to the teachings from Shem and Eiver about how to conduct himself in a secular society. Those teachings complimented his being Chanoch's gilgul.

Putting it all together, Yosef realized that he was meant, not just to survive Jewishly amongst the nations, but that he was supposed to bring them all closer to God and His Torah. It was specifically the training that he did receive from Ya'akov that motivated him to dress in a less threatening way so as to facilitate his role. Yosef had the best of intentions. In the end, he realized that he was not supposed to shed his Jewish identity. He switched back to Jewish garb, but still kept up his job of reaching out to others.

Parenthetically, this helps us understand where the other brothers were coming from in their hatred towards Yosef. They were not privy to the teachings from Shem and Eiver. They did not know about Yosef being a gilgul. All they saw was Yosef behaving very strangely. Yosef's focus on outer appearances looked as though Yosef was going OTD. The brothers said to each other, "Look, Avraham had a Yishmael, Yitzchak had an Eisav, and, unfortunately, Ya'akov had a Yosef." They thought that a pattern was forming. They reasoned that they had enough trouble from Yishmael and from Eisav. Who needs another nation committed to our annihilation? Therefore, they decided to kill Yosef. Only Ya'akov knew that they were making a mistake. Only Ya'akov understood where Yosef's infatuation with outer appearances was coming from.

Before continuing, a few more things require clarification. Earlier we said that the verse "Chanoch L'na'ar" (train the youth) hinted to Chanoch being called a "na'ar" thereby connecting him to Yosef who was also called a "na'ar." However, is there any connection between the person Chanoch and between the verse "Chanoch L'na'ar?"

Moreover, why is there any criticism against Chanoch for not going out to bring others closer to God? Chanoch has such an easy way of defending himself. He was concerned that the people in his generation would be more successful in bringing him further away from Hashem than he would succeed in bringing them closer to Hashem. Even Hashem recognized this about Chanoch. If so, there should be absolutely no criticism against Chanoch. Why is there at least some criticism against him?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that obviously Chanoch could not go into the bars and discotheques to do kiruv because there was a constant fear of being negatively influenced by the people hanging out in those places. However, the criticism against Chanoch is that he should have reached out to the children in his generation who have not yet tasted the taste of sin. He should have filled them with the beauty of Torah.

Focusing on the children is where it is at. Achaz, King of Yehuda (Melachim 2, 15:38) was a wicked man. He was called "Achaz" because "Achaz" is a Hebrew word which means "grab." This teaches us that Achaz grabbed the Torah study halls and yeshiva day schools away from the children (Bereishis Rabba, 42:3; Rebbi Chunia bar Elazar). Meaning, he tried to prevent Jewish children from learning Torah. He would often say, "If there are no kid goats, there will be no adult goats" (ibid). He meant to say that if we rip the Jewish children away from their heritage, they will grow up completely secular.

Achaz wanted a secular state. He wanted to do away with religiosity. He knew how to hit the Jewish people hard. Do not expose the children to anything that has to do with Torah, and you will cripple the Jewish people.

In the same vein, Chanoch should have focused on reaching out to the children in his generation. Had he filled their minds and hearts with Torah, he would have raised a generation that would have been close to Hashem. Chanoch could have prevented the flood from occurring. Reaching out to the children would not have influenced Chanoch negatively because they were just children who have not yet begun sinning. They were still innocent. This is where Chanoch failed.

This explains the connection between Chanoch and the verse "Chanoch L'na'ar." The verse speaks about teaching children. This is precisely where Chanoch should have concentrated his efforts. The end of that verse says, "Even when he grows old he will not swerve from it." Had he taught the children about God, they would not have swerved away from God when they grew older.

When Hashem took Chanoch up to Heaven alive, he was transformed into the angel Matatron. What does Matatron do all day? The Gemara (Avoda Zara, chap. 1, "lifnei eideihen", pg. 3b) says that Matatron teaches Torah to little children who died young. This was part of Chanoch's tikkun, teaching the children about Hashem (Shvilei Pinchas).

However, this was not enough because those children in Heaven no longer have free choice. They will be close to Hashem anyway. Therefore, it was necessary for Matatron to be transformed back into a person, into Yosef Hatzadik, so that the real tikkun can be done by reaching out to people with free choice who would probably have otherwise been distant from Hashem.

Everything we have shared today is only part 1. Next week, B'ezras Hashem, we will have part 2. In the meantime, let us take away a practical application of this teaching.

Let us try, a little bit more, to reach out to others, and teach them about the beauty of Torah. Let us focus especially on the children. They could be our own children or grandchildren, or they could be nieces, nephews, and cousins, or they could be the children of neighbors and friends.

If we want them to lead committed lives, we have to make the Torah fun. We must infuse our practice with so much happiness, joy, and dancing that they will hunger for a piece of the action. We have to tell them stories, give them treats, and play games with them. If their association to Torah is fun, then they will not swerve from it when they get older.

So, may we B'Nei Avraham Avinu all be blessed with the motivation and with the wisdom to be "mosif" (add) in our reaching out to our "ne-arim" (youth) by being "mechanech" (teaching) those little angels in the ways of our sweet Torah, bringing them closer to God, and inspire them to observance down to a hairsbreadth, whether they find themselves in religious communities or amongst the nations of the world.