Monday, 19 December 2016

Parshat Vayeishev: Be Careful in Judging Others! Everything is Measure for Measure!

When Yosef was a young boy (man?) he was wont to doing certain things his way. Surely his way was always right! He saw life through his eyes. This was surely as things were! As any person would - he too was accustomed to some things that any of us might do. For some reason - though he was officially the second youngest of the 12 brothers and the most despised - due to his father's extraordinary love for him - he used to say certain negative things about his brothers. He believed everything to be true and correct - and certainly worthy of being said!

Rabbi Meir said that Yosef used to tell his father that his (Yaakov's) sons (i.e. Yosef's brothers) would eat eiver min hachai - the limb of a living animal - something prohibited even to non-Jews - being one of the 7 commandments given to Noah. The prohibition includes not eating a limb from an animal that is still alive. The truth is that while Yosef did indeed see the brothers eating the limb from a "living animal", it wasn't quite what he had imagined. The brothers were eating from an animal known in Hebrew as ben-pekuah. A ben-pekuah is an animal that was in the womb of the mother at the time of the ritual slaughter. The Torah says that in terms of the legal-ritual status of the animal in the womb, that once the mother is slaughtered correctly - in accordance with the rules of Jewish ritual slaughter, then the animal in the womb is considered a part of its mother. Much like any limb of the now slaughtered animal, this animal is considered part of the limbs of the dead animal - and is permitted to be eaten even without slaughtering. Yosef saw his brothers eating this animal (permissible according to Jewish law) and told his father that his brothers were not in fact following Jewish law. 

Rabbi Shimon says that Yosef told his father Yaakov that his brothers had taken a special interest in the Canaanite women. This of course was something totally forbidden. It was not for the brothers to be entertaining thoughts of marrying these women - and it certainly would have caused Yaakov to become annoyed with his other sons.

Rabbi Yehuda said that Yosef told his father that the sons of Leah were demeaning the sons of the maidservants (i.e. Bilhah and Zilpah) by calling them servants - whereas he (Yosef) had befriended them! Surely this would annoy his father regarding their conduct.

Clearly Yosef was on some type of mission. On the one hand, perhaps he wanted to tell his father the truth about the brothers - that his father should know their true characteristics. On the other hand, perhaps Yosef was simply trying to "get into the good books" of his father, by showing how observant he was in terms of his status in following Torah law - whereas his brothers were not quite "on the path." Once it comes time for things like inheritance etc. this would surely work well in his favour! Naturally - it would win him favour even during his life while his father was alive - since his father would come to favour him throughout his life much to the disappointment of the other brothers.

Indeed, Yosef was not well liked by his brothers. Once this was the case, what better way to getting his father's attention than by telling the truth - and putting them in a bad light! It seemed like a win-win. Yes, the brothers were not doing what was right - but at least it was the truth!

Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon said that on all three accounts, Yosef was punished! He was punished measure for measure - as the Torah says midah knegged midah - a powerful concept in Torah. It's a part of life that G-d has created a system in this world where the things we do for/against others - comes back to us in direct measure!

G-d (so to speak) said to Yosef - "You said that your brothers ate the limb of a living animal! By your life - I promise this to you!" (i.e. you will see the truth of this statement and how it will return and affect your life!) As the Torah testifies, when it came to doing away with Yosef, the brothers thought up a plan! The first thing they did was to slaughter an animal. With the blood, they covered Yosef's garment - so that it looked as if an animal had eaten him! The brothers slaughtered the animal so that it was clear that they had never transgressed eating the limb of a living animal. In fact, right in front of his eyes, the brothers slaughtered the animal in a kosher manner. They would never simply break off a limb of an animal and eat it - without slaughtering it. They would not go against halacha (Jewish law.) Even at the time when they were involved in a terrible act - even then - they chose to slaughter rather than just rip an animal apart. If they did so then... then how much more so when it came to actually eating an animal?!

G-d (so to speak) continued to say to Yosef, "You said that the older brothers were demeaning the younger one's - the sons of the maidservants, calling them servants... therefore - you yourself will be sold to be a servant to others." G-d continued (so to speak) to say to Yosef, "You told your father that your brothers had shown an interest in the women from Canaan i.e. in their wanting to marry them... by your life now, I promise you that by that you will be caught out. I will bring "the bear" to test you (i.e. that Potifar's wife  - a very beautiful woman - would come to seduce him and test him.)

Measure for measure - Yosef was afflicted with the very same things that he accused others of. The Torah is teaching us a powerful part of life. The way we look at others - especially when we don't know for certain their lives and what is actually going on - and the way we judge others... the way we behave towards others because of our beliefs etc... it is these very same ways that will return to us in our own lives.

We are a generation of judgment. We like to constantly show ourselves up - as we put others down. We judge others - correctly or not - left, right and centre! Can we even have a conversation with another without bringing up someone else in the conversation - commenting on their lives, their behaviour, their manner of dress, the income they make, the car they drive, the mess in their homes, or the way they do their hair?! Can we manage even a hour every day - of refraining from judging another?! Can we take off a day from social-networking - not to demean or judge anyone? The news is filled with it - and it is what brings people to those pages - allowing people to make income from advertising and attracting people to what it is that they do just-so-right! 

We feel we have the right to know why others are suffering... (i.e. to know what bad things they must surely have done to deserve such a fate)... to judge on what is going on in their lives and why things happen to them the way they do - or even why they behave as they do. 

The story of Yosef comes to teach us a powerful lesson in life. Be warned about the quality of the attribute of judgment. We really know little of others. We don't really see what is happening on the other side... We know little why they behave as they do. We know practically nothing - of their real lives. In truth - however, when we judge them - we do nothing less than awaken forces against ourselves, so that we ourselves may well find ourselves in the very situations we have judged others on.

When we see the good in others - their hurt, their difficulties; when we try to find ways to help them instead of judging them; when we acknowledge that in truth, we do not understand why they go through what they do - then those forces of creation come back at us directly. When a moment may come of difficulty for us - someone will step in to help! When a moment of compassion is needed - it will be there.

Yosef and his brothers... because a friend's love is for all times, and a brother is born for times of affliction (Proverbs 17:17)... Sometimes a friend is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Be a friend... be the brother for others - for times of affliction - and one day - this too will return to you.

Eliyahu Shear
Co-Director Chessed Ve'Emet

Join me for a live Shiur online - one-on-one!

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