Parashat Vayeshev- Yosef’s Faith
The Midrash (cited by Rashi to Bereshit 37:3) tells us that before Yosef was sold as a slave by his brothers at the age of 17, he learned Torah from his father, Yaakob. Specifically, the Midrash writes, Yaakob transmitted to Yosef all the Torah he had learned during the years he spent in the yeshivah of Shem and Eber.
The work Bet Aharon raises the question of why Yaakob transmitted to Yosef specifically the Torah knowledge which he received from Shem and Eber. After all, Yaakob Aninu learned Torah for many years at home before going to learn with Shem and Eber. In fact, the Hida (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806) writes that Abraham Abinu was still alive when Yaakob was born, and until Abraham’s death when Yaakob was 15, the three patriarchs – Abraham, Yishak and Yaakob – learned Torah together each and every day. Yaakob thus received Torah not only from Shem and Eber, but also from his father and grandfather. Why, then, does the Midrash teach that Yaakob transmitted to Yosef specifically the Torah he received at the academy of Shem and Eber?
The Bet Aharon answers that Yaakob foresaw the suffering and hardship that Yosef would endure, and so he prepared him during his youth by teaching him specifically the Torah of Shem and Eber. Shem lived during the Flood, witnessing the destruction of the entire earth, and Eber lived during Dor Ha’palaga – the generation that built the Tower and was then dispersed throughout the world. Both Shem and Eber witnessed great upheavals and tragedies, but they retained their faith. Their spirits were not broken, and they devoted themselves to Hashem and to Torah even after experiencing cataclysmic events.
This is the Torah that Yaakob made a point of transmitting to Yosef, knowing that Yosef would need this level of faith to get through the difficult period he would be forced to suffer.
Sure enough, Yosef went through his ordeal with his faith fully intact. After his prophetic dreams which foretold his leadership over his family, everything seemed to be headed in the opposite direction. His brothers despised him, and they later sold him as a slave to a foreign country. There could be nothing further from royalty than being a slave in Egypt. And then, Yosef was thrown into an Egyptian prison for a crime he never committed. At that moment, when Yosef was sent to jail, it seemed all but impossible that Yosef’s prophecy of leadership could ever be fulfilled. There did not appear to be any reason to imagine that he would ever be released, let alone become a ruler. And yet, Yosef retained his faith.
The Bet Aharon notes that after the Torah tells us of Yosef’s master throwing him into prison, the Torah then emphasizes, “Va’yehi Sham Be’bet Ha’sohar” – “he was there in the prison” (39:20). This phrase, at first glance, seems redundant. Once we’ve been told that Yosef’s master threw him into the dungeon, we quite obviously know that Yosef was there in the dungeon. The Bet Aharon explains this to mean that once Yosef was placed in the prison, he was there willingly. He did not complain or feel embittered by his situation. Armed with the lessons of faith taught by Shem and Eber, which Yosef received from his father, he accepted his position as the will of Hashem, and fully trusted that everything would ultimately turn out for the best – which, as we know, it did.
The story of Yosef teaches us the vitally important lesson of Hashgaha (Providence), reminding us that no matter how difficult it sometimes is to view our situation from a positive angle, we must firmly trust that everything that happens is for the best. When we live with this level of faith, then we, like Yosef, will not be broken by adversity, and will instead accept every condition we find ourselves in, and will always be happy, upbeat and confident, regardless of the situation.