Parashat VaYesheb: Praying for Our Children
Parashat Vayesheb tells the story of how Yosef’s brothers sold him as a slave, and then dipped his garment in goat’s blood to make it appear as though he was devoured by a wild animal. When they showed the garment to their father, Yaakob, he concluded that Yosef was killed, and went into a prolonged state of mourning. The Torah (37:35) tells that his family members tried comforting him, but he refused to be consoled, and continued crying: "Va’yebk Oto Abiv" – "His father cried for him."
Yaakob’s response seems, at first glance, difficult to understand. Many stories have been told of Sadikim who remained calm and composed in the face of devastating personal tragedy, even upon hearing of the death of their loved ones, Heaven forbid. Indeed, one of the important characteristics of righteous people is the ability to calmly accept life’s harsh moments, without falling into depression. But Yaakob Abinu appears to do just that – fall into deep depression and refuse to climb out of it. And the question needs to be asked: why was Yaakob unable to find comfort and consolation? Certainly, his faith in G-d’s justice was no less than that of later Sadikim. Why was he unable to find comfort as they did? Why did he burst out crying and then continue crying, without finding solace?
The answer emerges from a brief comment made by Rashi to this story. Yaakob reacted to the sight of Yosef’s bloodstained garment by exclaiming, "Tarof Toraf Yosef" – "Yosef was torn apart" (37:33), which seemingly refers to his incorrect assumption that Yosef was devoured by an animal. Rashi, however, writes that Yaakob prophetically foresaw the time when the wife of Potifar, Yosef’s master, would try to entice Yosef to sin. She was the "wild animal" who threatened to "tear apart" Yosef, in the spiritual sense.
It emerges that Yaakob bemoaned not Yosef’s death, but rather the spiritual challenges he would face as a forlorn teenager in Egypt, which was then the world center of immorality and corruption. Yaakob, like other Sadikim, would have been able to find comfort after the death of his beloved son. However, he saw through prophecy that Yosef was not dead, but was rather alive and alone in Egypt, subjected to unimaginable pressures and spiritual tests. This gave him no rest or comfort.
Yaakob cried for Yosef like all parents must cry for their children whose spiritual future is in danger. And in our day and age, all children’s spiritual future is in danger, and so we must all be praying and crying for their wellbeing, that they should not be "torn apart" by the relentless assault of negative influences to which they are exposed.
I once received a call from a man whose wife was pregnant, who asked me to pray that the pregnancy and delivery should proceed smoothly. Sometime later, he called again and said, "Rabbi, you can stop praying – I’m thrilled to report that my wife delivered a healthy baby boy, and everything went well."
"Stop praying?" I asked him. "This is the time to start praying for real."
All children today are in "Egypt," threatened by spiritual dangers, and we need to tearfully pray and cry on their behalf, begging Hashem to help them overcome their challenges.
I heard of a certain exceptional yeshiva student, who stood out from among all his peers in his devotion to and success in his studies. It was discovered that each morning, when his father recites the Birkat Ha’Torah blessing and prays that he and his descendants should be devoted to Torah study, he cries and prays with fervor and emotion. His prayers were effective, and his son grew to be an exceptional student of Torah.
The Torah tells that Yaakob refused – "Va’yema’en" – to accept consolation for Yosef. This same word appears later in the Parasha, in reference to Yosef’s refusing to sin with Potifar’s wife (39:8). It has been suggested that this shared word connects these two episodes. Yosef had the strength and fortitude to refuse Potifar’s wife because his father refused to calmly accept the possibility of Yosef steering from the proper path. It was Yaakob’s constant tears and prayers that protected Yosef from sin.
We need to follow Yaakob’s example and pray for our children as often and as intensely as possible, so that they, like Yosef, will overcome their tests and challenges, and grow to become the righteous men and women that we want them to be.