A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayeshev

Written by: Avrohom S. Moller

This week we begin the story of mechiras Yosef, the selling of Yosef Hatzadik by his brothers. We find many instances in the Torah which highlight the deficiencies and failings of our greatest heroes. Yosef’s brothers are the Godly tribes, the Shivtei Kah, and yet they are faulted with doing an atrocity that defies the imagination. This week, we also have the incident of Yehudah and Tamar which seems to paint the progenitor of Moshiach in a most unflattering and compromised position. Why is it that these people failed in such an exaggerated way and why does the Torah tell us about it?

The Torah wants us to know that the path to greatness is not without obstacles and failures. True heroes have overcome failures and struggles as Yosef’s brothers did. The greatness they achieved in the process surpasses people who are inherently good and uncomplicated. The reality is that a rich life journey is messy and includes many ups and downs before we reach our destination. This is the story of Yosef and his brothers and the story of Yehudah’s ascent to the leadership of Klal Yisroel.

We are preparing to celebrate Chanukah and our victory over the Greek attempt to change our belief system. Greece descends from Yefes, the son of Noach who was blessed that “Hashem shall give beauty to Yefes.” Our sages acknowledge that Greece, in fact, did succeed in refining the aesthetics of physicality, celebrating beautiful art, architecture, theater, music and even philosophy. What was Judaism’s quarrel with the Greek beliefs? It was because Greece saw value only in the physical and the superficial. Being determinists, they denied morality and the principle of freedom of choice making. This reduced all of life to the now and here. There was no judgement, no room to struggle to improve; it was all about your inborn traits and fate.

The Torah is completely at odds with this idea. The Torah says we are all born imperfect and struggle toward perfection. This is why the greatest achievements of our people, including Moshiach himself, come to us in a messy and tortuous process. The point is to demonstrate that it is the journey as much as it is the destination and that we can and should redeem ourselves from the greatest mistakes.
May the coming holiday bring us encouragement and courage to continuously improve ourselves and to believe that we can become better and better!