Parshat Vayeishev (Mussar)

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Bereishit (37: 32-36)
And they took Joseph’s tunic and slaughtered a kid and dipped the tunic in the blood, and they sent the ornamented tunic and had it brought to their father, and they said, “This we found. Recognize, pray, is it your son’s tunic or not?” And he recognized it, and he said, “It is my son’s tunic. A vicious beast has devoured him, Joseph is torn to shreds!” And Jacob rent his clothes and put sackcloth round his waist and mourned his son for many days. And all his sons and all his daughters rose to console him and he refused to be consoled and he said, “Rather I will go down to my son in Sheol mourning,” and his father keened for him.”

Rashi
Ya’akov wanted to dwell in peace. God said, “Is the reward of the righteous in the World to Come
not enough for them that they desire to live in peace in this world too?” Whereupon the fury of the
loss of Yosef pounced upon him.

Jacob had a difficult life, but even when he has returned home, he has to again face
tragedy, with the apparent death of his beloved son Joseph. There is an important
lesson about Jewish spirituality here. How do you understand Rashi’s comment?

Eliyahu Dessler
… each person who comes into the world has a unique task to perform, which is his “portion” in
the service of Hashem. [The situations he faces and his personal resources] together provide the
special tests and trials which he will endure during his life; the manner in which he reacts to these
tests will constitute his spiritual portion in creation.

How do you understand Rabbi Dessler’s statement about the nature of our spiritual
journey? Does the idea of journey as a test resonate or not with you? What are other
ways to experience a relationship with God? Do you find Rabbi Dessler’s perspective
helpful in dealing with our own personal difficulties?

Rav Wolbe
Often, a person feels that his circumstances make it impossible for him to focus on his spiritual
obligations. … However, it is specifically in these situations that we are expected to rise above
external factors that were placed in our paths to test us.

Rabbi Wolbe seems to be saying that our difficulties are, in fact, our spiritual obligations. What does it mean to rise above “external factors”?

Rav Wolbe
Our surroundings do not always support our avodas Hashem, but we can choose whether or not to live with Hashem. He can be found in the ashrams of India, in the subways of Manhattan, and even in the North Pole. We simply have to look for Him, and if we do, we will find him everywhere — even in the daily headlines!’

What do you think is the ideal spiritual setting? Taking a mussar perspective, what
would be the ideal spiritual setting for a person?

Rav Wolbe
Shemira is the desire to put one’s knowledge into practice. … [imagine] someone sitting and
learning the Gemara in Yevamos 63a about lending money to a poor person in his time of need.
Suddenly, he hears knocking at the door and he opens it to find a poor person standing in the
doorway. “Maybe you can lend me a hundred dollars?” asks the impoverished fellow. The host
hems and haws about how it’s not a good time for him and that he should try when he’s in his
office. He then closes the door and sits back down and continues learning the Gemara about
lending money to a poor person at the time of his need! This man was learning, but
without shemira – the intention of integrating his knowledge into practice.

On Chanukah we celebrate the liberation of the Jewish People from the clutches of Greek
culture. Similar to the Jews, the Greeks were also keen on becoming scholarly and amassing
knowledge. Yet, there was a fundamental difference between the Greeks and the Jews. The
Greeks never intended to integrate their knowledge into practice, while the Jewish People “wait
and look forward” for such opportunities. The Ramban wrote in his famous letter (and it should be
our guide for life): “When you stand up from a studying a sefer, search to see if there is anything
that you have learned that you could put into practice.”

In this perspective what is the purpose of Torah study, or any pursuit of knowledge? How
would you put Jacob’s and Joseph’s stories into practice?