"And they took him and cast him into the pit."
What happens when an individual, a single soul, is torn from his father? When the wrath of his brothers is kindled and his own flesh and blood are set upon him, seeking his death? When he is thrown into a pit, abandoned to fate and the deadly caprice of the scorpions and snakes who slither and scamper over his naked body? When he is brought from the pit and sold to passing Ishmaelite merchants, mercenaries, dealers in human stock, who sell him again, at a neat profit? When he is ordered to be steward of his masters house, and gains mastery of all the possessions found in his master's house, whose master's wife attempts to seduce him, and unsuccessful, accuses him of rape, and he is arrested and convicted and thrown in the pit? Does his souls wither? Do his dreams perish?
The book of Genesis is the book of the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov. Yet more words are dedicated to the life of Yosef than are dedicated to lives of the three patriarchs, and more details are known about the life of Yosef, his trials and tribulations, than are known about the three patriarchs. For sure, Yosef's life was pivotal to the survival of the nation of Israel. But what is Yosef's life to us today?
G-d spoke to Avraham. He spoke to Yitzchak. He spoke to Ya'akov. Yet G-d never spoke directly to Yosef. At critical junctures in his life Yosef had no one to rely on but himself. He had to be his own guide, choose his own path. G-d didn't tell Yosef to go here or to go there. He didn't tell Yosef that He would protect him from harm. He didn't promise him seed or that his seed would prosper. Yosef was on his own. Completely.
On his own but never alone. Yosef never suffered loneliness for he attached himself always to G-d. He didn't require G-d's consolation or instruction for he acted always with the knowledge that the G-d of his fathers, the Creator of the universe, permeated His creation with His presence. Yosef was rejected by his brothers but he could never be estranged from G-d, for he understood that G-d, unlike man, was always there right by his side. A man's fate may seem cruel, but when seen through the eyes of Yosef, a man's fate ultimately is neither cruel nor capricious, but an expression of G-d's will, of His direct involvement in the life of the individual. G-d didn't appear to Yosef, nor did He talk to Yosef, but every moment of Yosef's life, every unforeseen development, every low point and high point of Yosef's life, was informed by G-d's will. Yosef knew this. This was the message of his own dreams, and this would be the message that he perceived in Pharaoh's dreams. And Yosef conducted himself always with this knowledge. This is why Torah calls Yosef tzaddik - righteous: despite every temptation he maintained his unbroken attachment to G-d.
Of all the patriarchs and sons of Israel who populate the book of Genesis, it is Yosef who most personifies the dilemma of modern man: man's isolation from his fellow man. Yosef, at any time could have fallen through the cracks, never to be heard from again. He could have been just another statistic, lost in the labyrinth of man's cruelty to man. But Yosef prevailed. He took upon himself what is the very heart and soul of Torah teaching: personal responsibility. In this manner it can be said that Yosef fulfilled G-d's expectations of man.
Yosef's soul neither withered, nor did his dreams perish. On the contrary, it was his indomitable sense of self and his fidelity to his dreams that carried him through his darkest moments. Ultimately, Yosef was the master of his own fate. We too can gain mastery over our own lives if we, like Yosef, accept upon ourselves the overriding teaching of Torah: personal responsibility for our own actions and an unbreakable bond to G-d.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven ponder American pressures and promises: Will we be guilty of selling Yosef again? The conflict between the righteous Yosef and his holy brothers is a conflict that still effects us to this very day. Will we ever fix the sin of the sale of Yosef? It's high time for the people of Israel to stop selling themselves short, and to stand up to the task that G-d appointed us for, no matter what is being used to bribe, threaten, cajole, intimate, or browbeat our people into giving up our Land and our legacy.
The Palestinian denial machine has determined, in the name of science, that the Western Wall is not Jewish. Everybody's upset, but they should have been upset long before this...