21 Dec 2016 Parshas Vayeishev: Responsibility and Accountability
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayeishev, Yaakov and his family have returned to Eretz Canaan, where Yaakov Avinu desires to live out the rest of his life in peace and quiet (see Rashi to Bereishis 37:2). Despite his longings for peace, the very opposite occurs, as the brothers and Yosef become embroiled in strife and quarrel.
Yosef the dreamer; Yosef the favorite son of the favorite wife, Rachel; Yosef of the multi-colored kesones pasim (striped special coat), dreams dreams of greatness, while the brothers grow ever-more resentful of his dreams and lofty aspirations.
As fate would have it, one day Yosef – at the behest of his father, Yaakov – goes to find his brothers as they shepherd the flocks. As soon as the brothers see the “master of dreams” approaching, they plot to dispose of him.
Yosef is first thrown into a pit of snakes and scorpions, then he is sold to a passing caravan of merchants, and finally, he finds himself on the slave block in Egypt, where he is bought by Potiphar, Chief Executioner of Ancient Egypt.
After being accused by his master’s wife, Eishes Potiphar, of taking advantage of her, Yosef finds himself thrown into jail.
Quite the journey for a Hebrew lad ripped from his country, his family, his home and his father at the tender age of seventeen!
And there in jail, Yosef meets the Egyptian royal baker and cupbearer. They have been jailed for crimes against Pharaoh. The baker was jailed for serving Pharaoh bread that had a pebble in it. The cupbearer was jailed for serving Pharaoh wine that had a dead fly in it.
The two men dream dreams, which Yosef interprets for them. He foretells that in three days, the cupbearer will be restored to his former post, and will once again serve wine to Pharaoh. However, Yosef further foretells that in three days, the baker will be executed by hanging.
R’ Soloveitchik teaches that, “According to Rashi, the cupbearer was punished because he had served Pharaoh a cup of wine containing a dead fly, while the baker was punished because a pebble was found in Pharaoh’s bread.
“The cupbearer personally gave the cup to Pharaoh, while the bread was baked by the baker’s kitchen staff. It therefore seems strange that the baker was punished, while the cupbearer was pardoned. [How can we explain this?]
“The sin of the baker was that he did not train his staff properly [while the sin of the cupbearer was that he himself sinned]. The concept of kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba’zeh – all of Israel are guarantors and responsible for one another, reflect this idea.”
While the cupbearer sinned himself, the baker, in not training others well, failed to demonstrate and teach the proper behavior to others.
One who falls, and fails, can always pick himself back up and rectify his own personal wrong-doing. But one whose failings set an example of improper behavior for others, is viewed much more harshly. For not only does he himself fall and fail, but he caused others to fall and fail as well.
The cupbearer, therefore, will be given a second chance, to right the wrong. For the baker, however, no such pardon exists.
This is a sobering and powerful lesson which we would do well to keep in mind. How do our actions affect others? What kind of example do we set for those around us, for those watching, listening and learning from us? What impact do our words have on the behavior of others?
It is one thing to fall, fail and rise from one’s errors: כִּי שֶׁבַע, יִפּוֹל צַדִּיק וָקָם – For the righteous one falls seven times, and will yet arise (Mishlei 24:16)… It is another thing entirely to fail to train others well, thereby causing them to err as well.
In regard to the command to eat matzos on Pesach, the Torah says: שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, תֹּאכַל מַצֹּת – For seven days you shall eat matzos, and the very next verse says: מַצּוֹת, יֵאָכֵל, אֵת, שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים – Matzos shall be eaten for seven days (Shemos 13:6-7).
Rebbetzin Henny Machlis a’h asked, “What is the second verse coming to add?” The first verse instructs us to eat matzos for seven days – why do we need the next command?
Rebbetzin Machlis answered as follows: “There are many answers given, but the answer that I like the most is that it’s not enough for you to eat matzos. You have to make sure that everybody eats matzos. You have to try as much as your can to make sure that everybody in Am Yisrael is also eating matzos… In America, wherever you are, there may be [Jews] who have never eaten matzos. You carry around a few matzos in your pocketbook [on Pesach] and you say, ‘Oh, are you Jewish? Would you like to have matzah?’”
If we fail to train others well, the consequences of their failings may just become our failings.
וַיָּשֶׁב אֶת-שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים, עַל-מַשְׁקֵהוּ; וַיִּתֵּן הַכּוֹס, עַל-כַּף פַּרְעֹה – And Pharaoh restored the cupbearer to his post; and he gave the cup unto Pharaoh’s hand; וְאֵת שַׂר הָאֹפִים, תָּלָה: כַּאֲשֶׁר פָּתַר לָהֶם, יוֹסֵף – And the baker he hanged, just as Yosef had interpreted for them (Bereishis 40:21-22).
If all of Israel are guarantors for one another, and if we are all inter-dependent, then we must strive to be sure that, through our behavior, actions, interactions and speech we set an example that can – and should – be emulated by others.
בברכת שבת שלום וחנוכה שמח,