Parshas Vayeishev – Yosef, the Wise Son

In this week’s dramatic parsha, Parshas Vayeishev, we move full-steam ahead into the story of Yosef ha’Tzaddik (Yosef the righteous) …. Yosef, whose mother died in childbirth with his younger brother, Binyamin; Yosef, who spends too much time fixing his hair and eyelashes; Yosef, the lad of seventeen who is misunderstood by his brothers; Yosef, the favorite son; Yosef, with his special coat of many colors; Yosef, the dreamer…

Yosef, who finds himself sold and brought down to Egypt, to the house of Potiphar, Chief Executioner; Yosef, who is wildly successful, for G-d is with him, yet the mistress will not leave him alone; Yosef, who resists temptation and seduction by Eishes Potiphar (the wife of his master) only to end up jail.

And it comes to pass that Pharaoh jails his butler and baker, and Yosef finds himself in jail along with them.  And both the butler and baker have dreams (Yosef cannot escape his fate of Yosef the Master of Dreams) while they languish in the pit of Egyptian jail.  And behold, it was in the morning, and Yosef sees that they are troubled.  And he asks, מַדּוּעַ פְּנֵיכֶם רָעִים, הַיּוֹם – Why are your faces grim today (Bereishis 40:7)?

And they reply that they have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret their dreams (how convenient that Yosef is quite adept at dream interpretation!). 

Are interpretations not to G-d?, Yosef replies, as he proceeds to interpret their dreams.  The butler will be restored to his position and once again fill Pharaoh’s goblets with wine, while the baker will be hung on a tree (see Bereishis 40:1-23).

What are we to learn from Yosef’s query: מַדּוּעַ פְּנֵיכֶם רָעִים, הַיּוֹם – Why are your faces grim today

R’ S.R. Hirsch teaches, “The Torah’s purpose here is to indicate Yosef’s extraordinary genius, his chachmah (wisdom).  He noticed that they were distraught, had no idea yet about what, and so he asked…

“An ordinary person’s way of looking at the world and at things differs from that of Yosef.  An ordinary person sees only in general categories.  A chacham (wise one), on the other hand, sees the uniqueness and individuality of every person and of every thing.  An ordinary person speaks with ‘businessmen,’ with ‘learned people,’ and so forth.  A chacham is ever mindful of the person with whom he is speaking, always cognizant of this person’s special abilities and relationships.

“Yosef never forgot for a moment who and what these men were and for what purpose they were there; he kept their whole situation sharply defined in his mind.  They were in jail, and the next day they might be set free.  Also, they were together with him there.

“… Perhaps he sensed that they had been brought together with him in this place by Divine Providence. 

“Precisely because he remained ever aware of the person and all his connections, he heard all their words and saw all their actions – their dreams, too – in connection with their individual personalities; and through each unique personality, he was able to understand and evaluate everything he saw and heard.”

Yosef was a chacham, a wise man, and he was able to look past the superficiality of every person and everything, past the externality of man and his foibles, past the form of man standing before him into the soul of man.

On the words, וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אָהַ֤ב אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִכָּל־בָּנָ֔יו כִּֽי־בֶן־זְקֻנִ֥ים ה֖וּא ל֑וֹ – And Israel (Yaakov) loved Yosef from all his sons, because he was a son of his old age (37:3), Onkelos teaches that Yaakov loved Yosef more than his other sons, because Yosef was a wise sonבַר חַכִּים הוּא. 

All too often we go through life judging the externality of man, interacting with a superficiality that is beneath us, respecting wealth and prominence, while ignoring the soul.  Yosef – wildly successful Yosef – understood that beneath every exterior and every veneer lies a life, a brilliance, a warmth, a passionate soul.

Yosef didn’t just speak to the ‘businessmen’ and ‘learned people,’  he spoke to each and every person he met. 

Hence, the secret of his success. 

Yosef was concerned with the fallen face of the butler and the baker, mere servants to Pharaoh, who had landed, along with him in jail.  “Why has your face fallen today, why are you sad, what is the matter?  Tell me, and I will listen.”

How ironic that the rejected lad, who no one understood and no one was interested in listening to, became the wise one who was interested in all and listened to all.

Perhaps it was because his brothers viewed him superficially and neglected to appreciate the person he was, that Yosef grew to become the wise son who listened to, took an interest in, and strove to understand, all whom he met.

Yosef was successful because G-d was with him, of this there is no doubt.

Yet he also understood that כַּמַּיִם, הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים כֵּן לֵב-הָאָדָם, לָאָדָם, like water reflects the face, so too the heart of man to man (Mishlei 27:19).

We must strive to always be complete with G-d and dedicated to fellow man.  Everyone – even the butler and baker – have a mission and purpose, a story to tell, a life to live… And should we come across one whose face has fallen today, when we stop and ask what is wrong, let us take the time to listen to the reply.  For the voice of the soul cries out to be heard. 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,



Photo: Simi Valley, CA, 12.17

1 Comment
  • Deborah Klein
    Posted at 16:26h, 08 December

    I simply cannot get over how well Michal always connects the parsha from “ oh! So long ago!” to our day to day life now, in our times. You are a marvel, Michal!