VAYEISHEV (Genesis, 37:1-40:23) — “The Rabbi and the Baker”


In this week’s Torah Portion, we are introduced to the rivalry between Joseph and his brothers.  These were righteous men.  (See “Holy Gangsters”.) Yet, on some level, there was a spirit of jealousy and competition that led to Joseph being sold as a slave. 

Jealousy is what happens when person A. has what person B wants and thinks he should have.


Monsey, New York is town with a very large orthodox Jewish population.  Religious book stores and Glatt kosher restaurants abound.  Lots of businessmen vie for the trade of the religious consumer. 

Two of the biggest challenges to weight loss in this town are “G’s Bakery” and “Z’s Bakery.” (I could, and perhaps even should, identify them by their real names.  However, I didn’t ask their permission, so we’ll leave them as “Z” and “B.”) Both of these family-owned bakeries make delicious cakes, Danishes, doughnuts, etc. 

A member of the G family makes regular deliveries to the retirement home where I work.  He always comes with a smile and a kind word.  I would never have the Chutzpah to tell him that I often buy Danishes from Z’s Bakery.  You don’t talk to a businessman about his competitor.  It’s just not nice. 

Last week there was a fire in a strip mall. Several of the businesses in the mall were incapacitated.  Z’s bakery was closed.  The local Getty station was now carrying G’s Danishes instead of Z’s.  (Yes!  A Kosher Getty station!  Only in Monsey!  On Thursday nights they sell hot potato Kugel and Cholent!  No kidding!) 

However, Z’s didn’t stay closed for long.  Within several days, they were back in business, and I got my Danishes back. 

Then I saw an ad that shocked me.  Z’s Bakery was publicly thanking the local individuals and businesses who had helped them get moving so quickly.  Do you know who was on the top of the list?  You guessed it — the G family! 

I couldn’t wait until Mr. G’s next delivery.  “What did you do for them?” I asked him. 

He told me that they sent two trucks over to take things to their storage house.  They also gave them access to ovens and told them to bake whatever they wanted. 

I was dumfounded!  I was amazed that someone would be so kind to a competitor. 

Mr. G shrugged it off.  “No one makes a penny unless G-d wants him to,” explained Mr. G in Yiddish-accented English.  “All of business success is in G-d’s hands. 

“If you always do business with that in mind,” he concluded, “you’ll never have problems with your blood pressure!” 

He smiled, blessed me with wishes for success as he always does, and left. 

That day we reversed roles.  (Or should I say ROLLS?!)  A rabbi is a teacher.  I don’t know how good a baker I am.  But that morning Mr. G became my rabbi!


I had a similar experience several years ago. 

I used to attend Services at a local Yeshiva.  This Yeshiva had the custom of auctioning off honors on Simchas Torah.  It is considered very auspicious to receive certain honors on Simchas Torah – some claim it is a good “omen” for financial success in the coming year.  Therefore, people support the Yeshiva in order to receive an “Aliyah,” a call to the Torah.  I used to bid for “Chasan Bereishis” the opening section of Genesis on Simchas Torah morning.  Some years I won, and some years I didn’t. (It costs money to make money!) 

There was a new face in the Yeshiva.  “Rabbi K” had begun attending Services at the Yeshiva.  Rabbi K is a nice man.  I like him.  But he is also a competitor.  I am a Mohel. So is he.  We work the same crowd.  Sometimes people call both of us.  If I call back first, I get the Bris.  If he calls back first, he gets the Bris.          

Now, on Simchas Torah night, Rabbi K was bidding for Aliyahs.  I was actually rooting for him to win.  I figured that if he didn’t succeed in buying an Aliyah on Simchas Torah night, he would probably bid against me for Chasan Bereishis on Simchas Torah morning.  I didn’t want any more competition than necessary. 

Rabbi K won the auction.  Apparently, he would receive an Aliyah on Simchas Torah evening.  However, when it was time to call him to the Torah, they called up . . . . ME!! 

Rabbi K explained to me afterwards that he wanted to share the Mitzvah.  He did his Mitzvah by supporting the Yeshiva.  I did my Mitzvah by being called to the Torah. He gave me a hug and wished me a successful year. 

The next morning, I bid for Chasan Bereishis.  I won the auction.  But I didn’t get the Aliyah.  It was my greatest privilege to call up my “competitor” and very dear friend, Rabbi K. 

Yes, I guess in a sense we are competitors.  He gets some Brisses that I want, and I get some Brisses that he wants.  But I think Mr. G the baker said it best. “No one makes a penny unless G-d wants him to… If you always do business with that in mind, you’ll never have problems with your blood pressure!” 

Isn’t it nice to know that no one can ever take away something that G-d wants you to have? 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links. 



“The ‘December Dilemma’ — Bah! Humbug!!” (2009) 

 [This  message ran as an op-ed piece in the Jewish Press — Another well-known Jewish weekly paper rejected the article. — I wonder why. 🙂 ]

… Once again, we are confronted by the so-called “December Dilemma.” How do we as Jews respond to the “Holiday Spirit” that surrounds us wherever we go?  How should we as American Jews deal with a December holiday that occupies the hearts and minds of all around us? 

In one respect, it seems that the Christmas-Chanukah clash is no longer the problem that it used to be.  Most communities have found it politically correct to substitute “Merry Christmas” with a much more inclusive “Happy Holidays.” 

They have theirs and we have ours. We too, have the ability to ornament our homes with Chanukah decorations. Stores offer us the same abundance of toys for children of all ages, complete with appropriate Chanukah wrapping paper.  We can now celebrate with pride!  OUR holiday is no different than THEIRS! They are two sides of the same coin.  The dilemma is solved! 

Isn’t that sad? Why does Chanukah’s chronological proximity to Christmas have to force us to try to duplicate it?… 

Read more.


 “The Paternity Suit”(2008) 

…Tamar had a dilemma. Judahhad accused her of committing a terrible sin.  But she had done nothing wrong…  

What Tamar had to do now was to bring out the facts… 

So what did she do?  Almost nothing…

The entire future ofIsraeland the world hung in the balance.  Tamar had been chosen to be the mother of royalty.  But … it wasn’t worth it… 

Read more.


 “Yes, Brothers, Joseph DOES Love You!” (2006) 

Joseph’s brothers never did understand him.  They didn’t realize how much he loved them.  They thought he was out to get them… Even years later, inEgypt, after the death of their father, they thought he wanted to hurt them.  Joseph loved his brothers… 

The eleventh son of Jacob was the first Joseph to be misunderstood.  But he was not the last… 

Read more.


“The Rabbi and the Baker” (2004) 

… Last week there was a fire in a strip mall. Several of the businesses in the mall were incapacitated.  Z’s bakery was closed … However, Z’s didn’t stay closed for long.  Within several days, they were back in business, and I got my Danishes back. 

Then I saw an ad that shocked me…  

Read more.


“Nowhere Man” (2001) 

… Did you read about John Walker Lindh? He’s the 20-year-old Taliban soldier fromCalifornia, who now calls himself Abdul Hamid. You really have to wonder about what values his parents taught him. His father is a Catholic corporate lawyer. His mother is a commercial photographer who, according to the New York Times, has “dabbled in Buddhism.” Rather than push their values on their son, they encouraged him to “choose his own spiritual path.” The closest they came to giving him a role model was naming their then-Catholic son “John.” Why John? The Baptist, perhaps? Nope. An Adams or a Kennedy? Try again. Give up? That’s right, the Times article tells us that when choosing a name for their future terrorist, they decided to name him after  … 

Read more.


“Pro-choice!” (2000) 

…One voice of reason was Reuben, the oldest brother. He advised against physically murdering him. According to the Talmud, the pit contained poisonous snakes and scorpions. Reuben suggested throwing Joseph into a pit and letting nature take its course. The brothers would thereby avoid doing the dirty work themselves. 

Big deal! What difference does it make whether you kill someone with a weapon or you throw him in front of a train to be run over? Regardless of who pulls the trigger, the victim is equally dead!! … 

  Read more.


This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (  and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on December 1, 2004 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  

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