VAYEISHEV (Genesis, 37:1-40:23) — “Pro-choice!”

Jacob’s sons were jealous of second-youngest brother Joseph. Due to a misinterpretation of each other’s intentions, the brothers thought that he was “out to get them.” They assumed that he wanted to be the only one of Jacob’s sons who would become a father of the nation of Israel. (There was ample precedent for such a concept. Isaac was the only one of Abraham’s seven sons who carried on the tradition of their father. Of Isaac’s two sons, only Jacob led the Nation of Israel. Joseph’s brothers, all of whom were destined to become the Tribes of Israel, felt that he was looking to eliminate them as well.) Therefore, they plotted to kill him.  (An explanation of their actions can be read at “Blessings and Curses on the West Bank”) 

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!! 

The Torah tells us that Reuben’s intentions were honorable. His plan was to rescue him from his brothers and bring him back to his father. (Genesis 37:22) 

Bring him back to his father? Did Reuben actually intend to deliver a dead or dying snake-bitten, scorpion-stung favorite son to Jacob?! What was he thinking?! 

The NETZIV, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin of Volozhin, answers this question, based upon a statement from the Zohar. Reuben knew that since Joseph was righteous, G-d would protect him from the snakes and scorpions in the pit. 

But what about the brothers? If G-d would save righteous Joseph from the attacks of wild animals, wouldn’t He also protect him from his brothers? (In other words, why does G-d sometimes let bad things happen to good people?) 

Rabbi Berlin answers that one of the main tenets of our faith is the fact that G-d gives every human being the option of choosing between good and evil. We are not robots (as the angel said in last week’s Torah Talk “Name that Angel!”) who are programmed to always do the right thing and never stray from the path of righteousness. If we WERE so programmed, there would be no such thing as good and evil, because we would be acting by rote, not by active decision. If a person decides to sin, G-d does not stand in the way. He allows us to make our choice. If we decide improperly, we will have to face the consequences later, in this world or in the next! 

Snakes and scorpions, on the other hand, act upon instinct rather than judgment. Therefore, Reuben reasoned, there was a better chance that G-d would “bend nature,” and prevent them from acting upon their natural tendencies to attack. 

In short, Reuben assumed that Joseph was safer in a pit of poisonous vipers. G-d might miraculously save him from the snakes, but He would not prevent Joseph’s brothers from sinning. 

One of the differences between people and animals is that animals act upon instinct. If you put a lamb in front of a hungry lion, the lion will not show compassion. That is nature. We, on the other hand, possess the G-d-given ability to overcome our instincts and emotions. 

G-d will, on occasion, manipulate nature; but he will not manipulate our thoughts and actions. He will not stop us from sinning if that is what we want to do. (But He WILL assist us in our desire to do what is right, if that is what we want to do.) 

When a person chooses to do what is right, there is nothing in the world as great as a human. If he chooses to do what is wrong, there is nothing worse. 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

——————————————————————————–

From the Archives

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

 [This  message ran as an op-ed piece in the Jewish Press — Another well-known Jewish weekly paper (initials JW) 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?… 

https://torahtalk.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/vayeishev-the-%e2%80%98december-dilemma%e2%80%99-bah-humbug/

——————————————————————————–

 “The Paternity Suit”(2008) 

…Tamar had a dilemma.  Judah had 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 of Israel and the world hung in the balance.  Tamar had been chosen to be the mother of royalty.  But … it wasn’t worth it… 

https://torahtalk.wordpress.com/2008/12/17/vayeishev-%e2%80%9cthe-paternity-suit%e2%80%9d-2/\

——————————————————————————–

 “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, in Egypt, 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… 

https://torahtalk.wordpress.com/2006/12/13/vayeishev-%e2%80%9cyes-brothers-joseph-does-love-you%e2%80%9d/

———————————————————————————

“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…  

https://torahtalk.wordpress.com/2004/12/01/vayeishev-%e2%80%9cthe-rabbi-and-the-baker%e2%80%9d/

———————————————————————————

“Nowhere Man” (2001) 

… Did you read about John Walker Lindh? He’s the 20-year-old Taliban soldier from California, 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  … 

https://torahtalk.wordpress.com/2001/12/06/vayeishev-nowhere-man/

———————————————————————————

“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!! … 

https://torahtalk.wordpress.com/2000/12/22/vayeishev-%e2%80%9cpro-choice%e2%80%9d/

———————————————————————————

This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2010 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

————————————————————————–

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

————————————————————————–

If you enjoyed this message, send it to a friend.

To subscribe, send an e-mail to Torahtalk@gmail.com, and type “Subscribe” on the subject line.

To unsubscribe, type “Unsubscribe” on the subject line.

Advertisements
Published in: on November 25, 2010 at 8:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: