Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayeshev November 21, 2013

Beresheit/Genesis 37-40

Towards the end of this week’s Torah reading, Joseph finds himself in a hopeless situation, having been in prison for ten years with no prospect of freedom. It is at this juncture that Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s ministers which is a critical turning point in his life, though he is unaware of it at the moment.

There is one easily overlooked verse. After the two ministers dreamt their respective dreams, they were very distressed that they did not understand their meaning. Joseph noticed their sadness and he asked, “Why do you appear downcast today?” This seemingly inconsequential question led to the interpretation of the dreams which eventually resulted in Joseph’s liberation and incredible rise to power. Had Joseph never asked them why they were upset they may never have confided in him and the golden opportunity for freedom would have been lost. His small act of thoughtfulness may not seem particularly noteworthy, but it is actually quite remarkable considering his situation at that time. He had been living in appalling conditions for ten long years with no hope of freedom. He had every right to be totally depressed and consumed with bitterness about his own situation. Yet he overcame all these factors, saw their distress and cared enough to ask what was wrong.

There is a great temptation to go through life so absorbed in our own lives that we do not recognize the needs of others. One of the keys to being a genuine giver is to notice the world around us.

The most glaring example of this is found earlier in the parsha when Tamar is being taken to be burnt at the stake. She had every opportunity to save her life by revealing that the items in her possession were those of Judah. However, she gave greater emphasis to the embarrassment that Judah would endure if she did so and therefore remained quiet. We are taught from her example that a person must give up his life before embarrassing someone else. In other words, we will all encounter situations where we are called upon to consider another person’s feelings more important than our own.

When we are walking down the street, are we exclusively preoccupied with our own thoughts or do we notice those around us? There may be someone carrying a heavy load who would appreciate a helping hand.
There are numerous examples of small acts of thoughtfulness that can light up people’s lives.

This event in the life of Joseph reminds us that we can never be certain of the consequences of one single act of kindness. Every act of kindness done with purity of heart is of immeasurable value. May we all learn from our forefathers and be true givers of ourselves to others.

In Tune with Torah this week = look back over the week and ask yourself whether or not you were aware of those around you or were you primarily self-absorbed. We called to emulate our heavenly Father. Imagine if He became self-absorbed and didn’t notice your needs?? G-d forbid! We are, after all, to
“be holy as I am holy.” And caring about others has a whole lot to do with our level of holiness.

Shabbat Shalom

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