Vayeishev 5777 – In Good Times and Bad

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If you think the relationship you have with your siblings is poor, take a look at how Yosef and his brothers get
along in Parshat Vayeishev. The brothers, who can sense that this dreamer is the apple of their father’s eye, do not exactly relish being told by their least favorite sibling about how his dreams are all about them bowing down or serving him. Things intensify to the point where the brothers plot to kill Yosef, and are only deterred by the eldest brother, Reuven, that maybe this is not the best idea. Rather, they sell Yosef into slavery and tell their father that he’s been shredded to pieces by a wild animal.

Yet, throughout this ordeal, Hashem is with Yosef, guiding him. The Torah tells us that (Bereishis 39:2) “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.” He transitioned into a successful man from the lowly slave that entered Egypt not long before. Nevertheless, despite this success, he was still thrown into jail. After Yosef spurns the continued advances of Potifar’s wife, she turned around and made false claims about him. The sentiment in the  is the same: (39:21) “The Lord was with Joseph, and He extended charisma to him, and He gave him favor in the eyes of the warden of the prison.” There is a massive practical lesson to be learned from these two events in the life of Yosef, a message that we all know but don’t always remember. Just as Hashem was with Yosef in his time of success and struggle, so too is He with us in our times of great and not as great.

There’s a great story of Rav Noach Weinberg z”l trying to recruit a student to learn in yeshiva, yet the student rebuffs the offer and responds “God and I are tight.” He proceeds to regale Rav Weinberg with a tale of him riding his motorcycle on a winding mountain road when suddenly, a massive truck came from around a corner, barrelling straight toward him. The man was forced off the road, off the side of the mountain. He’s plummeting toward earth when as suddenly as the truck appeared, a tree appeared in front of him. The man grabbed onto the tree branches for dear life, able to hold on to watch his bike go up in flames below. He was able to walk away from the incident unscathed. “God put that tree there for me, and saved me”, said the man. Rav Weinberg was intrigued by the story and without missing a beat responded “Yes, but who do you think sent the truck toward you?”

As they say, there are no atheists in a foxhole. It’s easy for someone to see the hand of God when their back is against the wall. In Judaism, we have a bracha of Dayan HaEmet for somber occasions, but we also have a bracha of Hatov Vehameitiv, when good fortune is graced upon us. At times, it’s more difficult to stop and recognize Hashem’s presence in our life when things are great at work, at home, and everywhere else. I don’t need anything! Hashem was with Yosef at all junctures of his life, good and bad. We say in Ashrei “Karov Hashem lechol kor’av, lechol asher yikre’u be’emes”, Hashem is close to those who call to him in sincerity. It doesn’t specify whether times are good or bad. The God we call out to in times of trouble is the same God that gives us more during our times of plenty. May He continue to always guide and protect us. 

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