Parashat Vayeshev

When I was a young student at After Shabbat dinner I walked 2 of my hosts back to their hotel.

On the way, One of the guest naively observed and asked the other host:

" Since you go to shul every Shabbat, you must have a strong faith in G-d."

His response surprised me:

"Truthfully, I have little faith. I don't go to temple to be with G-D! I go to be with other Jews."

The difference has to do, in part, with Jews being a minority. Especially in small communities, we feel a strong need to be with other Jews.

What is being Jewish?

Being Jewish often is frequently about Israel, values, social justice, ethnic bonds, customs, rituals, and preserving those traditions from generation to generation.

Some can wonder why we don't have more G-D-talk.

They wish they could feel the Presence of G-D more intensely in their lives.

They long for just a fraction of the faith that some of their neighbors have.

In Parashat Vayeishev, we read that when Joseph was in Egypt, the following :

" the Eternal was with Joseph."

Moreover, it is written, his master, Potiphar, the Captain of Pharaoh's Guard,

"saw that the Eternal was with him" (Genesis 39:2-3).

What does it mean:

" to be with G-d"?

How did Joseph get to be with G-d?

What would it take for you and me to "be with G-d"?

Let's consider how our tradition might respond to these questions.

In Midrash Rabbah, the Rabbis teach that Joseph whispered G-D's name all the time, when he came in and when he went out

(B'reishit Rabbah on Genesis 39:3).

Rashi agreed that Joseph uttered the name of G-d frequently.

Faith has something to do with being aware of G-d and of G-d's Creation on a regular basis.

Faith is enhanced by our regular recitation of blessings of appreciation, such as:

HaMotzi, Birkat HaMazon, or the Shema at bedtime.

It also does Our awareness of blessing intensifies increases our sense of God's nearness!

Another midrash on this verse teaches that G-D was with Joseph because he was young and, unlike his brothers, he wason his own.

As such, his ideas were still in the process of formation and therefore he needed G-d's Presence and guidance more than his older siblings

From this midrash we might learn that the time to foster religious faith is when we are young and most impressionable.

Nachmanides, in his commentary, offers another perspective.

" the Eternal was with him [Joseph]"

means that Joseph was successful and knew that his success came from G-D.

This parallels the Torah text itself where Potiphar attributes Joseph's success to the fact that the Eternal was with him.

All of these interpretations are instructive and lead to the same conclusion. Nachmanides explains it best:

G-D was with Joseph because Joseph realized that whatever he accomplished came from G-d.

He understood that his achievements were not solely the result of his talents.

He was God's instrument.

This explanation anticipates Joseph's own words to his brothers in Genesis 45:1-9,

where he relieves them of guilt for having exiled him from the family.

He insists that this was all part of God's plan for him.

We find ourselves in the midst of the amazing journey of Joseph who started out as a spoiled brat and who is maturing before our eyes each week.

"Joseph's growth began when he left his father's protective presence and set out on his own. Away from the oppressive attitude of his brothers and their jealousy, he could begin to look at himself in realistic terms. It often takes leaving their parents' house for children to begin to develop a stronger sense of themselves and take responsibility for their lives. How many of us have been utterly amazed at the transformation of our kids when they go off to college?

Perhaps faith in God is the answer to the growing narcissism and egocentrism of our contemporary society.

Can humility born of such faith help us achieve a better balance in life?

Can it help us, as it did the young Joseph, to mature?

Can it help us understand that we are not radically independent creatures,

but, rather children of the living God endowed with blessings and responsibilities!


Shabbat Shalom

Best RegardsJean - Pierre FETTMANN + 65 94604420