Parashas Vayeishev – Measure for Measure

After all the obstacles Yaakov has had to overcome in order to reach Canaan, the first word of this weeks parasha implies that at last Yaakov can finally ‘שב/shev’, sit or settle, in the land. As the famous phrase goes however, 'there is no rest for the righteous'! Rashi teaches us that, although tzaddikim are obviously entitled to peace, Yaakov had not yet completed his mission as he still had an important part to play in preparing the way for the future of the nation. Bringing down a Midrash he goes on to explain that, although the righteous seek tranquility, Hashem asks… ‘Are the righteous not satisfied with what awaits them in the World to Come that they expect to live in ease in this World too?’. This Rashi also provides interesting insight into how we are judged according to our own unique standards set by Hashem based on our individual situation and ability etc. We therefore see that Yaakov, being at the top of the food chain when it comes to serving Hashem, should have known better than to try and ‘sit’ his final days out. Another lesson to be learnt from this is that as Jews we should never be static in life; a Jew should always be looking to improve on himself... even at such a late stage in life there are no excuses. The mefarshim bring down that Yaakov’s worst aggravations with the oncoming episodes involving Yoseph came as a result of this astaticism and we are taught by the Ramchal that to be stagnant in ones life is as if he is falling backwards in his service of Hashem.

The Torah states that… “Yisrael loved Yoseph more than all his sons” [37:3], which seems to be a strange way to behave for someone as holy as Yaakov. Surely a basic fundamental in parenting is not to favour one child over his siblings? And it is in fact from this actual favouritism, and the subsequent events which unfolded, that the mefarshim bring down that a parent must love all their children equally lest the favouritism of one cause the hatred of another. So the question remains, why did Yaakov favour Yoseph? The first thing which needs to be noted when answering this question is that we are unable on our lowly level to understand the actions of our forefathers and we therefore must instead adopt a view on the Torah through the lenses of chazal who were able to judge actions with must clearer perspective due to their far superior medraiga. So with this in mind we see that just as Avraham favoured Yitzhak over Ishmael, and Yitzhak then favoured Yaakov over Esav, Yaakov had good reason too favour Yoseph with his astute recognition the spiritual and intellectual superiority present within him. This idea is reinforced by Rabbi Bachya’s observation that the Torah uses the name Yisrael here rather than Yaakov, which he explains, implies his choice to favour Yoseph was one of greatness and not feebleness due to the name Yisrael connecting to Yaakov's higher spiritual nature.

Having already discussed how Hashem seemed to administer a very strict form of justice to Yaakov when he tried to settle in the land, this week's sedra contains numerous examples of another form of pure justice which Hashem uses to magistrate the world, which is that of His dimension of 'מדה כנגד מדה/mida kaneged mida'; which translates literally as 'measure for measure'. It is taught by the mefarshim that any pain or suffering a person experiences can be as a direct result of an affiliated sin or misdeed which they enacted. They go on to explains how we can use this knowledge in order to observe the troubles which come our way and try to identify the related source of them in our own actions which, if successful, can lead to effective teshuvah. A common example of this is that of people suffering with mouth ulcers which is said to be as an outcome of speaking lashon horra. Obviously this doesn't mean that every time we get an ulcer we must think it is a punishment for speaking in an inappropriate manner, but this example nicely outlines the general concept of 'מדה כנגד מדה'. When it come to the Torah, we are given clear evidence for this attribute of pure justice and this week's sedra brings down some of the most famous cases of it with Yaakov, Yoseph and Yehudah falling victim to suffering which is directly related to their respective misdeeds.

The Torah teaches us how Yaakov lived a life of almost continuous pain and suffering. Having been born the brother of Esav and being forced to flee his home after he had to deceive his own father for his blessing we then saw in Parashas Vayeitzei how he was repeatedly cheated by his wicked uncle Lavan for many years, having to work long stretches of years in order to obtain his desired wife, Rachel, and then eventually having to escape following his refusal to let him leave. We then saw in last week's sedra how Yaakov had to face his brother once again in a chilling encounter with Esav and his 400 men which would have been a very threatening site indeed... and these events don't even mention the battle Yaakov had with an angel and the many years on the run which he endured away from home! As mentioned above however, Yaakov's largest portion of aggravation was only experienced once he 'settled' in the land of Canaan with the events which unwound regarding the loss of his favoured son Yoseph. So what was the cause of this new phase of anguish which Yaakov was made to endure there, and why did it have to come in this form? As you have probably guessed, the mefarshim bring down that this fresh form distress which struck Yaakov was as a result of him being punished by the law of 'מדה כנגד מדה'. The first observation of this which is brought down is that of the loss of his son itself which chazal put down to the fact that Yaakov was away from his family for 34 years and did not contact them to let them know that he was safe. This terrible worry which he inflicted on his farther, meant that he was punished 'מדה כנגד מדה' with the same torment through the loss of his own son. A second source of Yaakov being punished in this way is brought down in the Zohar which explains that the actions of the brother's, through slaughtering a goat and dipping Yoseph's garment in it's blood to deceive their father as to his fate, was in fact an additional case of Yaakov being punished 'מדה כנגד מדה'. It is therefore no coincidence that the animal Yaakov used to deceive his own father, by wearing goatskins, in order to take Esav's blessing, was the same as that used by the brother's for their own deceit with regards to Yoseph's outcome.

It isn’t just Yaakov who is being dealt justice by Hashem in this week's sedra and we see that Yehudah is another unfortunate recipient of this in two incidents which occur towards the end of the parasha. Following the sale of Yoseph, Yehudah was deposed from his position of leadership over his brothers as they blamed him for being the ring leader in the devious plot when they saw their father’s intense grief. As a result of this disenchantment, Yehudah moved away from his family and settled in Adullam, married and had three children. Within a few lines of their birth, however, the Torah describes how Yehudah’s two oldest sons tragically died, which according to Sforno was a punishment which had its roots in the justice of ‘מדה כנגד מדה’. He goes on to explain that because of Yehudah’s culpability for Yaakov’s suffering, he was repaid by losing his oldest two sons so that he would have to experience the same grief he had caused his farther as an atonement. The Midrash cites in the name of Rabbi Yochanan another situation where Yehudah is punished through the attribute of 'measure for measure'... In the deceit of their father, it is taught that the brothers who were led by Yehudah, hurt him immensely by showing him Yoseph's blood stained tunic and asking him to... “הכר-נא/Identify-if you please” [37:32]. Later on in the sedra when Yehudah is involved with the events surrounding Tamar we see these same words of “הכר-נא/Identify-if you please” [38:25] used by Tamar when she shows Yehudah his signet, wrap and staff in order that he recognises that he was the person who impregnated her and should therefore save her life. The consequences of this was that Yehudah faced public humiliation for his relations with her through these same exact words, which is yet another example of being punished ‘מדה כנגד מדה’. We therefore see how although strict justice prevails, Hashem judges this world in a very fair and precise manner with no incident unaccounted for in his accurate heshbon.

Shabbat Shalom and hatzlacha rabba for the week ahead!

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

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