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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev 5781

Parashat Hashavua: The Power of the Ox

Harav Shaul Yisraeli from Siach Shaul p. 120-121

Rashi (based on Bereishit Rabba 84:6) expounds upon the pasuk, “These are the happenings of Yaakov, Yosef ...” (Bereishit 37:2) that whatever happened to Yaakov happened to Yosef. Nevertheless, there was something new about Yosef that was not expected of a son of the saintly Yaakov. Yosef groomed his eyes and styled his hair (Rashi ibid.). It is hard to imagine Yaakov, the unblemished man who sat in tents (Bereishit 25:27), involving himself in such vain beautification. These were new customs unique to Yosef.   

These new practices were also connected to the development of quarrels between the brothers. Yosef brought his father negative reports about his brothers (Bereishit 37:2). Warm feelings were missing in the family. It is true that Chazal criticized Yosef for these reports and related to them as PARTIAL justification for the actions his brothers took against Yosef, we also find that they recognized the very close emotional connection that existed between Yaakov and Yosef.

There is a very clear contrast between Yaakov and Eisav. Eisav took pride in and took steps to increase his power in the world (Bereishit Rabba 63:7). Yaakov chose paths that avoided Eisav and avoided trouble. He did not react decisively over the actions of Shechem against Dina. He progressed on his journey slowly, to handle his children and flock carefully. In contrast, Eisav attained “desired clothes” (see Bereishit 27:15) and pursued beauty and glory, even if the price of that pursuit was the need to kill people. He paved the path of his “cultural” attainment with hundreds of people trampled and choked.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that Yaakov was missing some of the sharp finishes that Eisav used effectively. It seems that over-hesitancy was a part of Yaakov’s makeup. Chazal, for example, were not happy that Yaakov bowed down eight times when approaching his brother (Bereishit Rabba 75:11).

This is where Yosef came along. He merged the characteristics of his father and his uncle. He unveiled a new style, interested in his hair and his eyes. But on the other hand, even when he already had a grasp on dominion, he still reminded his brothers that he was connected to the Torah he learned with his father (see Rashi ibid. 45:27). When his master’s wife offered him all that he could desire, he did not delay a moment and ran away from sin. His good looks and style did not blemish his morality. His externalities did not come at the expense of his internal rectitude. This is the characteristic with which he approached power and which Paroh appreciated.

Centuries later, at the time of the Hasmoneans, when the Greeks stood up against Israel, they attacked with the idea of an ox (which is the symbol of Yosef – see Devarim 33:17). The Greeks said: “Write on the horn of an ox that you do not have a part in the G-d of Israel” (Bereishit Rabba 5:4). Pious Jews gave their lives in sanctification of His Name and in battle. That awoke the power of the ox within Israel. They did not go like sheep to the slaughter, but stood with strength. The negative writing on the ox’s horn was replaced with the internal and external characteristic of power from Yosef.   
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