Vayeshev – Trial and Triumph
Joseph was sold to Egypt where his midas touch affected everything he was involved in. The verse (Genesis 39:2) states that ‘the Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; and he remained in the house of his Egyptian master.’ Three times in this short verse the text uses the word ‘vayehi,’ and [it/he] was. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch points this out and extrapolates from this that the Lord was with Joseph more so than with Joseph’s brothers. While the Lord is always with us, His presence is manifest in varying degrees. God was especially present in guiding Joseph’s success because of the plight he was in.
When tragedy strikes, when the going gets hard, people tend to show more resilience and strength than we normally credit them for. People display courage in difficult times that we would not have thought they were capable of. So where does this additional dose of heart come from? Was this strength always latent in them or does circumstance trigger an evolution within a person?
According to Rabbi Hirsch’s interpretation here, the fortitude that people display in trying times is a reflection of G-d’s more prominent presence. G-d doesn’t play fair, He has a soft spot for the underdog, for the person in trouble. This is why everything Joseph touched turned to gold. His master’s household flourished under Joseph’s care and won him the favor of everyone he was involved with. (He particularly won the favor of his master’s wife. Rabbi Hirsch explains that she was attracted primarily by his character, his noble moral standing, while the physical attraction was secondary.)
An olive is a hard and bitter fruit, useless as a food without processing. The primary use of olives is for its oil. The olive is squeezed, crushed, put under tremendous strain and pressure. It is only then that the precious and pure oil is coaxed from the fruit. This oil is what was used in the Temple to light the Menora and mix with the meal offerings. Olive oil has traditionally been considered the highest quality of oils, giving the most steady and pure flame.
In His infinite wisdom, the Lord designed the olive to reflect the nature of mankind. The mechanism which triggers the production of our most precious character is through pressure and stress. Joseph’s great success was not in spite of the circumstances he was in but because of it. G-d came to his aid and bolstered his capabilities, purified the oils of Joseph in his time of need.
We are coming into Chanuka this week and we know the great miracle that occurred through the oil was a result of the tremendous sacrifices made by the Jews who were faithful to the tradition. They were pushed, restricted and impeded from observing the commandments. Had they not been pushed there would have been no pushback. They would have remained passive and subservient to the ancient Greeks and the Temple would have been lost to them. But the Greeks were not content with overtaking the Temple, they wanted to stop the practice of the Jewish religion as well. This put the necessary weight upon the Jewish people to squeeze out their oils. They resisted and won back not only the ability to practice their faith but also the Temple itself.