23 Kislev 5783

To listen to the recorded message: https://youtu.be/z9Kq88D87V0

“Though the LORD is exalted, He looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, He sees them from afar. Tehillim 138:6”

“The lowly he sets on high,” Job 5:11

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the LORD, and humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 15:33

Parashat Vayeshev tells the story of Yaakov settling in the land, Yosef and his brothers and their journey to Egypt, the story of Judah and Tamar, and Yosef’s imprisonment.

A few years ago, I can remember a company who was looking to hire someone with analytical skills and intellectual abilities. Several years later, the ability to relate to people and to form teams held much more value than those “know-it-alls” with little emotional intelligence and whose treatment of their colleagues was so terrible that they were “hated”. Although they were considered geniuses, they couldn’t compare with those who had people skills.

The first Commandment begins with Anochi Adonai Elohecha”, אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ I am the LORD your God…. This helps me understand that there will be always Someone superior to me; that I am not the center of the universe and that the world does not revolve around me. Accepting this commandment is a call to humility which brings up the question, “what does it mean to be humble?” With this in mind, I would like to share some examples from this parashah and attempt to answer this question.

First, we see that Yaakov finally manages to settle in one place in his old age. In last week’s portion Vayetze, what began to turn Yaakov’s “luck” around, was expressed in chap. 32:11 “I am not worthy of all the mercies and all the truth you have shown to your servant….” And in 32:12, “Deliver me, I beg you, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him!“. Until then, Yaakov had been a man who relied on deceit, his own cunning and intelligence to get ahead in life, but in this portion, his life takes a turn, when he recognized that he was “small” (when in actuality he was not) and that being “fearful” opened the ladder of Heaven and a Divine experience that would change his name from Yaakov to Israel. So, the first step to becoming humble is recognizing our status, our fears, and our fragility.

Second, let us not consider ourselves superior to anyone nor desire to stand out because of what they do poorly, instead of what we do well. Gen. 37:2 says that Joseph was with the sons of the concubines, the servants of Leah and Rachel, and although they were Jacob’s wives, they didn’t have the same status as Lavan’s daughters. Somehow, this little detail makes us wonder “who was he with?” Did Yosef feel superior to the children of these servants? Later, he tries to stand out or win his father’s affection by being a tattletale. That is, “Look, how good I am, and see how bad they are”. Today, the religious world is involved in this type of  “pride”, “look at them, how bad they are, only we have the truth”. This attitude can generate the same result as Yosef’s brothers and in one case, can develop into anti-Semitism, the contempt of others towards Israel. How many problems would we avoid if we only learned to hold our tongue! Let’s understand that the commandment is to be a light, not to be a mouth.

Third, let us learn to share our good experiences with the right attitude. Yosef was an immature boy, and part of this took its toll on him, however, it shows us that he loved being the center of attention; for e.g., when he wanted everyone to listen to his dream, he went out of his way to say, “look at me”, “listen to me”. Today that need is called the desire for fame or histrionic personality disorder. This is partly due to a parenting problem when they exalt or elevate a child too much, but it also denotes the emotional instability of blindness towards others, disregard for others, constant search for approval, blaming others for our failures, being easily influenced by others, low tolerance for frustration, and the need to be the center in any conversation. We all need to be approved, validated, accepted, and recognized, but we must understand that when these situations don’t happen, it is not the end of the world. Not maturing in this area will generate unpleasant reactions from others towards us, gratuitous hatred (sinat chinam) and simply losing our peace.

A humble person speaks, a prideful person keeps silent. When Yosef was kidnapped, thrown into the well, as his future was being discussed by his brothers, and he was finally sold by them, we don’t see Yosef exposing their behavior to make them come to their senses, to stop them from doing what they were going to do. I don’t justify how deplorable his brothers’ decision was, it was totally wrong, but Yosef’s silence was not right either. On certain occasions, he should have called his brothers to reason so that they would behave better but he stayed quiet. In this case, his silence might not have been humility rather a false faith, where he supposed that God would save him no matter what. It was an attitude of “because it is Me, He must save me (as if God owed him something).

Then we see Yehudah’s story with Tamar. It’s a bit of a gray story, but the Torah is explicit. What I see is Judah’s pride. He was an upright man, but despite this, he paid a woman for sexual services, and then decided not to give Tamar, his daughter-in-law (widowed twice) to his youngest son Shelah as her husband to procreate as was the (levirate) custom at the time. Judah was acting unfairly toward Tamar by sending her to her father’s house. At that time, the value of a woman lay in her ability to have children; in addition, without a husband, she would be unable to support herself. When she became pregnant, proving that she was fertile and that the Eternal had not granted Er and Onan children, the accusation reached Judah, and he issued a judgment saying: “Burn her!” (38:24). Why did Judah want to burn her? For fornicating, despite him taking away her right to have a husband for fear of losing Shelah. He also didn’t consult Tamar, rather he decided to embarrass her in public. Tamar’s silence was synonymous with humility, accepting her punishment but without embarrassing her father-in-law. Prior to being burned (38:25), she privately sent the owner (without saying that it was Judah) the belongings of the person who had impregnated her. Berachot 43 says “It is better for a person to let himself be burned in a fiery furnace than to embarrass his fellow man in public.” That is why in 38:26 Judah states: “She is more righteous than I, because I have not given her to Shelah, my son.” From this story, we can conclude that a humble person is not impulsive, “digs”, delves into the matter and does not make foolish judgments, is also fair in his actions and does not publicly expose others.

A humble person expects God to save him and not others; that is, God moves people to help someone without expecting the people to help themselves. Gen. 40:14 says, “But I hope you keep me in your memory when things go well for you; and I beg you to show mercy to me, and make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house.” That mean he trusted that the cupbearer would get him released from prison and not God. What prison are you going through today that God cannot open? God, not you, not any another person, will deliver you as Jeremiah 17:7 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and puts his trust in Him.”

Yosef and Judah were two brothers with incredible potential, but each had to go through a painful process. Yosef must have been humiliated to be sold while he was free, to become a slave and end up as a prisoner,  the lowest social status in Egypt. Judah, for his part, says the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 42:3) that he was separated from his brothers for having made his father suffer, that is, he had to be made to recognize that he was not as just and as good as he thought he was.

The merit of both brothers is that the Messiah would descend from them. In their youth, pride blinded them, and it would not be until they were reduced to their lowest, through a painful process, for both of them to recognize that humility is the way to be elevated. Do we want to be elevated? Let us become humble, that’s the only way.

Shabbat Shalom.

Mauricio Quintero

To hear the study afterwards: https://youtu.be/U4ctttMbkgA