Vayeishev 5777

Avoiding Hatred[1]

ויהי יוסף יפה-תאר ויפה מראה
And Yosef was beautiful in form and appearance[2]

Yosef had just been sold by his brothers into slavery. He became the servant of Potiphar in Egypt, and ended up becoming promoted to overseeing Potiphar’s entire household. The Torah then describes Yosef’s appearance. Rashi[3] explains this bizarre juxtaposition by quoting the Midrash[4] as follows: Once Yosef saw that he was in a position of power, he began to eat and drink and “curl his hair”. Hashem responded by accusing Yosef of forgetting the fact that his father is in mourning (since he thought that Yosef was dead). Yosef should dare act so haughty? As a punishment Hashem sent Potiphar’s wife to try to seduce him, which the very next verse describes. There’s a lot going on here that needs explanation. What’s this idea of curling his hair? Was he trying to doll himself up? Who was he trying to impress? How could Yosef forget his father[5]?

The gemarra[6] informs us that from the day that Yosef was separated from his family, he abstained from drinking wine. Chazal learn this from the blessing Yaakov gave to Yosef[7]: ולקדקד נזיר אחיו. The verse uses the term Nazir to describe Yosef (someone who abstains from wine, doesn’t cut their hair or approach the dead). Although Chazal only mention not drinking wine, it’s possible that Yosef took upon himself a vow to become a Nazir[8]. Once Yosef became a person of importance, it was unseemly to have him appear with long, disheveled hair. This could be why he was curling it, so he wouldn’t be forced to cut his hair or lose his position[9] [10].

When Yosef and his brothers finally reunited, the verse indicates that they drank wine together[11]. Yosef ended his vow of abstaining from wine. This begs the question, if Yosef refrained from wine because of the pain from being separated from his family, why start drinking now? Yes, he’s reunited with his brothers, but he’s still separated from his father. We see from here he didn’t refrain because he was separated from his family. If that were the case, he would have waited until finally reuniting with his father before drinking wine. So then what was the reason?

Perhaps the reason he accepted upon himself this abstention was to prevent any negative feelings to fester towards his brothers. After his brothers threw him into a pit, wanted to kill him, and finally settled to sell him to the Egyptians, this wouldn’t have been too unlikely to occur. His abstention from wine and other things after parting from them was to awaken his love for them and to ensure no trace of hatred came to his heart[12]. This is similar to what the Rambam[13] writes, that when one feels himself drawn towards one extreme (possibly a negative one), he should swing himself to the other extreme, and he’ll end up somewhere in the middle. The Baalei HaMussar, Masters of the Human psyche, write similarly that if a person offends you in some way, do something nice to them to avoid harboring negative feelings[14].

When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he said to them[15]: “Behold your eyes see as well as the eyes of my brother Binyomin that it’s my mouth that is speaking to you”. Chazal are bothered why Yosef specified Binyomin, and explain[16] that what he was conveying is that just like he harbored no hatred towards Binyomin, since he didn’t participate in the sale, so too he didn’t harbor hatred towards any of them. We see that his efforts were successful; there wasn’t a single trace of hatred towards his brothers, despite what they did to them. Therefore when he reunited with them, he stopped being a Nazir; he stopped his abstention. He realized he was successful in his efforts to maintain positive feelings towards them. This was his whole purpose in becoming a Nazir. So even though he hadn’t yet reunited with his father, he didn’t refrain from drinking wine.

If Yosef felt it necessary to avoid hating his brothers (despite it being justified), to the point that he refrained from pleasures he would have normally enjoyed, all the more so we should try our best not to hate a single undeserving Jew. When we are divided we are the most vulnerable; only when we are united can we face up against any challenge.

Good Shabbos and Happy Chanukah

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Genesis 39:6

[2] Genesis loc. cit. It’s interesting to note that the sequence of יפה תאר followed by מראה appears three times in Tanach (according to the Concordance): Once here with Yosef, earlier with his mother Rochel (ibid 29:17) and in Esther 2:7 with regards to Esther. Both with Rochel and Yosef it uses the adjective יפה with מראה whereas with Esther she’s described as טובת מראה. Esther was from the tribe of Binyomin, Rochel’s son and Yosef’s brother. The significance of this is unclear and I’d appreciate any insights

[3] ad. loc.

[4] Midrash Tanchuma Vayeishev § 8

[5] In the end I didn’t fully address this point and didn’t answer the question of why sending Potiphar’s wife against Yosef was a suitable punishment. Both of these are addressed by the Be’er YosefCheck out to see

[6] Shabbos 139a

[7] Genesis 49:26

[8] The Maharsha to Shabbos loc. cit. suggests this. In fact, Bereishis Rabbah 98:20 says this explicitly

[9] Nazir 1:1 indicates it was normal for a Nazir to curl their hair

[10] However this doesn’t explain the emphasis given that Yosef began to eat and drink

[11] Genesis 43:34

[12] Why would Yosef do such a thing? Yosef himself says (Genesis 45:8) that he knew that Hashem was responsible for sending him to Egypt, and it was for the best of everyone. He knew they were just instruments in Hashem’s plan, and didn’t want to blame them. See Sefer HaChinuch § 241, that this is the reason for the mitzvah to not take revenge

[13] Mishneh Torah Hilchos Deos Chapter 2

[14] This is based on Bava Metzia 32b; see as well Tosafos to Pesachim 113b s.v. שראה and Zohar Vayeishev p. 201b

[15] Genesis 45:12

[16] Megillah 16