This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת וַיֵּשֶׁב
The Haftarah for Parshas Vayeishev is the fourth one in a row to be taken from the Trei Asar (“Twelve [shorter] Prophets”), this time, from the book of Amos. But unlike the past few Haftaros, the prophecy featured here does not make any explicit references, at least Al Peshuto Shel Mikra (according to the simple reading of the text), to the individual heroes of our Sidrah. That being the case, what’s the relationship between Vayeishev and the selected prophecy from Amos?
So, as for the connection between, it’s not so difficult if we’re ready to give way to a little bit of Drash, or an exegetical reading, of our text in Amos.
In its original context, the Navi had been rebuking various nations by name, poetically enumerating the sins that each one had committed, each with the same format; (“Al Sheloshah Pish’ei (insert nation here) V’Al Arba’ah Lo Ashivenu…”-“For the three offences of (insert nation here), and for the fourth, I shall not relent…). Toward the end of this list of nations, Amos addresses the sins of Yehudah (Southern/Davidic Kingdom), and finally, as our Haftarah officially begins, he addresses the sins of Yisrael, the Northern Kingdom comprised of the Ten Tribes who seceded from Yehudah.
“Al Sheloshah Pish’ei Yisrael V’Al Arba’ah Lo Ashivenu Al Michram BaKesef Tzaddik V’Evyon Ba’avur Na’alayim”-“For the three offences of Yisrael, and for the fourth I will not relent; for they sold for money a righteous [acquitted] one, and a destitute one on account of [mere] shoes” [Amos 2:6].
The Midrash [Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 38] homiletically suggests that this particular verse is a reference to the central misdeed of our Sidrah, the infamous Sale of Yosef. (And perhaps we can suggest that the people of Yehudah were not included in this rebuke, despite their ancestor Yehudah’s leading role in the sale, because Yehudah had demonstrated a complete repentance when he had displayed a readiness to give up his life for Binyamin years later).
So, there’s your connection. We have a Midrashic shout-out to Mechiras Yosef.
But if that’s the case, it seems that, indeed, this connection is only that, a mere connection, a wink to Parshas Vayeishev. Meaning, if we go back to the Navi’s original context, the simple reading was not necessarily referring to Mechiras Yosef. In fact, even Rashi there [to Amos 2:6] explains that the sin described here was a contemporary one, that judges were “selling” innocent people out by accepting bribery from their opponents. If that’s the case, the reference to the Sale of Yosef remains a loose one.
And that’s fine if we’re just looking for a connection or an allusion to a relevant concept from our Sidrah. But, as we’ve explained, we would much prefer it if the Haftarah would essentially represent the themes of our Sidrah.
In this line, we might’ve suggested selecting a reading from the life of Dovid HaMelech, who was almost a perfect parallel to Yosef. He is described as a young shepherd [Shmuel Aleph 16:11], he is asked by his father to observe the welfare of his older half-brothers [Ibid. 17:17-18] who apparently do not approve of him [Ibid. 17:28-29], yet he ultimately wins the favor of everyone else around him [Ibid. 18:5-7], and, of course, amidst his many successes, he rises to kingship.
Considering all of the above, why do we settle for this single shout-out-at-best to the event of Mechiras Yosef?
So, yes, the Haftarah can be read as a rebuke to the tribes for the ancient sin of selling Yosef as a slave, even though, as we’ve explained the Peshuto Shel Mikra was referring to a recurring contemporary sin such as corrupt judges selling their justice for bribery. If that’s the case, we would like to identify something more essential in this connection between Vayeishev and Amos’s general rebuke of Israel. There is a takeaway message based on the common theme highlighted in both readings. What is that message?
If the moral of the story is merely that it is wrong to sell people away or to sell people out for personal gain, perhaps we’re setting the bar a little low. Certainly, we’ve been taught that even Yosef’s brothers were not so shallow, Chas Va’Shalom, that they recklessly sold their brother away because “he rubbed them the wrong way.” As wrong as they were at the end of the day, they are deemed by Chazzal as Tzaddikim, and their actions were heavily calculated as, some explain, they formed a court when determining how to deal with the legitimate “threat” that they felt Yosef was posing to them. They sought out a Halachic lawsuit against Yosef, albeit a misinformed one.
But when we consider the arguments that the brothers made in their little “Beis Din” (court), we can begin to taste the sin that permeated and contaminated their reasoning. They had forethoughts of killing Yosef, or perhaps starving him to death, until the following argument arose: “Mah Betza Ki Naharog Es Achinu V’Chisinu Es Damo? Lechu V’Nimkirenu…”-“What gain is there if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Let us go and sell him…” [Bereishis 37:26-27].
“What gain is there?” Yehudah asked, and his brothers approved. Yes, they ultimately spared Yosef’s life—a fortunate thing, certainly—but since when was gain a matter at play here? Were they not acting as judges in a court setting? If their ruling, albeit an incorrect one, was to kill him, that’s one thing. And if their ruling was that killing him was unnecessary, which is likely, as the Halachah states that if one can thwart the attempts of a Rodeif (pursuer) without killing him, he must do so [Sanhedrin 74A], that’s also a theoretically acceptable ruling. But, since when was gain a relevant factor in the discussion? Unless, of course, gain was a pervading part of the discussion all along, a discussion that Yosef’s brothers were never truly intellectually honest enough to have handled themselves. Because, when there is something to gain—whether emotionally or practically, one’s view is clouded and skewed by that gain so that he cannot properly judge the case, as the Torah tells us twice [Shemos 23:8, Devarim 16:19], “Ki HaShochad Yi’aveir…”-“For the bribe will blind…”
And that’s where the Amos’s message meets Vayeishev. Prominent in both texts is the blaming the children of Israel for the apparently malicious selling of innocent individuals for some personal gain. Even if we could theorize what thought they put into their actions, how righteously intended they thought they were, it was ultimately and inevitably infected by personal feelings that they had on the matter, whether those feelings were from the heat of desire or hatred, it does not matter. The emotions overtook the case and innocent individuals were sold out because of it.
Whether directly referencing Mechiras Yosef or not, Amos’s prophecy denounces such corruption of justice, and in fact calls it what is, a corruption of justice, no matter what rationalization one might provide. For even if they had found logical and perhaps even “moral” grounds for their actions given their situation, (1) they were still wrong, and (2) they were never equipped to place a verdict with the “bribe money” in their hands to begin with. Thus, the objective fault in their actions must be overemphasized to counter the possibly of their being overlooked. Yehudah only becomes an acquitted man when he looks his own personal misdeeds in the face, takes responsibility for them, and called them what they were. That’s the takeaway from Vayeishev.
For the rest of the B’nei Yisrael, it was their actions that brought Galus (exile) and suffering for their father, themselves, and their descendants. Whatever they had thought about their actions before, there could be no denying of the negative outcome. Thus, Amos explains, no differently than when people naturally cower at the roar of lion, Israel’s unjust actions, rationalized or not, have natural, unpleasant, and unavoidable consequences.
May we all be Zocheh to be intellectually honest, be brave enough to not judge in areas where we’re unfitting to do so and Hashem should judge us favorably, never “sell” us away, but rather completely embrace us with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂