Vayeshev: Growing into Greatness
This week’s portion, Vayeshev, translates to “settling down.” It’s an interesting moment to engage with the portion, as right now many of us feel deeply unsettled. Why? For some, it’s because we aren’t able to participate in our seasonal traditions as we have in the past. In general, we are experiencing limits on what we’re able to do — whether it’s our career, a relationship, or our spiritual journey that is being affected. To feel hindered in our progress and restricted in our lifestyles is undoubtedly a very frustrating experience. Our current period may feel like a forced pause, but this portion posits that difficult times can also serve as periods of preparation. Vayeshev reminds us that G-d always has a plan for us and that every challenge has the potential to take us to the next level.
Who better to illustrate this message than Joseph? During this portion, we learn the details of his unenviable plight. Joseph had a clear mission for his life: just like his father and grandfather, he wanted to bring balance to the world. He saw in a dream that he would achieve this, but in order to do so, he had to correct the original sin. When we think about the original sin in the garden of Eden, we should think about bad timing. Why? Because what Adam and Eve really did wrong was that they indulged in certain acts too soon. However, Joseph was also a victim of bad timing. He announced his belief that he would be king before he had come into his full greatness. For this he was punished — the world was not ready for him.
If it pains us to feel that our plans have been sabotaged, imagine how Joseph must have felt. He had such noble objectives, believing himself to be a prophet, yet he was sold and forced to live and work as a slave by his own brothers. With hindsight, it’s easy to judge their actions; however, the fact remains that Joseph wasn’t yet ready to be king. Although he was correct about his vision for the future, he still had work to do to reach that position. His brothers felt that the favoritism shown to him by their father was unfair. At this point in Joseph’s life, it’s understandable that they thought that way. They didn’t know that he would later become even greater than them.
There’s another lesson to be learned here about timing. Our judgement about a person could be correct, as Joseph’s brothers’ was at that moment, but we must remember that it’s only correct for a limited time. When we feel intuitively that a person is wrong for us, that’s likely to be the case. Our instincts protect us and it’s right that we should listen. However, our judgements have to be subject to change. Joseph, although he was still on a level so high we could not comprehend it, had to learn and evolve from his experiences to become king. This shows us that people that are wrong for us in one moment may be exactly what we need in another. We must trust that there is a higher purpose for our meeting — whether it is to learn from them or to help them on their journey.
So what changed Joseph and made him ready to be king? It was exactly the hardships that he endured as a slave. For Joseph to grow and reach the next level, he had to be tested. He had to leave his comfort zone. This is a tough but fundamental and unavoidable truth: we do not improve ourselves without overcoming challenges. We may wish that we could simply settle down and shut ourselves away — and we can do so, if our hopes for our lives are very small — however, if we want to make a difference in this world, we should expect resistance and moments of struggle. We don’t have to live as slaves in Egypt. Instead, it’s up to each of us to honestly assess the areas in which we need to change as well as what we have to do to make that change.
The run up to Hanukkah is always a great time to think about the bigger picture, but it’s especially relevant this year. We should start by reflecting on what we wish to achieve with our lives — the bigger picture. How can we use the challenging times we are living in to take us to the next level? How can we emerge at the end of this difficult episode a better, stronger, more righteous person than we were before it? As spiritual people, we must remember that every day is a precious gift — it’s our responsibility not to waste it. After all, settling down is fine once we’ve done all we need to do. But we shouldn’t do so prematurely. Timing is everything. That’s the difference between ending our lives with wonderful memories as opposed to unfulfilled dreams.
Joseph made his dream come true, and so can we. Even in our darkest moments, we must remember that we are loved unconditionally. Our faith in G-d’s plan should comfort us during hard times, reassuring us that there is beauty, potential, and purpose in all that we endure. With the support of our community, we will continue to overcome and continue to evolve. Like Joseph, we will grow into our greatness.