Yosef’s Struggle: From Yosef Hatzadik to Moshiach Ben Yosef

This is the second part of our Tammuz post. For Part One, click here http://Goo.gl/cKzpvq.

Babies, from almost the minute they are born, are looking to connect and interact with their parents. From a remarkably young age, they are able to tease and flirt, as they smile and twinkle and delight in the smiles of the parents. A favorite game, of course, is hide and seek, where the baby will watch gleefully as his father disappears behind his two hands, only to pop back out again. Cheered by his baby’s happy squeals and claps, the father continues this game as the baby grows older. To entertain the toddler, the father may hide under a chair, or behind a curtain; for an older child, maybe in the closet or in a basement staircase. The goal of the father is always the same: that the child should seek him out and delight in him.

We last left off wondering how a month full of hester, Divine concealment, can be utilized for good and for growth. We listed the five historical tragedies of Tammuz as well as how they related to the middos of the month itself. Now let’s go on to discuss the life of a person who overcame it all: Yosef Hatzadik. As we said in Part One, Yosef was born in Tammuz (most likely on the first of the month, although there is an opinion that says he was born on the 27th) and was handed this struggle, and he died in Tammuz because he succeeded.

Who was Yosef? How did he change and grow? What were his strengths? What can we learn from and tap into?

Before we begin, remember: the challenges of Tammuz are seeing Hashem in everything, taming the passionate fires of immorality, and overcoming sinas chinam.

The Legacy of Leah

As we mentioned, Tammuz is the month of worshiping the sun god, which in our day and age is comparable to worshiping nature and attributing events to coincidence and denying Hashem’s involvement.

Leah Imainu changed the course of history by realizing this. She realized that life was not just proceeding willy-nilly, but that there was King and Creator that she could appeal to. So she did. She realized that things don’t just happen and that we are accountable for our so-called natures. Leah was meant to marry Eisav. She was suited for him and destined for him, but she did not give into her fate and instead davened that she merit to marry Yaakov. Her awareness of Hashem brought her to passionate pleas that Heaven couldn’t ignore.

Leah was involved in Yosef’s conception as well. Leah rejoiced with each pregnancy, delighted that through her tefillos she had escaped a life as Eisav’s wife and was instead raising shivtai Kah. But when she had her 7th pregnancy she realized that if she were to give birth to a son, her sister Rochel would only merit one shevet. She could not bear to see her sister distressed and so she davened with all her heart that the baby in her womb become a girl to spare her sister the pain. Thus, Dina, who was in Rochel’s womb, was switched with the baby in Leah’s womb—Yosef. Through this legacy, Yosef was born through. 

Tammuz is fire, often associated with anger. But Torah is also called fire, and a person must have that passion in life to do what is right and to go against his own nature and to beseech the Heavens. From the fire of Leah’s passionate pleas, was born.

Yosef in Potifar’s House

Tammuz, as we explained, is the month of fire, of “normal” physical desires. Yosef was a young, handsome boy, alone and enslaved in Potifar’s house. He could have justified any behavior by saying that the ta’aavah was normal for a boy his age, and he could have rationalized that it was beyond him to resist. He could have written himself a heter based on pikuach nefesh. But Yosef found within himself the strength to resist the temptations.

Chazal tell us that Yosef was about to give in when he saw the image of his father in the window, and that was what helped him run from the ta’avah. How can we understand this? Yosef closely resembled Yaakov. A common explanation is that Yosef saw a reflection of himself and thought it was his father Yaakov, or that he saw the image of Yaakov reflected in his face. Yosef looked within that reflection, that image of his father, and saw what he could become. And with that he withstood the nisayon

The Opposite of Chessed is…

Every middah can be explained using a mashal of a pendulum. As far as the pendulum swings up one side, the force of the motion will carry it equally far up the other side. So too, each middah has the good, correct usage but also has an equally strong opposite side, where the middah is used wrongly and to detriment.

Avraham Avinu epitomized the middah of Chessed. Yishmael, throughout his life, struggled with the opposite side of this middah: arayos, immorality, which can essentially be summed up as a person caring too much about his own needs. The antidote to arayos is therefore the flip side of its pendulum: Chessed, which is seeing beyond yourself. (Perhaps this is why Avraham tested the wives of Yishmael in the area of Chessed in order to see how Yishmael was doing.)

Yosef was living a life that seemed to be going downhill, fast. He was an outcast among his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, victim of Potifar’s wife’s constant ploys for attention, falsely accused, and finally thrown into jail. In jail, he looks beyond himself and sees the distress of the two servants of Paroh who had experienced troubling dreams the night before. Here, we see the beginning of change in Yosef. As he looks beyond himself and sees their distress, his path begins to change.

Yosef’s Mussar Replaces His Yissurim

Yosef tells the Sar Hamashkim in jail, ‘When you are freed, remember me also, for I was jailed for no reason…’. Chazal find fault in the language of Yosef here. Soon after, when Yosef is brought before Paroh to interpret his dreams, we see that Yosef speaks differently, attributing all to Hashem, and saying that only He can help. We see this common thread again when he reveals himself to his brothers and assures them that it was Hashem’s plan that he be sold to Egypt.

Yosef clings to the middah of Chessed, looking beyond himself to help others and attributing everything, even his suffering, to Hashem. At the same time, he overcomes the sinas chinam of the month in much the same way: when one realizes that everything is from Hashem and that there are no accidents of fate, sinas chinam cannot exist. Yosef takes care to prevent sinas chinam among his brothers, first separating Shimon and Levy, and then cautioning them about lingering on the way back to Yaakov, lest they get caught in a fight of blame and accusation. He tells them that he himself has no grudge, because no one should have any grudges or any false competitions—it is all from Hashem! Yosef goes so far as to stay away from Yaakov in the final days of his life so that the truth about his abduction should never be revealed—because Yosef was living in a world where the ultimate truth was seeing Hashem.

At the end of Yaakov’s life, Yosef brings his two sons to Yaakov for a final bracha. Surprisingly, Yaakov, who Chazal tell us learned Torah with Menashe and Ephraim during the final years of his life, asks Yosef: Who are these boys? Yosef answers, “These are the children that Hashem has graced me with.” Perhaps Yaakov, at the end of his life, was checking in on Yosef and his job in this world by asking this question and seeing his response.

With this, through his suffering, Yosef reached success. Tammuz was about disconnect, yet Yosef lived in galus, the ultimate state of disconnect, and thrived! He was the first to successfully raise children in galus (Yaakov blessed Yosef’s sons with the bracha of hamalach hagoel, which ends with the words: and may they multiply like fish in the middle of the land. Clearly, fish don’t belong multiplying on dry land, but Yosef made it work, and Yaakov’s bracha carries over when we bentch our kids ‘ישמך אלקים כאפרים וכמנשה) and was also the first to raise sons without rivalry.

Ben Porat Yosef

In many communities, in lieu of saying bli ayin hara, people will say ben porat Yosef, a phrase from the blessing Yaakov gave Yosef. The reason for this is presumably because Yosef and his descendants are said to insusceptible to ayin hara.

What is ayin hara? Let’s say Hashem blesses a person with a certain wonderful attribute or possession. Ayin Hara is caused when someone looks negatively at that person and envies him, perhaps wondering why he is worthy. In Heaven, this opens judgment, and the Satan questions Hashem, “Nu…people are wondering—is he actually worthy??”

Now, if Hashem were to open up the books, so to speak, and start a strict accounting under the Satan’s watchful eye, it is likely that the person would indeed be found unworthy, as Hashem always blesses us more than we deserve.

What is the saving grace here? Hashem answers the Satan without opening up the ledger, “You are right! He does not really deserve it at all—and he is constantly telling people that himself! His answer to every praise and compliment is “Baruch Hashem!” and he attributes everything to me! There is no need to do an accounting, let him keep his blessings!”

Yosef, already in Potifar’s house, was known for having שם ה’ שגור בפיו, the name of Hashem, always on his lips. This continued and strengthened throughout his yissurim, until the end of his life, protecting him and his descendants from ayin hara.

Stop the Sun!

Yosef became the manifestation of what we are supposed to do in this world, the opposite of sun worship: He became the one who saw Hashem in everything: the good, the not-so-good, the difficult. Yosef became the one who took no credit for his own actions, attributing them to Hashem; a man who lived among a people who worshiped their animals and their human king, and he was not hesitant to declare Hashem’s name out loud.

Yehoshoua Bin Nun, a descendant of Yosef, was able to see Hashem in everything too. When he went with the meraglim to Eretz Yisrael and saw the same things as the rest of them, he came back on the side of Hashem and Moshe and did not slander the land. It’s truly beyond the scope of this article to fully discuss in detail, but it must be pointed out that Yehoshua is the one who was given, in the month of Tammuz, the power to stop the sun while fighting with Amalek, the nation that attributes everything to nature and denies Hashem.

Moshiach Ben Yosef

Perhaps the most mysterious figure in Jewish tradition is a man we refer to as Moshiach Ben Yosef. He’s only referred to in the vaguest of terms, and often people are confused: what’s his purpose? What’s he going to do? Is he meant to die? But then why do some siddurim have instructions to daven for Moshiach Ben Yosef that he shouldn’t die? Let’s now discuss this descendant of Yosef.

Chachomim tell us that in every generation there may be someone who does the work of Yosef Hatzadik, and he is Moshiach Ben Yosef. Just as the brothers conspired against Yosef, many will conspire against Moshiach Ben Yosef. Just as the brothers didn’t recognize Yosef, we will not recognize this man. As with Yosef in Egypt, Moshiach Ben Yosef’s suffering will put him where he needs to be to save B’nai Yisrael. As Yosef was able to implement all of his middos and thrive in galus, that is what Moshiach Ben Yosef will force us to do. That will be his job, and by doing this he will make us ready for Moshiach Ben Dovid.

So why, we may ask, is there so much mystery? Why is he not even mentioned by some of the sources, why do some not even know about him? Perhaps it is because his existence and fate is not predictable. Rav Saadia Gaon writes that he will only come if he must, if we haven’t learned the lessons of Yosef in galus. Similarly, the Gr”a writes that he will not necessarily die—it will depend on us: How willing will we be to receive his light and his message, the message of Yosef’s success over Tammuz? How willingly will we be to see Hashem in everything, everywhere?

Let’s now continue our mashal from the beginning of this article and end with a message that will carry us into Av:

The child grows older, and perhaps becomes a bit rebellious and defiant. He no longer seeks the father and doesn’t show interest in their previous relationship. The father is desperate to gain the relationship back. In desperation, he throws his son out of the house and screams with outer anger and inner pain: “Leave my house and never come back!”

As the son turns from the doorway of the house, he sees a lion approaching him threateningly.

If the son does not know his father, he will think that the father has thrown him out to be ravaged by the lion.

But if the son knows his father, and knows of the deep and infinite love in his father’s heart, he will know that the lion is just another object the father is hiding behind, trying to make his son seek him. He will run towards the lion, with the delight of his childhood and say, “Father, I have found you!”

Hashem frequently hides himself from us, but only in order so that we should seek Him out and see Him in all that we do. The month of Tammuz is halfway past, and we are fast approaching Av, a month that is compared to a Lion.

As the Lion of Av appoaches us after the Hester Panim of Tammuz, let us run towards Hashem, and delight in Him again.

2 Comments on “Yosef’s Struggle: From Yosef Hatzadik to Moshiach Ben Yosef

  1. Thank you so much Esther!!!
    Beautifully written.
    Looking forward to your next
    Thoughts and inspirations.
    Fortune Beraja


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