Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ya'akov's doubts and Yosef's faith

The Midrash comments that Ya’akov’ expressed wonder at Yosef’s tzikus. While Ya’akov at times had felt abandoned by G-d, but Yosef always remained steadfast in his faith.

ויאמר ישראל רב, רב כחו של יוסף בני, שכמה צרות הגיעוהו ועדיין הוא עומד בצדקו הרבה ממני, שחטאתי שאמרתי (ישעיה מ)נסתרה דרכי מה',ובטוח אני שיש לי, במה רב טובך.

I think this Midrash reflects the Abarbanel’s model of bitachon (discussed here). Ya’akov remains confident that he is worthy of “rav tuvcha” that Hashem guarantees for the righteous, but he does not hide the fact that his faith was challeneged.

Yosef, on the other hand, is seen by Ya’akov as never having faltered. Having had no contact with his son for 22 years, and having experienced his own aliyos and yeridos, his own feelings of abandonment and longing for G-d, why was Ya’akov so sure that Yosef did not share those same experiences? Why was Ya’akov sure that Yosef never once cried out through his years in prison, “nistera darki”, Hashem does not see my plight?

The Shem m’Shmuel (5672) answers that it could be no other way:

ונראה שזה עיקר גדול להיות יודע שכל מאורעותיו הכל הוא בהשגחה פרטית מאת ה׳ וכל ההסתרות והמניעות הכל הוא אלקות ממש...ובכח אמונה זו שבלב האדם שהכל הוא אלקות הוא מחליף כח לעמוד כנגד הגל ואין הגל שוטפו, ואם ח״ו הוא חושב שהוא מושלך מאת פני ה׳ ואינו מביט עליו בלתי אפשר לו לאדם להחזיק מעמד שישאר בצדקתו אחרי התלאות המרובות והשונות שעוברות עליו חליפות אין מספר

Precisely because Yosef’s trials were so great, Ya’akov was sure he could never have contemplated doubt. When sorrows, crises, and tribulations are so numerous and challenging, it is only the belief that G-d never abandons any person which can prevent one from being overwhelmed. Sitting in a foxhole repelling life’s attacks is not a moment which tolerates crises of faith without leading to complete defeat.

I am not fully satisfied with this answer. Ya’akov also faced so many tribulations and challenges, from Lavan’s duplicitous dealings to facing Eisav to the thought that Yosef was lost. Ya’akov ultimately did have the strength to overcome these obstacles even while feeling “nistera darki”. If so, why was he not confident that Yosef could do the same while facing the challenges of Mitzrayim? I've been trying to thing of a meaningful answer but have not yet come up with something I like, so I figured I would post what I have so far and see if anyone else has thoughts.


  1. A tzaddik always sees the travails of others as being more severe than his own.

  2. Yaakov's tribulations pit him against enemies of his faith. Yosef had to survive the hatred of his fellow Jews, his brothers, who believed in all the same things he believed in.

    One can remain faithful despite feeling that God has turned His back on His people. It is far more traumatic when your own faith has created fiends that attempt to destroy you because of what you believe.

    Yaakov knew that if Yosef, faced with this challenge, had ever had a crisis of faith, he couldn't have survived it.

  3. Or to put it in Yeshivish, once the rov (majority, not rabbi) of the Shvotim paskened that he was chayav missah, that became the halacha. But Yosef knew it was wrong, and the greatest beis din cannot make what’s wrong right (see the first mishna in Horyos). So the bottom line was that the halacha of Klal Yisroel, the psak of Sanhedrin, was wrong, and Yosef was right. He would be justified in withdrawing from Klal Yisroel, deciding there was an essential flaw in the religious beliefs of the Shvotim, and that his job was to create an alternative and better Klal Yisroel. Either he was disenfranchised from Klal Yisroel, or Klal Yisroel was disenfranchised from him.

    The great gevura of Yosef was accepting in his heart and in his mind that despite the behavior and beliefs of the Jews, Judaism, the mesora of Yaakov, is absolutely true.