Weekly Portion: Vayeshev 5776 (Genesis 37-40)

This week’s portion includes four stories: 1) The selling of Yosef(Joseph) as a slave by his brothers — which eventually positioned Yosef to be second in command in Egypt and enabled him to save the known world from famine  2) The indiscretion of Yehuda (Judah) with Tamar (Tamar) … 3) The attempted seduction of Yosef by Potifar’s wife, which ends with her framing Yosef and having him imprisoned  4) Yosef interprets the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the wine steward (who was reinstated and forgot to put in a good word for Yosef) and the baker (who was hanged).

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Dvar Torah
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Torah states:

“And it happened after these things that the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and the baker transgressed against their master, the king of Egypt (Gen. 40:1).

Rashi brings the Midrash that the cupbearer was imprisoned because a fly was found in Pharaoh’s goblet of wine; the baker was imprisoned because a small pebble was found in the king’s bread.

The first paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) reads: ” ‘I have set God before me always’ (Psalms 16:8) is a major principle of Torah — because a person’s behavior when he is alone in the privacy of his home is not like his behavior when he is in the imminent presence of a king. How much more so if one realizes that he is in the presence of the Great King, Almighty God, whose glory fills the universe: He would have the reverence, humility and fear of God.”

Our tzaddikim (righteous ones) never lost sight of being in God’s presence. Everything that transpired was contemplated as to how it applied to their service of God. The story is told of one such tzadik, the Alter (Elder) of Kelm who once found a small chip of wood in his bread. This immediately brought to mind the story of the king of Egypt’s baker who was imprisoned for allowing a pebble to be in the king’s bread. The Alter cogitated, “A defect in a person’s bread is hardly grounds for so severe a punishment. No one will be punished for this chip of wood in the bread, especially since it was totally accidental. Why, then, was the king’s baker punished so harshly?”

The Alter concluded, “It was because when one serves or relates to the king, the standard of perfection is much greater than when relating to other people. One must exercise much greater caution to prevent any defects. In serving the king, even a small defect is a major offense!”

“I am in the service of the King of kings,” continued the Alter. “Is my behavior before Him without defect? Have I been cautious enough to avoid even accidental infractions?”