Vayeshev: Why So Sad?

Noticing Others

Parsha Vayeshev includes episodes from the dramatic life of Joseph, the oldest son of Jacob and his favorite wife Rachel. Joseph is sold into slavery at age 17 by his resentful brothers, then suffers further trauma in Egypt when he is falsely imprisoned on a bogus rape charge. Languishing in prison, it seems like it’s all over for Joseph, until everything changes in an instant when he is taken from the squalid dungeon and brought to the royal court to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, which ultimately leads to Joseph becoming the de facto ruler of the vast Egyptian empire.

How and why does Joseph’s situation change so suddenly? It starts when Joseph notices that his fellow prisoners, the butler and the baker, look troubled. “Why are your faces sad today?” he asks. They tell him about their disturbing dreams, and after Joseph’s interpretations are proven accurate, Pharaoh hears about it and sends for the young dream interpreter to analyze his own dreams. Joseph’s God-given gift for dream interpretation, along with his deep wisdom, exceptional charisma and sterling character lead to Pharaoh granting him great power, which he uses to save the people of Egypt and his own family from famine.

And it all happens because Joseph takes an interest in the well-being of others. Sitting in a dank fetid prison, far from his home and family, falsely accused of raping his boss’ beautiful wife when he was in fact using superhuman strength to resist her repeated attempts at seduction, most people in Joseph’s position would be grumpy and lost in self-pity. But even at his own lowest moment, he still cares about those around him, enough to notice their moods and ask how they are doing. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “A simple ‘how are you today?’ can prove historic.”

Let’s all do our part to make the world a brighter place by emulating Joseph: pay attention to others, ask how they are doing, and listen when they answer.

Image: “Joseph Interpreting Dreams of Pharaoh’s Baker and Butler” by Crijn Volmarijn, 1631

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