The story of Yosef and his brothers is a true drama that can be talked about for centuries. The Midrash is full of lessons that show that even generations later, the story has a major impact on Jewish history, the most well-known example being the story of the 10 Rabbis executed by the Romans as a punishment for Yosef’s abduction.
The story of Yosef is also related to the famous question of human action and God’s knowledge. If God knows everything, then he knows the future and therefore human actions are nothing more than a show, humans are dolls that are played by the strings of a greater Godly plan. It seems that Yosef believes in that idea, as we see in the next parshah. When he reveals his identity, he tells his brothers that they should not feel guilty, because everything that happened to him was part of God’s plan.
Two Perspectives on Life
Yosef has an interesting perspective on life. As a boy, he was betrayed by his own brothers, was separated from his beloved father, spent time as a slave, as a prisoner, and worked his way up until he became something that maybe as a child he dreamed about, but seemed improbable. As he grew up, he became the most powerful adviser of the king of the greatest empire of his time.
Yosef’s perspective on life is a perspective of destiny: everything that takes place is because of God.
Yosef’s worldview holds sway in our nation, even now. There are people who believe that at the end of the day we can do whatever we want, and believe that we are making our own choices, but truly it’s all from God.
But Yosef is not the only power in our nation; there is also the power of Yehuda. Yehuda is a different type of person. He also went through much during his life: he lost two of his children, who were taken by God as a punishment for their sinful actions. He lost his brother, watched his father fading away in sorrow, and it seems that he can’t do anything right. But something happens to Yehuda when he meets Tamar: he realizes that God is waiting for him to take action, God wants him to live his life, to gain control over whatever is happening in his life, and to become the leader he has the potential to be.
Yehuda’s perspective on life changed when he saw Tamar’s actions and realized that “the matter completely depends on him”. His life and the life of the nation depend on human actions. Human beings must take action; by taking action, they will attain their potential.
Rav Soloveitchik called these two perspectives on life ״ברית גורל״ (Covenant of Fate) and ״ברית ייעוד״ (Covenant of Destiny). Part of being a believer is to believe in the Divine power of God’s commands and part of being a human being is to believe in the importance of human actions.
As people who follow the Torah, we are asked to live in both ways at the same time. We also believe that our future geulah will be forged by the two powers, the power of Mashiach ben Yosef – the hidden power that leads history – and the power of Mashiach ben David, who will create a kingdom that will be the center of wisdom to all beings.
The days of Chanukah also symbolize this concept: there was the miracle of the one jug of oil that survived eight days, and the great war that was won via human effort. Our ultimate challenge is to see both perspectives in everything, to see the power of Yosef in Yehuda, and to see the power of Yehuda in Yosef.
Rav Kook called this act ״לייחד ייחודים״. He claims that is the real power of the Mashiach: to connect ideals that appear, at first glance, unconnected. And perhaps this is the mission we have taken upon ourselves at Beit Hillel: ״לייחד ייחודים״, to connect the power of Yehudah to the power of Yosef.
Rav Avia”d Sanders, a member of Beit Hillel, is an Instructor (ר”מ) at Yeshivat Hesder Orot Shaul (formerly known as Yeshivat Hesder Petah Tikvah) and at MaTaN Hasharon. Previously, he served as Rosh Beit Midrash at the Kollel Torah Mitzion in Detroit (U.S.A), and was head of the Talmud Bekiut program at Yeshivat Hakotel.
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