This dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of my rebbe, HaGaon HaRav Avraham ben Tzvi Mordechai Kanarek, zecher tzadik kadosh livracha who passed away this past week on the 14th of Teves. Yehi zichro baruch!
In Vayechi, the last Torah portion of the Book of Breishis, Yaakov gives each of his sons a blessing which, if you read them carefully, you will find that Yaakov really highlighted the unique traits that each brother was born with and developed as he grew up, as well as providing a peek into the future with specific prophecies for each brother.
About Yosef, Yaakov began by saying (Breishis 49:22):
|A charming son is Yoseph, a son charming to the eye; [of the] women, [each one] strode along to see him.||כבבֵּ֤ן פֹּרָת֙ יוֹסֵ֔ף בֵּ֥ן פֹּרָ֖ת עֲלֵי־עָ֑יִן בָּנ֕וֹת צָֽעֲדָ֖ה עֲלֵי־שֽׁוּר:|
The Medrish Rabba, as explained by the Matnas Kehuna, gives an eye opening depiction behind the beginning of Yaakov’s blessing to Yosef. With a “play on words” of פֹּרָת֙ the Medrish says that this word describes 6 things about Yosef: (1) Yosef broke the brotherly pact he had with his brothers by telling his father bad news about them. (2) The brothers violated their side of the deal by selling him to Yishmaelim (Arab merchants). (3) Yosef broke away from his master’s wife by not listening to her. (4) She betrayed Yosef by sending him to jail. Rebbe Abin said that he acquired a great and exulted position through the dreams of the (5) fruit, i.e. grain, and the (6) cows that he interpreted for Pharaoh. About all these things it writes, “And the maidservants… drew near” (Breishis 33:6). This thing He said to him, ‘it is upon Me to pay you for that eye.’ “[Each one] strode along to see him.” It happened that when Yosef went out to rule over Egypt the princesses were staring at him from between the lattices and they threw rings, bracelets, and necklaces at him in order to get him to look up and stare at them, nevertheless, he did not stare at them. Hashem said to Yosef, ‘You did not lift your eyes and stare at them, I swear that I will give your daughters an amount in the Torah, referring to a measure of a parsha. The section that talked about the laws of a daughter inheriting where there is no son was said because of the daughters of Tzelaphchad, the son of Chefer, from the tribe of Yosef. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Medrish describes in brief all the trials and tribulations Yosef went through with the quarrels between him and his brothers, ultimately being sold into slavery and then being betrayed by his master’s wife and thrown in jail. He had every excuse to draw attention to himself in order to boost his confidence. Besides, he knew he was good looking as the pasuk and Rashi recounts, “’And Joseph had handsome features’: As soon as Joseph found himself [in the position of] ruler, he began eating and drinking and curling his hair” (Breishis 39:6). Still in all, he did not give in to the temptation of the Egyptian princesses who were trying to entice him to notice them.
But if you think about it, what was the big deal? Yosef was known as Yosef Hatzadik, the righteous one, for overcoming the temptations presented by Potiphar’s wife. He had his father’s face embedded in his mind to do no evil. He remembered all of his father’s teachings and lived by them day in and day out, never forgetting that Hashem runs the world. So what was the big deal about Yosef not looking up when these ladies were trying to get his attention?
We see from here how powerful the drive to be noticed is. The temptation to be seen and acknowledged is so great that even someone on the level of Yosef Hatzadik, could have fallen to temptation and therefore Hashem rewarded him measure for measure for ignoring the attention the princesses were trying to give him instead his great granddaughters got eternal attention from the Torah as a whole section of the Torah was learnt because of them, all in the merit of Yosef staying focused on task and not giving into the temptation of being noticed by the Egyptian princesses.