Parsha Vayeshev - Rashi's commentary and a teaching from Rav Mordechai Pogremonsky


Parashat Vayeshev

"And behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus1."
[Parshah of Vayeshev - Bereshit 37, 25]

Rashi's commentary: "Why did Scripture publicize their burden? To let you know the reward of the righteous, for it is customary for Arabs to carry only naphtha and tar, whose odor is foul, but for this one [Joseph] it was arranged [that they should be carrying] spices, so that he should not be afflicted by a foul odor1."

In this week's Parsha it is specified that the Arab merchants who brought Yossef to Egypt carried with them perfumed herbs. Rashi says that this was to teach us the reward of the righteous, for whom Hashem changed the regular habit of the Arabs to carry bad-smelling tar and oil, so that Yossef would not be bothered by it. This Rashi is difficult to understand: a young teen, orphaned from his mother, is caught by his hostile brothers and sold to be a slave to a world superpower, detached from his father and his little brother, with no hope of seeing them again. Does he really care about the smells? What kind of a reward is that?

This question is asked by one of the great Rabbis of the Telz Yeshiva, Rav Mordechai Pogremonsky, who also answers: Yossef saw, in the immense tragedy which hit him, one positive aspect. The fact that Hashem changed the habit of those merchants for his sake. Therefore, he was not alone, Hashem was with him. Also when he was at Potifar's house it is said that Hashem was with him and therefore Yossef was successful in everything he did. Again in Pharaoh's jail, it is also said that Hashem was with him. Yossef was used to identifying and recognizing this positive aspect, which made clear to him that his disgrace was not real but a part of Hashem's plans. So he never felt alone, since Hashem was always with him. As it says in Tehillim (23, 4) "Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me."

Rashi teaches us an extraordinary lesson and we have to take this Mussar Heskel in our lives too: we should look for Hashem's signal in the many small and larger tests we must endure throughout our lives. He never leaves us without at least a small sign to remind us that He is always with us.

[1] Those two short quotes are courtesy of The Judaica Press (edited by Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg).

This text was published thanks to the kind help of two anonymous friends, may Hashem bless them and give them success in everything they do.
We published on our site also a (much longer) Italian version of this Torah comment, here: Parashà di Vayeshev.