When we examine Joseph’s personality in light of the words of the scriptures and midrash, we can discern different traits in which Joseph excelled. One of them was loyalty to the education bequeathed to him by his father. Even when Joseph was rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery in a land with a culture so different from the one he knew from his father’s home, he courageously maintained the ideological legacy he brought from home. We see this throughout several events in Joseph’s life in Egypt.
When Joseph rose to relative greatness in the house of his master, “who all he had he gave into his hand,” the master’s wife tried to seduce the handsome, young Joseph. She tried to tempt him day after day but Joseph stubbornly rejected her. He explained his refusal this way:
“Behold, with me my master knows nothing about anything in the house, and all he has he has given into my hand…and he has not withheld anything from me except you, insofar as you are his wife. Now how can I commit this great evil, and sin against G-d?”
(Genesis 39, 8-9)
One day, the wife waited for him alone at home, and when Joseph came to the house to do his work, she pulled him toward her. The Talmud describes this situation at its climax, as Joseph breaks in the face of her pleas, but suddenly
“the image of his father appeared to him in the window” (Tractate Sota, 36).
Joseph recalled the education he had gotten, summed up his courage and escaped from the house.
Later, when in the Egyptian prison pit, Joseph was attentive to the other prisoners. When he noticed two prisoners who felt down, he did not ignore them. He turned to them and asked, “Why are your faces sad today?”; a question that ultimately led to Joseph’s release from prison.
Joseph was unique in his strong ideological stance in the face of an impressive Egyptian culture. He was loyal to the values he absorbed in his father’s home, the homes of the forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph did not adopt the values of his surroundings. He understood that he was different, that he carried a special ideological legacy that he had to implement in his life.
This year, Parashat Vayeshev falls on Shabbat Chanukah. Chanukah symbolizes Jewish-ideological independence. The Maccabees, who fought the Greek-Seleucid conquerors, did not only demand sovereignty. They opposed the conqueror’s attempts to impose the Hellenistic culture on the Jewish nation. The independence they fought for expressed more than national ownership of a piece of land. It expressed the right of the Jewish nation to live a spiritual life with loyalty and devotion to the Jewish values they inherited from our ancestors.
This devotion does not come out of nowhere. It is the result of countless generations being willing to make sacrifices for Judaism, in better or worse circumstances, with the deep acknowledgement that Jews have no other life that can be suitable for them. We look upon this long tradition that began with Joseph, continued with the Maccabees and thousands of Jews throughout the generations, and we cannot help but be amazed by the courage, the devotion, and the loyalty. The historical narrative of the Jewish nation calls upon us to learn about this impressive devotion and join the glorious chain of generations of the Jewish people.