Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky

Sharing a Destiny

The moment of truth had arrived for Yosef. After being seduced by Potifar's wife, Yosef was about to succumb to sin. At that critical moment, an image of his father appeared to him. Chazal ( Sotah 36a) elaborate on the message his father gave him. Yosef was warned that if he sinned with Potifar's wife, his name would not appear on the stones of the eiphod worn by the Kohen Gadol. After hearing this, Yosef was able to summon the strength to refrain from sin. What was it about his father's words that enabled him to overcome his yetser harah?

During the years Yosef was separated from his family he lived with a constant fear. His brothers, living in Eretz Yisroel and surrounding Yaakov, were becoming the family u nit which would develop into the nation of Hashem. Yosef was terrified that he would be left out of that destiny. The image of Yaakov that appeared to him "understood" that the key to reach Yosef was to address this fear. The entire Jewish people would some day be carried on the shoulders of the Kohen Gadol, as the names of the tribes were engraved on the stones of the ephod. To have his name deleted was tantamount to being excluded from the Jewish people. It was only this deep-seated fear that Yosef had that gave him the strength to refuse the temptation of sin.

This all encompassing concern to never be excluded from the destiny of the Jewish people repeats itself in two similar incidents later in the Torah. As the first Korban Pesach after yetsias Mitzrayim was being prepared, a group of individuals approached Moshe with a request. They were impure and thus could not offer a Korban Pesach. Nonetheless, they begged to be included in the Mitzvah of Korban Pesach saying "loma nigora" - why should we be left out?

Korban Pesach is not an ordinary korban. It is the only korban that if not brought carries a punishment of kareis. Korban Pesach was the vehicle through which Bnai Yisroel became a nation. One who does not offer a Korban Pesach chooses not to be part of this nation. It is entirely fitting that the punishment for not participating in this korban is "v'nichresa hanefesh ha'he mai'ameha" - the individual is cut off from the nation he is trying to separate himself from. Those individuals who could not offer the Korban Pesach cried out to Moshe, "We want to be part of the nation. It is not our fault that we can't bring the korban. Please find us another way to join the Am Hashem."

In the second incident, the daughters of Tzelafchad approach Moshe as Eretz Yisroel is being divided. Because of our particular situation, they said, we will not have a share in Eretz Yisroel. Being excluded from Eretz Yisroel is tantamount to not being part of the Am Hashem. The benos Tzelafchad begged Moshe to find a way to include them. They also used a phrase similar to that used by those who could not offer the Korban Pesach, "loma yigora shem avinu" - why should our father's name and we, his daughters, be excluded from the Jewish people?

From where did these two sets of people, those who couldn't offer the Korban Pesach, and the benos Tzelafchad, derive the inspiration to be so concerned with being full members of the Am Hashem? Benos Tzelafchad were descendants of Yosef, who had imparted to his children and their descendants an understanding of the utmost significance of never being excluded from the destiny of the Jewish people. Similarly, according to one opinion in Chazal, the temei'ei meis who couldn't bring the Korban Pesach were the ones who carried the bones of Yosef through the desert. Yosef inspired all those who came in contact with him to share his life dream of remaining a part of the Jewish people. To preserve that dream he could overcome anything. His descendants couldn't bear being left out of the destiny of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisroel, and those who carried his remains were inspired to beseech Moshe for a way to share in the destiny of Bnai Yisroel as they celebrated their becoming a nation. Yosef continues to inspire all of us to link our destiny with the destiny of our people.

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