Money and the value-ladder in a career driven world

The Parasha in the daily life - Parashat Vayigash - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – 5780

In our Parasha, the Torah describes Egypt's economic and existential crisis because of the famine:

וַיְלַקֵּ֣ט יוֹסֵ֗ף אֶת־כָּל־הַכֶּ֙סֶף֙ הַנִּמְצָ֤א בְאֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ וּבְאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן בַּשֶּׁ֖בֶר אֲשֶׁר־הֵ֣ם שֹׁבְרִ֑ים …וַיִּתֹּ֣ם הַכֶּ֗סֶף מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַיִם֮ וּמֵאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַעַן֒ וַיָּבֹאוּ֩ כָל־מִצְרַ֨יִם אֶל־יוֹסֵ֤ף לֵאמֹר֙ הָֽבָה־לָּ֣נוּ לֶ֔חֶם וְלָ֥מָּה נָמ֖וּת נֶגְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֥י אָפֵ֖ס כָּֽסֶף׃ וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יוֹסֵף֙ הָב֣וּ מִקְנֵיכֶ֔ם וְאֶתְּנָ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם בְּמִקְנֵיכֶ֑ם אִם־אָפֵ֖ס כָּֽסֶף… וַיִּ֨קֶן יוֹסֵ֜ף אֶת־כָּל־אַדְמַ֤ת מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לְפַרְעֹ֔ה כִּֽי־מָכְר֤וּ מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ אִ֣ישׁ שָׂדֵ֔הוּ כִּֽי־חָזַ֥ק עֲלֵהֶ֖ם הָרָעָ֑ב …

“Yosef gathered in all the money that was to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, as payment for the rations that were being procured, and Yosef brought the money into Pharaoh’s palace. And when the money gave out in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Yosef and said: Give us bread, lest we die before your very eyes; for the money is gone! And Yosef said: Bring your livestock, and I will sell to you against your livestock, if the money is gone. So they brought their livestock to Yosef, and Yosef gave them bread in exchange for the horses, for the stocks of sheep and cattle, and the asses; thus he provided them with bread that year in exchange for all their livestock… So, Yosef gained possession of all the farm land of Egypt for Pharaoh, every Egyptian having sold his field because the famine was too much for them… (Bereshit 47:14-20)

Yosef, who sold to the Egyptians their living necessities (Hamashbir), leads their economy during a crisis. He announces an 'austerity regime' - and government-controlled food supply, by equitable allowance. The Egyptians give him all their money and possessions so that they can save themselves from starvation: "Famine is difficult! After all, they lost all their money and sold their livestock. They sold their bodies and their land… " (The Great Midrash ibid).

This situation reflects a contrast: in everyday life - people risk their lives for money, while in crisis and danger - hand over money to save their lives. The level of risk that people take to make a living and earn a salary is also taken into account in the halacha laws:

ואליו הוא נושא את נפשו מפני מה עלה זה בכבש ונתלה באילן ומסר את עצמו למיתה לא על שכרו

The expression “for he sets his soul upon it” explains why one must be so precise when paying a laborer his wages: For what reason did this laborer ascend on a tall ramp or suspend himself from a tree and risk death to himself? Was it not for his wages? How, then, can his employer delay his payment? (Bava_Metzia 112a)

And in Rashi: the words “for he sets his soul upon it” For what reason did this laborer ascend on a tall ramp or suspend himself from a tree to harvest olives and collect dates and risk death to himself? He might fall and die".

It is about a life-threatening risk and not an absolute danger to life: " There is no intention to say that there are neither dangerous places, which in itself it’s a major prohibition for a livelihood, nor "those occupied with their wrong-doings” (we do not deal with wicked people who endanger themselves), just distant concern” (Mishpat Cohen, p.143). Although we risk our lives for money, it is a proportionate risk that arises from the needs of human existence and the ways of the world: "And do know that there is danger everywhere, that this is the world’s way and it is necessary. Four classes of people must offer thanksgiving: Two of them are: -They who go down to the sea, and those who journey in the desert-. For there is a danger in those places, but certainly such things that are part of how the world works there is no danger there. (Shu’t Shem Aryeh)

The routine can create a distorted picture of priorities. The 'considered' overcomes the 'important'. People may devote themselves to accumulating property and making money even at the cost of risking their life. However, in times of crisis and danger the real priority scale becomes clearer. There are companies for which money is not a means, but an end in itself. The Torah sees it as a means:

כשישא ויתן או יעשה מלאכה ליטול שכר לא יהיה בלבו לקבוץ ממון בלבד אלא יעשה דברים האלו כדי שימצא דברים שהגוף צריך להם מאכילה ושתיה וישיבת בית ונשיאת אשה

When he will buy, or sell, or do work for wages, he should not have in his heart the accumulation of money only but he should perform these duties as a means to acquire the necessities of the body, as food, drink, dwelling-place and marriage…” (Rambam Mishneh Torah Human Dispositions 3).

Attitude to money and the career world is one of the major issues of Torah in the daily life. The achievement and career frenzied era in which we live, challenges the world’s moral and religious values. There is a contrast between the world of religious values ​​that sees money as a means rather than a goal, and puts at the top of the value ladder, values ​​and not material and economic success, and a society that glorifies economic success and money. There, money is seen as an exclusive economic engine that drives progress, and as a human motivation to exert, create and develop the world. It has a desire to get rich easily, admires wealth and uses it to measure 'success in life'.

The incorporation and partnership of the religious person in the social and economic space exposes him to a career-driven world that challenges his value-ladder. Obviously, the issue at depth is the guarantee of keeping his values alive.

Double-Meaning Speech

Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Vayigash - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5769

The affair begins with a frontal confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef, which takes place on two levels, overt and covert. The confrontation is not symmetrical, because Yosef knows clearly who is standing before him. Yehuda believes that before him, the viceroy of Egypt is a tyrant and cunning man who has an obvious interest in harassing and abusing his brothers. He does not know that he is standing before the brother who only a few years ago, he wanted to kill and who begged helplessly for his life when they sold him to be a slave. My lord asked his servants, ‘Have you a father or another brother? We told my lord, ‘We have an old father, and there is a child of his old age, the youngest; his full brother is dead, so that he alone is left of his mother, and his father dotes on him" (Bereshit 44-19,20)

Yosef, who knew who stood before him, chose to deal with the brothers on two levels - overt and covert. On the open level, he blames the brothers for the plot of the cup, in order to present them as ungrateful lawbreakers, but in a hidden and premeditated manner he spins a sophisticated mask of events that placed the brothers on the test of brotherhood for Binyamin and examined whether the brothers repented and corrected the sin of selling him. "And Yosef tried all these efforts to bring Binyamin for the following reasons: first, to see him, because he was his brother, his mother's son, and his soul was connected with his soul, and he feared in his heart whether his brothers had killed or sold Binyamin as they did to him, and secondly, to frame him up with the cup and see if his brothers would try to save him with brotherly love, or if they would leave him in hatred of him as the son of another woman, etc. "(Abarbanel, Bereshit 42: 15-24).

Yehuda believed that he was facing the viceroy of Egypt, in order to protect Binyamin. And spoke to him as the representative of the brothers: "Then Judah went up to him and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, you who are the equal of Pharaoh. (Bereshit 44: 18)

But the Sages also describe that Yehuda uses double language, ambiguous language that also contains a hidden and sophisticated message, which is seemingly completely reversed from his words. The words chosen by Yosef also had the hidden meaning of firmness: " And let not thy wrath glow — From these words you may infer that he spoke to him in harsh terms" (Rashi 44:18), hinting that he supposedly does not ask of him but rather threatens him: "For you are equal of Pharaoh".

This means that Yehuda expects Yosef to be smart enough to absorb this implicit message in order to achieve his goal. He could not say it openly, because it would create resistance.

There are situations in which there is a need for double language and a hidden message. But one must take into consideration who is listening and whether he will understand the hidden message. As it is said of Achashverosh, he did not understand the hint that Vashti sent him: "She sent him things that touched him in his heart. She told him if they saw me pretty, they would look at me and kill you. If they saw me as ugly, you would reproach me, but the hint was not understood, (Esther Rabbah 3:14).

But there are situations in which speech in double-meaning is a form of deception. Of dishonesty. Whether it is made between one person and another or is done in the public arena. As quoted in Yirmiyahu's rebuke: " Their tongue is a sharpened arrow, they use their mouths to deceive. One speaks to his fellow in friendship but lays an ambush for him in his heart." (Yirmiyahu 9: 7). They openly spoke of peace, but their hidden intentions were words of hate & hatred.

Even worse is, double-talk in the public and political arena, when there is no public transparency. When we talk about a certain thing, and do not reveal our true intentions and the interests hidden behind it.

When presenting a public and governmental move for a particular purpose, but in fact, in a concealed manner, it is intended for a different purpose, which we do not intend to expose, because it will possibly generate public opposition.

Or when the advantages of a particular move are presented, and its shortcomings are blurred.

Or when presenting facts, to disqualify someone, you attack this person for something, when in fact you want to disqualify him because of something completely different, but you are not interested in revealing because it is clearly inappropriate.

Active Human Incentive and Divine Processes

Parshat Vayigash – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

In our parsha, the story of the sale of Yosef comes full circle. Yosef reveals himself as the viceroy to the king of Egypt and send a message to his father that he is alive. So ended the most difficult period for Yaakov's family, when Yosef was thought to be missing, Yaakov was tortured by the thought that the worst had happened, and the brothers hid the terrible secret of the sale in their hearts.

With this closure, several principles related to active human incentive and Divine ways are clarified. This is one of the fundamental issues in the world of the man of faith.

The brothers initiated the sale of Yosef because of their own motives, but G-d turned the events to good, and broadened their scope from a localized intra-family conflict to a worldwide event: "And now, don't be upset or angry that you sold me to this place, since G-d sent me here ahead of you for sustenance… And G-d sent me before you to give you a refuge in the world and to keep you alive for a great salvation. And behold, it is not you who sent me here, but the Lord, and He placed me as a father to Pharaoh and a master over his house and a ruler in all the land of Egypt." (Bereshis 45:5-8) In the next parsha we will read: "And you intended evil against me, G-d intended it for good, in order to do for this day, to keep a great populace alive." (Bereshis 50:20)

The man of faith is required to be involved in the leadership of the world. He is not supposed to be a passive observer, standing on the sidelines and watching the world progress only by Divine providence. He must "act with G-d" and utilize human reasoning to identify, to the best of his ability, the aim of the Divine guidance of the world, in order to take initiative and find a way to integrate into G-d's plan and do his part. However, sometimes human wisdom misconstrues the Divine plan. This misinterpretation can lead to a contradiction between G-d's plan and human incentive.

There are those who say that the sale of Yosef came about as the result of Yaakov Avinu's incentive to begin the family's permanent settlement in Eretz Israel, the process which will lead to the establishment of the kingdom of the Jewish nation in Eretz Israel. This differs from Avraham and Yitzchak who lived in the land as sojourners, and didn't set up foundations for the settlement of the family and the nation. "The Torah says: "Vayeishev Yaakov" - And Yaakov settled - and not "And Yaakov resided" as is written (regarding Yitzchak) "his father's residence." The Torah informs us with this expression that Yaakov thought to settle permanently in the land, whereas his fathers didn't. About his father (Yitzchak) was written "reside in this land" and about Avraham was written "And Avraham resided" – they knew that their dwelling would not be permanent, "that your descendents will be strangers" beforehand "in a land which is not theirs" and "the fourth generation will return here." And Yaakov thought that maybe he could settle permanently now and establish his home there. 'And G-d's wisdom and His decree will be upheld,' and the issue of (the sale of) Yosef led to the descent to Egypt, to uphold G-d's wisdom and His decree." (Drashat Even Shuyib, parshat Vaheishev)   

The Midrash explains that Yaakov reasoned that the time had come for this, since (he thought that) the prophecy of exile revealed at the Covenant between the Pieces had already been fulfilled, and there was no need for another exile. "And Yaakov settled"- Rabbi Elazar said: what does 'and Yaakov settled' come to tell us? That Yaakov thought: G-d told Avraham that his sons will be strangers. Behold, I was a stranger for twenty years in the house of Lavan, enslaved to tending his sheep. And since he saw that Eisav went to live in a different city, Yaakov said that this fulfilled the slavery of four hundred years, and his mind was at peace.  

G-d said, "My thought is deeper that your thoughts", and immediately brought upon him a plot through Yosef… When did He bring this upon him (Yaakov)? When he "gave up" on the exile to Egypt and his mind was at peace, as is written: "And Yaakov settled." (Midrash from a manuscript – Torah Shleimah Bereshis 37,1)

In our parsha it becomes clear that the Divine plan was different, and purpose of the sale of Yosef was to "return" to G-d's original plan.

In our parsha another principle is clarified: mistaken identification of the Divine plan is liable to cause man to relate to the plan as negative only because of its outward appearance, despite the fact that under the surface it paves the way to a positive end. "And indeed, you must know a great preface, that truly G-d never despises His creations, and never leaves or neglects the world. But when it appears as if He has abandoned the world, then to the contrary, He is renewing goodness in His world, and His wonders and thoughts are constantly and exclusively for the improvement of the world and not for its detriment; but He deeply conceals Himself and the world seems as if it is abandoned, and men suffer the punishment of their sins.

And our Sages said regarding Yaakov Avinu of blessed memory (Bereshis Rabbah 91, 10): 'And Israel said: why did you do this evil to me?' (Bereshis 43:6) Raish Lakish said in the name of Rav Hama Bar Hasa: Yaakov never made an idle statement except here. G-d said: I am elevating his son to rule in Egypt, and he says 'why did you do this evil to me?' This is what is written (Yishayahu 40:27): 'my way is hidden from G-d…' Because all the time that Yaakov was grieving over Yosef's absence, G-d was only 'pulling the strings' to bring Yosef to power and sustain Yaakov peacefully. But since this was deep wisdom, grief swept over Yaakov." (Ramchal, Da'at T'vunot ch. 146)

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