In this week’s reading, what is the purpose and/or thematic significance of the stories about Joseph and his brothers? Why do you think they were codified for generations to read about in the Torah? Do you think that Joseph was chosen by God from the time of his birth to become a great leader and Savior for all peoples? Based on his character (and life history) was he qualified for this job? In your own life, do you feel that you have been born for a certain mission or role or do you see it as something that is evolving? These are all very important questions as they are related to this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayigash in regards to leadership and what it means to be a good leader. In the Talmud Bavli Berakhot 55a, we read the following, “R. Judah said: Three things shorten a man’s days and years: being given a Sefer Torah to read and refusing to read it; being given a cup for benediction and refusing to say it; and taking on airs of authority. To be given a Sefer Torah to read from and refuse, as it is written: For this is your life and the length of your days (Devarim / Deuteronomy 30:20). To be given a cup for benediction and refuse, as it is written (Bereshit / Genesis 12:3): I will bless them that bless you. To assume airs of authority: as R. Hama bar Hanina said: why did Joseph die before his brothers? Because he took on an air of authority.” What do you think the rabbis meant by the phrase, “putting on the airs of authority?” Why is this equated with refusing to read from the Torah scroll or to bless a cup of wine? The phrase “to put on airs” or “to give oneself airs” is a figurative way to say one acts better than he really is, or to pretend to be good or to be superior. The idea here is that the one who takes upon himself authority as a leader, one may be tempted as the Talmud says, to put on airs, or to feel superior to others. This may lead to pride in life and a lack of studying the Scriptures, and to not bless others as a result of the authority one has been given. The concept of “superiority” has no place in the hearts of leaders. The Talmud Bavli Berekhot 55a appears to place leaders and those in authority in a negative light as a result of pride. The Talmud Bavli Yoma 22b states, “Rav Nehilai bar Idi said in the name of Samuel: As soon as a man is appointed administrator of a community he becomes rich – First it is written: And he [Saul] counted them by means of pebbles. Then in the end: And he [Saul] counted by means of sheep. (1 Samuel 15:5).” Comparing Yoma 22a to Berekhot 55a, these comments appear to present “authority” in a positive light. It is interesting how the rabbis use king Saul as the example in Yoma 22a, where a reference to Saul may be related to men being failed leaders. In light of the rabbis comments on leadership and authority, how should one behave as a leader? This is related to the Torah portion in the sense of Joseph testing the faith of his brothers and observing their abilities as leaders. The conclusion is, true humility involves studying God’s Word and laying down of our lives for others as being the true meaning of leadership. Let’s discuss this further in this week’s Torah study.
I hope you enjoy this short study.
Take care and God bless!