Vayigash – Yoseph

The Jews are named after Yoseph.  We are called Tzon Yoseph – the “sheep of Joseph.”  Rashi (on Psalms 80:2) explains that this is because Yoseph took care of the Jews while they were starving.  He cites the verse from our parsha (Gen 47:12), “And Yoseph supplied his father and his b rothers and all of his father’s household with bread…”  This raises a couple of questions:

1) Why did the Jews adopt the nickname of Yoseph permanently when he only supported them for a relatively short period of time?

2) Rashi’s explanation is based on a verse in Psalms that asks God to listen to the prayers of the Jews and lead them “like the flocks of Yoseph.”  Why would the fact the Yoseph supplied the Jews lead God to listen to their prayers?

The lives of Yoseph and his father Yakov were parallel in many ways.  However, there was a main difference.  Yakov was his own man, always free.  Even while in the house of Lavan his uncle, he worked as a laborer, but he was a free man.  Yoseph, however became a servant in Egypt.  First in the house of Potifar, then in the prison, and finally as the viceroy and second in command of Egypt, Yoseph was always working as a servant or even slave of someone else.  Yakov was a shepherd, and as such he was able to remain “above the fray.”  As the sheep grazed, Yakov could devote himself to spiritual topics, meditating and praying.  It was his tremendous power within the spiritual realms that resulted in his huge success in the physical world as well.  However, Yakov’s sons (except for Yoseph) were not on such a high spiritual level.  They were also shepherds, but had they not been shepherds, they would not have been able to maintain the same level of Godly service, meditating and praying and focusing upon the One above.  Had they been involved in any other profession, they would not have been able to maintain a Godly focus.  The physical world would have disturbed them from their avoda.  As it was, all they had to do in the physical world was to maintain the wealth that their father Yakov had created.

This was not true of Yoseph, though.  He was able to maintain his spiritual focus even while being very involved in the day to day management of Egypt.  With all of his financial and accounting duties, he still clung to God with full concentration.  And he managed to do so even though, unlike his father, he was a slave and a servant.  His spiritual level was so high that he did not need to be “above the fray” in order to continue serving God.  He could be at one and the same time, involved in the physical world and also clinging and cleaving to God.

And that is why the Jews are nick-named the “sheep of Yoseph.”  Like Yoseph, we are “stuck” in a physical world that demands our attention, and yet our real desire is to serve Him and fulfill His commandments.  The power to do so comes from Yoseph, who was the first to be fully involved in the world and yet remain “above the fray” as well.  That also explains why we request God to listen to our prayers since we are like the “sheep of Yoseph.”  We begin our prayers by first mentioning Yisrael, who was totally above the fray, beyond the physical world.  And having made our Godly connection through Yaakov, we climb to the higher level of Yoseph who is a part of the Jewish psyche and collective unconscious, just as Yakov is.  It is he who gives us the power to serve God even while heavily involved in the world below.  With the Godly illumination of Yoseph, we can not only overcome the darkness of the exile, but also transform it into light and redemption.

For more details and explanation, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 25, Pp 252-257

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