Friday, December 11, 2009

Vayieshev—Raising or Passing The Bar

Last week I made the point that spiritual “battles” are mostly fought in the dark and I derived from that the advisability of not necessarily “exposing” one’s spiritual roots.

It seems that in this week’s parsha Yaakov Avinu didn’t follow his own advice [and the halachic and midrashic literature is pretty critical of his pedagogical and parental approach] and, because he openly transmitted the Torah he’d learned at Shem and Ever almost exclusively to Yosef—and, both because Yosef had successfully absorbed his learning [and as a motivating tool vis-à-vis his other sons], Yaakov gave Yosef the Kesones Pasim. We all know what resulted.

R’ Shlomo Ressler writes, quoting R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky:

Yaakov loved Yosef more because he learned more, and WANTED the other brothers to be jealous (that's why he made him the shirt), so that they'd want to learn it too!...There's an important lesson in all of this, and that is that jealousy can be used in a good way, as Yaakov TRIED to do. But if we're not careful, we could miss the whole point, and end up doing things we shouldn't.

We’ve already documented the nefarious effects of this educational approach; one might say kol sheken in current settings, where it’s safe to say we’re not dealing with anyone of Biblical stature in our schools. [And, if those of Biblical stature such as the shevatim DID “miss the whole point, and end up doing things [they] shouldn't”, al achas kamah v’kamah….]

There’s another incident at the end of this parsha that also indicate faulty pedagogical approaches. We all know the Rashi on “vayishkachehu” [40:23] that states that Yosef’s counting on the sar hamashkim to put in a good word for his cost him another two years in jail.

It wasn’t until much later in life that I heard that MAYBE that would apply to Yosef because of his spiritual standing [and the obvious miracles that had occurred to him since his kidnapping]. Anyone else who DIDN’T ask for help would be mechazei k’yuhara, at best.

A few years ago I heard an even better explanation, from my mara d’asra, Rabbi Allen Schwartz, who related R’ Shimon Shkop’s explanation that Yosef was punished because he asked TWICE [in 40:14, he first says “zechartani”, and then “ve’hizkartani”]; it was well within his rights to ask the first time.

I’m sure it’s my fault that I wasn’t aware of the first explanation until my 20’s, and the second one until my 30’s. However—if I had heard either one in my formative years I probably would have remembered it. I think there’s a reluctance to proffer either explanation for fear of being viewed as “mi-ketanei amana”.

However, said reluctance is more likely to have the negative effect on pedagogical charges in a similar way to how Yaakov’s approach had on his own family. [And I hope no one tries Yaakov’s approach in the home or beis medrash.]

In a similar vein, there is the notion that it is more important to create gedolim even if it means losing a few of “stragglers” [which is actually stated policy in more than a few mussar seforim], which seems to be at odds with the gemara in Eruvin 54b about R’ Pereida and the lesson requiring a 400-fold repetition. In other words,

You can set the bar too high.

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