Hadrash Ve-Haiyun

by the Reisha Rav, HaGoan Rav Aaron Levine TZ"L

Elucidated and Adapted by Efraim Levine


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And he (Yosef) passed portions before them (Yosef’s brothers) … and they drank much with him. (Bereishis 43:34)

Commenting on this posuk, Rashi notes that from the time Yosef was sold as a slave he did not drink wine. However, on that day when he was reunited with all his brothers he did drink wine for the first time in twenty-two years. Rashi’s emphasis on Yosef’s custom of not drinking wine for a long period of time and then suddenly drinking with his brothers reminds us of a nazir. A nazir is also forbidden to drink wine for a period of time and then suddenly at the conclusion of his term, is commanded to drink wine, as stated in the posuk (Bamidbar 6:20) “And after the nazir shall drink wine.” Can there perhaps be some connection between Yosef and the laws of nazir? Indeed, in parshas Vayechei (Bereishis 49:26), in the section of Yaakov’s blessings we find Yosef being described as “the nazir of his brothers.” What is the meaning of this?

Let us review the three basic laws of nazir. One, a nazir may not come into any contact with the dead. Two, A nazir may not drink wine or any grape product and three; a nazir may not cut his locks of hair. We may ask, what is the reason the Torah specifically chose these three rules. What is the special message therein?

Second, when reviewing the tragic ordeal of Yosef, let us suggest that his trying experiences can be can be divided into three periods. The first period is the conspiracy of Yosef’s brothers. The posuk states (Bereishis 37:20) that Yosef’s brothers originally planned to kill him. Later, due to the influence of Yehudah they settled on selling him as a slave (Bereishis 37:26). Upon the end of the first period, we find Yosef as the slave of Poteifar. Although he was a successful individual, nevertheless he was a slave. The second period is the sequence of events that culminate with Yosef’s appointment to Egyptian leadership. This begins with the attempted seduction of Poteifar’s wife. The result was Yosef’s imprisonment where he interpreted dreams and as a result was chosen to assist Paroah as ruler of Egypt two years later. The third period are the events that culminate with the reunion of Yosef and his brothers.

If we take a closer look at the three periods, we may note that each period contains one of the aspects of nazirus. In the first period we encounter the rule that a nazir is not permitted to come into contact with the dead. Yosef narrowly escaped his own death. In the second period we encounter the law of growing locks of hair. At the beginning of the second period, Poteifar’s wife tries to seduce Yosef. Rashi (Bereishis 39:6) notes that Hashem was critical of Yosef for beautifying himself and growing long beautiful hair while his father was busy mourning over him. Hashem brought upon him the attempted seduction and the ensuing false slander as a punishment for this behavior. In addition, the commentators explain that the reason why Poteifar’s wife was inclined to seduce Yosef was because of his irresistible beauty, specifically, his beauty that was enhanced by his beautiful hair. Thus, Yosef’s long beautiful hair was the cause of the events of the second period of the narrative. Finally, in the third period we encounter the last rule, the prohibition of drinking wine. As explained above, when Yosef was reunited with his brothers the posuk informs us that he now drank wine, implying that until this time he did not drink wine. Let us also note that Yosef certainly personifies a nazir in its simplest connotation as one who is apart and separated. Yosef was indeed apart and separated from his family for twenty-two years.

Taking all this into consideration we may suggest the following novel idea. When a person accepts upon himself a term of nezirus, he is in truth reenacting the ordeal of Yosef. More specifically, he is identifying with Yosef, who was separated from his brothers and father for a significant period of time. However, we may ask, what message lay in connecting the concept of nezirus and the personal experiences of Yosef.

The commentators are troubled at to why Yosef failed to inform his father that he was alive and well. If in truth he was unable to do this when he was sold into slavery, certainly things changed when he was appointed to a position of leadership. Why then did he fail to inform his family of his whereabouts for twenty-two years? The commentators answer that Yosef realized that his brothers were the foundation of the Jewish people. Their sins would have catastrophic consequences on their descendents. Yosef’s brothers certainly committed an enormous sin by selling him as slave. Yosef wished to give his brothers an opportunity to seek him out and thus atone for their sin. Had Yosef revealed that he was alive and well, they would never had had this opportunity and their sin would not have been forgiven. Indeed, the commentators go so far to say that had Yosef held out a little longer in not revealing himself to his brothers, and thus let his brothers feel their guilt a bit more, then their sin would have been completely forgiven. This forgiveness would have prevented tragedies like ‘the ten martyrs of the kingdom.’ Thus, in Yosef’s opinion, his own sin of not informing his father that he was alive was necessary to effect repentance. This was achieved when ultimately his brothers declared (Bereishis 42:21) “Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother.”

We are accustomed to think that the goal of nezirus is solely self-discipline. A nazir abstains from wine, a symbol of the pleasures and good things of life. He behaves like the kohanim who distance themselves from the contamination and defilement of dead. He grows beautiful hair only to shave it of and offer it to Hashem.

However from Yosef we learn something entirely different. Yosef only practiced Nezirus for twenty-two years for the purpose of allowing his brothers to admit their own guilt. The purpose of Yosef’s nezirus was to have an effect on others. Thus, we may suggest that the main purpose of nezirus is not primarily self-discipline, but rather to follow in Yosef’s example and serve as an inspiration to others. The nazir serves as a role model for others to emulate. When the nazir goes about his daily affairs, his beautiful hair certainty attracts attention. Others are immediately reminded of his exalted status. They will certainly take note of his beauty and be reminded of the true spiritual beauty that lay within and hopefully be motivated to emulate him.