SALT - Friday 22 Kislev 5776 - December 4, 2015

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in the beginning of Parashat Vayeishev (37:2) describes Yosef as a “na’ar” – “lad,” or “youth.”  Ibn Ezra explains this to mean that because Yosef was younger than the other brothers (except the youngest, Binyamin), he was assigned the role of servant to the sons of Bilha and Zilpa (who are also mentioned in this verse).  As Asher Weiser comments in his notes to Ibn Ezra’s commentary (in the Torat Chayim edition of the Chumash), Ibn Ezra likely bases this interpretation on a verse in Sefer Shemot (33:11) which describes Yehoshua as “his [Moshe’s] servant, a na’ar.”  The word “na’ar” is associated with the role of servant or personal attendant, and thus Ibn Ezra claimed that the Torah here in Parashat Vayeishev speaks of Yosef’s status as his brothers’ underling.

            Rashi, however, citing the Midrash, interprets the word “na’ar” as referring to Yosef’s immaturity, specifically, to his paying inordinate attention to his looks. 

            A different approach is taken by Seforno, who connects Yosef’s “youthfulness” to the Torah’s account at the end of this verse of Yosef reporting negative information about his brothers to his father.  Seforno writes, “Because of his youthfulness, he sinned by bringing negative information about his brothers, as he was inexperienced and [thus] did not anticipate the end result.”  Yosef was “youthful” in the sense that he immaturely reported negatively to Yaakov about his brothers, not realizing that this would fuel the flames of hostility that later developed.

            While Yosef, in his youthfulness, failed to realize the consequences of his tale-bearing, the brothers, for their part, failed to realize that Yosef’s behavior was simply a function of his being a “na’ar,” a passing phase of immaturity.  They took offense, and exception, to Yosef’s conduct, and despised him for it, instead of taking it for what it was – a “youthful” pattern of behavior that would likely pass as Yosef matured.  The Torah informs us that Yosef’s tale-bearing was due to his being a “na’ar,” but the brothers took it far more seriously, to the point where they sought to eliminate him from the family.

            Often, ruptures between friends and family members occur when people feel insulted by improper words or conduct, rather than attributing them to “youthfulness” – to simple and common character flaws.  When we take these things personally, we feel hurt and pained, and then harbor resentment.  One of the lessons of the story told in Parashat Vayeishev, perhaps, is to accept that the people around us sometimes act as a “na’ar,” and there is thus no reason to take personal offense.  Just as we are not insulted when a toddler shouts at us, similarly, we should not take offense when adults act immaturely towards us.  All people are flawed, and thus their hurtful words and actions do not necessarily need to be taken personally.  If we learn this lesson, we can, hopefully, avoid strife and tension, and enjoy peaceful relations with the people around us.