Kabbalistic teaching draws a curious association between the character of Yosef and that of Chanokh – Noach’s great-grandfather, about whom the Torah mysteriously says, “Chanokh followed God, but he was gone, because God took him” (Bereishit 5:24). This association is found already in Tikkunei Zohar (70), which suggests a link between the Torah’s description of Yosef as a “na’ar” (“lad” – Bereishit 37:2) and the famous verse in Mishlei (22:6), “Chanokh la-na’ar al pi darko” (“Educate a youth according to his path”), alluding to a connection between the characters of Yosef and Chanokh. The Arizal (Sha’ar Ha-gilgulim) asserted that Yosef had the soul of Chanokh, a concept elaborated upon by the mystical work Megaleh Amukot (by Rav Natan Neta Shapiro), in Parashat Vayeishev. (Rav Pinchas Friedman discusses the connection between Yosef and Chanokh in Shevilei Pinchas, Parashat Vayeishev, 5772.)
The Midrash (cited by Rashi to 5:22) explains that Chanokh was a righteous individual whom God took from this world at a relatively young age, to protect him from the sinful influences of his time. In Rashi’s words, “He was righteous and his mind would have easily resorted to evildoing. The Almighty therefore quickly removed him [from this world] and had him die before his time.” Chanokh’s piety was incompatible with the harsh realities of this world. He was sincerely and genuinely righteous, but his piety could not survive exposure to evil. Chanokh was capable of being righteous in seclusion, alone, protected from the complexities the world and the vices of other human beings. But he could not be righteous while living and interacting with other people.
And so the Kabbalists contrasted the piety of Chanokh with the piety of Yosef – who lived righteously, in steadfast devotion to his principles and values, while living and interacting with other people, even in the company of evil, and even as he led a major empire. At the age of seventeen, Yosef was brought in chains to Egypt, a civilization depicted by the Sages as especially immoral, and he remained there for the rest of his life. Yosef’s story is the opposite of Chanokh’s. Not only was he not taken from the world to be protected from negative influences, he was placed right in the heart of an immoral society, where he excelled in every possible way, including morally and spiritually. Chanokh’s piety was incapable of surviving the harsh realities of the world, whereas Yosef thrived by confronting the harsh realities of the world, following his morals and values under every circumstance and under all conditions, emerging as a respected and influential leader.
The Kabbalistic teaching linking these two figures teaches us that we must strive for a level of devotion that is impervious to foreign influences, that is firm and unshakable, and thus not endangered by involvement in, and interaction with, other people. We should not aspire merely to the piety of Chanokh – to religious devotion that can be sustained only in the safety of isolation – but rather to the piety of Yosef, to a level of confidence and conviction that does not necessitate the safety of isolation, and is instead strong and secure wherever and to whomever life takes us.