Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Secure, Solitary and Modest


Yosef  shall place his hands on your eyes ("einecha") (Braishis 46:4). The Netziv interprets the word "ainecha" as "your essence", the basic characteristics of Yaakov upon which he focused his eyes, i.e. his attention.

"Yisrael shall dwell secure, solitary in the likeness of (ain) Yaakov" (Devarim 33:28). Secure means to live in peace with great love for others. Solitary indicates not intermingling more than necessary with other nations.

These goals,the Netziv adds, are usually achieved through Torah and Avoda. In Egypt, however, it was Yosef whose hand protected Yaakov's essence. He exhibited kindness and great love to all, and he arranged for Am Yisroel to dwell in Goshen, removed from Egyptian society.

If we do nor separate ourselves from non-Jewish society with honor and tranquility, we will be forcibly separated from and by the nations. Instead of the reward of "betach badad", we will be punished by, "Eicha yashva badad" (Sanhedrin 104a).

The rampant assimilation and intermarriage in America, highlighted in December (see New York Times, 12/6/07, "A Holiday Melody, Off Key"), require additional safeguards to establish proper separation from non-Jewish society and religion.

The challenge of the contemporary workplace include the difficulty of balancing appropriate politeness and kindness to all with the necessity to maintain a lifestyle that is at odds with the practices and values of general society. Yaakov and Yosef, who successfully balanced betach and badad, are our role models.

"Yaakov encamped before the city" (of Shechem, Braishis 33:18). The Netziv explains that he did not enter the city, since his essence was badad, solitary. But he sent gifts [and established currency, markets and bathhouses - Shabbos 33b], honoring the city's inhabitants and teaching future generations how to interact with other nations.

In his commentary to the Hagada (V'he Sheamda), the Netziv states that we survive only because of our being strangers in foreign lands (Braishis 15:14). The nations seek to destroy us because we do not separate ourselves. Yaakov went to Egypt "lagur",to dwell as a stranger.

Yet Yaakov was also betach, seeking to live in peace with those who harmed him, and teaching his descendants to follow his example. He involved his sons in gathering stones to make a mound of demarcation from Lavan to emphasize this lesson (Netziv, Braishis 31:46).


"Hashem does not withdraw his eyes from a tzaddik" (Iyov 36:7). As a reward for the modesty of Rachel, she merited that Shaul descended from her. As a reward for the modesty of Shaul, he merited that Esther descended from him (Megillah 13b).

Here, too, the Netziv interprets "aino" as the essence. Rachel did not reveal the story of the password, Shaul did not reveal that he was anointed as king, and Esther did not reveal her origin. Rachel's selflessness was recognized by Hashem when He ignored the Avos and Moshe Rabeinu but aceeded to her request that her children return from exile to their boundaries (Medrash Eicha Psicha 24).

While Shaul and Esther descended from Rachel's son Binyamin, Yosef also exhibited great modesty. His children are compared to fish,which are covered by water (Braishis 48:16). As a result the evil eye, which results when one flaunts his blessings, has no power over them(49:22 and Berachos 20a).

Yosef ruled for eighty years, the longest tenure in biblical history (Seforno 37:7). Yosef, like Yaakov, helped everybody (42:6), and, despite his involvement in matters of state for eight decades, remained separate from he mores of Egyptian society and retained his righteousness (Rashi Shemos 1:5).

The longevity of his rule can be attributed to his modesty. He served Pharoh loyally and sought neither primacy nor honor. He did not display excessive wealth. Thereby, he avoided the evil eye for himself and his descendants.

Indeed Yaakov preceded Yosef in this laudable trait as well. He asked his sons, why do you make yourselves conspicuous (Braishis 42:21)? Why do you display yourselves before the sons of Yishmael and Esav as wealthy ans satiated at a time of famine? (Rashi).

The Kli Yakar (Deavrim 2:3) bemoans the fact that Jews flaunt their wealth, ignoring Yaakov's advice. This behavior arouses the jealousy of the nations and causes the problems that Am Yisroel faces.

Ostentation is related to both excessive competition and assimilation. To achieve betach and badad, modesty is required. If one does not crave wealth and honor, he can be friendly and kind to all, and remain separate from the nations. The essence of Yosef, as Hashem promised, protects the essence of Yaakov.

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