The Torah portion Vayeishev chronicles Joseph’s trials and tribulations from the time he left his father’s house and was sold into slavery until his eventual appointment to the position of second in command of the entire Egypt. But Joseph was more than just an individual, and his life showed the path that the Jewish nation would take. Indeed, Joseph’s life closely parallels the life of every Jew, and by studying his story we can better understand our own mission in life.
Joseph began his life by enjoying the comfort of his father’s household. The most beloved of Jacob’s children, Joseph enjoyed a special relationship with his father. Not only did Jacob make him the famous coat of many colors, but he learned Torah with him day and night, while the other brothers were busy shepherding the flocks. For Joseph, this period was his happiest, both spiritually and physically.
This situation is analogous to the condition of the Jewish soul before coming into the body. A “veritable part of G-d,” it exists on the highest plane, enjoying the proximity of only holiness and G-dly light. Even when the soul has descended into this world and is in the fetus, it still enjoys the luxury of learning the entire Torah before the baby is born.
But suddenly, Joseph’s idyllic existence was interrupted – “Joseph was brought down to Egypt.” Sold as a slave, his situation continued to deteriorate until he found himself a prisoner in Pharaoh’s jail. Spiritually as well, Joseph could not have been in a worse situation. Plucked from the refuge of the tent of learning Torah, Joseph was dropped directly into the most corrupt and depraved civilisation of his era.
This symbolises the soul’s dramatic descent into this world. No longer can it bask in G-d’s glory – the soul finds itself trapped in a physical body, subject to its whims and fancies. It must endure the temptations to which the body is drawn, and overcome all sorts of trials. The soul longs to return to its source above.
Yet we learn that Joseph triumphed and attained an even higher position than he had enjoyed while in his father’s house. Joseph was victorious spiritually as well, as the Torah calls him, “Joseph the Righteous,” for despite his elevation to high office Joseph retained his purity and goodness. Joseph turned his descent to Egypt into triumph and ascent, emerging the master and ruler.
This then is the purpose of the soul’s journey down into this world and its imprisonment within the body: Our task is to subjugate the Evil Inclination and conduct our lives according to the dictates of Torah. Overcoming the obstacles which try to prevent us from doing mitzvot enables us to attain greater spirituality than would have been possible had the soul remained above. Moshiach NOW!!!