Potiphar was the chief executioner for Pharaoh. God placed Joseph in this most impure environment so he could fully appreciate the purity of Jacob and his home. Joseph had to live in the house of Pharaoh, to come face to face with evil, to be present at a hanging, to see how Potiphar himself tied the noose in the public square while the bloodthirsty nation enjoyed the sight of the terrified, writhing victim. Only then could Joseph appreciate the sheer greatness of his father’s teachings, the supreme beauty of the laws of egla arufa which he had reviewed with his father just prior to his exile. Only then did Joseph appreciate the magnitude of the spiritual revolution of justice and righteousness that his great-grandfather Abraham had introduced.
The Rav saw the excesses of American society as an opportunity. Hiding behind the superficial beauty is great ugliness, selfishness, cruelty. The experience of the worst of the West highlights the best of the East. Joseph’s servitude was an opportunity to better appreciate the beauty and wisdom of Judaism, an opportunity we share in this hedonistic diaspora.
Eliezer described himself as Abraham’s servant (24:34). The Rav pointed out that there is a difference between “eved le-Avraham,” which Eliezer did not say, and “eved Avraham,” which he did:
Saying “a servant to Abraham” would emphasize only the juridic-social aspect. That statement would imply that while he belongs to Abraham legally, spiritually he is a free man; he has his own mind and an independent approach to reality. By stating instead that he is “Abraham’s servant,” he identifies his whole personality with Abraham. Serving Abraham is not just incidental; it is the whole purpose of his life. That is why the term eved Hashem, “God’s servant,” is used in the Bible. Our service to the Almighty is not something foreign and incidental; it is indispensable to our existence, intrinsic and inseparable from our ontological awareness. We are just servants of God, and nothing else.
With all our technology, our wealth, our philosophical sophistication, our purpose in life is to be a servant of God. We can engage with society, contribute to its well-being like Abraham and observe its excesses like Joseph. In the end, as Koheles concludes, we must fear God and follow His word for we are His servants “and nothing else.”
Dr. Lustiger’s brilliance is in bringing the Rav’s genius to readers where their interests lie – the weekly parashah. He collected and adapted material from dozens of sources into a cohesive and comprehensive commentary, placing the Rav’s wisdom in an accessible volume. This is not just the Rav’s commentary on the Torah, it is his commentary on life. It is a commentary for the ages and specifically for our age.
About the Author: Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and serves as editor-in-chief of TorahMusings.com. Rabbi Student previously served as managing editor of OU Press and still maintains a connection to the publisher but did not work on this book in any way.
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