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One of the most difficult struggles in life to overcome is fear. In this week's portion the Torah teaches us that fear is neither good nor bad. Studying Vayeshev we learn that fear has both dangers and advantages. For example, one of the major dangers pointed out this week is that fear keeps people from doing the will of HaShem. However, Vayeshev also points out the positive aspects of fear. For example, a righteous fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Mishlei 9:10 states " The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." If a righteous fear of HaShem is the beginning of wisdom, we can conclude that in the proper context fear is advantageous. Therefore, the problem is not that believers are sometimes afraid, the problem is learning how use our fear righteously. For example, do we act irrationally when we fear something, or do we use the weakness of fear to glorify HaShem? Vayeshev teaches us that there is distinction between allowing fear to cause irrational behavior, and gaining strength from fear by allowing HaShem's authority to work in our lives. In this way, Vayeshev can be broken down into two parts. The first part explains how irrational actions result from fear. The second part explains how the fear of heaven can lead us to act righteously.
In the first and second readings of Vayeshev, we can see how the fear of loss causes Yosef's brothers to act irrationally. For example, B'reisheet 37:3-4 states: "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors. When his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him." Because of Yaakov's special attention to Yosef, the rest of Yaakov's sons feared losing their status in the family. Yosef's brothers' soon became envious of Yosef. When Yosef told his brothers and father about his dreams, his brother's suspicions seemed to be confirmed. Soon all the family would be bowing down to Yosef, and the older brothers would lose their positions. When they were unable to control their fear they conspired to eliminate Yosef and lie about it to their father.
In the fourth reading of Vayeshev, we see how the fear of loss led to the sin of Yehudah. Because of the deaths of his two older sons, Yehudah became fearful of loosing his son Shelah. As a result, of his fear Yehudah was not willing to allow his son, Shelah to propagate his brother's line at the proper time. B'reisheet 38:11 states "Then Yehudah said to Tamar his daughter in law, remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house." However, still fearing the death of Shelah after he had grown, Yehuda did not arrange for Tamar to be his wife. As a result, Er's linage would not continue. Yehudah's decision to end the linage of Tamar and Er meant that there would be no one to inherit the blessings of Avraham's descendants from Er's line. In other words, Yehudah was condemning Er's line by not leaving any descendants for HaShem's blessings to pass to. Someone outside the family would receive the inheritance that belongs in Yehudah's family. Unfortunately, Yehudah's fear of losing his son prompted Yehudah to act hastily.
In the sixth reading of Vayeshev, we can see how the fear of HaShem led to the righteousness of Yosef. B'reisheet 39:7-9 states: "It came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, sleep with me. He refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master doesn't know what is going on with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; he has not kept anything back from me but you, because you are his wife: how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Yosef's fear of losing his relationship with HaShem kept him from giving into the temptation of Potifar's wife. Yosef was able to resist unrighteousness because he knew that transgression against HaShem was worse than the physical suffering he would experience from Potifar. As a result, Yosef's fear of heaven led him to make a righteous decision. In fact, in his heart Yosef already understood what Mattityahu 10:28 later says: "fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both the body and the soul in hell." Yosef's heartfelt understanding that HaShem was in control of the soul led him to fear heaven. The result of Yosef's fear of heaven was that he was more righteous than the rest of his family. Yosef's fear inspired him to seek HaShem. B'reisheet 40:14-15 states: "But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and show kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon." Yosef's loneliness because of separation from his family makes him afraid that he will be forgotten in the dungeon. However, Yosef's fear of heaven gives him the strength he will need to endure the trials he faces in the dungeon. Therefore, Yosef's fear of heaven makes him a willing vessel for HaShem to work through despite Yosef's circumstances. If Yosef did not fear heaven with a greater reverence than he feared his circumstances, his problems would have overwhelmed him, and HaShem could not have used him as a witness in the dungeon!
Fear can lead us to act irresponsibly, or to act righteously. Therefore, fear is neither good nor bad. The way we respond to fear is the problem. Fear can lead us to commit sins like Yosef's brothers. Or the fear of heaven can lead us to serve HaShem righteously. The choice is ours. We can allow our fears to overtake us and lead us into temptation, or we can fear heaven and serve HaShem. Our responsibility to HaShem is to learn how to control our fears and despite them act righteously. Therefore, let us fear heaven and overcome our circumstances as the apostles did in Acts 4:29.