Vayeishev: Angel or Animal?
Some 300 years ago, the King of Morocco threw the holy Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, aka 'Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh,' into a den of hungry lions; they purred like kittens...
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
"And Reuven said to them: 'Shed no blood! Throw him into this pit in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him', in order to save him from their hand..." (Genesis 37:22)
Our sages ask, "What kind of rescue is this?" OK, Reuven convinced his brothers not to murder Joseph, but instead, they throw him into a pit in the middle of the desert, full of venomous snakes and deadly scorpions.
Rebbe Chanania Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum osb"m, author of the "Kedushat Yom Tov" and father of the holy Rebbe Yoel of Satmer osb'm, explains according to the holy Amora Rami Bar Abba that no animal can prevail over a human unless that human resembles an animal.
According to the above eye-opening principle, we must ask a vital question: Who resembles an animal and who is a human? The "Kedushat Yom Tov" provides us with a clear and simple answer: a human is he whose soul prevails over his body, including all lust, bodily urges and appetites. He whose body dictates to the soul is the one who resembles an animal.
The above principle comes from the Midrash in Parshat Breishit that teaches that Hashem created man with the soul of an angel and the body of an animal.
When a person's soul rules the body, an animal looks at him/her and thinks it is seeing an angel. A donkey can be awfully stubborn, but we remember how fearful Bilaam's donkey was when Hashem opened its eyes and enabled it to see an angel.
But, if an animal sees a person whose body rules their soul, the animal thinks that it is seeing one of its own kind and therefore has no fear. King David says this explicitly: "…likened to the animals."
In Psalms, King David asks Hashem to open his eyes so that he can see the wonders of Torah. Hashem did better than that – He opened King David's eyes and ears to all the secrets of creation. King David, Hashem's anointed, understood the language of the plants, the birds and the animals. He could hear a frog croaking and understand the frog was saying, "Blessed is the Name of His glorious Kingdom forever and ever!" He testified that his soul totally ruled over his body, for he had devastated his evil inclination, as he says, "My heart is a hollow shell within me", the heart being the home base of the evil inclination, including lust and bodily urges. As a little boy, a shepherd in the wilderness, King David was confronted by fierce wild animals and he prevailed over all of them. With the above in mind, we can understand how.
We can see the above principle manifest throughout our history. When Daniel was thrown into a den of hungry lions, they purred like kittens. We don't even have to go back as far as Daniel. Some 300 years ago, the King of Morocco threw the holy Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, aka "Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh," into a den of hungry lions; they too purred like kittens.
Rabbi Yitzchak Schwadron ob"m used to tell a story about the holy Rabbi Aaron Kotler osb"m, how the latter would do anything to avoid a street were there were many women. When he lived in the town of Kletzk, he once had to walk from his home to the Yeshiva, but there were many women outside. Accompanied by two of his students, he climbed over fences and went through back yards and alleys. In one alleyway, there was a pack of fierce dogs – growling, barking and baring their teeth. The two students were so petrified with fear that they couldn't continue. Rabbi Aaron said, "Grab my coattails!" They did, and all three passed through the alleyway in peace.
The Torah shows how Joseph totally governed his evil inclination and bodily lusts. When tempted by the world's most enticing woman – Potifar's wife – Joseph preferred to jump out of a window in his undergarments.
Reuven knew that Joseph was destined to be the ruling brother, as Joseph said in telling his brothers about his dreams. The "Kedushat Yom Tov" explains that Reuven was in effect testing Joseph; for the latter to govern over the brothers, he must first be required to govern over his own body and evil inclination. If that were the case, then no animal could endanger him. And, if an animal could or would harm Joseph, then it's a sign that Joseph wasn't worthy of governing over the brothers anyway. So, if Joseph were truly worthy, the snakes and scorpions in the pit would not harm him. That is how Reuven saved Joseph by throwing him into the pit, for Joseph emerged unscathed.
May we all merit to follow in the footsteps of our holy tzaddikim as well, amen!
 - Tractate Shabbat, 21b
 - Kedushat Yom Tov, Parshat Vayeshev
 - Tractate Shabbat, 151b
 - Psalm 49:13
 - Ibid. 119:18
 - Perek Shira, ch. 5, Pesachim 56a
 - Psalm 109:22
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.