The parsha begins with Yosef revealing himself to his brothers; he informs them that they need not feel guilty for what they had done because Hashem was guiding the course of events that brought them to this incredible situation. “G-d has sent me ahead of you to insure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a great deliverance.“ Yosef’s role was to ensure the physical well-being of the B’nei Yisroel during their stay in Mitzrayim. Later in the parsha the Torah alludes that Yehuda was responsible for ensuring the spiritual well-being of the Bnay Yisroel in Mitzrayim, it was he who preceded his brothers in coming there so that he could set up yeshivas: This division of roles between Yosef and Yehuda established a pattern for Jewish history; Yosef is the facilitator by paving the way in gashmius and Yehuda is the ultimate Melech, leading Klal Yisroel in ruchnius. This relationship is most plainly borne out by the respective roles of Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. Mashiach ben Yosef will fight the wars, destroying our enemies and paving the way for Mashiach ben David to build the 3rd Beis HaMikdash.
One important aspect of Yosef’s role is that it is essentially a secondary one - his job is to facilitate Yehuda’s position of Melech. Indeed, a brief analysis of Yosef’s time in Mitzrayim shows that Yosef was mesugal to a role of ’number two’: He first becomes the head of Potiphar’s household - second to Potiphar; then he rises to a similar position in prison, second to the prison warden. And finally he assumes the role of Viceroy in Mitzrayim, second to Pharaoh. This pattern indicates Yosef’s role as the number two, the facilitator. A person could easily find this role unsatisfactory - playing ’second fiddle’ to someone else could pose a considerable challenge to a person’s midos. A key aspect of Yosef’s greatness is his willingness to accept his role as the facilitator with joy.
Two of Yosef’s most famous descendants were faced with a similar challenge to accept a secondary role but responded to it in drastically contrasting ways: In Parshas Vayechi, Yaakov alludes to these two people; he notes Ephraim’s greatness because of his future descendant, Yehoshua bin Nun. However, he also prophetically sees that one of the most evil Kings of Israel, Yeravam ben Navat, would emerge from Yosef.
Both these men had the potential to follow Yosef’s example of being a prime facilitator but only one succeeded whilst the other failed dismally. Why did they take such divergent paths?
Yehoshua is most famous for being the devoted talmid of Moshe Rabbeinu. There are numerous instances of Yehoshua showing his submission to his Rebbe. The Torah describes him as Moshe’s attendant, and Chazal explain that he would take towels to the bathhouse for him and would rise early every morning and select the largest of the manna and give it to Moshe. In Torah learning he dedicated himself to understanding and emulating his Rebbe to the extent that the Talmud Yerushalmi says that even in matters that he had not heard from Moshe, his own reasoning corresponded with what had been told to Moshe at Sinai. Yehoshua was completely content with his role as second to Moshe, he did not feel as though it belittled his own standing, rather it elevated him to incredible heights.
Indeed the Medrash tells us that it was the merit of Yehoshua’s submission to Moshe that caused him to become the leader of Klal Yisroel: “Hashem told Moshe, Yehoshua constantly served you and accorded you much honor. He came early to your house of assembly to arrange the benches and spread the mats. Since he served you with all his might, he is worthy of serving Israel.” Yehoshua happily accepted his role as ‘number two’ and consequently attained the ultimate position of leader of Klal Yisroel.
Yosef’s other relative alluded to in Vayechi, Yeravam Ben Navat, also had the opportunity to emulate Yosef and accept a position of facilitator but failed dismally. In Tanach we see that he was initially a great tzaddik and talmid chochom. Hashem decided that the kingdom of Yisroel should be split into two as a punishment for Malchus Beis David, and he sent Achiya HaNavi to grant Yeravam the Northern Kingdom which would consist of the vast majority Klal Yisroel. Moreover Achiya promised him that if he would follow in the ways of the Torah then he would meet with great success. He did however point out that Yeravam’s kingship was only a result of the sins of Malchus Beis David and that ultimately it would return to the descendants of David HaMelech. Yeravam’s role was to be a leader but a temporary one, whose purpose was to be the instrument of punishment for Malchus Beis David. Had he accepted this role then he could have emulated Yosef and Yehoshua and been recorded as one of the great leaders and tzaddikim in Jewish history.
Yeravam, however, was unwilling to accept the position of facilitator or ‘number two’. He desired to be the King in his own right and was not prepared to subjugate himself to anyone. He worried that when the nation would perform the mitzvo of Hakhel in the Beis Hamikdash only the Melech Yisroel would be allowed to sit down but he would have to stand up. When the people would see this they would rebel against him and return to the kingdom of Yehuda. In order to prevent this threat to his power he set up two golden calves in the North and banned anyone from going down to the Beis HaMikdash. Yeravam’s action was the catalyst for the constant Avoda Zara that plagued the Northen Kingdom and he is known as the ultimate machti es harabim.
Even after he began to sin Hashem gave him one last opportunity to do teshuva. The Gemara says that Hashem grabbed Yeravam by his garment and said to him, “’Repent and I, you and the son of Yishi will stroll together in Gan Eden“ Given this incredible opportunity to redeem himself Yeravam asked, ‘Who will be at the head?’ Hashem answered that Ben Yishi would be at the head - when he heard this he refused to do teshuva. Yeravam could not accept being second to anyone, even though he was offered the greatest reward of Gan Eden. His arrogance was the cause of his destruction, he wanted power but instead he is one of the Kings that receives no Olam HaBa.
Yosef Hatzadik was invested with the role of facilitator in Mitzrayim , preparing the way for Yehuda, he accepted his role with joy and was able to reach true greatness. Yehoshua, too, achieved his potential through his willingness to subjugate himself to Moshe Yeravam could not do so and lost his opportunity for distinction. This is a powerful lesson; we should all strive to be as great as possible., however there are times when hashgacha clearly tells us that certain attainments are not best for us. For example, a person may work hard in learning Torah and learn a great deal and yet not attain the teaching position that he would like - what we must realize is that anything beyond the realm of our bechira is in the category of hashgacha - we can strive to be greater but there is not toeles in fighting the hashgacha. Whatever role in life we attain, that is the position through which we can fulfill our tachlis.