There is a story in the Talmud where the community is trying to replace its leader. One of the nominees for the position was Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria. However, there was concern that he was too young for the position. Nobody argued regarding his intellect. He possessed the knowledge and political tools for the position. Yet, his wife was concerned that he had no white hair. That night, a miracle occurred, and Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria woke up with white streaks in his hair. Now that he looked the part, he was ready to take the position.
This week in Parshat VaYeshev we begin the story of Joseph. “This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was yet a lad (na’ar/נער) with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives/אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב, יוֹסֵף בֶּן-שְׁבַע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת-אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן, וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת-בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת-בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה נְשֵׁי אָבִיו.” Why does the Torah specifically mention Joseph’s youth? The Rabbis note that Joseph engaged in childish behavior (e.g.-he was very concerned with his appearance and made sure he was always made up).
However, the Sfas Emes does not share this reading. He teaches that Joseph is called a lad/na’ar/ נערbecause he is constantly reviving and renewing (hit’or’rut mehadash/התעוררות מחדש). The Gerrer Rebbe explains that this is the distinction between an elderly person who has already acquired wisdom, whose wisdom is fixed in him, and a younger person who constantly needs to stir up (hit’or’rut/(התעוררות in order to learn. This relates to what happens during the week. During the six days of the week, God constantly renews the world to make it great, but on Shabbat, the day is inherently completely good and filled with divine light. Joseph’s brothers did not want to learn from him because he appeared young and childish with nothing of value to offer, as we learn in Pirkei Avot, “Rabbi Yose bar Yehuda, man of Kfar HaBavli, says: One who learns from young ones is compared to what? To one who eats unripe grapes and drinks wine from its press. And one who learns from elders is compared to what? To one who eats ripe grapes and drinks aged wine. Rebbi says: Do not look at the jug but rather at what is in it. For there are new jugs full of old [wine], and old [jugs] that do not have even new [wine] within them.” The Sfas Emes notes that Jacob understood this teaching while Joseph’s brothers did not. This is why Joseph is called “a son of his old age/ben-zekunim/כִּי-בֶן-זְקֻנִים הוּא לוֹ.” Jacob knew that Joseph possessed mature wisdom, even in his youth.
Teachers come in all shapes, colors and sizes. We learn from Joseph the value of continuing to look at the world around us with new and fresh eyes. If the world is renewed each day, then we must approach each day with youthful vigor and curiosity. We also learn to not judge the appearance of our teachers, rather, we should listen to the contents of their words. This week, as we prepare for Hannukah, let us focus on the holy lights that flicker and dance around us. The flame is constantly moving around and creating new light. No matter what the candle or the menorah looks like, its light is what matters.
 BT Brachot 27b-28a
 Gen. 37:2
 Gen. Rab. 84:7
 Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (Hebrew יהודה אריה ליב אלתר, 15 April 1847 – 11 January 1905), also known by the title of his main work, the Sfas Emes (Yiddish) or Sefat Emet שפת אמת (Hebrew), was a Hasidic rabbi who succeeded his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, as the Av beis din (head of the rabbinical court) and Rav of Góra Kalwaria, Poland (known in Yiddish as the town of Ger), and succeeded Rabbi Chanokh Heynekh HaKohen Levin of Aleksander as Rebbe of the Gerrer Hasidim
 המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית
 This wine still has its catalyst mixed in with it, it has not yet been strained out
 This wine has aged so it has separated from its catalyst
 i.e-There are elders that lack wisdom
 mAvot 4:20
 Gen. 37:3
 Sfas Emes 1:173
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.