High School Vanity

Years ago my mother, a psychologist for over 50 years, told me that the greatest period of growth for most people is between their Senior Prom and coming home for Thanksgiving during their freshman year in college. Over Thanksgiving I was up at my mother’s house in the Berkshires and I took a look at my senior high school yearbook. Who was I at that moment over a quarter century ago?  In the middle of the period I had a transformational experience as a Junior Counselor at Jewish summer camp. Here amidst a period that could be seen as incredibly turbulent I was responsible for a bunk of a dozen 15 year-old boys.  At the moment of extreme vanity I was given the opportunity to give of myself fully to other people. In this process of giving I could start to imagine the person that I wanted to become.  What a gift?

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I was thinking about this age this week reading Vayashev, this week’s Torah portion. There at the begining we read:

Now Yakov was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan. This, then, is the line of Yakov: At seventeen years of age, Yosef tended the flocks with his brothers, and he, being a lad to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Yosef brought bad reports of them to their father. ( Genesis 37:1-2)

Here we meet Yosef as this age and he is interacting with his brothers. To explain what it meant to be a lad Rashi brings a midrash:

His actions were childish: he dressed his hair, he touched up his eyes so that he should appear good-looking (Genesis Rabbah 84:7).

Giving a bad report on his brothers Yosef is not a person of character. He is vain and self absorbed. He is a young person who is more interested in how he appears to be than who is he is.

Looking at the vanity manifest my yearbook page it is not hard to imagine the self important quotes and overly curated picture that Yosef would have chosen to put on his yearbook. What would Yosef’s life have looked like if instead of looking after the flocks with his older brothers he was given a bunk of children to counsel?

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