יוסף בן שבע עשרה שנה כו’ והוא נער כו’ (לז:ב) – “Yosef, at the age of seventeen years… But he was a youth etc.” (Vayeishev 37:2). Rashi cites the Medrash (בר”ר פ”ד ז’) that Yosef would practice “youth-like” activities, including beautifying his eyes and fixing his hair. Rav Schwab has a very nice explanation of Yosef’s behavior in his sefer. We will attempt another.
The Alshich HaKadosh in Parshas Vayishlach (34:1) writes a very elemental idea. ”ותצא דינה בת לאה כו’” – “Dina, the daughter of Leah, went out etc.” Rashi says that the passuk specifically calls her the daughter of Leah and not of Yaakov Avinu, for Leah also was a יצאנית – a woman who “goes out,” and “like mother like daughter.” The Alshich asks, however, that the cases are not similar. Leah went out to greet her husband, which presumably should not categorize her derogatorily as a יצאנית, unlike Dina who seems to unfortunately fit the bill. Which intrinsically begs the question of how Dina could be a יצאנית, a deprecating description for a girl of her stature? “כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה” – “Every honorable princess dwelling within etc.” (Tehillim 45:14). It is honorable and proper for a Jewish girl to keep to her privacy!
Says the Alshich, we know (גמ’ ברכות ס.) that Leah was pregnant with what was supposed to be a male. Yet since that baby was to be the eleventh born to Yaakov Avinu, even if Rachel were to be blessed with finally having a child (to be number twelve), both Bilah and Zilpa, the “Shfachos,” would have more of the Shevatim (two each) than Rachel. Leah therefore davened for Rachel, and Hashem turned Leah’s unborn male child into Dina. It is therefore no wonder, concludes the Alshich, that Dina was a יצאנית. Since her roots were of male origin, she possessed this male characteristic to be one who “goes out;” which is not a depreciating characteristic for men.
The Alshich, however, is learning the story according to the Gemara Brachos (60a), namely that what took place after Leah’s tefilos was that the male fetus became the female Dina (this view is also held by: ירושלמי ברכות פ”ט הל”ג (סו:), בר”ר ע”ב ו’, ותנחומא ויצא ח’). There is another opinion in Chazal, that of the Targum Yonasan (30:21, also shared by רבי צדוק בגמ’ נדה לא. לפי המהרש”א ח”א שם בשם פענח רזי) who learns that Rachel herself was pregnant with Dina at the same time that Leah was pregnant with Yosef. According to this opinion, Yosef and Dina switched places due to Leah’s tefilos, with Yosef going to Rachel and Dina going to Leah.
The Chida (ראש דוד, הובא בספר “תורת החיד”א” וישלח אות ס”ט) learns the story like the Targum Yonasan, that the babies switched wombs, yet says the exact same idea as the Alshich to explain the יצאני tendencies of Dina. Yet instead of learning that the roots of one’s own neshama being of a different gender can thereby effect one’s tendencies, like the Alshich, the Chida has to understand (and so he writes, according to how he learns the story) that Dina obtained male tendencies by entering a womb once occupied by the male Yosef.
What we are about to say is NOT “pshat,” and only possibly “drush.” Now, the advantage of learning in accordance with the Chida is that in the say way that the Chida says that Dina’s being in a womb formerly occupied by a male influenced her in a masculine way, so too did Yosef’s being in a “female womb” influence him in a feminine way. This would explain why Yosef had the tendency of beautifying himself. It would also shed new light on the Gemara Sota 10b that highlights a difference between Yosef and Yehuda. Yehuda sanctified Hashem’s name in public when he admitted to his being with Tamar. Yosef sanctified Hashem’s name in privet (when he refused to have anything to do with Potifar’s wife – Maharsha). Here we see in Yosef the attribute of doing great things specifically in private. As we mentioned, “כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה” – here we see this honorary “feministic” trait in Yosef.