Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Parshas Vayigash

והיה כראותו כי אין הנער ומת והורידו עבדיך את שיבת עבדך אבינו ביגון שאלה (44:31)

In pleading for mercy from Yosef, Yehuda stressed the fact that if Binyomin remained in Egypt as a slave and didn’t return with them, their father Yaakov would suffer greatly and may even die from the agony. Why did Yehuda mention only the pain which would be caused to their father over the loss of a beloved son and made no mention of the intense pain which would be caused to Binyomin’s 10 sons over the loss of their unique and irreplaceable father?

The Kotzker Rebbe derives from here that the love of a father for every single one of his 12 children is greater than the collective love of all 10 children for their one and only father! Rav Dessler writes that contrary to common wisdom, feelings of love toward another person are generated not by receiving from that person but by giving to him. As any parent can attest, raising a child is an opportunity like no other to constantly give of oneself to help another person who is unable to help himself. The tremendous feelings of love generated by such extreme and continuous giving are unmatched and unparalleled, as Yehuda explained to Yosef!


ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו (45:3)

When Yosef’s brothers came to Egypt to purchase food during the years of famine, he was able to recognize them immediately, but after 22 years of separation they were unable to identify him. As a result, he was able to subject them to a dramatic and frightening series of events. After accusing them of being spies, he incarcerated Shimon in order to force them to return with his beloved maternal brother Binyomin. After confusing them by inviting them to join with him at a banquet, he had his goblet planted in Binyomin’s sack in order to frame him for stealing.

Finally, when Yehuda pleaded for mercy, explaining how much their father Yaakov would suffer if they failed to return with Binyomin, Yosef was unable to hold himself back anymore. He ordered all of his Egyptian officers and servants out of the room and revealed his true identity to his brothers, telling them, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?”

The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 93:10) understands Yosef’s words not as a factual question but as a rebuke of his brothers, and derives from their inability to answer him a hint to how great will be our shame and embarrassment when Hashem Himself rebukes us in His Heavenly Court. Yet many commentators struggle to understand exactly where the censure lies in Yosef’s words, which on the surface appear to represent a simple question about his father’s welfare.

The Beis HaLevi explains that Yehuda had been begging for mercy on behalf of Binyomin as a result of the unfathomable suffering which his imprisonment would cause to their father Yaakov. Yosef therefore subtly reminded them of their utter lack of concern for Yaakov’s well-being when they sold him as a slave, thereby demonstrating the contradiction in their actions and calculations, an argument to which they had no answer.

There was once a yeshiva student who was scheduled to fly home to visit his family during a break in the yeshiva studies. A few hours after setting out for the airport, he returned to yeshiva. He explained to his confused Rosh Yeshiva that he had arrived late to the airport and missed his flight, to which the Rosh Yeshiva happily exclaimed, “Boruch Hashem!” Now it was the boy’s turn to be confused.

The Rosh Yeshiva explained that every day the boy came late to prayers, to his studies, and to class. He worried that when the boy would eventually pass away, he would be asked about his tardiness, to which he would answer that he simply had a difficult time with punctuality. At that point he would be shown that when something was important to him, such as making a flight home, he had no problem arriving on time, and his defense would be contradicted and rejected. Now, however, the Rosh Yeshiva rejoiced, because the boy also arrived late to the airport, and while his attendance record in yeshiva was far from exemplary, at least his defense would remain intact!

There will also come a time when Hashem will similarly judge us. We think that when we are asked why we didn’t give more charity or spend more time studying Torah, we will defend ourselves by invoking our lack of extra funds and free time. Hashem will then “remind” us of all of the frivolous luxuries for which we had no difficulty finding money, and of all of the thousands of hours we wasted over the course of our lives involved in trivial nonsense, leaving us speechless and humiliated to the core.

We must take heed of the lesson of Yosef’s rebuke of his brothers and make sure to expend at least as much effort on our spiritual affairs as we do on physical matters. The same efforts we make in trying to maximize the return on our investments or on planning a trip in great detail to maximize our enjoyment should also carry over to matters of the soul, as we devote the same energy to our efforts to improving our returns on our spiritual portfolio and to getting the most out of the journey to this world on which our souls have been sent.


ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו (45:3)

When Yosef’s brothers came to Egypt to purchase food during the years of famine, he was able to recognize them immediately, but after 22 years of separation they were unable to identify him. As a result, he was able to subject them to a dramatic and frightening series of events. After accusing them of being spies, he incarcerated Shimon in order to force them to return with his beloved maternal brother Binyomin. After confusing them by inviting them to join with him at a banquet, he had his goblet planted in Binyomin’s sack in order to frame him for stealing.

Finally, when Yehuda pleaded for mercy, explaining how much their father Yaakov would suffer if they failed to return with Binyomin, Yosef was unable to hold himself back anymore. He ordered all of his Egyptian officers and servants out of the room and revealed his true identity to his brothers, telling them, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?”

The entire episode and ordeal of the brothers’ encounter with Yosef seemed so illogical and nonsensical as to seem more like a bad dream than reality, yet in a split second, in just two words, אני יוסף – I am Yosef – suddenly the entire picture became crystal clear. All of the seemingly inexplicable events and details fell into place, and everything made perfect sense.

The history of the Jewish nation has been fraught with lofty highs and awful lows. The life of every individual Jew follows a similar pattern. Many happy events seem too good to be true, while many struggles seem too great to bear. Certainly, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to them, no interconnecting links weaving them together as part of a larger picture and greater plan. The Chofetz Chaim writes that just as with Yosef’s brothers, there will come a time when we will merit Hashem’s revelation in all of His glory and splendor. Upon hearing just two words, אני ד' – I am Hashem – everything will immediately fall into place, and all of our questions will vanish into thin air.


ויגידו לו לאמור עוד יוסף חי וכי הוא מושל בכל ארץ מצרים ויפג לבו כי לא האמין להם וידברו אליו את כל דברי יוסף ... וירא את העגלות אשר שלח יוסף לשאת אותו ותחי רוח יעקב אביהם (45:26-27)

סימן מסר להם במה היה עוסק כספירש ממנו – בפרשת עגלה ערופה (רש"י)

Yaakov’s initial reaction upon hearing the brothers’ report that Yosef was still alive and was a ruler in Egypt was one of disbelief. Even if they met somebody who claimed to be Yosef, Yaakov was convinced that it was nothing more than a fraud. Yet when the brothers added on that the person they met had also mentioned the last Torah subject that Yosef had learned together with Yaakov before being separated, Yaakov was convinced that he was indeed legitimate. The obvious question is that if until now Yaakov suspected that the person was an impostor, what proof did this additional knowledge constitute to the contrary, as this suspected con artist could easily have discovered this fact through thorough research?

The Darkei Mussar and Rav Shimshon Pinkus give a beautiful answer based on an amazing story involving the Vilna Gaon. In the times of the Gaon, there was a tragic case of an agunah in Vilna – a woman whose husband sadly disappeared without a trace not long after their wedding, leaving her forbidden to remarry. After more than ten years had passed, out of nowhere, one day a man appeared in Vilna claiming to be her long-lost husband.

The woman and her family were skeptical, and suspected that in reality he was a lowly swindler in pursuit of the family’s wealth, but to the surprise of all, he was able to answer every question they posed about things that presumably only the real husband would know. He even took his “wife” aside and privately reminded her of intimate details which had transpired between the two of them and which nobody else could possibly know.

Still unsure, they consulted the Vilna Gaon, who instructed them to say nothing further and to wait until the coming Shabbos. That Friday night, the Gaon escorted them to the synagogue. Upon entering, he asked the man to identify the family’s regular seats. His guise up, the man was humiliated and immediately fled.

Amazed, the family asked the Gaon for an explanation of his brilliant detective work. He explained that it was indeed quite straightforward. It was clear that this had been either the real husband or somebody who had encountered him and paid him to reveal all of his detailed knowledge about his wife and family so that he could pass as him and make off with the family’s fortune. The Gaon knew that it would never occur to an impostor to ask the real husband about spiritual matters, so asking the man to point out the family’s seats in the synagogue was the perfect litmus test, which the man clearly failed!

Similarly, Yaakov was skeptical about the identity of the purported Yosef whom the brothers had met in Egypt. After all, they had had extensive interactions with him until now and not one of them was able to recognize him as their long-lost brother. Perhaps the man had similarly extracted from Yosef details about his family which he could then use for his own ulterior motives. Only when he proved that he remembered the last Torah topic that they had learned together, a spiritual matter, was Yaakov convinced that this could be none other than the true Yosef!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi (44:18) writes that Yehuda challenged Yosef by comparing him to Pharaoh, arguing that just as Pharaoh makes decrees but fails to follow through, so too you (Yosef) haven’t kept your promises. Where did Pharaoh make a decree that he subsequently neglected to keep? And where did Yosef make a promise that he later ignored? (Tosefos Rid, Moshav Z’keinim, Bartenura)

2) Just prior to sending his brothers back to Yaakov in Canaan, Yosef warned them (45:24) not to become agitated on the journey. According to one of Rashi’s explanations, Yosef was advising them not to travel too quickly by taking large steps, as the Gemora in Taanis (10b) states that doing so causes a person to lose 1/500th of his eyesight. What can a person who has done so do as a remedy in order to restore his lost vision? (Mishnah Berurah 271:48)

3) Rashi writes (46:10) that after Shimon and Levi killed Sh’chem and the men of his town, Dina refused to exit Sh’chem’s tent until Shimon promised to marry her (34:26). How was Shimon permitted to marry his sister Dina? (Moshav Z’keinim, Panieach Raza, Tur HeAruch, Gur Aryeh, Mizrachi, Kli Chemda, Mas’as HaMelech, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Emunas Itecha, M’rafsin Igri)

4) Which two people who are mentioned explicitly by name in Parshas Vayigash were twin brothers? (Seder HaDoros, HaK’sav V’HaKaballa, HaDrash V’HaIyun, Torah L’Daas Vol. 7)

5) At the emotional reunion between Yaakov and Yosef, the Torah relates (46:29) that Yosef fell on his father Yaakov’s neck and wept. Rashi explains that Yaakov didn’t reciprocate by falling on Yosef’s neck and kissing him because he was in the middle of reciting the Shema. The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 66:1) that a person should interrupt the Shema even in the middle of a verse in order to greet a king or other great man whom one is obligated to honor and respect. As Rashi writes (48:2) that Yaakov exerted himself to sit up in his bed to honor Yosef’s royal position, why didn’t he similarly stop his recitation of the Shema in order to greet and honor Yosef? (Taz Orach Chaim 66:1, Biur HaGra Orach Chaim 66:4, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

6) From which act of Yosef’s can one derive an obligation to express one’s gratitude for acts of kindness done for him even by a non-Jew? (Targum Yonason 47:22, Shelah HaKadosh)


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