Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Parshas Vayigash

(והיה כראותו כי אין הנער ומת והורידו עבדיך את שיבת עבדך אבינו ביגון שאולה (44:31
In pleading for mercy from Yosef, Yehuda stresses the fact that if Binyomin is forced to remain in Egypt as a slave and doesn’t return with them, their father Yaakov will suffer greatly and will even die from the agony. The Kotzker Rebbe wonders why Yehuda only mentioned the pain which will be caused to their father, and failed to even mention the pain which will be caused to Binyomin’s 10 sons. Rather, we see 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!

ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו (45:3
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, suddenly the entire picture became crystal clear and everything made sense. The Chofetz Chaim writes that so too there will come a time when we will merit Hashem’s revelation in all of His glory and splendor, and upon hearing just two words, 'אני ד, everything will immediately fall into place and all of our questions and difficulties will vanish into thin air.

ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו (45:3
A well-known Medrash understands Yosef’s words not as a factual question but as a rebuke of his brothers, with their inability to answer him hinting to us how great will be our shame and embarrassment when Hashem Himself will rebuke us in His Heavenly Court. Yet many commentators struggle to understand exactly where the censure lies in Yosef’s words. 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 their father’s well-being when they sold him as a slave, demonstrating the contradiction in their actions and calculations, something to which they had no answer. 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 tzedaka or spend more time learning Torah, we will defend ourselves with our lack of extra funds and free time. Hashem will then “remind” us of all of 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 frivolous nonsense, which will leave us speechless and humiliated to the core. I once heard a story about a boy in a yeshiva who was scheduled to fly home to his family for bein ha’zmanim, yet 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 davening, to seder, and to shiur. He worried that when the boy would eventually pass away that they would ask him about his tardiness, to which he would answer that he just had a difficult time with punctuality. At that point they would show him that when something was important to him, such as making a flight home, he had no problem arriving on time, and hence 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!

ויגידו לו לאמור עוד יוסף חי וכי הוא מושל בכל ארץ מצרים ויפג לבו כי לא האמין להם וידברו אליו את כל דברי יוסף אשר דיבר אליהם 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 was one of disbelief. Even if they met somebody who claimed to be Yosef, he was convinced that it was nothing more than a fraud. Yet when they added on that the person they met had also mentioned the last sugya (Torah topic) that they had learned together before being separated, Yaakov was convinced that he was legitimate. The obvious question is that if until now he suspected that the person was an impostor, what proof did this constitute to the contrary, as this suspected con artist could simply 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 Gr”a, there was an agunah in Vilna, a woman whose husband sadly disappeared without a trace not long after their wedding, leaving her forbidden to remarry for over 10 years. One day, out of nowhere, a man appeared in Vilna claiming to be her long-lost husband. She and her family were skeptical, and suspected that he was a swindler in pursuit of their 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 only between the two of them and which nobody else could possibly know. Still unsure, they consulted the Gaon, who instructed them to say nothing further and to wait until the coming Shabbos. That Friday night, the Gr”a escorted them to shul, and upon entering asked the man to identify the family’s seats. Humiliated and his guise up, the man immediately fled. Amazed, the family asked the Gaon for an explanation of his brilliant detective work. He explained that it was indeed quite straightforward, as it was clear that this was either the real husband or somebody who had encountered him and paid him off 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 way to discern is that it would never occur to an impostor to ask about spiritual matters, so asking the man to point out the family’s seats in shul was the perfect litmus test, which the man clearly failed! So too, Yaakov was similarly skeptical about the identity of the purported Yosef whom the brothers had met. After all, they had extensive interactions with him until now and not one of them was able to recognize him as the real Yosef. Perhaps the man had similarly extorted 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 sugya they learned together, a spiritual matter, was Yaakov convinced that this could be none other than the true Yosef!

ויסע ישראל וכל אשר לו ויבא בארה שבע (46:1)
ויקם יעקב מבאר שבע וישאו בני ישראל את יעקב אביהם ואת טפם ואת נשיהם בעגלות אשר שלח פרעה לשאת אותו (46:5
The Maharil Diskin and Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein point out that on Yaakov’s journey from Be’er Sheva to Egypt, the Torah records that they traveled in the wagons which Paroh had sent for him, yet in relating his travels to Be’er Sheva this fact is curiously absent. They beautifully explain that initially, even though he set out on the journey, Yaakov indeed still remained in doubt about whether he would continue to Egypt or would abort the trip and turn around. He feared for the spiritual well-being of himself and his family, and that he wouldn’t be buried in Ma’aras Hamach’peila in Chevron. Therefore, he wouldn’t allow himself to benefit from the wagons which had been sent to him for the express purpose of escorting him on his journey to Egypt, as he wasn’t sure he planned to reach this destination and he therefore considered making use of the wagons to be dishonest and improper. In Be’er Sheva, however, Hashem came to him in a night vision and blessed and reassured him regarding the trip. At that point, he resolved to continue to Egypt, and only then allowed himself and his family to travel in Paroh’s wagons!

(ובני יוסף אשר יולד לו במצרים נפש שנים (46:27
The Seder Hadoros writes that Yosef’s sons Menashe and Ephraim were actually twins! Hak’sav V’Hakabala suggests that our verse (as well as 41:50 above) contains a beautiful hint to this amazing and little-known fact, as in relating their births, it uses the singular word יולד instead of the plural יולדו, which indicates that his two sons were born together!

ויאמר פרעה אל יעקב כמה ימי שני חייך ויאמר יעקב אל פרעה ימי שני מגורי שלשים ומאת שנה מעט ורעים היו ימי שני חיי ולא השיגו את ימי שני חיי אבתי בימי מגוריהם (47:8-9
Toward the end of his life, the Shaagas Aryeh was appointed to serve as Rav of the large community of Mitz. After delivering his first drasha (speech) as Rav, everybody left commenting on his brilliance and on their great fortune to have him serve as their Rav. One pessimist, however, was heard to comment, “He looks so old and worn down. Who knows for how long we’ll merit to have him as our Rav?” At that, the Shaagas Aryeh returned to the pulpit and continued for all to hear, discussing our verse. Why was Paroh so interested in knowing Yaakov’s age immediately upon meeting him, and why didn’t Yaakov suffice with a simple factual answer that he was 130, instead adding on that he had lived a difficult life and hadn’t yet reached the age of his fathers? He answered (and so explains the Kli Yakar) that upon Yaakov’s arrival, the Nile became blessed and watered the entire land of Egypt, thus prematurely ending the famine (Rashi 50:3). As happy as this made Paroh, he couldn’t help but notice how ancient Yaakov appeared, thus giving him concern that Yaakov’s remaining years were few and that it was only a matter of time before he died and the famine returned. Thus, he greeted Yaakov by immediately inquiring about his age. Yaakov, understanding the intent behind the question, answered that in reality he was relatively young, as at 130 he was nowhere near the age of 180 at which his father had died. He explained that the reason he appeared so aged was because he had suffered greatly throughout his very difficult and painful life. So too, the Shaagas Aryeh concluded that he had lived a very hard life, regularly suffering from intense poverty, exile, and enemies pursuing him. Thus, although he appeared much older, he assured his new community that at the chronological age of 70 he was still quite young and spry and that they would merit his presence for another twenty years. Not surprisingly, he passed away at the age of 90!

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

1) In the end of Parshas Mikeitz, Yehuda and the brothers willingly accepted the punishment of slavery to be meted out to Binyomin for stealing the goblet. What suddenly changed at the beginning of this week’s Parsha that Yehuda began to speak harshly (Rashi 44:18) and challenge Yosef’s authority and fairness?

2) Rashi (44:18) explains that Yehuda challenged Yosef by comparing him to Paroh, in that the same way that Paroh makes decrees but fails to follow through, so too have you not kept your promises. Where do we find that Paroh made a decree but didn’t keep it? And where did Yosef make a promise that he later ignored? (Tosefos Rid, Moshav Z’keinim, Bartenura Al HaTorah)

3) Rashi explains (46:10) that after Shimon and Levi killed Sh’chem and the men of his town, Dina refused to exit his tent until Shimon promised to marry her, and the Torah here records that they had a son named Shaul. How was Shimon allowed to marry Dina, who was both his paternal and maternal sister? (Moshav Z’keinim, Panieach Raza, Gur Aryeh, Mizrachi, Masas Hamelech)

4) At the emotional reunion between Yaakov and Yosef, the Torah relates (46:29) that Yosef fell on 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 Krias Shema. However, there is a halacha that one interrupts Shema even in the middle of a verse in order to greet a king or other great man whom one is required to honor and respect. We indeed find in the beginning of next week’s Parsha that Yaakov exerted himself to sit up in his bed to honor Yosef’s royal position (Rashi 48:2), so why didn’t Yaakov stop his recitation of Shema to greet and honor Yosef here? (Ta”z and Biur HaGr”a Orach Chaim 66:1)