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Parashat Vayigash

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Natan ben Rachel, A’H,

by the Marcus Family.

Parashat Vayigash

Middah K’neged Middah

Last week’s parasha ended with Yosef instructing his servant to place food and money in the sacks of all his brothers except for Binyamin’s. He told the servant to hide his silver goblet in Binyamin’s bag, and then seal all the sacks. Yosef sent his son Menashe to chase after the brothers and say to them: “Why do you repay evil for good?” Of course, the brothers denied that they had stolen anything, and they all willingly lowered their bags to be searched. They started with the eldest and ended with the youngest, and so the goblet was found in Binyamin’s possession.

The brothers were shocked and ripped their garments. The midrash explains that they realized that they were being punished middah k’neged middah—measure for measure. By bringing Yosef’s blood-stained coat to their father twenty-two years earlier, they had caused their father to rip his garment in grief. Now it was their own garments that they tore.

True Teshuvah

Menashe brought the brothers back to Yosef’s palace to face the consequences, where all eleven brothers bowed down to Yosef. According to Midrash Tanchuma, Yosef’s dream of the eleven bowing stars was hereby fulfilled. Yehuda spoke up and said, “G-d has uncovered our sin, so we are all ready to be your slaves, both we and the one in whose hand the goblet has been found.” Yosef replied, “It would be sacrilegious for me to do this. Only the one in whose possession the goblet was found shall be my slave and as for the rest of you, go up in peace to your father.”

Yehuda approached Yosef and said, “Please, my Lord, let now your servant speak something into my Lord’s ears, and let not your wrath be kindled against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.” Yehuda told Yosef the whole story in private, how they have an old father who lost one son, and they could not return without Binyamin, his youngest son, because this will bring him to his grave. Yehuda begged Yosef to let him stay as a slave instead of Binyamin!

After listening to Yehuda’s plight, Yosef finally made the decision to reveal his identity. He saw that his brothers did sincere teshuvah by not abandoning Binyamin as they had abandoned Yosef. The mark of true teshuvah is being in the same situation that provoked a sin previously but succeeding without a sin this time instead.

What’s Our Excuse?

Yosef revealed himself and spoke the famous words to his brothers: “Ani Yosef; ha’od avi chai?—I am Yosef; is my father still alive?” What was Yosef asking them? Didn’t he just hear Yehuda say that he can’t take Binyamin away from their father Yaakov because the shock would kill him?

What Yosef was really doing here was rebuking his brothers, as if to say, “Oh, now you’re worried about my father? What about selling me to the Ishmaelites twenty-two years ago, and for all that time, you let my father believe that I was dead?” In Masechet Chagiga we are told that when Rav Eliezer came to this passuk, he wept and said, “Now if the rebuke of flesh and blood is such [that it causes so much embarrassment], how much more so will be the rebuke of Hashem (4b)!”

In other words, what will we say when Hashem will ask us, “Did you spend your days learning Torah?” What will we answer? “I couldn’t get up so early?” And then Hashem will ask us, “But what about the time when you had to wake up at 5 a.m. to catch a plane for your business meeting? How were you able to wake up for that?”

Or maybe the yetzer hara will make us say, “I’ll wait until I’m older, when I’ll have more time to learn,” and this will stop us from learning, because when we are old, we will be too weak to concentrate. Let us instead make a commitment now, while we’re young. Once we commit ourselves to learning, we will begin to taste the sweetness of Torah, and it will become the most enjoyable experience, especially as we age and have more time to learn. Learning Torah will be great chinuch—training for our older years.

Control Emotions for Halacha

Rabbi Frand brings down an important lesson. At the beginning of perek 45, the passuk says, “Then Yosef could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him, and he cried.” Before Yosef “lost it” and started to cry, he ordered that all the Egyptians be removed from the room. Rashi says he did so, because he did not want the brothers to be humiliated in front of the Egyptians. Yosef knew that his brothers would be tremendously embarrassed when he revealed himself as the ruling power of the most powerful nation in the world — knowing that years earlier they had sold him into slavery. He did not want anyone in the room to witness the embarrassment his brothers would be suffering.

Anyone who has been in a situation where they were so overcome with emotion that they broke down crying will realize the difficulty in this narrative. All of us have such moments in life. When we break down crying it is not possible to say, “Wait a minute, before I break down, I have to do something first.” Emotions overcome a person.

Somehow, even though the passuk dictates that Yosef could not refrain himself, he was able to hold it in long enough to give the order for the Egyptians to leave. He knew that the halacha prohibits one from publicly embarrassing his fellow man. Yosef teaches us that a person must develop control and not disregard the halacha despite his emotions. Many times, we say to ourselves “I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t stop.” Therefore, we take liberties. Yosef did not take liberty. The halacha says you cannot embarrass your brothers. Despite the overwhelming emotions at play, Yosef controlled his emotions and acted according to halacha.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski writes in his book Twerski on the Chumash about another time in this parasha where Yosef put his emotions aside to fulfill a mitzvah. When Yosef went to reunite with Yaakov, it says, “And Yosef harnessed his chariot, and he went up to meet Yisrael, his father, to Goshen, and he appeared to him, and he fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck for a long time (46:29).” Rashi comments on the words “appeared to him,” saying, “Yosef presented himself to his father.” What does this mean? Obviously the passuk is saying Yosef went to his father. Is Rashi’s comment redundant, chas ve’shalom?

Rabbi Twerski brings down an explanation from Rav Elyah Lopian. When Yosef went to meet his beloved father after an absence of twenty-two years, his emotions were very intense, as was evident by his prolonged weeping. However, Yosef knew how much his father loved him and how happy he would be to see him. To reunite with his father would be fulfilling the mitzvah of kibud av va’em—honoring one’s parents. Therefore, as Rashi writes, Yosef presented himself to his father, and while doing so, he focused solely on the mitzvah, putting his emotions aside in order to bring his father joy. After that, only then did he allow his emotions and feelings to seep in, finally letting himself cry.

It’s All Part of Hashem’s Plan

Immediately after Yosef revealed who he was, he said to his brothers, “I am Yosef, your brother whom you sold into Egypt, and now do not be distressed and let it not trouble you that you sold me here; for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me before you.”

The Or HaChaim asks the obvious question. Why did Yosef repeat himself, and why did he add “Your brother whom you sold?” Did he want to make his brothers feel bad for what they had done to him?

On the contrary, Yosef did not harbor any resentment or hold a grudge towards his brothers for selling him as a slave. Even at the time that he was sold, Yosef still loved his brothers. Yosef teaches us a very important lesson. We may feel sometimes that we have been dealt a bad hand when we are slighted or taken advantage of, but we must know that everything that happens to us is part of Hashem’s master plan. Yosef was sold by his brothers as a slave and then imprisoned in Egypt for a crime he did not commit. He was at the bottom of the food chain, his lowest point. With faith in Hashem’s plan and no grudge against his brothers, Hashem rewarded him. As we learned last week, Hashem brought salvation for Yosef k’heref ayin—in the blink of an eye, and in a matter of hours Yosef was elevated to become Viceroy of Egypt and second-in-command to Pharaoh!

Rabbi Ashear told a fitting story in his book Living Emunah on the Parasha. Rabbi Stern was on his way home after praying arvit at the kotel one night. Spur of the moment, he decided to stop by his sister’s house to visit his mother, who had been living there at the time. The visit lasted much longer than usual. When he finally left his sister’s house and realized how late it was, he was anxious to get home to his family. The streets of the Old City were empty, except for one man who was limping erratically.

He immediately recognized the man to be his close friend, Rabbi David. Rabbi David told Rabbi Stern he’s been stabbed in the stomach by an Arab and he needed help. Rabbi Stern rushed to him, offering his shoulder, and trying to look around for medical assistance. Rabbi David halted abruptly, “I can’t take another step. I need an ambulance,” he said. By then, blood was pouring from the wound in a steady stream. Rabbi Stern was afraid to stop a car, since it would likely hold more Arabs, further endangering them. He also didn’t want to leave Rabbi David alone while he ran into a house to call an ambulance. Every second mattered.

Just then, a police car drove by! Rabbi Stern waved it down, and the police radioed for an ambulance, which arrived in two short minutes! They took Rabbi David to the hospital, where they performed emergency surgery, and he was able to recover.

Rabbi Stern called Rabbi David to check on him the days after his surgery, and they marveled at the hashgacha peratit­— that Rabbi Stern was delayed at his sister’s house, and that the police showed up when they did! Rabbi David told Rabbi Stern the best part of all. When the doctor did the surgery, he noticed the knife had entered above Rabbi David’s intestines, but that they should have been hit— killing him— but his intestines were out of place. After the surgery, Rabbi David later explained to the surgeon and to Rabbi Stern that for two years, he had experienced pain in his stomach, and X-rays showed his intestines had shifted out of place, causing the pain. He planned to schedule surgery to correct it, but he had spoken to the Lelover Rebbe, who told Rabbi David to hold off. He even asked the Rebbe again a couple months earlier, and he insisted he hold off once more. The pain he experienced ended up saving his life.

When Yosef was sold, he cried and pleaded to his brothers not to sell him. It was only years later that he recognized that the worst time in his life was actually Hashem paving the way for him to become Viceroy of Egypt. According to the Chafetz Chaim, when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, everything became clear to them in an instant as well. That’s how it will be when Hashem reveals himself to the world through the coming of Mashiach. The blindfolds will be lifted from our eyes and all our questions will be answered! Only then will we truly comprehend everything that has transpired throughout our lives. It is important to stay true to Torah and Hashem, and Divine Justice will prevail.

May we realize that when things in our lives don’t always work out as we might have planned or wished, Hashem is setting the stage for something much better for us. May we be able to make a true teshuvah, succeeding and passing our tests from Hashem that we may have failed previously. Also, let us strive to make time to sit and learn Torah with our children and grandchildren, thereby following in the ways of our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, so that we may see the coming of the Mashiach in our days! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

  • Did we ever see how when our plans “went wrong,” things ended up working out for the better?



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