Actions Speak Louder than Words
ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי אדני ידבר נא עבדך דבר באזני אדני ואל יחר אפך בעבדך כי כמוך כפרעה
Then Judah approached him and said, “If you please, my lord, may your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears and let not your anger flare up at your servant – for you are like Pharaoh…” (Bereishit 44:18)
The brothers did everything to placate the strange and suspicious leader of Egypt. They even took their youngest brother away from his elderly father just so that this “ruling official” could “put his eye on him.” Then, just as they were leaving Egypt, Benjamin was “caught” stealing the viceroy’s goblet.
The brothers’ offer to be slaves in place of Benjamin is refused. At that moment, Judah steps forward to beg for Benjamin’s release. Judah was not the only one who stepped forward before making his plea. Abraham (Bereishit 18:23) and the prophet Elijah (Kings I, 18:36) also stepped forward before making a request, of G-d. (The verse uses the same Hebrew word, vayigash, in each case.)
Rabbi Eleazar Rokeach, (a leading scholar and Kabbalist) explains that one reason why Jews have a custom of stepping forward before praying the silent Amidah prayer stems from these three acts of stepping forward. Logically, however, this custom appears strange. In actuality, it is not possible to move any closer to G-d by the physical act of stepping forward. G-d, after all, is everywhere. He remains just as close to us before stepping forward as afterward. What, then, is the rationale behind this custom?
Rabbi Aron Leib Shteinman explains that before a person prays, he needs to reflect on the idea that prayer is supposed to move us, change us, and take us a step down the path toward our goal. It is not that we are suddenly closer to G-d. Rather, the physical act of stepping forward reminds us of the true purpose of prayer.
Similarly, the Book of Mitzvah Education states that a person’s emotions and desires follow his actions – not the other way around. This may seem counter intuitive to many people surrounded by Western Culture, where the prevailing sentiment is that a person must “feel” something before he can commit to doing it. However, Judaism recognizes that physical actions have the power to evoke an emotional response. As just one example, the Book of Mitzvah Education points out that the rituals and commandments surrounding the Passover Seder are intended to imbue us with a feeling of spiritual freedom. One possible explanation for the many hundreds of commandments (613, to be exact) that G-d gave us is that the more we actually participate in good deeds, the more our hearts and minds enjoy performing them.
After each chapter of the Ethics of the Fathers, for example, there is a statement alluding to this idea: Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya says: The Holy One, Blessed be He, wanted to confer merit upon Israel; therefore He gave them Torah and Mitzvot in abundance, as it is written: “G-d desired, for the sake of Israel’s righteousness, that the Torah be expanded and strengthened.” Each commandment presents its own unique benefit to the person performing it.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov stressed the importance of serving G-d with great joy. Throughout his works and discourses this theme was repeated many times, and indeed to this day, it remains one of the hallmarks of Breslov Chassidim. One way this philosophy manifested itself was through the joyous dancing of Rabbi Nachman’s adherents. However, there was one time when a student of Rabbi Nachman’s came to him complaining that he felt a profound lack of joy in his life. Even when people around him were dancing joyously, this man just could not seem to get caught up in the good feelings of everyone around him. Rabbi Nachman told him simply, “Then get up and dance!” The Rabbi was intimating that a person can spend a lifetime waiting to “feel something,” when the first step is simply to get up and get involved.
We have just celebrated Chanukah. This is a holiday that commemorates a time when the majority of the Jewish people had grown apathetic in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition. However, the Maccabees rose up and took action – and in doing so, lit a fire that still burns within the Jewish people thousands of years later.
One way to hang on to the inspiration of Chanukah is to find new ways to participate in Jewish study, activities, holidays and communal events. What at first appears to be a daunting proposition, may soon become second nature – and with that, so will the desire to invite others to join in. The journey of a thousand warm experiences begins with three steps forward – and no steps back!
Everyone Will Have to give an Accounting
ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו
“And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him because they were left disconcerted before him.” (Bereishit 45:3)
When Joseph’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 Simon in order to force them to return with his beloved maternal brother Benjamin. He then confused them by inviting them to join him at a banquet, and finally he had his goblet planted in Benjamin’s sack in order to frame him for stealing.
When Judah pleaded for mercy, explaining how much their father Jacob would suffer if they failed to return with Benjamin, Joseph was unable to hold himself back anymore. He ordered all of his Egyptian servants out of the room and revealed his true identity to his brothers, telling them, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”
The Medrash (Bereishit Rabbah 93:10) understands Joseph’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 G-d Himself rebukes us in His Heavenly Court. Yet many commentators struggle to understand exactly where the censure lies in Joseph’s words, which on the surface appear to represent a simple question about his father’s welfare.
The Beis HaLevi explains that Judah had been begging for mercy on behalf of Benjamin as a result of the unfathomable suffering which his imprisonment would cause to their father Jacob. Joseph therefore subtly reminded them of their utter lack of concern for Jacob’s well-being when they sold him as a slave, thereby demonstrating the contradiction in their actions and calculations, an argument for 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 (thank G-d)!” 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 G-d 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 citing our lack of extra funds and free time. G-d 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, which will leave us speechless and humiliated to the core.
We must take heed of the lesson of Joseph’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.
How To Succeed In Today’s Economy
שמני אלקים לאדון לכל מצרים
“G-d has made me a lord over all of Egypt” (Bereishit 45:9).
After Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers, he sent them back to their father Jacob, with the request that the whole family move down to Egypt where Joseph would support them throughout the seven-year famine. However, part of the message that Joseph sent back to his father seems strange: “G-d has made me a lord over all of Egypt” (Bereishit 45:9). Understandably, Joseph was trying to persuade his father to come down to Egypt; but did he think that bragging about his vast power would impress Jacob? Did he think Jacob would be more inclined to move his holy family to a country filled with materialistic pagans just because his son had a good job and lots of power?
Rabbi Yaakov Neiman says that Joseph was not trying to brag about the great power he wielded, but his perspective on that great power. When the average person gets a raise or a promotion, they usually attribute it to their boss, the human resources department, or more often, their own hard work — “I got the raise for closing a major deal.”
Joseph, on the other hand, shared none of these illusions. When he described the incredible promotion he got, he made it abundantly clear that “G-d has made me a lord over all of Egyptians,” with the emphasis on the first part of the sentence. Jacob would see that despite Joseph’s meteoric rise to power, despite being immersed in a culture whose leaders usually made deities out of themselves, Joseph was able to maintain his faith and recognize that everything comes from G-d. He hoped that once Jacob understood that he could retain his Jewish beliefs and perspectives in Egypt, he would be willing to move his family there.
This message resonates today more than ever. People are being hired and fired, promoted and demoted, in a chaotic economic environment the likes of which we have never seen before. Like Joseph, it is important for us to recognize that G-d is the Ultimate Boss, the One who really decides our career path. He’s the One to Whom we should speak to when we need a bit of career help, or to give thanks for our success.
Our forefather Joseph blazed a pathway for us, teaching that, despite the prevailing culture’s attitude on success, we can maintain our perspective: the ultimate success is a life lived with an awareness of G-d and all He does for us.
ויפל על צוְארי בנימן אחיו ויבך ובנימן בכה על צואריו
“Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck.” (Bereishit 45:14)
Continuing the narrative of Joseph’s encounter with his brothers, this week’s Torah portion describes how Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and shocked them with the words, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” The brothers were stunned to discover that this powerful leader, the second-in-command to the king of Egypt, was their long-forgotten brother whom they had sold into slavery. The Torah then adds a seemingly insignificant detail – that Joseph and Benjamin fell upon each other’s necks and wept.
In explanation of this detail, Rashi teaches that Joseph was weeping about both of the Holy Temples that were to be built in Benjamin’s portion of Israel and would subsequently be destroyed. Benjamin on the other hand, wept about the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, to be built in Joseph’s portion, which would likewise be destroyed. Rashi’s comment begs the question of whether this was the appropriate time for mourning these tragedies that would occur only many generations later. Equally puzzling is why they each wept about the destruction in the other one’s portion and not in their own.
Rabbi Yechezkel Taub of Kuzmir (1755-1856), the first Rebbe in the Chasidic dynasty of Modzitz, explained that at the moment the brothers were finally reunited, they came to the stark realization that the cause of their long painful separation was sin’at chinam, unwarranted hatred. They knew through Divine inspiration that sin’at chinam would also be the cause for the destruction of the Holy Temple and Tabernacle. The realization that they had engaged in the very sin that would bring an end to the Holy Temple caused them to weep for its destruction at this juncture.
How does one atone for such a sin? How does one prevent the recurrence of sin’at chinam? Through ahavat chinam, unwarranted love, i.e., by loving a fellow Jew for no reason other than the fact that he or she is a Jew.
Our Rabbis teach us that the ultimate expression of loving a fellow Jew is feeling pained by his sorrow to the same extent that one would be pained by one’s own tragedy and rejoicing at his good fortune as one would rejoice at one’s own good news. Based on this insight, our sages tell us that if someone enhances the joy of a bride and groom, it is as if he has rebuilt the ruins of Jerusalem. Just as sinat chinam brought about the destruction of our Holy Temple, ahavat chinam will bring about its rebuilding.
A story involving Rabbi Sholom Schwadron, a well-known orator in Jerusalem, underscores this point. One day, Rabbi Schwadron heard a scream from the alleyway outside his window. His wife ran into their home, yelling that his attendant’s grandson, Meir, was bleeding profusely after a big fall. They hurried outside and tended to the boy. Rabbi Schwadron picked up the child and began running with him in his arms in search of a doctor. An elderly woman observing the scene called out in Yiddish, “Rabbi Sholom, Rabbi Sholom, es iz nisht doh vos tzu daigin. Der Eibeshter vet helfen. (There is nothing to worry about. G-d will take care of him.)” As the Rabbi neared the woman however, she recognized that the bleeding child was her own grandson. She screamed, “Gevalt! Meirka! Gevalt! (Woe Meir, woe!) Run faster, Rabbi Sholom!”
While many people are genuinely concerned about the well-being of others, it isn’t as common to have the same degree of concern and compassion for others as we have for those who are our own flesh and blood. Meir’s grandmother’s attitude was typical. Rabbi Schwadron’s manner of personally caring for the child as he would for his own child was a lesson in unwarranted love.
By shedding their earlier rivalry and weeping for the eventual losses that would occur in each other’s portion of Israel, Joseph and Benjamin displayed genuine ahavat chinam for each other – rectifying the sinat chinam that had brought about their long separation. It would do us all well to take this message to heart and follow Joseph’s and Benjamin’s lead by genuinely feeling the pain and the joy of others. With enough unwarranted love, we can undo the harm of the unwarranted hatred that brought about our long exile, and hasten the rebuilding of the ruins of Jerusalem.
Always Be Prepared
ואת יהודה שלח לפניו אל יוסף להורות לפניו גשנה
“He (Jacob) sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to prepare ahead of him in Goshen.” (Bereishit 46:28)
After a tumultuous roller-coaster of events, Jacob’s sons returned to Canaan and informed him that his beloved son Joseph, whom he had assumed was dead for 22 years, was in fact alive and prospering in Egypt.
Although Jacob was initially skeptical, they were finally able to convince him that they met up with Joseph. Astonished by the remarkable turn of events and in spite of his advanced age, Jacob prepared himself and his family for the lengthy journey to Egypt in order to be reunited with Joseph.
As they drew near to the section of Egypt called Goshen, our verse tells us that Jacob sent his son Judah ahead of him to prepare for him the way. Rashi explains that “preparing for him the way” refers to Jacob’s instructions that Judah establish a house of study where he would be able to learn and teach Torah. Considering Jacob’s age and all that he had recently experienced, did this really need to be his highest priority? Shouldn’t he have first focused on getting reunited with Joseph and comfortably settling his family into their new homes?
Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, known as the Shelah HaKadosh (1565-1630), derives from Jacob’s actions and priorities that wherever a person goes, he should first ensure that his spiritual needs are in place. Only after he has done so should he attend to his more mundane concerns. Although Jacob clearly had a number of important tasks to attend to on his momentous journey, the Torah records his focus on establishing a house of study prior to his arrival so that we may learn a lesson about setting priorities.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that the biggest mistake made by the early immigrants to America was that they were so focused on trying to make a living that they neglected to make time to set up schools to provide a religious education to the next generation. As a result, thousands of Jewish children missed out on the opportunity to be properly educated about their religious heritage.
Rabbi Avrohom Shalom Halberstam, known as the Stropkover Rebbe, was once purchasing an apartment and narrowed the choices down to two. Each of the apartments had various aesthetic and practical pros and cons, and it was difficult to decide which of them was superior. After weighing and reweighing the numerous considerations, Rabbi Halberstam ultimately chose the location which he felt would be most conducive to his spiritual growth.
Although this level of spiritual sensitivity is clearly beyond most of us, its lesson is still applicable. We all make daily decisions concerning our homes, our jobs, and our families. When evaluating the different options, we should learn from Jacob the importance of trying to view the world through a more spiritual lens and taking that perspective into account when making our choices.
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
Q: In pleading for mercy from Joseph, Judah stressed the fact that if Benjamin would be forced to remain in Egypt as a slave and wouldn’t return with them, their father Jacob would suffer greatly and may even die from the agony (Bereishit 44:31). Why did Judah mention only the pain which would be caused to their father, but failed to even mention the pain which would be caused to Benjamin’s 10 sons?
A: The Kotzer Rebbe answers that 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! The Ostrovtzer Rebbe explains that this is natural due to the fact that the very first human, Adam, had children to love but no flesh-and-blood father, which caused this to be permanently fixed into the genes of every single one of his descendants. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
After Joseph and his brother reconcile, Pharaoh extends an official invitation to the entire family to come down to Egypt and live in the choicest portion of the land. Joseph then gives the brothers wagons, provisions and extravagant gifts, and sends them off to their father. (Bereishit 45:16 – 24)
1) As they are leaving, Joseph says to them, “Do not become agitated on the way.” Rashi explains that this means they should not “take big steps,” i.e., travel too quickly. Why did Joseph tell them this?
When Jacob and Joseph meet after 22 years of separation, Joseph fell on Jacob’s neck and wept greatly and continuously. However, Rashi explains that Jacob did not fall on Joseph’s neck and did not kiss him. Instead, he was saying Shema at that moment. (Bereishit 46:29)
2) What prompted Jacob to recite Shema just then, and why did Joseph not also do the same?
The worldwide famine was severe. Since Egypt had been prepared for the famine, people flocked there from all over to purchase provisions. Joseph’s brothers came as well to buy food and bring it back to their father Jacob in Canaan. Joseph, who as viceroy (second-in-command) in Egypt was unrecognized by his brothers, gave each of them a robe. But to his youngest brother Benjamin he gave five robes. Joseph then sent twenty animals laden with provisions to his father in Canaan and asked that Jacob come down to Egypt (Bereishit 45:16-27).
- Joseph knew from personal experience how sibling rivalry could cause terrible problems; after his father had given him a “coat of many colors,” Joseph had been sold into slavery. Why might he risk showing favoritism to Benjamin in this way?
- Joseph asked Jacob to move to Egypt to weather the famine. When doing so, he sent along huge amounts of provisions, far more than would be used on the way to and from Egypt. Why might Joseph send him so much food that he would just have to transport back with him to Egypt?
Although Joseph was eventually reunited with his father Jacob, the 22 years that they were separated still caused Jacob untold suffering. As Jacob’s sons were at least partially responsible for this pain, it is surprising that no mention is made of an apology, and even more curious that Jacob didn’t criticize them for their actions. Why wouldn’t they have apologized for Joseph’s disappearance, and why wouldn’t Jacob have criticized them? (Rabbi Elozar Menachem Shach quoted in Me’Rosh Amanah)
Why wouldn’t Joseph have sent a message to Jacob at any point after his rise to power in order to notify him that he was alive and well? (Paneiach Raza by Rabbi Yitzchak ben Yehuda HaLevi, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh by Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar)
And Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and I will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household who are in the land of Canaan have come to me. The men are shepherds, for they have been cattlemen; their flocks and cattle, and everything they own they have brought.’ And it will be that when Pharaoh summons you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ Then you shall say, ‘Your servants have been cattlemen from our youth until now, both we and our forefathers,’ so that you may settle in the land of Goshen, since all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptian.” (Bereishit 46:31-34)
1) As explained by Rashi (Bereishit 47:2), Joseph feared having his brothers conscripted into Pharaoh’s royal army. In an effort to convince Pharaoh that his brothers were unsuitable for royal service, he encouraged them to emphasize that their profession, and hence their skill, was limited to caring for sheep. His ultimate goal of keeping his brothers sheltered in the land of Goshen was thus realized.
As Joseph personally succeeded in maintaining his character while playing such a pivotal role in Egypt, why did he shield his brothers from having a potentially similar or an even greater influence? Is this not at odds with our charge (see Isaiah 42:6) to serve as “a light unto the nations”?
2) In preparation for his own discussion with Pharaoh, Joseph said that he was planning to tell Pharaoh that his brothers brought everything they owned with them. How is this piece of information relevant to his agenda of dissuading Pharaoh from enlisting his brothers in his army?
Q: After the seven years of plenty ended, a severe famine began, just as Joseph had predicted. Acting as Pharaoh’s representative, Joseph was prepared for the famine, as he had stored up grain during the previous seven years precisely for this purpose. When the Egyptians approached him for food, he sold it to them until all of the money in the land of Egypt belonged to Pharaoh. At this point he continued to add to Pharaoh’s royal portfolio, selling the food first in exchange for the livestock of the Egyptians, then for their land and for ownership of their very bodies. Why wasn’t Joseph, as the leader of Egypt, willing to simply give away the food and grain that the country had stored up to the Egyptian citizens for whom he was responsible? Why was he so interested in acquiring them, their land, and their animals as possessions of Pharaoh?
A: Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky suggests that when the time would come for G-d to smite the Egyptian people with the ten plagues, Joseph didn’t want them to be able to argue that as private citizens who weren’t interested in the enslavement of the Jewish people they should be exempt from the punishment which should be exclusively meted out to Pharaoh. However, now that they, their land, and their animals were all part of Pharaoh’s national treasury, they had no such claim since anything that happened to them was all part of the punishment coming to Pharaoh. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Q: Even though the name יששכר (Yissochor) is spelled with two ש’s, the prevalent custom is to pronounce it as if it were written with only one. Why is this?
A: The Chida explains that Yissochor named one of his sons Yov (Bereishit 46:13), which was at that time – unbeknownst to Yissochor – the name of an idol. Upon learning of this, Yov complained to his father, who appeased him by changing his name to ישוב (see Parshat Pinchas 26:24). However, in order to add a “ש” he was forced to give up one of his, which even though it is still part of his written name, is no longer pronounced! In fact, Rav Tzvi Hirsch from Zidichov was accustomed to read the name Yissochor with both “ש”s up until Parshat Pinchas, in accord with the opinion that his name was changed only at that time! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
Let’s Be Reasonable
“And Judah approach him and said, ‘Please my master, allow your servant to speak to you directly and let your anger not flare up against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.’” Bereishit 44:18
To Speak To You Directly – Without an interpreter. For just as Pharaoh speaks all languages, you must be capable of doing so as well. If you admit that this is beyond your capability, I will use that against you as well, if you persist in this madness. – Beis HaLevi, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik
It is interesting to note that Judah hardly introduced any new facts into his narrative. Instead, he simply rehashed all of the events until that point. Why did he believe that this would be any more convincing when surely Joseph knew the facts of this case? Beis HaLevi explains that the brothers were totally confounded by the strange events that had befallen them. They’d never dreamed of being spies or thieves, and now they were accused of being both. Judah thought that perhaps this was all being cooked up not by Joseph, but by his interpreter. Thus, he requested a private audience with Joseph, where he could speak to him directly without an interpreter. This way, he hoped to reason with Joseph and demonstrate how ludicrous the allegations against them were.
No Shame in Being Right
“And Joseph could not contain his emotions before all those who were assembled in his presence and he instructed, ‘Remove every man from before me’, and there was no one present when Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers.” Bereishit 45:1
Joseph Could Not Contain – He could not bear the thought that the Egyptians would be standing beside him and witness his brothers’ shame and embarrassment when he revealed his identity to them. – Rashi
Joseph Could Not Contain – Insisting that no one be present when he revealed himself to his brothers, placed Joseph in great danger because his brothers [not knowing how they would be treated] could have decided to kill him on the spot and he would have been powerless to stop them. – Medrash Rabbah
After his descent to Egypt, Joseph attained the status of Joseph HaTzaddik [Joseph the Righteous], as found in the Talmud [Tractate Yoma 35b]. This lofty appellate is reserved only for the most exemplary individuals who go far and beyond human expectations. Joseph was that rare individual who would place his own life in grave danger merely to ensure that his brothers be spared shame for their actions. Rather than gloat over his triumph, he took extra measures to guard against causing them shame, even incidental. It is no wonder that the Mashiach will first emanate from the tribe of Joseph, the master at uniting people and offering gentle rebuke.
Left With Nothing To Say
“And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ but his brothers could not answer him because they were stunned by his presence.” – Bereishit 45:3
“Abba Kohen Bardala said, ‘Woe is to us on the Day of Judgment. Woe is to us on the Day of Rebuke. Joseph was the youngest of the brothers [whom he was addressing] and they could not face his rebuke. What will we say when God rebukes us on our day of judgment?’” – Medrash Rabbah Bereishit 93:10
For more than 20 years the brothers constantly reassured themselves that the decision to sell their own brother and cause their beloved father unbearable pain was justified. Merely hearing Joseph utter the words, “I am Joseph,” exposed their logic and justifications as faulty. They had no choice but to realize how severely they’d erred. The sheer magnitude of the consequences left them speechless. – Sichos Mussar
“What is the praiseworthy approach a person should choose in life? Rabbi Shimon said, ‘One who always considers the future.’”
Often we make choices that deep in our hearts we recognize are wrong, and then construct an elaborate network of excuses and justifications to continue down that path. As the years progress we begin to believe our own deceptions and refuse to reconsider our behavior. The fallacy of that path is laid bare in this narrative. There were none so righteous as the brothers,and they were convinced that their decision was faultless. Yet, it took only three words out of Joseph’s mouth to expose their mistake. When we stand before the heavenly court after 120 years, we may well find ourselves in a similar situation.
Who Was Really Behind the Plot to Sell Joseph into Slavery
“Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me,”…And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to be a provider that God sent me ahead of you.” Bereishit 45-4,5
When Joseph saw his brothers shrink away from him in shame, he comforted them by saying that their selling him was part of God’s plan: “It was to be a provider that God sent me ahead of you.” That we would descend to Egypt was non negotiable: it was part of God’s plan that He earlier conveyed to Abraham. We could have gone to Egypt in iron chains, but instead He sent me here to prepare the way for an honorable descent… – Medrash Tanchumah VaYigash 5
In a remarkable display of sensitivity and emunah, Joseph refused to gloat over his brothers’ obvious pain, and focused instead on comforting them. He demonstrated his unique suitability to be a Jewish leader when he pointed out to them that in his mind their actions toward him were merely the execution of God’s plan to exile the Jews to Egypt. Moreover, it was the ideal means of doing so, since the alternative would have been difficult and demeaning.
“And he kissed all his brothers and cried upon them, and afterwards his brothers spoke to him.” (Bereishit 45:15)
And he kissed all his brothers – This teaches that he kissed each brother and cried. Just as the appeasement of his brothers occurred only through tears, similarly, the salvation will come to Israel only through tears. – Midrash Tanchumah
When we return to our Holy Land upon the advent of the Messianic Era, we will be brought to tears because we will realize how much we lost by being stuck in exile all the years. – Ksav Sofer
A Roman king called together ten great sages and inquired of them, “What is the law regarding one who kidnaps a person and sold him as a slave?” They answered, “The kidnapper should be executed.” The king responded, “If so, then punishment should have been meted out to the brothers who kidnapped Joseph and sold him into captivity!” He then declared, “Ten outstanding sages will be put to death in place of those who participated in the kidnapping and sale of Joseph.”
These ten great sages are known as the “Assarah Harugei Malchus” [ten victims of the monarch], and their story is recited each Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av. Einei HaEidah points out that the word “Aleihem” [upon them] in this verse appears to be superfluous, for it would have been sufficient to tell us that he kissed them and cried. What is added by “upon them?” He explains that this word contains a hint to the catastrophe that resulted from this dreadful act of kidnapping Joseph. The letters of the word are an acrostic for “Assidim Lehiyos Harugei Malchus”[They are destined to be victims of the monarch].
The Court Jew
“Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Instruct your brothers to do this: load up your animals, and go and enter the land of Canaan… Now you are commanded to order your brothers to do the following: Take wagons from the land of Egypt for your young ones and for your wives. Bring your father and come…’” (Bereishit 45:17-19)
To do the following – Tell them that it is with my permission. – Rashi
To do the following – Pharaoh recognized that Joseph was so honest that he would not feel comfortable employing royal funds and horses to honor and transport his family. Therefore, Pharaoh insisted that Joseph help himself to these items so that his family would be honored in proper fashion. – Ramban, Rabbeinu Bachya
The entire episode of Joseph in Egypt serves as a manual for how a Jew must conduct himself especially when in exile. His scrupulous behavior helped him avoid trouble to begin with, and once he rose to a position of unbelievable power, he used his influence to help others and not for self-benefit. Pharaoh entrusted him with everything but his throne, because he knew that Joseph would never betray his trust. So long as Pharaoh remained alive, the Jews had nothing to fear. It was only upon his passing that they found themselves in danger.
No Rushin’ Jews
“He sent his brothers off and they went. He said to them, ‘Do not be troubled along the way.’” (Bereishit 45:24)
Do not be troubled – there are three meanings to this statement:
- Do not become involved in halachic discussion so that the road not become a menace to you.
- Do not take very large steps and arrive at your place of lodging while there is still daylight.
- As for the plain meaning of the verse, it can be said that, because they were embarrassed, he was worried lest they quarrel on the way concerning his being sold, to argue with one another by saying, “It was because of you that he was sold” or, “You are the one who told slanderous things about him, and caused us to hate him.”– Rashi
Rabbi Menachem Mendel zt”l of Kotzk wondered why Joseph urged them not to travel too hastily and to turn in early before nightfall when surely, he must have realized that Jacob would want to find out about his well-being as quickly as possible. Explained the Kotzker, Joseph was the consummate Maamin [faithful servant of the Almighty] who knew that whenever the time that was initially established by the Almighty for Jacob’s suffering to end would arrive, he would immediately find out the truth. If it was meant to happen quickly, they’d merit a smooth and speedy journey. If it was meant to happen later, no amount of effort to speed up their trip would make a difference as they’d be delayed for other unforeseen reasons. “Don’t bother rushing,” Joseph advised them. “Whatever is supposed to be is precisely what will occur.”
But He’s Not a Doctor!
“And Israel (Jacob) said, ‘It is enough for me that Joseph, my son, is still alive. I’ll go and see him prior to my death’” (Bereishit 45:28)
It Is Enough For Me – What do I care whether he is the viceroy of Egypt? For me it is more than sufficient that he be alive still. – Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Efraim of Luntchitz
It Is Enough For Me – He perceived through Divine Inspiration that Joseph had maintained his high level of piety in spite of the many challenges he underwent in Egypt and this was what mattered to him most. – Medrash Rabbah 94:3 & Heemek Davar
Although Jacob’s sons only mentioned Joseph’s status as a ruler in order to corroborate Joseph’s dreams and emphasize his ability to sustain them, Jacob wanted them to know that nothing was more important in his eyes than Joseph’s commitment to his faith. Jacob’s attitude provides a stark contrast to that of many Jews who arrived on these shores at the turn of the 20th century and placed greater emphasis on ensuring their children’s material well-being, than on their spiritual welfare.
Children of Israel
“And Jacob rose up from Beer Sheva and the Children of Israel transported their father Jacob, their children, and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him.” Bereishit 46:5
Sons of Israel transported their father Jacob – Why doesn’t the verse refer to them initially as sons of Jacob instead of sons of Israel? They were descending to Egypt not only because they were Jacob’s sons, but because they were the children of all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs with whom the Almighty forged a covenant that required that they spend time in Egypt. Therefore, in this context, it refers to them as the Children of Israel. However, they carried Jacob down with them because he was their father, and therefore the verse writes, “Their father Jacob.”
When referring to the nation as descendants of all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the term Israel is most appropriate, because the name Israel contains a reference to each of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Yud = Yaakov & Yitzchak, Shin = Sara, Reish = Rivka & Rachel, Aleph = Avraham, Lamed = Lea
One For All
“And Judah he [Jacob] sent ahead of him to Joseph, so that he might direct him to Goshen and they then came to the land of Goshen.” (Bereishit 46:28)
Judah he sent ahead of him – He sent him to clear out the land from idolatry, because Jacob would not inhabit a place that was full of idolatry. – Sifei Kohein
That he might direct him – To establish a yeshiva in Goshen that they would populate once they arrived and which would provide spiritual guidance for them. – Rashi
Why was Judah selected from among all the brothers to establish the yeshiva which would serve as the spiritual light for the nation? Tiferes Shlomo of Radomsk explains that Judah was the first person mentioned in the Torah to take responsibility for others when he promised Jacob regarding Benjamin: “I will be security for him. You will demand him from my hand and if I do not bring him to you, and set him before you, I will have sinned to you for all time.” One of the indispensable qualities necessary for one who wishes to establish a yeshiva and lead young men is a willingness to assume responsibility for them, even when doing so requires great self-sacrifice. Having demonstrated his willingness to behave selflessly toward others, Judah was the ideal choice to establish the yeshiva which would train the next generation.
Jewish Education Must Be Our Priority
“He sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to prepare for him in Goshen, and they came to the region of Goshen.” (Bereishit 46:28)
“The Aggadic interpretation of ‘to prepare’ is that there should be teaching: to establish for him a house of study, from which teaching would emanate.” – Rashi quoting Tanchuma Vayigash 11
Mindful as he was of the imperative to descend to Egypt in order to survive, Jacob refused to do so until he had first established a yeshiva. His actions demonstrated his firm conviction that in order for the Jewish people to spiritually endure in exile, Jewish education must be their priority. The correctness of this view was borne out repeatedly throughout our long existence in exile. Wherever the communities invested in strong educational institutions, the population remained steadfast and loyal to Jewish traditions. Those communities which emphasized other facets of Jewish life and culture, rapidly succumbed to wholesale assimilation.
“And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh…thus the land became Pharaoh’s. Joseph then transferred the people to cities, from one end of the border of Egypt to the other.” (Bereishit 47:20- 21)
Transferred the people to cities – Joseph transferred them from city to city as a reminder that they no longer had a share in the land, and settled those of one city in another. In truth, Scripture had no need to write this, but only did so to let us know of Joseph’s praiseworthiness. For his intent was to remove shame from his brothers, so that the people not call them exiles when they later settled the land. – Rashi
Interestingly, Midrash Hagadol writes that this pattern continued even as the Jewish people left Egpyt and the Almighty caused great upheaval among the nations who shifted their populations in all directions so that the Jewish people should not be viewed as vagrant wanderers. Similarly, prior to the exile of the Ten Tribes at the hands of Sancheirev, a good portion of the civilized world had previously been conquered by Sancheirev who shifted their populations as well. This way, they would not be the only strangers in their land and scorned by the others. Amazingly, throughout our long years in exile, rarely have the Jewish people found a better or more welcome haven than the United States which is known as “The Melting Pot.” Only in a land in which all are foreigners and immigrants, do the Jewish people stand a chance of attaining equality. This too, is a great kindness bestowed upon us by the Almighty who constantly seeks to ease our burdens in exile.
Hey, I Never Knew That
When Joseph saw his younger brother Benjamin, the verse states, “He fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck” (Bereishit 45:14). Rashi (ad loc.) comments that Joseph was crying over the future destruction of the First and Second Temples that were partially in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. Rashi understands that “neck” is a code-word for the Temple. It could be that the reason for this is that the neck connects the head, which contains the spiritual and intellectual side of the person, to the body, the earthy, physical side of the person. So, too, the Temple in Jerusalem was the connection point, or interface, between heaven and earth — the spiritual and the physical — and was called by Jacob the “Gate of Heaven” (Bereishit 28:17). In Kabbalistic sources, the place of the Temple is also known as the place where “heaven and earth kiss” (Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Lech Lecha 3).
Joseph’s brothers reported back to their father that Joseph was alive and well and that “he ruled over Egypt.” Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Chatam Sofer) understood this verse to mean that although Joseph was involved in the government, politics, and society of Egypt, nevertheless he ruled over Egypt, Egypt did not rule over him. That is, his integrity and spirituality were not compromised or corrupted by Egypt. Rabbi Sofer invoked this idea when he eulogized Rabbi Joseph David Sinzheim (1745-1812) who was Chief Rabbi of France, presided over Napoleon’s “Sanhedrin,” and was heavily involved in French politics. Rabbi Sofer said that it could truly be said of Rabbi Sinzheim that “he ruled over France, France did not rule over him
Word of the Week
When Joseph sent his brothers back to Canaan to bring their father, he said to them, “Don’t תרגזו —tirgezu on the way” (Bereishit 45:24). Onkelos translates this as “don’t argue,” probably connecting the word to the root רגז — rogez — anger. Similarly, the Ibn Ezra understands the phrase as “don’t become angry with each other.” Rashbam takes a completely different view and translates it as “don’t be afraid of anything on the way.” Rabbi David Kimchi (Sefer Hashorashim) connects both translations to the root רגז — regez, which he understands as “tremble or shake,” like someone who is either very afraid or very angry. Rashi interprets the phrase either as a warning against excessive, deep Torah study on the road, which can be a dangerous distraction, or not to take very large steps. He agrees, however, that the simple reading means not to argue and engage in recriminations and accusations.
sojourn – לגור
Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt and told Pharaoh that they had come to “sojourn — לגור — lagur in the land” (Bereishit 47:4). The word לגור — lagur — to sojourn is connected to the word גר — ger —stranger; in other words, one who lives somewhere temporarily, which was the intention of Joseph’s family. However, the term is also used to mean a convert, a gentile who has become Jewish. Rabbi Hirsch (commentary on Vayikra 17:8) explains that the connection here is that a stranger is one who does not have family and friends where he is visiting, and hence has limited protection. So, too, a convert, at least initially, has no family among the Jewish People and has left his non-Jewish family. The word is also used to mean fearful or intimidated, for the same reason (Devarim 1:17).
The Torah tells us that Jacob blessed Pharaoh twice. The first blessing was given when he initially met Pharaoh (Bereishit47:7), and the second when he took leave of Pharaoh (ibid 47:10). Nachmanides (ad loc.) notes that it is the custom of elders and pious people to bless a king with prayers for wealth, honor and the success of their kingdom. Later authorities derive from this that when one enters and leaves the presence of a king or any leader (e.g. a president or prime minister) one should ask permission to enter and leave, and one should bless them with success on entering and leaving. (Talmudic Encyclopedia Vol. 26, “Honoring Kings”).
Rabbi Yehudah Hachasid (Sefer Hasidim 293) was asked if a Torah scholar who is engaged in continuous study of Torah, day and night, is obligated to pay his share of a tax levied upon the Jewish community by the king. He writes that the scholar should not be obligated to participate in the tax, and he cites the following from the Torah portion this week: All the land in Egypt was sold to Pharaoh in exchange for food, “except for the land of the priests” (Bereishit 47:22), which Joseph did not buy. Rabbi Yehudah says that the reason the Torah felt it necessary to tell us of this fact was to teach us that just as Joseph exempted the priests of Egypt from the communal burden, how much more so should a community exempt an eminent Torah scholar from the communal tax.
Parsha at a Glance
Vayigash opens as Judah approaches Joseph, urging him to not enslave Benjamin as punishment for “stealing” his beloved goblet. Judah recounts Joseph’s capricious behavior and unusual curiosity about the brothers and their elderly father in the Land of Canaan (Israel). He pleads with Joseph to show compassion toward their father, explaining that he would die of grief if his son is not returned to him.
Hearing Judah’s pleas over their father’s pain proves to be too much for Joseph to withstand. He removes everyone from the room except himself and his brothers and finally confronts them with the truth.
“I am Joseph,” he cries. “Is MY father still alive?”
Embarrassed, the brothers do not know how to react and are afraid to approach Joseph. However, Joseph turns to them with compassion and explains that everything that transpired came from G-d, and for the ultimate good of the Jewish people. He weeps with emotion and persuades his brothers that, after all these years, his intentions were always for the good, and that G-d sent him down to Egypt in order to sustain the family during the famine.
Hearing these events, Pharaoh invites Joseph’s family to settle in the choicest portions of the land of Egypt. Joseph then sends the brothers back to Canaan with extravagant gifts for Jacob and asks that they tell Jacob that Joseph is alive and ruler over all of Egypt.
When Jacob hears the news, he is at first unable to absorb the enormity of this turn of events. However, his spirit quickly revives and he eagerly prepares to see his son again after 22 years of separation. He first sends Judah to Egypt ahead of the family in order to establish a place of learning, so that Torah study will be in place before the Jewish people arrive.
G-d comes to Jacob in a vision and reassures him not to fear going down to Egypt. G-d will be with Jacob there and will make him into a great nation. The Torah next lists the generation of those who went down to Egypt: Jacob’s children and grandchildren, including Joseph and his children. The final count is 69, but the Torah lists the number as 70. Yocheved, the daughter of Levi and the mother of Moses, is born as the family crosses the border.
The portion continues by recounting the reunion between Jacob and Joseph and the welcome extended to Jacob and his sons by Pharaoh. Joseph introduces several of his brothers to Pharaoh, and they are granted permission to dwell in Goshen, where they can tend to their flocks. Afterwards, Joseph introduces his father Jacob to Pharaoh. Jacob blesses Pharaoh, who, strangely, asks Jacob how old he is. Jacob explains that he is 130 years old, and that the days of his life have been few and difficult. The medrash points out that G-d punished Jacob by reducing his lifespan one year for each word of their conversation, in which Jacob expresses disappointment regarding his life. He will die at the age of 147, 33 years fewer than Isaac, who was 180 at the time of his death.
The portion concludes by describing Joseph’s handling of the famine. In a few years, he acquires all of the money of the citizens of Egypt and Canaan on behalf of Pharaoh, and all of their livestock. Ultimately, the people are forced to relinquish their freedom and their land to Pharaoh in order to receive food to survive. Joseph resettles the population in cities throughout Egypt and establishes a system of taxation in which 20 percent of all crops are given to Pharaoh while the remaining four-fifths remain in the hands of the people. Only the Egyptian priestly class receives an exemption. The portion ends by noting that the Jewish people settled in the land of Egypt, acquired property, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly.