V'sham itanu na'ar Ivri eved l'sar ha'tabachim
Rashi writes that even when he was forced to mention Yosef’s remarkable ability
to interpret dreams, the evil cupbearer attempted to disparage him by referring
to him as a young and foolish person who didn’t know the Egyptian language and
who was unfit for a position of power because he had once been a slave. What did
the cupbearer hope to accomplish with his slander, as moments later Yosef
appeared and immediately stole the spotlight, amazing Pharaoh with his talents
and wisdom in interpreting the dream and recommending a prudent course of action
to deal with its implications?
Rav Pesach Eliyahu Falk explains that nevertheless, the cupbearer was well aware
of the maxim that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” In
his wickedness, he decided to make Yosef’s first impression for him. The
cupbearer was hoping that by making it an extremely negative one, Pharaoh would
view Yosef and everything that he said through that lens, thereby depriving
Yosef of a fair chance to demonstrate his true talents.
From the actions and motivation of the cupbearer, we may derive the potent power
of lashon hara (forbidden slander). If it is believed and accepted as fact, it
renders it virtually impossible for the victim to subsequently prove himself and
uproot the maliciously-planted first impressions. Human nature is such that upon
recognizing the discrepancy between what we were told and what we later see in
reality, we will sooner resolve the contradiction by assuming that the person is
temporarily on guard and masking his true ways rather than question the accuracy
of our erroneous and premature first impressions. As a result, it behooves us to
extend a clean slate to every person we encounter and to greet them with open
V'ata yareh Paroh ish navon v'chacham vi'shiseihu al eretz Mitzrayim (41:33)
After Yosef was freed from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he explained
that they foretold seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of
famine. Therefore, he recommended the appointment of a wise advisor to oversee
the project of storing for the famine during the years of plenty. Upon hearing
this proposal, Pharaoh responded that there was nobody more fitting for the role
than Yosef himself, who demonstrated great insight by suggesting this idea.
As Pharaoh had only requested Yosef to interpret his dreams, why did he offer
advice on how best to deal with the ramifications of his interpretation of the
dreams, something which wasn’t at all requested of him? Further, why was Pharaoh
not only not upset that Yosef had overstepped his mandate, but he became so
impressed with him that he appointed him to oversee the new project?
The Vilna Gaon answers with a brilliant explanation. A person who is told that
his dream refers to events in the distant future has no reason to believe the
interpretation, as there is no way to test its accuracy. In fact, an interpreter
who doubts his abilities would be wise to offer such an explanation so that
there is no way for him to be proved wrong and his reputation ruined.
Yosef, on the other hand, told Pharaoh that his dream referred to the immediate
onset of seven years of plenty, which would directly be followed by seven years
of famine. Logically, Pharaoh should have believed Yosef’s explanation, for he
would be foolish to make up an interpretation which would promptly be proven
Still, even when the years of plenty began, Pharaoh didn’t necessarily have to
be convinced of Yosef’s wisdom. He could have insisted on waiting for seven
years to see whether the famine would begin as Yosef had predicted, or even for
14 years to see if the famine would end as he had forecasted. Hashem recognized
the danger of such a potential reaction, as in that case Pharaoh wouldn’t trust
Yosef sufficiently to appoint him to oversee the project from the very
As a result, the Medrash says that Hashem caused Pharaoh to forget part of his
dream, specifically the part in which Yosef’s recommendation to appoint a wise
man to oversee the storage project was actually spelled out explicitly. Upon
hearing that Yosef not only offered a plausible and verifiable interpretation of
his dream but also refreshed his memory about a portion of the dream which even
he had forgotten, Pharaoh exclaimed (41:39) acharei hodia Elokim es kol zos ein
navon v'chacham kamocha, which can be understood to mean that after Hashem has
informed you of all of this, including the part of the dream which I myself
forgot, surely there is nobody wiser than you in the entire kingdom.
Im keinim atem achichem echad yei'aser b'veis mishmarchem (42:19)
In order to force his brothers to return with his beloved younger brother
Binyomin, Yosef put one of them in jail and threatened that his freedom would be
dependent upon their returning with Binyomin. Although Yosef’s desire to be
reunited with Binyomin was certainly understandable, it is difficult to
understand why it was necessary to incarcerate one of the other brothers in
order to bring this about. Since Yosef knew that the famine would continue for
many years, wouldn’t it have sufficed to inform them that they wouldn’t be able
to make any further grain purchases unless they return with Binyomin, which
would force them to do so?
The Panim Yafos answers that had Yosef done so, the brothers would have been
able to hire a random person off the street to escort them to Egypt and claim to
be Binyomin. Since they didn’t realize that the person they were speaking to was
Yosef, there would be no reason for them to think that he would be able to tell
the difference, and for him to call them on their deception would require him to
reveal his true identity.
Therefore, Yosef implemented an ingenious plan. He imprisoned Shimon and forced
him to remain behind in Egypt. Were the brothers to return with anybody but the
real Binyomin, Yosef would be able to line up a number of men, including the man
they claimed was Binyomin. Were they to return with an impostor, Shimon wouldn’t
be able to pick out the stranger from the lineup and their ruse would be
discovered. As a result, the brothers had no choice but to return with the true
Binyomin, who Shimon would be able to recognize, and whom Yosef would finally be
able to able to lay his eyes on.
Vayechapeis ba'gadol heicheil uva'katan kilah (44:12)
After overtaking the brothers and accusing them of stealing Yosef’s goblet, the
Torah relates that Menashe searched their bags, from the oldest to the youngest.
The simple understanding would be that he began with Reuven, who was the oldest,
and continued looking in each one’s bag in reverse chronological order until he
reached Binyomin, who was the youngest. This is indeed the explanation given by
the Targum Yonason ben Uziel. The Medrash, however, understands that when
Menashe looked in the bag of the oldest, it wasn’t that of Reuven but rather of
Shimon. This is difficult to understand, as Reuven was present and was clearly
the oldest of the brothers.
The Maharil Diskin answers with a brilliant insight: when Menashe accused them
of stealing the goblet, they didn’t simply deny it, but they also added a
logical defense. Pointing out that they had traveled so far to give back the
money which was accidentally returned to them on their previous trip, they
questioned how such honest people could possibly be suspected of stealing.
Menashe accepted this argument, but pointed out that it was only applicable to
the nine brothers who had done so. However, Binyomin wasn’t with them on the
previous trip and hadn’t proved himself by returning the money, nor had Shimon,
who had been imprisoned in Egypt all this time. Therefore, theirs were the only
two bags that Menashe actually checked. Hence, the Medrash interprets that the
oldest with which he began was Shimon, and from there he went straight to the
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) There are numerous discrepancies between the actual dream of Pharaoh and the
way in which he related it to Yosef. For example, in his dream he saw himself
actually standing on the river, while in telling it to Yosef he claimed to have
been standing on the banks of the river (41:17). Why did he change this detail
when recounting his dream to Yosef? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Imrei Daas)
2) What is permissible on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but forbidden on Chanukah? (Rambam
Hilchos Nedorim 3:9)
3) In the song “Maoz Tzur,” we sing regarding Haman rov banav v'kinyanav al
ha'eitz talisa – the majority of his sons and possessions You hung on the tree.
Since the Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (49) teaches that Haman had 40 sons and only 10
of them were hung with him, in what way were the majority of his sons hanged?
(Seder Hadlakos Neiros Chanukah by Rav Yehuda Aryeh Dunner pg. 20-21)
4) The Gemora in Shabbos (21b) teaches that the primary obligation on Chanuka is
to light one flame on each night, but the mehadrin min hamehadrin – most
preferred – level is to light an additional flame on each successive night for
each member of the household. If a person lit one flame and realized that he
forgot to say the blessings, may he still say the blessings before lighting the
additional flames, or is it too late to do so because he has already fulfilled
his basic obligation? (Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger 2:13, K’Motzei Shalal Rav Chanuka
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