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Parshas Vayigash - Vol.
4, Issue 11
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vayomer Yosef el echav ani Yosef ha’od avi chai v’lo yachlu echav la’anos oso ki nivhalu mipanav (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 to force them to return with his maternal brother Binyomin. After confusing them by inviting them to join with him at a banquet, Yosef had his goblet planted in Binyomin’s sack 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 his beloved 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 understands (Bereishis Rabbah 93:10) Yosef’s words not as a factual question, but rather as an implicit rebuke of his brothers. The Medrash derives from their inability to answer him a lesson regarding how great our shame and embarrassment will be when Hashem Himself rebukes us “l’fi mah she’hu” in His Heavenly Court.
Rav Shalom Schwadron explains that this peculiar expression indicates that Hashem will not subjectively judge a person by comparing him to others. We should take comfort in the knowledge that our merciful Creator will measure each of us with against our own unique benchmark, and we won’t be challenged to explain why we didn’t perform as well as somebody else with more G-d-given talents.
On the other hand, this knowledge also obligates us to maximize our potential. While we won’t be asked why we didn’t do as well as our friends Reuven or Rivka, we will be asked why we didn’t make the most of the raw building materials with which we were blessed to turn ourselves into the best Divine servant that we were capable of becoming. Hashem will point out to us that when it came to making money and seeking fame and honor, we suddenly found ourselves full of brains and energy. If so, why weren’t we also able to develop our latent talents for learning Torah and doing mitzvos, and that question will leave us speechless.
Vayagidu lo leimor od Yosef chai v’ki hu moshel b’chol eretz Mitzrayim vayafag libo ki lo he’emin lahem vay’dabru eilav es kol divrei Yosef … vayar es ha’agalos asher shalach Yosef laseis oso vat’chi ruach Yaakov avihem (45:26-27)
Siman maser lahem bameh haya oseik k’she’pireish mimenu – b’parshas eglah arufah (Rashi)
Yaakov’s initial reaction upon hearing his sons’ report that Yosef was still alive and was a ruler in Egypt was one of disbelief. When they added that the person they met mentioned the last Torah subject that Yaakov and Yosef studied together, Yaakov became convinced that he was legitimate. If Yaakov initially suspected that the person was an impostor, what proof did this additional knowledge constitute to the contrary, as the suspected con artist could easily have discovered this fact through thorough research?
The Darkei Mussar gives a brilliant 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 disappeared shortly after their wedding, leaving her forbidden to remarry. After more than ten years had passed, a man appeared one day in Vilna claiming to be her long-lost husband.
The woman and her family were skeptical, suspecting that he was a swindler in pursuit of the family’s wealth. To the surprise of all, he answered every question they posed about facts that presumably only the real husband would have known. He even took his “wife” aside and privately reminded her of intimate details that had transpired between them which nobody else could possibly know.
Still unsure, the family consulted the Vilna Gaon, who instructed them to do nothing 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. Unable to do so, his guise was up and he immediately fled.
The amazed family asked the Gaon for an explanation of his detective work. He explained that it was clear that this was either the real husband or somebody who encountered him and paid him to reveal his detailed knowledge about the family so that he could pass as him and make off with the family’s fortune. As it would never occur to an impostor to ask the real husband about spiritual matters, asking the man to point out the family’s seats in the synagogue was the perfect litmus test, which he failed.
Similarly, Yaakov was skeptical about the identity of the purported Yosef whom the brothers met in Egypt. After all, they had had extensive interactions with him and not one of them had recognized him as their long-lost brother. Perhaps the man had extracted from Yosef details about his family which he could use for his own ulterior motives. Only when he proved that he remembered the last Torah topic that they studied together – a spiritual matter – was Yaakov convinced that this was the true Yosef!
Vayomer Paroh el Yaakov kama y’mei sh’nei chayecha vayomer Yaakov el Paroh y’mei sh’nei megurai sheloshim ume’as shana me’at v’ra’im hayu y’mei sh’nei chayay v’lo hisigu es y’mei sh’nei Chayei avosai biy’mei megureihem (47:8-9)
In 1765, toward the end of his life, the Shaagas Aryeh was appointed to serve as the Rav of the large and prestigious Jewish community of Metz. After delivering his first public drasha (speech), the townspeople left commenting on his sheer brilliance and their great fortune to have him serve as their Rav. One cynic, however, was heard to comment, “He looks so old and worn down. Who knows how much longer we’ll merit having him as our Rav?”
Overhearing this remark, the Shaagas Aryeh returned to the pulpit and continued his address. After quoting our verse, he questioned why Pharaoh was so interested in knowing Yaakov’s age immediately upon meeting him. Further, why didn’t Yaakov suffice with a simple factual answer – that he was 130 – instead of adding on the extra information that he had lived a difficult life and hadn’t yet reached the age of his fathers?
Rashi writes (50:3) that upon Yaakov’s arrival, the Nile became blessed and watered the entire land of Egypt, thereby ending the famine five years prematurely. As happy as this made Pharaoh, he couldn’t help but notice how ancient Yaakov appeared. Pharaoh became concerned that Yaakov’s remaining years would be few, and it would only be a matter of time before he died and the famine returned. He therefore greeted Yaakov by inquiring immediately about his age.
Yaakov, understanding the true intent behind Pharaoh’s question, answered that in reality he was relatively young. At 130, he was nowhere near the age of 180 at which his father had died. Yaakov explained that the reason he appeared aged beyond his years was because he had suffered greatly throughout his difficult and painful life. The Shaagas Aryeh concluded by explaining that he too had lived a very hard life, constantly suffering from intense poverty. 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 they would merit his presence for another twenty years. Not surprisingly, he passed away in 1785 at the age of 90!
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) 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 (44:31). Why did he only talk about the pain which would be caused to their father without any mention of the pain that would be caused to Binyomin’s 10 sons over the loss of their father? (Amud HaEmes)
2) Upon hearing from the brothers that Yosef was still alive and was a ruler in Egypt, Yaakov didn’t believe them (45:26). When he saw the wagons that Yosef sent to indicate that he still remembered eglah arufah (which is similar to the word for wagons, agalos), the last Torah subject that they had studied together (Rashi 45:27), Yaakov was convinced and his spirit was revived. How did the wagons constitute a proof about Yosef’s identity and existence when it wasn’t even him who sent the wagons, as the Torah explicitly records that Pharaoh ordered them to be sent with the brothers back to Yaakov (45:21)? (Bereishis Rabbah 94:3, Outlooks and Insights)
3) Which descendants of Yaakov and Eisav, mentioned in Sefer Bereishis, have identical names?
4) Rashi writes (46:15) that Levi’s daughter Yocheved was born between the walls of Egypt. Does this mean that she was literally born between the walls at the moment Yaakov entered Egypt, or does it mean that she was born in Egypt shortly after they arrived there? (Radak, Rashbam Bava Basra 120a, Maharsha Bava Basra 123b, Rashash Bereishis Rabbah 94:9, Ayeles HaShachar)
5) Yosef told his brothers (46:34) to tell Pharaoh that they are shepherds so he would allow them to live separately in Goshen. A large number of our greatest ancestors – Hevel, Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Dovid, and Shaul – were shepherds. Why is this profession uniquely suited for spiritual greatness? (Rabbeinu Bechaye and Kli Yakar Shemos 3:1, Ayeles HaShachar)
6) From which act of Yosef may we derive an obligation to express gratitude for acts of kindness done even by a non-Jew? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 47:22, Shelah HaKadosh)
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