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Parshas Vayigash - Vol. 10, Issue 11
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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 לפי מה שהוא 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.
The Torah lists the 70 people who descended to Egypt together with Yaakov, grouping the children and grandchildren of each of Yaakov's four wives together. Although the Torah states that the descendants of Leah who entered Egypt numbered 33, Rashi notes that counting them yields only 32. The missing person was Levi's daughter Yocheved, who was born between the walls of Egypt just as Yaakov and his family entered the country.
The Torah emphasizes (41:50) that Yosef bore two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, before the years of famine began. Rashi quotes the Gemora in Taanis (11a), which derives from this seemingly extraneous information that it is forbidden to engage in marital relations during a time of famine. Tosefos in Taanis questions how this can be reconciled with Rashi's comment that Levi's daughter Yocheved was born just as Yaakov and his family arrived in Egypt to be reunited with Yosef. As the famine was still in full force at this time, how was Levi permitted to engage in marital relations?
The Daas Z'keinim gives a fascinating answer. The Gemora in Taanis (11a) rules that a person who hasn't yet fulfilled his obligation to have children is permitted to have marital relations even during a time of famine. However, there is a dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai (Yevamos 61b) regarding the fulfillment of this obligation. Beis Hillel is of the opinion that the requirement is to have at least one son and one daughter, while Beis Shammai requires two males.
The Daas Z'keinim suggests that this dispute actually began centuries earlier, as Yosef and Levi themselves disagreed about this very issue. Yosef agreed with the opinion of Beis Shammai and maintained that after giving birth to two sons he had fulfilled the mitzvah and was forbidden to have relations during the famine. Levi, on the other hand, agreed with Beis Hillel. Because he hadn't yet given birth to a daughter, he was of the opinion that he was permitted to continue engaging in relations until he had a daughter and completed his fulfillment of the mitzvah, and as a result, his daughter Yocheved was born just as they reached the walls of Egypt.
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 (47:19) 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.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Just prior to sending his brothers back to Yaakov in Canaan, Yosef warned them (45:24) not to become agitated on the journey. According to one of Rashi's explanations, Yosef was advising them not to travel too quickly by taking large steps, as the Gemora in Taanis (10b) teaches that doing so causes a person to lose 1/500th of his eyesight. Why doesn't a person become completely blind after taking 500 large steps? (Tosefos Taanis 10b)
2) True or False: Binyomin had ten sons. (Chizkuni 46:21)
3) At the emotional reunion between Yaakov and Yosef, the Torah relates (46:29) that Yosef fell on his father 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 the Shema. The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 66:1) that a person should interrupt the Shema even in the middle of a verse in order to greet a king or other great man whom one is obligated to honor and respect. As Rashi writes (48:2) that Yaakov exerted himself to sit up in his bed to honor Yosef's royal position, why didn't he similarly stop his recitation of the Shema in order to greet and honor Yosef? (Taz Orach Chaim 66:1, Biur HaGra Orach Chaim 66:4, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
4) Yosef told his brothers (46:34) to tell Pharaoh that they have been shepherds since their youth so that he would allow them to live peacefully and separately in Goshen. Rashi explains that because Egyptians worshipped sheep, they hated shepherds. Although it makes sense for them to hate anybody who eats sheep, why should they hate the shepherds who take care of them? (Ibn Ezra, Sifsei Chochomim)
5) From which act of Yosef may we derive an obligation to express gratitude for acts of kindness done by a non-Jew? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 47:22, Shelah HaKadosh)
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