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Parshas Vayigash- Vol. 11, Issue 11
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Mikeitz ends dramatically, with Yosef's servant (his son Menashe) overtaking his brothers on their return trip and "discovering" that Binyomin stole Yosef's divining goblet, which would presumably require the brothers to leave him in Egypt and return empty-handed to their inconsolable father. Parsas Vayigash continues the action and begins with Yehuda's heartrending plea for mercy for Binyomin, in which he explained to Yosef the potentially fatal consequences to Yaakov of returning home without Binyomin and suggested that he remain as a servant to Yosef instead of Binyomin.
Upon hearing this, Yosef was so overwhelmed by emotion that he could no longer restrain himself, and he commanded everybody to leave the room. He then revealed his true identity to his brothers, and the Torah stresses that there was no ish (person) in the room when he did so. This is difficult to understand. If Yosef, who was the second-most powerful person in all of Egypt, gave an order for all of those present to go out, isn't it self-evident that nobody would remain in the room in violation of his instructions? What lesson is the Torah teaching by emphasizing this point?
Rav Shmuel Brazil explains that when tragedy and suffering strike, in order to avoid the discomfort of grappling with feelings of guilt, human nature is to seek out an excuse or a scapegoat on which to place the blame, reasoning that the situation would have turned out differently if not for a certain person's involvement or a set of unanticipated circumstances. However, this approach displays a lack of proper emunah and bitachon (belief and trust in Hashem), as a person who truly recognizes that everything that occurs in life emanates from Hashem will not look to excuse and rationalize events by blaming them on others.
In this light, we can appreciate that in Yosef's case, it would have been easy for him to partially attribute his being sold into slavery and eventually imprisoned in Egypt on an unexpected turn of events. His father had instructed him to travel to Sh'chem to check on his brothers' well-being, but when he arrived there, they were nowhere to be found. At that point, one would have expected Yosef to return safely to his home to inform Yaakov that he was unable to locate his brothers. Instead, the Torah recounts (37:15) that Yosef met an ish in Sh'chem, who informed him that his brothers had moved on from Sh'chem to Dosan. Rashi explains that this ish wasn't an ordinary man, but the angel Gavriel, who was sent by Hashem as part of His master plan to ensure that Yosef would end up in Egypt.
With this introduction, Rav Brazil suggests that when Yosef finally revealed himself to his brothers and explained to them the entire complex chain of events which led up to this episode, it would have been natural for him to place part of the blame for his ordeal on this ish. However, on Yosef's lofty spiritual level, he accepted that everything that transpired was decreed by Hashem and did not try to pin responsibility for his suffering on his brothers for selling him or even on the well-intentioned ish who led him into their hands. This is what the Torah means when it stresses that there was no ish in the room when Yosef disclosed his identity: He accepted that all of the suffering that he endured was part of Hashem's master plan, and he did not attempt to blame anyone, even the ish, for everything that happened to him.
Many times in life we are tested with difficult and challenging situations. Our evil inclinations work to convince us that our suffering is unnecessary, and if only somebody had acted differently, our pain and distress could have been avoided. At such moments, we should remind ourselves of the lesson of Yosef, who teaches us not to place blame and fault on others, but rather to accept Hashem's decrees and judgments, which are ultimately for the good.
On Yaakov's journey with his family from Beer-Sheva to Egypt, the Torah stresses that they traveled in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent for him. However, in relating Yaakov's travels on the first leg of the journey - from his home to Beer-Sheva - this fact is curiously absent.
The Maharil Diskin beautifully explains that initially, although Yaakov set out on the journey, he still remained in doubt about whether he would continue to Egypt or would abort the trip and turn around. He feared for the spiritual well-being of himself and his family, and that he wouldn't merit to be buried with his parents and grandparents in Me'aras Hamachpeila in Chevron.
Therefore, Yaakov wouldn't allow himself to benefit from the wagons that had been sent to him by Pharaoh for the express purpose of escorting him on his journey to Egypt. Because he wasn't yet sure that he planned to reach this destination, he considered making use of the wagons to be dishonest.
In Beer-Sheva, however, Hashem came to Yaakov in a night vision and reassured him regarding the trip, promising to establish his descendants as a great nation in Egypt, and also to eventually bring them out to return to the promised land of Israel (46:2-4). At that point, confident in the spiritual ramifications of the trip, Yaakov awoke and resolved to continue all the way to Egypt, and only at this point did he allow himself and his family to travel in Pharaoh's wagons.
After the seven years of plenty ended, a severe famine began, just as Yosef had predicted. Yosef was prepared for the famine, as he had stored up grain during the previous seven years precisely for this purpose. When the Egyptians approached Yosef 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 ownership of their very bodies. Why wasn't Yosef, as the leader of Egypt, willing to simply give away the stored food to the Egyptian citizens for whom he was responsible? Why was he so interested in acquiring them, their land, and their animals as possessions for Pharaoh?
Rav Chaim Kanievsky suggests that when the time would come for Hashem to smite the Egyptian people with the ten plagues, Yosef 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.
Alternatively, the Gemora in Sanhedrin (91a) records that many generations later, the Egyptians "sued" the Jewish people for the return of the gold and silver vessels that our ancestors "borrowed" on their way out of Egypt but never returned (Shemos 12:35-36). The Jews answered that when the Egyptians pay the wages for the 600,000 Jews who worked for them for 210 years, they will gladly return the vessels. The Egyptians had no response to this argument and fled the courtroom.
The Meshech Chochmah points out that while the Jewish people borrowed these vessels from the private Egyptian citizens, their wages were owed only by Pharaoh for the work that they performed for him (Shemos 1:11). Therefore, Yosef acquired everything in Egypt on behalf of Pharaoh so that the Jews could later claim that what they took was also Pharaoh's property and that they were therefore entitled to keep it until they were paid for their labor.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Medrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni 151) that Yosef died 10 years prematurely as a punishment for the 10 times that he heard his brothers refer to their father Yaakov as avadecha (your servant) and remained silent without correcting them. As the verses which record the conversation mention that they did so only 5 times (43:28, 44:24, 44:27, 44:30, and 44:31), why was Yosef's punishment doubled? (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra Parshas Mikeitz)
2) 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)
3) 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)
4) 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)
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