Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 23   No. 11

This issue is sponsored by Family Gordon
in honour of the Bat Mitzvah of Chana Ariella n"y
May she be a source of Nachas to her family and Am Yisrael

Parshas Vayigash

How Old Are You?

"Yosef brought his father Ya'akov and placed him before Par'oh; and Ya'akov blessed Par'oh. Then Par'oh said to Ya'akov 'How many are the years of your life?' (47:8).


One wonders what prompted Par'oh's seemingly inappropriate question, and at Ya'akov's lengthy answer - describing his troubled life but not appearing to answer the question.

Most commentaries attribute the question to Ya'akov's aged appearance; the explanations of Ya'akov's answer are varied.

The best-known explanation of the dialogue is that, in answer to Par'oh's query - he had never seen anyone as wizened and aged as Ya'akov - the latter replied that he was not really as old as he looked, only the many tzoros that he had undergone made him look older than he really was.


Another explanation attributes Par'oh's question, not just to Ya'akov's appearance, but also to an incident that had occurred over two hundred years earlier. The Medrash informs us that a low archway was built at the entrance to the Egyptian throne-room, forcing whoever entered to bow down to the king. And it records how, when Avraham went down to Egypt and appeared before Par'oh, the archway rose, enabling him to enter upright, and this miracle was recorded in the annals of Egyptian history.

Imagine Par'oh's surprise when Ya'akov was brought before him, and history repeated itself. Assuming that he was the same person that appeared to the earlier Par'oh, he could not restrain himself from blurting out 'How old are you?' To which Ya'akov replied - 'That was not me; that was my grandfather! And as for me, I am not as old as I look '.


The K'li Yakar interprets the question like this: Par'oh, it appears, had been informed how, when Ya'akov arrived in Egypt, the Nile had risen to greet him. This was wonderful news, because he understood that as long as Ya'kov lived, the Nile would continue this practice. But when he now saw Ya'akov face to face, thinking that he could not live much longer, he could not contain his disappointment and asked him outright how old he was. Ya'akov's answer reassured Par'oh that he need not worry, since he had many more years of life ahead of him.


A fourth explanation is based on the B'rachah that Ya'akov gave Par'oh, prior to Par'oh's question. He blessed him that he should merit to live as long as him. Looking at Ya'akov, Par'oh became very excited, until Ya'akov pointed out that he was not quite as old as Par'oh made him out to be.


In a Medrash quoted by the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos, G-d took Ya'akov to task for complaining - 'I saved you from Eisav and from Lavan; I gave you back Dinah and Yosef; And you pour out your woes to Par'oh? I swear that I will take the thirty-three words contained in the above two Pesukim and deduct the equivalent number of years from your life'. Hence, whereas his father Yitzchak lived till 180, he died at the age of 147.


'How strange', asks R. Chayim Shmulevitz, the Rosh Yeshivah of Mir (ztl)! The thirty-three in the two Pesukim in question include "How old are you?"

Par'oh's question, that were not said by Ya'akov?

The answer, he explains, lies in the fact that the question was brought about by the troubled look on Ya'akov's face - a reflection of his subsequent answer. Ya'akov's troubles and difficulties had been successfully alleviated, and his past concerns should have been replaced by one of contentment and gratitude.

Ya'akov was responsible for the question, It was therefore considered as if he had posed it and he had to suffer the consequences.

* * *

Modesty and Redemption
(A sequel to 'Yosef ha'Tzadik' in last week's issue)

Under whichever circumstances Yosef found himself, Yosef was always in control, with whoever he came into contact. Whether it was Potifera, his fellow-prisoners, his brothers, Par'oh, even the entire Egyptian nation, he was always in control, or, as the Pasuk puts it "And Yosef found favour in the eyes of ". Moreover, as the Pasuk stresses a number of times, he always found favour in their eyes. What is equally striking is the many diverse roles in which Yosef ruled, always with aplomb - as governor of a vast estate, as chief prison-warden, as viceroy, as diplomat par excellence (when confronting his brothers). So great was the power that he wielded, that he was able to force every Egyptian male to circumcise and to apply to him personally for a permit to carry a sword or to ride a horse - there were no dissenters! What was the secret of Yosef's power and popularity?


From G-d's promise to Ya'akov, on his way down to Egypt, that He would personally, accompany him into golus and return with him to Eretz Cana'an, Chazal learn that the Shechinah is with Yisrael even in exile, and that He protects us there and ensures our survival. The only thing that stands in the way of that protection, says the Ma'asei la'Melech, is immodest behavior! As the Torah writes (in Ki Seitzei, 23:15) " let Him not see among you any lewdness, for He will then turn away from you".

Indeed, the commentaries attribute the length of the current golus - approaching two 2000 years - to sins that are linked with immodesty and immorality. In light of the above, it is surely no coincidence that the story of Yosef's descent to Egypt, the preliminary to Golus Mitzrayim, follows that of Yehudah, whose two sons died precisely because of sins connected with indecent behavior, as Rashi (38:7) explains.

Yosef, on the other hand, earned the title 'ha'Tzadik' due to the almost super-human self-control that he displayed in that very realm - when he refused to succumb to the advances of Potifera's wife - who tried every known trick to ensnare him. And no less remarkable was his refusal to cast even a glance at all the girls who lined the streets to gaze at the strikingly handsome youth after he was appointed viceroy of Egypt, and who tried in vain, to attract his attention.


Yosef was able to gain control over the adulterous Egyptians (as Chazal describe them) because he had demonstrated his own strength of character precisely in the area where they were lax, by virtue of his total self-control in the most adverse situations.

Yosef in fact went on to spread his Midah of Tz'ni'us to the entire Egyptian people by ordering them to circumcise, which he did in order to minimize the urge to commit adultery. And he did this in turn, to safeguard the female members of his family who had come to live in Egypt from being molested. It is therefore safe to assume that, if during the entire two hundred and ten years that Yisrael spent in Egypt, there was only a single Jewish woman who was raped, it was in no small measure due to the high standard of morality attained by Yosef ha'Tzadik, and the farsighted groundwork that he laid to ensure that the B'nos Yisrael should be safe.


To take this one stage further: we can be quite certain that Yosef's influence was not confined to the Egyptians; it obviously extended to his own family too, beginning with his manipulation of his brothers before they discovered his identity and continuing to the time that he settled and sustained them. Indeed, it was not only the Egyptian men who were affected by his actions, but the Jewish women themselves, who attained the highest levels of chastity. Bearing in mind the statement of Chazal that 'Yisrael merited the redemption from Egypt in the merit of the righteous women of that generation', it is fair to say that the righteousness of Yosef played a major role in the Ge'ulah.

* * *

Yehudah's Retraction

"And Yehudah approached him (Yosef)" 44:18.


Considering that two Pesukim earlier, Yehudah himself had previously stated that all the brothers, as well as Binyamin, would be slaves to Yosef, why, asks the Alshich, now that Yosef had lightened the punishment, did he confront him, and challenge him? What brought about his change of heart?


Initially, he explains, Yehudah assumed that the current incident was a Divine retribution for having sold Yosef into slavery - See Parshas Mikeitz (42:21), where the brothers specifically expressed this sentiment. That is why he sentenced himself and his brothers to the same punishment. Granted, Binyamin was not involved in the sale, but he was the one to steal the goblet!

But when he saw that Yosef absolved them of all blame and opted to take only Binyamin, he concluded that this was a false libel, and that it had nothing to do with sale of Yosef. That is when he confronted Yosef.

* * *

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