This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Vol. 24 No. 11
R' Mordechai ben Yitzchak z"l
by his son
The Harm that did not Materialise
"And now, don't be depressed and don't be angry with yourselves for selling me here because G-d sent me before you ..." (45:5).
One cannot imagine the shame that the brothers experienced when Yosef revealed his identity. The Medrash describes their embarrassment as unbearable and indeed, the indications are that that was precisely the way Yosef wanted them to feel. His plan - at lease in part - had been to procure an atonement for their sin of selling him. So now that his plan had materialised and his brothers stood before him shamefaced, why did he see fit to console them by playing down their sin?
Perhaps this is a classical case of the left-hand rejecting, whilst the right-hand draws close, as Chazal have advocated in the way we handle the Yeitzer ha'Ra and a child. Total rejection is self-defeating, as it can only lead to an extreme reaction on the part of the person who is being rejected. Indeed, Chazal give an example of such a case when Geichazi, Elisha's disciple, went to live in Syria (amongst Yisrael's arch-enemies), following Elisha's rejection. If the object of the rebuff is to repair a wrong and to make good, then it is vital that one leaves a door open for the rejected to make a re-entry, to begin again on a fresh footing and to feel wanted. Otherwise, the rejection will become an act of destruction, as the rejected, believing that the rejection is prompted by hatred, breaks his ties with the rejector.
Yosef, a master in diplomacy, knew that art and consequently, at one and the same time, he was able to castigate his brothers for their past sin and to comfort them regarding the future.
However, there is another way of reconciling the above contradiction. Someone who plans to hurt another Jew and then successfully proceeds to do so, must now make amends on two counts: (a) for the act that he perpetrated against a fellow Jew; and (b) for the harm that he caused him. This will be more easily understood if we consider that someone who attempts (unsuccessfully) to sin and someone who inadvertently does wrong, both require teshuvah. We have a precedent for the former in a woman, who takes the Nazarite vow and then drinks wine, not aware that her husband has nullified her vow, and that she is therefore permitted to drink wine. She nevertheless requires forgiveness, say Chazal, since she intended to do wrong.
We also have a precedent for the latter, in the form of someone who kills by mistake, whom the Torah requires to escape to a city of refuge, since only there can he obtain atonement for the murder and only there can he feel secure from the (justified) vengeance of the murdered man's next-of-kin.
It therefore stands to reason that where one both plans and also succeeds in doing someone harm, the need to make amends becomes twofold: one for the evil plan and the other for the success of the plan.
With that in mind, we can now understand why Yosef saw fit to console his brothers, despite his main objective to rebuke them. He rebuked them for selling him, a deplorable act that was to have far-reaching consequences before it would ultimately receive full pardon from G-d. On the other hand, he reassured them that they would not be punished for the success of their deed. To be sure, they had intended to harm him, but no harm had been done. On the contrary, his sale had indirectly put him at the helm of Egypt's affairs so that he was now responsible for their own sustenance - saving their lives when they would otherwise all have died of hunger. So even if Yosef's brothers had harboured evil intentions when they sold him, G-d thought otherwise. On that score they were not punishable, and that is why Yosef comforted them. "And now don't be depressed since G-d sent me before you!
You may well be guilty for selling me - but not for the harm that you planned to do to me, since that harm did not materialise.
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To Speak Loshon ha'Kodesh
"And behold your eyes see and the eyes of Binyamin, that it is my mouth that speaks to you" (45:12). Rashi, cmmenting on the final phrase, explains that Yosef was referring to his speaking in Loshon ha'Kodesh.
The Ramban concedes that that is the interpretation of Unklus and the Meforshim, but he fails to see how Yosef's ability to speak Loshon ha'Kodesh could possibly prove that he was Yosef, since Loshon ha'Kodesh was the spoken language of Cana'an, and it would hardly be surprising for the Viceroy of Egypt to have spoken the language of his Cana'ani neighbours. (See Seforno, who disagrees with the Ramban. Nor does it conform to the Medrash that even Par'oh, who knew all seventy languages, was not conversant with Loshon ha'Kodesh.)
It seems to me however, that Rashi has something else in mind. Rashi writes, "Behold your eyes see my honour and that I am your brother, that I am circumcised like you. Moreover, that it is my mouth that speaks to you in Loshon ha'Kodesh."
Rashi is saying that, although on the one hand you see my honour and prestige here in Egypt, on the other see how I have kept my kedushah intact, both with regard to shemiras b'ris ha'milah and with regard to shemiras b'ris ha'loshon. With this, he not only proved to his brothers that he was Yosef, since it would never have occurred to any Egyptian to make such a point, but he also reassured them that his high position had not spoilt him, and that he had remained a true son of Ya'akov.
Tearing Kriy'ah in Vain
Binyamin's brothers rent their clothes for no real reason when they suspected Binyamin of being a thief although he was not. Consequently, Mordechai, who descended from Binyamin, rent his clothes for no real reason when Haman issued his decree to destroy the Jewish people, although he did not. (Medrash Tanchumah)
When Binyamin's brothers saw that Yosef's goblet was discovered in Binyamin's sack, they proceeded to hit him on his shoulders. "Oy ganev," they cried, "son of a ganev. You have shamed us, just like your mother (Rachel) shamed our father (when she stole her father Lavan's images)".
And because of those strokes on his shoulders, Binyamin merited that the Shechinah rested between his shoulder blades (referring to the Beis ha'Mikdash, which was built mainly in his portion [see Rashi Devarim 33:12]). (Medrash Tanchumah)
The seventy members of Ya'akov's family included Yocheved but not Ya'akov, for so the Torah writes, "And all the souls that came from the thigh of Ya'akov numbered seventy souls" (Sh'mos 1:51). Consequently, with Ya'akov, Yisrael numbered 71.
This is like the Sanhedrin, whose seventy members sat in the Lishkas Ha'gazis. Together with the head of Beis-din, they number 71.
Similarly, there are seventy nations who, together with Yisrael, number seventy-one. That in turn is reminiscent of the Hosts of Heaven, where seventy angels surround the Kisei ha'Kovod. Together with Hashem, they number seventy-one - these are otherwise known as the Beis-din shel Ma'aloh (Rabeinu Bachye).
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