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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Miketz

Imagination and Reality in Children

And Yoseph was the ruler over the land. It was he who sold grain to all the people of the land. And Yoseph's brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth."

Rabbi Dovid Bachar, who lived in Turkey, was one of the greatest rabbis of his generation. To appreciate his greatness, we can observe how the renowned author of the Noda Bi'Yehudah addressed him in his letters. He used to write that when he would think of Rabbi Dovid Bachar, his hands and knees would begin to tremble with awe.

The following story occurred on the wedding day of one of Rabbi Bachar's children. The wedding was to take place in a distant city. Rabbi Bachar left home early, traveling by horse and wagon, leaving plenty of time to arrive well before the wedding. For some reason the trip was taking longer than expected. Rabbi Bachar looked at his watch and saw that the time for the chuppah was approaching, and the distance to travel was still great.

He was greatly agitated by this, since he knew that the wedding party awaited them and he was still so far away. He told the wagon driver to hurry and to use his whip to speed up the horses. But even this did not help much and they still continued traveling slowly.

After a while Rabbi Bachar lost his patience and shouted at the wagon driver, "You schlemiel [clumsy person]! Why can't you hurry this wagon up a bit?" The wagon driver tried his best, and at long last they arrived at the wedding. Rabbi Bachar hurried to pay the driver, and then entered the wedding hall for the chuppah.

After the chuppah, Rabbi Bachar asked about the wagon driver. "Where is he? Where is he?" called out Rabbi Bachar.

Everyone was astonished at the question, but Rabbi Bachar refused to explain why he needed the wagon driver immediately. When he found out that the wagon driver had left the city, he hired another wagon driver to chase after him. After several hours he finally caught up with the first wagon driver.

Rabbi Bachar descended from his wagon and approached him. "Please forgive me for embarrassing you by calling you a schlemiel," he begged the wagon driver.

But the man was stubborn and said, "I will not forgive you."

Rabbi Bachar was saddened and said, "What do you mean? Don't you see that I am asking for forgiveness? I regret what I said to you. Surely you can understand how nervous I was to get to the wedding on time."

But the wagon driver would not give in. He said again, "No, I will not forgive you."

Then Rabbi Bachar tried another tactic. "You won't lose if you forgive me. I have plenty of money at my disposal, and I will reward you handsomely if you will only forgive me."

But nothing would help. The stubborn wagon driver told him, "No matter how much you pay me, I will not forgive you."

When Rabbi Bachar saw that this would not help, he turned to the wagon driver and asked, "So tell me, what can I give you to make you be willing to forgive me?"

The wagon driver answered, "I will forgive you if will give me half of your portion in the World to Come."

Rabbi Bachar did not hesitate, but said at once, "Half of my portion in the World to Come is yours. Now, please forgive me!"

Only then did the wagon driver agree to forgive Rabbi Dovid Bachar.

To Rabbi Dovid Bachar the most important thing in the world was to be forgiven. In order to attain it he would give anything he had. We must teach our children the value of forgiveness, and we must set an example for them by practicing this important character trait ourselves.

Rabbi Yehudah the son of Rabbi Simon said, "Yoseph knew that his brothers were descending to Egypt. What did he do? He appointed guards' at all ten entrances. He said, 'Record the names of all those who enter, and bring the list before me.' One of the guards read before Yoseph the name Reuven, the son of Yaakov. Another guard read before Yoseph the name Shimon, the son of Yaakov.

"Immediately Yoseph commanded them to lock all the silos of grain, and leave only one open. Then he gave the list of his brothers to the director of that silo and told him, 'When these people arrive to receive food, arrest them and bring them to me.' "Several days passed, and the brothers did not show up at the silo where the grain was being dispensed. Yoseph sent his guards to the marketplace with descriptions of his brothers and told them, 'If you see them, grab them.'

"They went and found the brothers at the marketplace of the prostitutes. What were they doing there? They reasoned that because Yoseph was handsome, perhaps he had been placed there by his masters. They were arrested and brought before Yoseph, as the verse says, 'And Yoseph was the ruler over the land.'"(1)

Another explanation of the verse, "And Yoseph was the ruler over the land," is that Yoseph had made three decrees. The first was that no slave may enter to receive grain; the second was that no one may enter with two donkeys; and the third was that no one may enter unless he writes his name, his father's name and his grandfather's name. Menashe was there guarding, and receiving the notes with the names.

"And Yoseph saw his brothers, and he recognized them, and he acted as a stranger": he acted to them like a gentile. He took his special cup and knocked on it and said to them, "You are spies."

They answered, "We are honest people."

He said to them, "If you are honest, why did you not all enter at one entrance?"

They said, "We were commanded to do as we did by our father."

He said to them, "And what were you doing in the marketplace of the prostitutes?"

They answered, "We have lost something, and we are searching for it. We thought we might find it there."
(YALKUT 148)

Why did Yoseph put guards' at all ten entrances? Why did Yoseph put guards at all the gates, and yet he closed all the silos but one? Why did Yoseph search for his brothers in the marketplace? Why did Yoseph say that no slave may enter to receive grain? Why did he say that no one may enter with two donkeys? Why did he require that no one may enter unless he writes his name, his father's name and his grandfather's name? What do our Sages mean when they say that he acted like a gentile? Why did he claim his brothers were spies? According to his accusation that they were spies, how would bringing Binyamin prove anything, when Binyamin could also deny Yoseph's accusation? What was the meaning of their reply that they were commanded by their father to enter at different entrances? What did they mean when they said that they had lost something in the marketplace? They never should have been there in the first place.

Yoseph's Ploys to Find His Brothers

He appointed guards at all ten entrances. He said, "Record the names of all those who enter, and bring the list before me."

Immediately Yoseph commanded them to lock all the silos of grain, and leave only one open.

Yoseph sent his guards to the marketplace with descriptions of his brothers and told them, 'If you see them, grab them.

Yoseph put guards' at all ten entrances because he wanted to see his brothers as soon as they came to Egypt. He also knew that they might come separately so that they would not bring upon themselves an ayin hara(2) ("evil eye") if people would see such a large family. In order to insure that he would find his brothers, he decided to post guards at all ten gates.

The reason Yoseph put guards at all the gates yet he closed all the silos but one, was that Yoseph knew that all his brothers were coming from Israel. He realized that since the purpose of their visit was to take home grain, they could easily send one brother to the silo to buy all the grain they needed, and then slip out of the country.

To prevent that, Yoseph ordered that the maximum amount that one could receive would not be enough to feed all their families in Israel. Therefore, they would all need to appear personally at the silo, so that they could buy enough food to take home. Another reason he allowed only one silo to remain open was that this way they could not buy all the grain they needed at one time at different silos, and then leave immediately. He knew that they would not appear at the single silo together, so as to avoid the "evil eye." Therefore, from the time they began to appear, it would give his guards sufficient time to arrest them.

Yoseph knew that the last time the brothers had seen him he was a slave, and they might be looking for him in order to redeem him. The place to buy slaves is the marketplace, and that was why Yoseph searched there for his brothers.

Yoseph's Decrees

...Yoseph had made three decrees. The first was that no slave may enter to receive grain; the second was that no one may enter with two donkeys; and the third was that no one may enter unless he writes his name, his father's name and his grandfather's name.

Yoseph said that no slave may enter to receive grain, because he wanted to prevent his brothers from using their slaves to make the purchase for them and thus not have to visit Egypt themselves, or at least avoid having to appear in person at the silos.

He decreed that no one may enter with two donkeys. This proves, as we have mentioned above, that he did not allow a single purchase of grain that would be more than a certain amount, so that they could not acquire the grain they needed by sending only one person. In this way he was forcing them all to come to Egypt.

He also decreed that no one may enter unless he records his name, his father's name and his grandfather's name, because he wished to find his brothers, and with this information he was sure he would be able to discover them. Still, this does not explain why he requested the grandfather's name, since one would think that there was probably only one Shimon the son of Yaakov in the world, and there would have been no room for confusion. Perhaps the reason is that since the Patriarchs were famous and well-respected men, people named their children after them. Thus there could have been a Shimon son of Yaakov who was a gentile, since both the father and the son may have been given a name of our forefathers. Therefore Yoseph required the grandfathers' names to be specified as well.

When our Sages say that Yoseph acted like a gentile, they are drawing our attention to the fact that Jews have three distinguishing characteristics: they do chesed, they are easily ashamed, and they are merciful.(3) Had Yoseph behaved as his nature dictated, his brothers would have recognized that he was Jewish, since he possessed these three characteristics. Therefore Yoseph acted differently, like a gentile, so that his brothers would not guess who he was.

Yoseph Accuses His Brothers

"You are spies."

"We are honest people."

"If you are honest, why did you not all enter at one entrance?"

"We were commanded to do as we did by our father."

"And what were you doing in the marketplace of the prostitutes?"

"We have lost something, and we are searching for it. We thought we might find it there."

Why did Yoseph claim that his brothers were spies? This was so that he could speak to them harshly, so that they would fear him and admit their plans. The commentaries(4) add that Yoseph did this in order to fulfill his dreams.(5) In his first dream he saw his brothers' stalks bowing to his stalk. In other words, he foresaw that all his brothers would bow down to him. Only in the second dream did he see the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. This meant that only at a later stage would his parents bow down to him. Therefore he devised the ploy of calling his brothers spies, so that he could demand that they bring Binyamin, and the first dream would be fulfilled.

Yet, we might ask, how would bringing Binyamin prove anything, since surely he, too, would deny this accusation? A commentary(6) explains that the general principle is followed of preferring to investigate a younger person rather than an older one, since a younger person is more fearful, and if he is threatened with physical punishment he will more readily relent and reveal the truth. Therefore Yoseph claimed that he could believe them only if they brought Binyamin, who was still young.

When the brothers told Yoseph that they had been commanded by their father to come into Egypt through different entrances, they meant that since they were such a large family, people might envy them and cast an "evil eye" upon them, for ten powerful brothers appearing together are quite conspicuous. It was enough for their father to have lost one child, and he did not want to lose another as a result of the "evil eye."

Yoseph's accusation that they were spies was substantiated by his finding out that they had been in the marketplace of the prostitutes. He claimed that since it was a busy market, they could easily mingle with the crowd and hear the latest news among the people there, and thus gather vital information which an enemy needs to know before attacking.

The brothers replied that that was the very reason they were at the market, since they could more easily gather information about their "lost article" from the many people who congregated there.

Lying As a Result of an Over Active Imagination

Yoseph's accusation that his brothers were spies was a lie, since he knew the truth, that they had come only to buy food. However Yoseph's lie was justified, since he knew that he had to fulfill his dreams, which were not mere dreams, but rather prophecies from G-d.

A child might lie as a result of an overly-active imagination. He does not mean to lie, but his imagination takes over. Children have very creative imaginations. They dream of all kinds of things: what it would be like to be grown up, to have their own car, to earn money and be able to buy whatever they want. This is a natural part of growing up.

When a child thinks about choosing a profession, he first imagines what it would be like to have a certain profession, and afterwards he pursues that profession in order to make it a reality. If he had not used his imagination first, he would not be motivated to acquire the tremendous amount of training, skill and knowledge he will need to enter that profession. His imagination gives him the power to bring his dreams to fruition.

Since he is only a child, he may sometimes confuse reality and imagination. Therefore, we should not be harsh with him if he is not exact about the details when he tells a story or describes an incident.

Little girls love to play with dolls and imagine that they are mothers. This is a way of preparing themselves for this task in life. Any child needs his imagination as part of a normal childhood. Even adults use their imaginations to direct their lives. First they dream about a new house, and then they go out and take the necessary steps to buy it. First a person imagines himself having a lot of money, and then he goes into business to earn that money. In this way, imagination can often be a positive quality.

When is telling a lie a crime? When it is done deliberately in order to attain something under false pretenses. For example, when a child lies in order to try and get something he does not deserve. This kind of lie is dangerous and must be punished, since if we ignore it the child may learn that it pays to lie.

Use Imagination to Stimulate Your Child

We can use imagination to stimulate our children to strive harder to reach a goal. Tell your child, "I can see that you have the ability to become a great rabbi with a large congregation, and you will be able to answer all their questions." Or tell your daughter, "You help so much at home that I can imagine you marrying a big talmid chacham who will learn even more Torah because of your great help."

Instill in the child the dream he needs to dream. This will inspire him to reach these goals. Describe to him how his name will appear on the front page of the sefer he will write. Always give him a dream that will help him aspire to higher and higher levels.

Instill Your Child with Positive Aspirations

Be careful that you instill in your child aspirations that fit the child's direction, and not your own aspirations. Even if you are a successful doctor or lawyer, it does not mean that your child fits that profession. Observe and note his natural tendencies, instead of directing him in a way he does not really want to go.

If he has negative aspirations, then use your own imagination to show him how negative these ideas are. If he is constantly lying, tell him, "You will be telling people about something you saw, and everyone will say, 'Oh, come on, we know that is a lie, as usual.'" If he is pushing other children around you can say to him, "One day, you will push around someone with a big brother, and he will come and teach you a lesson." If he is not willing to study you can say to him, "I can see now that if you continue like this, you will have to take an unskilled job and will never fulfill your true potential."

Tell Others of Your High Hopes for Your Child

To reinforce a child's positive motivation, let him hear you telling of your hopes for him to other adults. This will make a great impression on him, since he will say to himself, "This is serious business. My father is not just telling me his hopes, he is telling it to another adult!"

For instance, you can say to a friend, when your son is listening, "With the diligence my son is showing, I think that he will become a rosh yeshivah." A mother can say to another mother, "My daughter is such a good student that I think that she will become a teacher herself." Such words can give your children the push they need to put forth the extra effort necessary to succeed.

Stories of great rabbis also help children imagine themselves as such a person. Such books are a good resource for developing a child's imagination, and also serve as a positive influence for him. Parents should have many such books available at home so the child can read them frequently.

The more we give our children something positive to imagine, the more we direct them on the road to success.

1. Bereshis 42:6
2. Rashi, ibid. 42:5
3. Yevamos 79a
4. Ramban, Bereshis 42:9
5. Bereshis 37:6-10
6. Rabbi Yehonasan Eibishitz on Bereshis 42:15

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