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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Now Yosef could not restrain himself in the presence of all who stood before him…He cried out in a loud voice. (45:1,2)

We should strive to understand Yosef's sudden weeping. Here is an individual who had been suffering for twenty-two years. He was reviled by his brothers; thrown into a pit with poisonous snakes and scorpions; sold to the Midyanim, the Yishmaelim, and then to the Egyptians; a slave to Potiphar; and a prisoner in the Egyptian dungeon together with the dregs of society. Yet, during this entire time, we find no mention of his emotional release. Perhaps he did weep, but the Torah does not mention it. The only time the Torah mentions Yosef's emotional release is when he sees his brothers. What about being reunited with his brothers catalyzed Yosef's tears more than anything that had occurred in the past?

Horav Tuvia Lisitzin, zl, gleans from here the significance of brotherhood. Yosef could handle pain, suffering and deprivation. He could transcend adversity and triumph over challenge. The emotion that welled up within him, however, when he saw his brothers standing before him, when he saw the love they demonstrated towards Binyamin, was just too much. He could no longer contain himself, and he began to weep. Yosef could deal with pain, but the love that emanated from the relationship of brotherhood was something unique, something special. He just lost control.

Yosef saw the mesiras nefesh, dedication to the point of self-sacrifice, that his brothers manifested towards Binyamin. He noticed that Binyamin had given each one of his ten sons a name that alluded to his missing brother, Yosef. He saw the love, and love softens a person's emotions. It accomplishes what pain cannot achieve. A person can fight pain. He cannot fight love.

This relationship presents itself again during the Chanukah episode. The Chashmonaim were one family that was so close that the members banded together and fought as one unit against impossible odds. They were together in mind and soul, in commitment and purpose, in ideal and devotion to the Almighty. It was members of that same Levite family - the family of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam - who stood at the helm of the Jewish nation as they left Egypt and who shared in the majesty and glory of the Revelation and the Giving of the Torah. Klal Yisrael is founded in and built upon brotherhood. After all, the Torah is based on the principle, "Love your fellow as yourself." It is all about brotherhood.

One day, as a great famine surged through Russia, a beggar-- weak, emaciated and starved to death-- turned to a famous secular writer and asked for alms. The man searched his pockets to no avail. He was without as much as a penny. Taking the beggar's worn hands between his own he said, "Do not be angry with me, my brother, I have nothing on me." The thin, haggard face of the beggar began to shine, as from some inner light, as he whispered in reply, "But you referred to me as brother. That alone is a great gift."

But his heart rejected it, for he could not believe them. (45:26)

The news that Yosef was still alive should have excited Yaakov Avinu beyond imagination. The impact of the discovery that his long-lost son was still alive and well should have brought incredible joy to him, but it did not. In his heart, Yaakov had questions. How could he be certain that the viceroy of Egypt, who claimed to be his son Yosef, was really who he said he was? It was only after Yosef instructed his brothers to tell Yaakov that he still remembered the last topic which they had studied together-- the laws of Eglah Arufah, the calf whose neck is broken in penance for an unsolved murder-- that Yaakov believed that it was truly Yosef. Why was it so difficult for Yaakov to accept that Yosef was still alive? Did he not want to believe this? Why was he so negative? Apparently, this man seemed to know everything that Yosef had experienced prior to his sudden departure from home.

Horav Aizik Ausband, Shlita, explains that Yosef's knowledge of the circumstances leading up to his sale was not a clear indication that he was Yosef. He could be an imposter who knew Yosef and had culled from him the necessary information regarding his past. It was only when he presented the divrei Torah, a memory of the spiritual relationship that Yaakov had shared with his son that Yaakov knew it was Yosef who was relating this information. A crooked person does not concern himself with ruchniyus, spirituality. He would never think of seeking out this pertinent information, because it would be inconsequential to him.

Interestingly, a similar episode occurred concerning the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna. A young man disappeared shortly after his marriage. His young wife was relegated to the status of an agunah, abandoned wife, who was not permitted to remarry until there was clear proof of her husband's demise or until she received a divorce. One day, a man arrived in Vilna who claimed to be her long-lost husband. He even substantiated his claim by citing facts about the family. Everybody was inclined to believe him, except for the girl's father. Something did not sit right with him. While he was unable to disprove the man's claim, he was equally unable to dispute it. He went to the Gaon and presented his issues, asking for the sage's advice. The Gaon instructed him to question the man concerning his seat in the shul on the Shabbos of his aufruf, when he was called up to the Torah on the Shabbos preceding his wedding. When the man replied that he had no clue, his lie was exposed. The Gaon later explained that a crooked person asks for information about everything mundane that is pertinent, but he shies away from areas of spirituality. These are of no concern to him.

Perhaps we may suggest another point of view. The real Yosef would have sought to remember those areas that were important to his father. Yosef was acutely aware of the significance of Torah in his father's life. If he wanted to ingratiate himself to him, he would have to remember those instances about which he cared, those moments that were important to him. Relating family histories and stories would not impress Yaakov. His son would remember divrei Torah, because that is what he cared about most.

And Yisrael said, "How great! My son Yosef still lives!" (45:28)

We are so obsessed with ourselves and our needs that we tend to overlook and not appreciate the wonderful gifts we receive from Hashem. The Telzer Rav, Horav Yosef Leib Bloch, zl, would comment that "it is the pettiness of our generation and its accompanied imagined superiority that stand in the way of our appreciating the greatness of the previous generations." When the brothers returned to Yaakov Avinu and related to him that Yosef was stll alive and that he was the viceroy of Egypt, citing the incredible honor and power that he had, Yaakov responded, "How great! My son Yosef still lives!" It seems as if Yaakov was not interested in listening to all of Yosef's glory. Why?

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky relates the following story. A woman was walking along the beach one day when a violent storm broke out. With no warning, a giant wave came and swept away her young son. The distraught, helpless mother cried out to Hashem, "Please give me back my child!" She screamed this over and over again. Shortly thereafter, another giant wave came along and deposited her son, unharmed, in front of her.

One cannot put into words the overwhelming gratitude this woman felt. At first, she could not speak. She just embraced and held her child. Then, regaining her composure, she looked up at Heaven and cried out, "Thank you! Thank you! Hashem, Your kindness overwhelms me. My gratitude to You is eternal. I can never thank You enough for my son's safe return." Suddenly, she took a good look at the child, then once again lifted her head Heavenward and, in a demanding tone, called out, "But Hashem, he was wearing a hat!"

We pay gratitude, but, at times, we do not even understand for what we must pay this gratitude. We worry about narishkeiten, foolish things, that have little substance and less value. Since we are so petty, they become big things in our minds. It is our pettiness that grants them significance.

Yaakov Avinu waited for twenty-two years for his son. Finally, when he heard the words, "Yosef is alive!" he was not concerned with Yosef's exalted position in Egypt. If Yosef was alive, everything else was superfluous.

It happens all of the time. We are the beneficiaries of profound favor from Hashem, and we pay our gratitude. Yet, we still remain dissatisfied, because as good as it is, we still would like it to be better. It is not as if we do not have - we just want more. We have the child back in our arms, but we still demand his hat.

There is a very meaningful secular proverb that reads: "I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet." This powerful statement has much truth to it. There are so many things in life for which we should be thankful - but we take them for granted. It is only when they are beyond our reach that we become acutely aware of their significance. People do not feel the wonder, beauty and joy of life until it is almost taken away from them. It often takes a serious threat to our blessings to make us aware of them. How many of us complain about "no shoes," but forget to pay gratitude for our "feet"? We have become lost in a sea of complacency with no compass to guide us out. If we take the time to sit back and think about of all the good fortune of which we are the beneficiaries, we would realize how much we owe Hashem. Once our "GPS" of life is focused in the right direction, the rest of the trip will have greater meaning and a more accurate orientation.

He sent Yehudah ahead of him to Yosef. (46:28)

Yaakov Avinu sent Yehudah to establish a makom Torah, a place from which Torah could be disseminated. If so, why did he send him to Yosef? Would Yehudah, upon arriving in Egypt to establish a yeshivah, approach anybody else other than Yosef? Certainly Yosef, being the man in charge, "our man in Egypt," would be the one most likely to give Yehudah the help he needed to complete his mission successfully. Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, suggests that an important lesson is to be derived herein. Yosef had told his brothers, "Tell my father of all my glory in Egypt and all that you saw." (ibid. 45:13) He was intimating that his entire day was occupied with managing the country and saving the lives of starving people throughout the world community. Many people say that saving the world is the greatest mitzvah of all and, thus, it absolves them from all other responsibilities, even that of studying and disseminating Torah. While there is no question concerning the significance of saving lives and toiling on behalf of the community in general, Torah remains paramount, and its study and dissemination are to be our most important goals in life. Absolutely nothing supersedes Torah.

This is why Yaakov sent Yehudah to Yosef. He was making it clear to Yosef that although he was busy and heavily involved in saving lives, he was still obligated to build yeshivos and spread Torah knowledge, as his forbears had done before him. Torah study takes precedence over everything else. Yosef was obliged to do better: save lives and protect and uphold the Torah.

Yosef sustained his father and his brothers…Thus, he provided them (the Egyptians) with bread for all their livestock during that year. (47:12,17)

Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, notes a difference between the word used to describe how Yosef provided for his family and the manner in which he sustained the Egyptian populace. When Yosef fed his father and family, the Torah refers to it as l'chalkeil, sustaining them. Yet, when he fed Egyptians, the word used is l'naheil, to manipulate, to lead, to manage. There is a powerful lesson to be derived from the variance in words. The Jew is stubborn and will not sell his Torah or himself for a piece of bread. Even in periods of famine, the Jew has maintained his superiority over the physical and has not sold himself for a piece of bread. Jewish children were kidnapped in Czarist Russia and forcibly conscripted into the army. Yet, they would rather die than abandon their faith. A hungry Jew can be "sustained," but not "manipulated."

The Egyptians were descendants of Eisav, who sold the birthright of the firstborn for a bowl of red lentil soup. Their forbear would have been proud of them as they sold their souls for a piece of bread. According to the Midrash, Yosef insisted that they circumcise themselves as part of his campaign to educate them morally. This was something new to the Egyptians, for what would an Egyptian not have done for a piece of bread?

Our ability to transcend physical needs in order to ascend to a higher goal in life has manifest itself throughout the millennia. This especially distinguished us during the dark years of the Holocaust. In a famous incident that took place following the war, Horav Eliezer Silver, zl, met a survivor who was very vocal in his abrogation of religious observance. "After what I saw in the concentration camp, I can no longer believe in G-d!" the man exclaimed bitterly. "What is it you saw that provoked such a negative reaction?" Rav Silver asked him.

"There was a man in my block that had a pair of Tefillin, which he would lend to the other inmates in exchange for a small piece of bread. You should have seen the men lining up to put on Tefillin. How could a Jew take advantage of his brethren like that? Is that what G-d wants of us? If a Jew can do this all in the name of religion, then I want no part of it!"

"My friend," Rav Silver replied, "I am surprised that an intelligent man like you would focus on one Jew's unfortunate weakness. What about all those who gave up their bread just so that they could put on Tefillin? Why do you not look at the positive side of this encounter?"

Yes, there were those who could not handle the pain, the starvation and misery, and there were those who took advantage of their brothers' devotion to mitzvos. What about those, however, to whom matters of the spirit were on a more significant plane than their physical necessities? What about those to whom serving Hashem was the dominant factor in their life? What about the 2500 men in Auschwitz who were willing to starve, rather than to reveal the identity of a semi-starved inmate who had broken into the potato store and "stolen" a few potatoes? What about the young boy who gladly sustained a painful beating with a rubber truncheon because he had brought in a few Siddurim for his friends? What about all those Jews who risked their lives daily, so that they could perform mitzvos and maintain some semblance of religion and hope in a place whose objective was to destroy any nuance of belief?

The Jew has proven time and again that he will not sell himself, his dignity, his religion for a bowl of lentils. This is Yaakov Avinu's legacy to his children. The birthright, the ability to serve Hashem, takes precedence over everything. The nourishment of a piece of bread is short lived, while matters of the spirit endure forever.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hodu l'Hashem kiru bi'shemo
Give thanks to Hashem, declare His Name.

The verses of this tefillah contain ten distinct categories of offering thanks. They are: hodu, giving thanks; kiru, declaring publicly; hodiu, making known; shiru, singing (to Him); zamru, making music (to Him); sichu, speaking (about His wondrous deeds); hishallelu, glorifying (His Holy Name); dirshu, seeking (Hashem); bakishu, seeking (His Presence); zichru, remembering (His wonders). The Chayei Avraham posits that these ten types of gratitude coincide with the Ten Plagues which Hashem wrought against Egypt and, later, during the crossing of the Yam Suf.

Horav Yitzchak Volozhiner,zl, explains the meaning of the two terms, Hodu l'Hashem and hodiu b'amim alulosav, "Make known among the nations His deeds." For a Jew, it is sufficient to remind himself that Hashem is the Source of everything that he possesses. As soon as a Jew remembers this, he immediately breaks out in gratitude and praise. The gentile world, however, needs to be taught and reminded, or else they lose sight of the Source of their being.

vvvvvv Rav Yitzchak used the exposition when he eulogized the great sage Horav Avraham Abbala Fusilver, zl, of Vilna. He said, "When we eulogize one who has not been well-known, it is incumbent upon us to articulate his many achievements and praise. This venerable Torah sage, however, was well-known in the Jewish world. It is not necessary to reiterate his many accomplishments and his Torah brilliance. The mere mention of his name and his passing should provoke mass mourning." With those words, Rav Yitzchak began to weep bitterly and incessantly. That was his eulogy.

Mazel Tov to
Rabbi & Mrs. Simcha Dessler
upon the Bar Mitzvah of their son
Shalom Elimelech n"y
A special Mazel Tov to the esteemed grandparents
Rabbi & Mrs. N. W. Dessler
Mr. & Mrs. Moshe Bertram

May Shalom continue to be a source of nachas to the entire family and to Klal Yisroel
Dr. & Mrs. Louis J. Malcmacher

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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