Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


But his brothers could not answer him, because they were left disconcerted before him. (45:3)

It had become clear to the brothers. The ambiguities with which they had lived for these last twenty-two years were all resolved, as everything that had transpired fell into perspective. Likewise, explains the Chafetz Chaim, when our exile is finally concluded and Hashem lifts the veil from our eyes, we will see clearly how the events of history all fit into place. What has up until now seemed to be an inexplicable puzzle will be revealed as a Divine master plan.

In the Midrash Rabbah, a quotation from Abba Kohen Bardela has set the standard for understanding the concept of mussar/tochachah, ethical guidance and rebuke, throughout the generations, "Woe is to us from the Day of Judgment; woe is to us from the Day of Rebuke. Yosef was the youngest of the brothers, yet the other brothers could not respond to his rebuke. If so, what will we say when Hashem will rebuke each and every one of us according to what he is?" The statement begs elucidation. First, where do we find Yosef offering rebuke to his brothers? He said the words: "I am Yosef!" That is it. He issued no rebuke. Second, what kind of rebuke can one expect in the World to Come? By the time we get there, rebuke is a foregone conclusion. It is all over. We no longer have the possibility for teshuvah, remorse, correcting our iniquity. Olam Habba is a place for s'char v'onesh, reward and punishment. One receives either one or the other. It is too late for teshuvah.

Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl, posits that, actually, one question answers the other. We wondered when did Yosef rebuke them? The answer is that the mere fact that he did not articulate his reproof is in itself the greatest and most compelling rebuke. His brothers had built a solid foundation of complaint against Yosef. He was a slanderer who was out to destroy them. They painted a picture of Yosef that was contemptible. This is not unusual. When we have issues with someone, we justify our actions towards him by presenting him in the most iniquitous manner. Yosef, however, said nothing. He did not rebuke; he did not even censure. He treated his brothers royally, respectfully, decently. Something was wrong. This was not the "Yosef" that they had previously conjured up in their minds. Can there be a greater rebuke than discovering that the premises upon which they had built their entire life philosophy were wrong? The brothers expected castigation, rebuke. Instead, they received love and friendship. This was the noblest form of rebuke.

Rashi alludes to this idea when he explains the reason for the brothers' disconcertment: mipnei ha'bushah; "because of the shame." Their fear of Yosef was not a physical thing. They were not in fear for their lives. It was the humiliation that had disconcerted them. Why does the Torah use the word nivhalu, which implies fear, if, in fact, it was embarrassment? Veritably, it was fear. It was the fear of having to confront face-to-face the Yosef they thought they knew in light of the real Yosef who was presently standing before them. When one realizes the error of his ways, when he sees the depth of a life's mistakes, he becomes fearful.

The brothers were older than Yosef. He was the ben zekunim, the child born late in Yaakov Avinu's life. Yet, when they saw his profound piety, his all-encompassing virtue, his mentchlichkeit - they were speechless with shame and with fear. What will we say when we come "face-to-face" with the Heavenly Tribunal. Imagine our shame and fear at that moment of truth.

But his brothers could not answer him, because they were left disconcerted before him. (45:3)

The Midrash quotes Abba Kohen Bardela in what has become one of the standard catchphrases concerning the process of rebuke, remorse and repentance. Oi lanu miyom ha'din; Oi lanu miyom ha'tochachah, "Woe is to us from the Day of Judgment; woe is to us from the Day of Rebuke." While a number of issues regarding this statement beg elucidation, we will focus on a question raised by Horav Avraham Yoffen, zl, concerning the sequence of this statement. "Day of Rebuke" follows "Day of Judgment." Is that correct? First, one rebukes - then, one issues judgment. The Tanna apparently had a reason for altering the sequence. Why?

Horav David Budnick, zl, explains that we must first take the entire sale of Yosef into perspective. Were the brothers really that jealous of him? Would the fact that Yosef received a multi-colored coat from their father provoke such animosity between them? Can we say that Yosef's talking about them, albeit harmful, was sufficient to stimulate hatred? Obviously, there is much more to it. They felt the slander would distance their father from them, thereby cutting off their link to the Torah of Shem and Eivar. Yosef was studying Torah with his father. Thus, by speaking ill of them, Yosef was, in fact, depriving them of spiritual development. Klal Yisrael needed the input of twelve Shevatim, Tribes. Yosef was assaulting the basic fabric of Klal Yisrael. In other words, it was not about them - personally. It was about the future collective Jewish nation.

On the other hand, Yosef certainly did not want to undermine the future Jewish nation. The last thing he wanted was to distance his brothers from their father. His intentions were pure: to correct what he felt were their spiritual failings. The future Jewish nation had to be established upon the impeccable middos, character traits, of their forbearers. Thus, Yosef felt himself compelled to act accordingly. Much more was at stake than his public relationship with his brothers.

The brothers took the matter into their own hands without consulting with anyone other than one another. Their punishment was middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, with their own actions returning back to haunt them. For instance, it was Yehudah who asked his father if he "recognized" Yosef's garment covered with blood. Shortly thereafter, he was asked to "recognize" the chosemes, seal, that he left with Tamar after their liaison. They relied on their own decisions. Thus, they were punished with the consequences of their own decisions.

This is why Yosef demonstrated to them the error of their ways. After all, it was the brothers who rendered their own psak din, legal decision. They said that we all-together with the individual in whose possession the silver goblet is found - will be slaves. Yet, when push came to shove, they asked for leniency, lifnim meshuras ha'din, to go beyond what was the law, in order to show their compassion for their aged father's sake.

Let us take this "request" into perspective. The brothers were concerned about their father's health. The shock of losing Binyamin after the earlier loss of Yosef might be too much for his health. For this, they asked the viceroy's compassion, to go beyond the letter of the law. Indeed, when they made their request, they intimated that they were prepared to destroy the land of Egypt if Binyamin were not safely returned. They were prepared to take on the entire world if necessary - anything for their father.

Yosef gave them every opportunity to express their request for compassion. He did this, so that when he revealed himself in the words, "ani Yosef!", they would immediately see the hypocrisy of their demand. Until now, they had presented themselves as willing to do anything - even take on the world - for the purpose of going beyond the letter of the law; yet, when it came to their brother Yosef, they refused to go beyond the letter of the law. He was a rodef, pursuer, a crime punishable by death, if necessary. Why did they not show the same compassion for Yosef? Why was lifnim meshuras ha'din not an option for Yosef, as it was for Yaakov?

This is what is meant by, "Woe is to us from the Day of Judgment." Yosef showed them that they had erred in din. Their judgment call was wrong, because they did not realize that a taint of hatred towards Yosef played a subtle role in their decision process. Likewise, when each and every one of us stands before the Heavenly Tribunal, we will see that we had been wrong in interpreting the law. Not only will we be rebuked - we will be shown that our judgment call was also wrong. This is why din precedes tochachah. Our concept of the din was wrong. This is why we need rebuke. The mere fact that we thought we had been acting appropriately - when, in fact, we were totally wrong - is justifiable reason for tochachah.

I will fully provide for you there, for there will come another five years of famine, lest you, and your house and all that is yours grow poor. (45:11)

Yosef HaTzaddik pointed out to his brothers that it had all finally come together. The ambiguities that had plagued their lives could now be seen as work of the Divine, Who manipulated events for a specific purpose. It was all becoming clear. Indeed, there is hardly another narrative in the Torah that so cogently demonstrates the ways of Divine Providence. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, comments that this story is probably the most vivid commentary on Shlomo HaMelech's saying in Mishlei 26:9, "The great Master of the Universe produces all things from their smallest beginnings. Be they physical or social, He causes them all to grow from the smallest seedling. It is He who causes all things to be born. Therefore, even fools and criminals are in His service." Without awareness or will, even folly and sin serve His purposes. In this story, the threads lie revealed.

Rav Hirsch journeys back to the "two sela's worth of silk," which Chazal (Shabbos 10b) suggest that Yaakov Avinu used for the embroidery on Yosef's kesones, coat, through which the promise of the Bris Bein HaBesarim, "Covenant Between the Pieces," came to be fulfilled. When we think about it, we realize that, had Yaakov remained in Canaan, the chances of his family growing into the mighty nation that it became were unlikely. As the family grew, they would have merged with the surrounding population. In order to become a distinct people, not intermingling with other nations, it was necessary for them to live in the midst of a nation whose character and moral compass totally contrasted with Jewish ethos. That nation was Egypt.

It was not much different in the middle ages in Western Europe. The fanaticism which gave rise to the Jews' separatism, their relegation to living in ghettos, was, in effect, the hand of G-d providing us with an opportunity to distance ourselves from the lack of culture and moral filth that characterized the European gentile at that time. It also allowed us to cultivate the family unit, creating strong domestic happiness within our insular society.

Yosef was "sent" to Egypt years ahead of the family to set the background for the Jews of Canaan to come and not feel as if they were usurpers of the land. So that no Egyptian could say, "You do not belong here; you are an immigrant," the Egyptians themselves were compelled - due to the famine - to leave their own birthplace and move around. They, too, were strangers in their land.

Likewise, by the time of our exile, when we were forced into migrating to other lands, the entire Europe was already a land of foreigners. Hence, when the expulsion edict resulting from bigoted Germanic intolerance, "Go back to Palestine where you belong," was quickly refuted with, "And exactly where were your ancestors born?"

Last, just as the first exile which saw Yaakov Avinu and his family leave Canaan for Egypt was the result of kinah and sinah, envy and enmity, our own exile, years later, was the consequence of envy and baseless hatred. Yaakov's exile set up the crucible of harsh fate; it was the beginning of the tzaros, troubles and misery, suffering and ridicule, through which all of his descendants were destined to pass. This "school of indoctrination" purifies them, so that they become capable of feelings of equality and brotherhood, which will engender the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

And he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, then the spirit of Yaakov, their father, revived. (45:27)

In the previous pesukim, whenever Yaakov Avinu's name is mentioned, his relationship to his sons is not indicated. Here, in denoting his "revival," the Torah insists on underscoring that Yaakov avihem, "their father" became revived. What is the significance of his being their forebear to his revival? Horav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, Shlita, explains this based upon a principle quoted from his father Horav Shneuer Kotler, zl. The Rosh Yeshivah focuses on the opening Mishnah of Pirkei Avos, in which the Tanna commences his treatise on ethics by first introducing the Mesorah, transmission, of Torah from Hashem to Moshe and thereafter to the spiritual leadership of every generation. It is apparent from the Tanna's emphasis on the Mesorah that the transmission of Torah from generation to generation, father to son, is a chelek, part and parcel, of Torah itself. It is not enough that one studies Torah for himself. He must see to it that it is passed on to others, to the next generation.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that this may be the reason that none of the Torah principles and halachic decisions rendered by Achair, the name given to Elisha ben Avuyah when he apostatized himself, in mentioned in the Talmud. At one point, he had been a great teacher who had successfully mentioned some of the greatest Tannaim. What about the halachos he expounded and elucidated prior to his heretical alienation from Torah? Why can these Torah thoughts not be used? It is almost as if he had not existed. The reason is that, even if his Torah novellae were emes, true, and reliable, they are still not worthy of transmission, because of their source. Thus, his name is not mentioned in the Talmud. He may not serve as part of the Mesorah. He did not exhibit the ethical, moral and spiritual conduct of an individual with the credentials to transmit Torah. Thus, his name is not mentioned in connection with the Torah.

Rav Malkiel applies this principle toward explaining Yaakov Avinu's reaction to the news that Yosef was alive and well and living in complete spiritual harmony with them. When Yaakov saw the agalos, wagons, he realized that Yosef was sending him a message. Agalah, wagon, and eglah, calf, have similar spellings. The last sugya, halachic topic, that Yaakov had studied with Yosef was the law of Eglah Arufa, the Axed Heifer. The agalos were a sign to Yaakov that Yosef was spiritually alive and well. He even remembered the Torah his father had taught him. Apparently, Yosef was still attached to the Torah, as he had been then.

In addition to the wonderful news that his son still bonded with the Torah, Yaakov's spirits were revived because now he saw that the mesiras ha'Torah, Torah transmission, from father to son, continued on through all of his sons - even Yosef. Until now, Yaakov feared that, with regard to Yosef, he had been unsuccessful in transmitting the Torah. The Torah he had once taught Yosef would never be transmitted to Yosef's descendants. It would not survive the test of time. When he realized the profundity of Yosef's message, he as his father, the transmitter of Torah, became revived. He was doubly alive; his son was alive, and the Torah that he had taught him was alive. There would be continuity.

However, when they related to him all the words that Yosef had spoken to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, then the spirit of Yaakov was revived. (45:27)

It seems as if the brothers were now conveying something new to Yaakov Avinu. Apparently, earlier when they had told him, Od Yosef chai! "Yosef is still alive, and he is the ruler over the land of Egypt," this news did not catalyze as strong a reaction as their relating to him all that Yosef had actually told them. Furthermore, why is it that now, after hearing what Yosef had said, Yaakov suddenly noticed the wagons sent by Yosef? It is not as if the wagons had not been there earlier. Last, what is the meaning of the phrase, "Then the spirit of Yaakov was revived"? What took place "then" that so altered Yaakov's perception?

Horav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zl, notes that Yosef HaTzaddik went through some extremely traumatic spiritual and physical challenges in his life. Pharaoh's dungeons housed some of the country's most ruthless criminals. The physical conditions left much to be desired. Overcoming the daily blandishments of Potifar's wife was no simple task. Loneliness was his constant "companion." How did he survive? What superhuman forces within Yosef gave him the ability to confront evil, loneliness, debauchery, spiritual and physical deprivation, emerging triumphant - as righteous as before? The Rosh Yeshivah suggests that, upon perusing the text, one notes that two unique forces played an integral role in Yosef's success.

First, was Yosef's emunah. His unabiding faith in the Almighty, his acute awareness that Ein od milvado, "There is no other (power) than He," fortified him with trust in Hashem. Yosef knew that there was no other power to whom he could turn; no one else who could help him. It was either Hashem or nothing! Every time Yosef spoke, he commenced his comment with the notion that Hashem was the only source of salvation, the only address for success, and that everything that He did was for the good.

Second, Yosef learned Torah - constantly. He lay in the cradle of Torah study as it embraced him. His toiling in the pathways of Torah gave him insight, fortitude and courage. With faith fortified by Torah, Yosef could take on the challenges of life that were thrown at him.

We now understand why it was that after Yaakov heard about Yosef's behavior and manner of speech and then saw the wagons, he became a believer. Yosef had made it! He had survived the ordeals of the past twenty-two years. At first, when he heard that Yosef was alive, Yaakov was quite frightened. There was no way that Yosef's original spiritual plateau could have survived the challenges that had accompanied him in his descent into Egyptian culture and society. His years in the Egyptian dungeons were truly the "pits." When his sons related the manner in which Yosef had expressed himself, how he spoke about Hashem, Yaakov's heart began to beat rapidly. Maybe, he could dare to have hope. Perchance, Yosef did survive. When he saw the wagons, which Rashi says were an allusion to the Eglah Arufah, Axed Heifer, the last topic Yaakov had studied with Yosef, the Patriarch's spirit was revived. His son had not forgotten his learning. He still bonded with the Torah through study and practice. Yes, Yosef was truly alive - in the spiritual sense. Certainly, Yaakov cared about Yosef's physical being, but it was his spiritual well-being that concerned him most. He could now rest assured.

The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life. (47:9)

Daas Zekeinim M'Baalei HaTosfos quotes the Mishnah that says Yaakov Avinu was punished for making the above statement, condemning the years of his life as being "few and bad." As a result of the Patriarch's "complaint," his life was shortened thirty-three years, which coincides with the thirty-three words (Pesukim 8-9). The question is obvious and glaring: How could Yaakov have made such a statement? The Patriarch was an individual who served the Almighty with all of his heart and soul. How could he declare that his years were few and bad? Furthermore, that he would make such a statement to a pagan like Pharaoh is beyond belief. There is one more question that must be addressed, which, incidentally, the commentators seem to accept as fact. To state that his years were few is understandable. After all, he did live thirty-three years fewer than Yitzchak Avinu. How could he say, however, that his years had been bad? What was really so difficult about Yaakov's life? Until age seventy-three, he had done nothing all day but learn Torah. The first fifteen years he had served his grandfather, Avraham Avinu; the following fifty years he served Shem ben Noach. What is so bad about that? During this time, he was living at home with Yitzchak Avinu and Rivkah Imeinu. What is there not to like about such an arrangement? Even after he was compelled to leave out of fear for his life, he stopped for fourteen years to study in yeshivah. In other words, out of the one hundred and thirty years of his life, Yaakov spent the majority (seventy-six years) in a calm, idyllic Torah setting. Can anyone complain about that?

Horav Aryeh Leib Heyman, zl, explains that for a tzaddik, righteous person, to be relegated to live in the proximity of a rasha, evil person, is misery. For a tzaddik to be compelled to offer respect to a rasha is misery at its nadir. Yaakov lived in the exalted home of his parents - together with Eisav. From early on in his youth, Yaakov was acutely aware of his father's love for Eisav. Thus, out of respect for his father, Yaakov was compelled to respect Eisav. Can we begin to imagine how painful it must have been for our Patriarch, who was the embodiment of the attribute of emes, truth, at its zenith, to live under such circumstances? It was living in this tension-filled environment that provoked Yaakov to assume that his life had been bad.

Additionally, we may suggest that although Yaakov was free to live as he pleased, the sword of Eisav constantly hung over his head. This idea applies in any situation in which a person is uncomfortable, never knowing when his position of favor will suddenly change, leaving him out in the cold. An individual can have a well-paying job, but, if his boss is fickle and he never knows where he stands in his eyes, his position is no longer secure. For centuries, Jews in Germany went to shul and to the bais hamedrash, never knowing at what point the gentiles surrounding them would decide to kill a few Jews just for fun. This is how they lived. It surely was not pleasant. Yet, they continued davening, learning, persevering as observant Jews, even at great risk to their well-being.

Perhaps this is what shocked Pharaoh. Before him stood a man whose countenance bespoke an individual who was quite aged. Yet, in speaking to him, Yaakov came across as being much younger than his appearance indicated. Pharaoh was incredulous: Was Yaakov old or older? To this the Patriarch replied, "I am not old. What you see are the effects of a life of tension and fear." Yaakov reflected the image of the galus Jew. Living in exile is not pretty. One perseveres and continues on, despite the hardships that accompany him at every juncture. There is, however, one thing worse than being in exile: Not knowing that he is in exile.

Yaakov Avinu taught us that there is nothing "wrong" with "few and bad." It is how one reacts to such a life that determines its true adversity.

Keil baruch gadol deah. G-d, who is blessed, great in knowledge.

It is interesting that when we wish to praise Hashem and to explain why He is blessed, the first attribute we touch upon, is deah, knowledge. Indeed, the first and foremost quality which Hashem has is the quality of deah, true knowledge. Authentic understanding may seem simple to us, but it is the most powerful of all attributes, because to say that Hashem is gadol deah is to express that He is perfect in knowledge. Hashem knows and understands everything; thus, He is able to do whatever is best for mankind. Many people are capable of amassing incredible storehouses of knowledge, yet they remain incapable of implementing this knowledge in a practical manner. Hashem is perfect in His knowledge; since He knows everything, He is now able to do everything that is necessary. Because of His infinite knowledge, He knows exactly what is necessary, what is beneficial, and when to do what He must do. Regrettably, sometimes a man may have tainos, complaints, about Hashem's actions. This is analogous to a person with limited knowledge and vested interests attempting to "sit down by the table" with someone who knows everything.

Sponsored in memory of our dear father and grandfather
Harry Weiss Zvi ben Yoel a"h
Morry & Judy Weiss, Erwin & Myra Weiss and Grandchildren
Gary & Hildee Weiss, Jeff & Karen Weiss,
Zev & Rachel Weiss, Elie & Sara Weiss, &Brian

"Love and memories are gifts from G-d that death cannot destroy"

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel