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In Joseph revealing his true identity to his brothers after twenty-two years of separation:
Joseph said to his brothers "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, for G-d sent me ahead of you to save lives. For two years there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and no reaping. But G-d sent me ahead to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to save your lives through great deliverance. It was not you that sent me here, but G-d…" (45:4-8)
This passage seems to reflect rather oddly on Joseph's conduct. He appears to be guilty of Chanifut - flattery - the sin of praising a person for doing wrong. The brothers did sell him to Egypt. The brothers need not have sold him or even harmed him. They had free choice in the matter. How could Joseph say: 'It was not you, but G-d?' According to that logic, anyone could justify behavior harming another person with 'the evil I did to you was a favor in disguise: I put you into G-d's overall plan.'
In response, a clue may be found in the words: 'for G-d sent me ahead of you to save lives'.
This phrase is important. When a person helps someone close to him, he may do so on several levels. For example, if he visits a sick friend, he may enter the hospital ward, ignore the other patients (some of whom a kind word from even a stranger would be a godsend) and go straight to friend. He could improve on that, by greeting and chatting briefly with others in the ward before going on to spend more time with the person he intended to visit. But his vision and imagination could broaden to the degree of starting a project to improve the facilities in public hospitals that would not only help the likes of his friend, but all patients.
That was Joseph. His dreams indicated that his family would eventually bow down to him - it was pre-destined that he would be their leader. But that could be on different levels. It could be within the narrow framework of the extended family: had he been with the family in Canaan during the opening years of the famine, he would have taken responsibility that they would have had enough to eat. He may even widen that to include surrounding tribes and settlements. But those further away might be starving - ancient Egyptian writings recording several such famines from the ancient Pharonic millennia detail the coastal road from Egypt towards Canaan littered with the corpses of the starved.
That was exactly what Joseph prevented. He maximized his opportunity presented in interpreting Pharaoh's dreams by telling him how to prevent the 'land being cut off through famine' (41:36). He devised a scheme whereby food would be stored during the seven years of plenty in preparation for the seven years of famine. So as a destined leader in any case, his years in Egypt did not merely enable him to provide for his family in times of hardship, or his neighborhood, but the entire region and civilization…
So when Joseph said: 'It was not you that sent me here, but G-d…' he was not 'letting them off' for selling him. He was giving them a strong hint it was G-d - not the brothers - who gave him the opportunity to save that part of the world (themselves very much included) from famine.
[And thus the words: 'Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here' could reflect on the brother's former intentions of their resenting his leadership. He in effect was subtly chiding them that their fears of him 'surely ruling over them' (37:8) had been realized on a scale far wider than their wildest dreams. What they sought to prevent by selling him took place on an incredibly grander scale. It was a 'slap in the face' to them. So Joseph gently, but poignantly chided… 'don't be upset that your initial plans didn't work our the way you wanted to…']
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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