Parshat Vayigash

A Student Publication of the Isaac and Mara Benmergui Torah Academy of Bergen County
Parshat Vayigash            9 Tevet 5763              December 14, 2002             Vol.12 No.12

In This Issue:

Rabbi Ezra Wiener
Ely Winkler
Jonathan Weinstein
Yoni Shenkman
Halacha of the Week

Rabbi Howard Jachter

This week's issue of Kol Torah has been sponsored by Eliezer, Sonya, Gershon, and Yehuda Kravits in memory of the Yarhtzeit of Harav Gershon Ben Harav Yitzchak.

Message in a Wagon
 by Rabbi Ezra Wiener

 "Vayagidu lo Leimor od Yosef Chai Vayipag lebo ki lo heemin lahem. Vayidabru elav et kol divrei Yosef vayar et haagalot vatichi ruach Yaakov avihem."

Rashi quoting Bereishit Rabba interprets these Pesukim in the following manner: although the brothers informed Yaakov that Yosef was in fact alive, Yaakov did not believe them until he noticed the wagons that Yosef sent. The wagons were a sign from Yosef that he had remembered the last Halacha that he learned with his father Yaakov, the Halacha of Egla Arufa, before they had separated. It was when Yaakov noticed the Agala that he had confirmation that Yosef was indeed alive.

The Midrash is puzzling for many reasons. One problem is that the Pasuk states, "Vayidabru Elav Kol Divrei Yosef." One can assume then, that the brothers told Yaakov that Yosef, the viceroy, seated them around his table in birth order. They must have also mentioned that he spoke Hebrew (see Rashi 45:12) and that he had been circumcised (see Rashi 45:4). In addition, not one of the brothers even questioned for a moment Yosef's claim of "Ani Yosef." If they were perfectly convinced, why was Yaakov not convinced, and secondly, why did the Agalot remove Yaakov's doubt?

Rav Nissan Alpert zt"l offers the following interpretation. The theme that emerges from the Parsha of Egla Arufa is the notion of Arvut, accountability for other Jews. Although we don't fault the Zikainim of the closest city to the corpse directly for the death of this individual, nevertheless the blame rests indirectly upon them as they were unmindful of their responsibility to see that a person be properly escorted out of the city. Jews are guarantors for other Jews, and if they are neglectful of this responsibility then Kapara (atonement) is necessary.

Yosef was very scrupulous in the area of Arvut. He protected Bilha's children from the degradation they were subjected to by Leah's children, and he resolved to carry out the command of his father to ascertain the well-being of his brothers and the sheep in Shechem thought he knew that his brothers despised him.

When Yaakov first heard "Od Yosef Chai" he was skeptical because one thing troubled him. How could Yosef, the paradigm of Arvut, remain in Egypt for 22 years and not contact his father? Didn't Yosef always go out of his way for family because he felt a sense of responsibility? Yaakov's skepticism was not really based on a lack of belief that Yosef was alive, but rather on his doubt of what kind of Simcha should he really be feeling, if Yosef hadn't contacted him in all these years.

It was only when Yaakov saw the Agalot, a sign that Yosef really did care and that he was going to take responsibility for the entire family by taking them to Egypt to support them during the years of famine, that Yaakov believed that Yosef was alive. He understood that Yosef's position in Egypt was bihashgachat Hashem and that Yosef must have had reason not to contact Yaakov because had Yosef really lost his sense of Arvut, he never would have sent Agalot to take his family to live with him.

Yosef and his Brothers, Revealed
 by Ely Winkler

 In last week's Parsha, we read how Yosef accused his brothers of being spies, how we isolated Binyamin, and demanded that he remain as his slave. This week's Parsha begins with a description of how Yehuda stood up for Binyamin. Yosef was so moved by Yehuda's pleas that he revealed himself to his brothers. Surprisingly, the brothers did not respond or react at all: Two questions come to mind. First, why did Yosef choose at this time reveal himself, and not earlier or later? Second, why was there no reaction by the brothers? What were their thoughts?

We find many different approaches to the first question among the Meforshim. The Shem Mishmuel suggests that Yosef was waiting for someone to stand up for Binyamin (the remaining child of his mother Rachel), and would not reveal himself to his brothers until then. He wanted to see if they had corrected their behavior. Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Gur suggests that, Yosef feared that his brothers still hated him. After all, the same dreams that they hated 22 years earlier had now come true. Yosef did not know what to expect. However, once Yehuda volunteered to be Yosef's slave, he knew that they would not hate him, for it was Yehuda himself who made the dreams come true. Perhaps the most interesting explanation suggests that Yosef was waiting for his brothers to do Teshuva. When we trace the story, we see that the brothers performed all three steps of Teshuva that the Rambam requires Charata, regret, Viddui, confession, and, Kabbala Leatid, change for future actions. It was then that Yosef was able to reveal himself.

As to why the brothers were silent, Rabbi Hillel gives a wonderful insight: The brothers were strong and forceful when they knew they were correct. However, when they realized that they had been living a lie, they were not strong anymore, and were not able to speak. When Yosef said the simple words, "Ani Yosef," the Chafetz Chaim suggests that all their questions were solved. For with these words, they saw the reasons behind their suffering. In the same way, when Hashem will eventually tell us "Ani Hashem," he will answer all of our questions, and we too will understand all of our suffering.

Jonathan Weinstein

 In 46:3, Hashem tells Yaakov, Al Tira, "Do not fear." Yaakov was about to see Yosef, his long-lost son, and he was going to live in Egypt under the protection that Yosef would grant him as second to the king.

In Parshat Toldot (26:2), Yitzchak was told by Hashem to stay in the land that Hashem gave him and specifically not to travel to Egypt. This could be what Yaakov was afraid of: that his journey would violate Hashem's command to Yitzchak. The Abarbanel says that Yaakov had no real fear of going to Egypt: Yaakov did not want to violate Hashem's command, and this was manifested in his fear of leaving the Jewish homeland and entering Egypt.

The Chizkuni says that the phrase Al Tira means that Yaakov was truly afraid of going to Egypt. Hashem told the Avot that their descendants would be slaves in a foreign land. This is why Yaakov was afraid, but Hashem reassured him that in the end Hashem would bless Yaakov and make his children a great nation. Yaakov realized that his children would return to Eretz Yisrael, but he thought that there was no guarantee that the Jewish People would want to leave Egypt.
Rashi says that Yaakov was bothered by the fact that he was obligated to leave Eretz Yisrael, but the Zohar comments that Hashem assured Yaakov that he would be returned to Eretz Yisrael to be buried with his ancestors.

The Ibn Ezra says that Hashem told Yaakov that he would be with Yosef again, and Yosef would "place his hand on your eyes." This refers to someone who closes the eyes of someone who is dead. The Or Hachaim elaborates that Hashem told Yaakov that Yosef would outlive Yaakov, showing that Yaakov did not have to worry about Yosef's death.

Later in this Perek, Yaakov and Yosef meet. The Torah says that he kissed him, but it is unclear who kissed whom. Rashi says that Yosef kissed Yaakov, and Yaakov did not kiss Yosef. Chazal say that Yaakov was reciting Shema. Ramban quotes this opinion as well, but he begins by saying that the phrase "and he appeared to him" means that they saw each other. While Yaakov was getting older and his sight was getting weaker, Yosef was wearing a turban, as was the custom of Egyptian kings, which was covering his eyes. Who kissed whom remains unclear.
The Ramban might be the stronger opinion, but there is a psychological element involved: who is more likely to cry? An elderly parent who has not seen his son for a long time or the son who is second in command of a world power?

When Yaakov and Yosef drew closer to each other, they were able to see each other more clearly and then one cried on the other's neck. Because the Pasuk uses the word Od, "more," perhaps Yaakov cried, as he had been crying for twenty-two years. Rashi thinks that the word Od refers to Yaakov, but he cites a verse from Iyov to show that Od does not always mean "more," and at times it may mean "much." This lessens the impetus to say that Yaakov was the one who cried.

The Be'er Yitzchak explains that crying is not something that Yaakov would have done at a time of happiness. The greatest love that one must have is the love for Hashem. Yaakov was extremely happy when he was reunited with Yosef, and this happiness almost went beyond the absolute love that he was supposed to have for Hashem. Yaakov was very careful not to forget the absolute love he had for Hashem. This may explain the Midrash that says Yaakov was reciting Shema when he met Yosef. As Yaakov was reuniting with Yosef, he recited the Shema in order to concentrate on his absolute love of Hashem.

Perhaps Yaakov's tears were not tears of happiness but rather tears of concern for the future of the Jews in exile in Egypt despite Hashem's consolation. This exile could lead to assimilation and immorality. One other opinion is Rav Hirsch, who says that Yosef was the one who cried. Even after Yaakov stopped crying, Yosef continued to cry on Yaakov's shoulder. While Yaakov spent the last twenty-two years mourning for Yosef, Yosef spent many of those years with great wealth. Meeting Yaakov reminded Yosef of the time he spent with his father, and these feelings made him cry more than Yaakov. In short, Hashem's Torah reflects real life - it contains many ambiguities and complexities.

Live Your Years
by Yoni Shenkman

This weeks Parsha, Parshat Vayigash, begins in the middle of the episode in which Yosef confronts his brothers. After holding his identity back as long as he could, Yosef finally revealed his identity, and eventually asked that his father, Yaakov, be brought down to him in Egypt.

When Yaakov finally came, Yosef took him to meet Paroh, setting up a confrontation between two opposing powers. Yaakov was the spiritual leader in his generation, while Paroh ruled the physical. Their conversation (47:8-10) seems strange at first glance, to say the least. The only question Paroh asked Yaakov was (literally) "How many are the days of the years of your life?" which is not only a strange question, but obviously worded strangely, too. The response seems even more bizarre, when Yaakov answers that "the days of the years of my (physical) living is 130 years, (but) the days of the years of my life are few and bad, and did not surpass those of my fathers." What does all the obscure language mean? Why did Yaakov not answer Paroh's question directly by just telling him how old he was? And who asked about Yaakov's forefathers?

Rav Hirsch helps us understand this problem by explaining that Paroh actually asked Yaakov how many truly meaningful, spiritual days he had had in all the years of his lifetime. Yaakov answered by first explaining to Paroh that although his physical years were 130, he did not look at those physical numbers. Instead, his focus was on achieving the spiritual greatness of his forefathers, and answered that he had not reached that goal. Physical numbers mean nothing unless there is a spiritual purpose attached to it.

Although Yaakov did not reach his own personal goals, he is our forefather because he struggled with the intent of reaching them. This is the lesson Yaakov taught Paroh, and this is the lesson we must learn: we must not get caught up in our clothing designers, cars and bank accounts, but must strive to be more spiritual, where the only thing that really 'counts' is effort! We should all commit to doing at least one Mitzva a day (give charity, read a chapter of a Jewish Book, learn one Jewish Law) in order to add to our spiritual bank account!


Halacha of the Week

Rav Eliezer Waldenburg (Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 12:21) writes that one should recite the Bracha on lightning if he has seen the sky lit by lightning even if he has not seen the lightning bolt. I have heard that other Poskim disagree and rule that one should utter the Bracha only if one sees the actual lightning bolt. One should ask his Rav which opinion to follow.


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