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This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat VaYigash

9 Tevet 5767

December 30, 2006

Vol.16 No.15

In This Issue:

To Force an Epiphany

by Rabbi Darren Blackstein

Parshat VaYigash begins with the very famous meeting between Yehuda and Yosef. Yehuda pleads with Yosef not to keep Binyamin, the youngest brother, and offers himself as a slave. At this point, we are told that Yosef could not restrain himself anymore, and he cleared the room so that he could reveal himself to his brothers. Contemplating the sheer drama and emotion of this encounter is stunning! Having been the victim of the brothers, Yosef is now ready for the ultimate confrontation. He can have his cake and eat it too! He can forcibly make them realize that what they did was abominable. They stood in the same position Yosef had been in when they sold him. However, as so many Meforshim note, Yosef takes a surprisingly casual approach in addressing his brothers. He first identifies himself and asks if his father is still alive.

The Beit HaLevi, based on a Midrash, claims that Yosef question was rhetorical. Yosef knew that Yaakov was still alive based upon Yehuda's recent appeal. Yosef's question to the brothers was supposed to imply condemnation of their previous actions. It was as if Yosef was asking how his father could have survived the torment of life thinking he had lost his son. The Beit HaLevi also claims that it is as if Yosef was telling the brothers that just as Yaakov had survived all these years without him, so too he can survive without Binyamin. Still, regarding the text itself, Yosef seems to adopt a subtle and soft approach to them. He obviously wants them to see the truth but is waiting to capitalize on the right moment.

As we know, the Torah tells us that Yosef could not restrain himself anymore and felt it was time to reveal himself. What exactly caused this swell of emotion that precipitated this lack of restraint? The Chatam Sofer tells us that at that moment, Yosef saw that things had come full circle. After having been sold, Yosef sees Yehuda ready to sell himself into slavery. The brothers can now identify with their sin, seek forgiveness, and achieve atonement. Again, it should be noted that despite all of this build up, Yosef merely identifies himself as their brother, and proceeds to alleviate their guilt by shifting the focus to what Hashem had planned all along. Yosef actually helped them see that their actions fit beautifully into Hashem's grand scheme for Bnei Yisrael.

One of the most delicate yet important responsibilities that parents and teachers have is sensitizing the next generation to the presence of Hashem. Hashem does not conveniently appear when a Siddur is opened and then conveniently disappear when the Siddur is closed. Hashem doesn't only exist once a year when we seek to clear our conscience. Hashem is so real that we may liken Him to the air - surrounding us so much that we don't even realize it. How can this be shown to someone? It is not as easily demonstrable as some magic trick. This epiphany, this enlightenment, cannot be forced upon someone.

As much as we want to transmit this feeling to someone, we must use equal restraint in our efforts to sensitize. We must nurture our youth to enable them to be prone to feeling this on their own. We must follow the example of Yosef, who maneuvered the circumstances in such a way that when it came time to help the brothers take that final step towards revelation, no verbal clobbering was necessary. Yosef was able to nudge them into the proper zone so that their acceptance would be accomplished willingly.

May we all merit having the same positive effect on our Talmidim and children as Yosef had on his brother, bringing them to a higher realization of Hashem. (I'd like to thank my Talmid Moshe Azizollohoff for his contribution to this article regarding its Kavanah and title.)

Think Before You Act

by Shai Berman

by Shai Berman When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers after hiding his identity for so long, he asked them, "HaOd Avi Chai?" "Is my father still alive?" (Bereishit 45:3). The Beit HaLevi finds this question quite puzzling. What was the purpose of asking such a question if Yosef clearly already knew that Yaakov was alive and well, as reported by the brothers upon their initial arrival to Mitzrayim? Furthermore, just a few moments before Yosef reveals himself, Yehuda implores Yosef to acquit Binyanim since Yaakov is waiting for Binyamin to come home. Obviously Yaakov is alive if he is anxiously waiting for Binyamin to return! The Ralbag suggests that until this point Yosef was not fully confident that his brothers were telling him the truth. He felt that they might have been telling him about an old father, a missing brother, and a cherished son just so that the Egyptian ruler they were dealing with would have pity on them and give them food. Once Yosef revealed himself the brothers realized that they were talking to their long-lost brother and have nothing to hide, so Yosef asked them once again if his father is truly still alive.

The events that follow Yosef's question pose a second dilemma for the Beit HaLevi. If Yosef was indeed asking a genuine question, why didn't he ask for a response when the brothers failed to answer his inquiry about the welfare of their father? In fact, according to Rabbi Tuvia Grossman, Yosef is not really asking his brothers a question; rather, he is rebuking his brothers for their earlier actions. His words serve as an incisive remark, asking his brothers, "If now you are exceedingly worried about your father and are thinking of the pain you could cause him by losing Binyamin why didn't you consider this 22 years ago when you sold me?" He asks "HaOd Avi Chai" "Is my father still alive?" Yosef emphasized that Yaakov is his father, demonstrating how none of the others had shown any compassion for their father who deserved to be treated with more respect than he was given.

From the brothers' actions and Yosef's following rebuke, we understand the importance of thinking carefully before we act. We must ask ourselves what we are doing. What will be the consequences of our actions? If the brothers would have thought of what they were doing before they sold Yosef, they might not have sold him and would have spared their father immense pain. Although we always mean well, if we just take a moment to think before act, we could avoid possibly detrimental mistakes and prevent tremendous amounts of pain and suffering.

Diligence in Mitzvot

by Avi Levinson

Parshat Vayigash opens with Yehuda's impassioned pleas that Yosef allow Binyamin, the alleged thief of Yosef's "magic" goblet, to go back home to Yaakov. In his final argument, Yehuda begs Yosef to accept him as a slave instead of Binyamin, because Yehuda had assumed responsibility for Binyamin's return (see Bereishit 43:9). He asks Yosef, "Ki Eich E'eleh El Avi VeHaNaar Einenu Iti," "For how can I go up to my father if the youngster is not with me?" (44:34).

A simple question must be raised here: how old was Binyamin at this point? If one looks back at the story of Binyamin's birth in Parshat VaYishlach (35:16-20), it seems clear that Binyamin was born before Yaakov entered Eretz Yisrael (see Ramban to Vayikra 18:25). Rashi (Bereishit 28:9 s.v. Achot Nevayot) states that Yaakov was 77 when he arrived at Lavan's house, and he worked for 20 years until Yosef was born. Yaakov spent 2 years traveling back to Eretz Yisrael, at which point Binyamin was born. From this sequence of events, we see that Binyamin was only 2 years younger than Yosef. Yosef was 39 years old at the beginning of this week's Parsha (see Rashi ibid.), making Binyamin 37. If so, why was he called "Naar," a youngster?

Ibn Ezra and Ramban discuss a similar question regarding the description of Yehoshua in Shemot 33:11 as "Naar" when he is already 56 years old (possibly only 42, see Seder Olam). Ramban explains that servants are always called "Naar," however old they are. If so, Yehuda was referring to Binyamin as a youngster because he was addressing royalty, and as such, Binyamin was considered Yosef's servant. Ibn Ezra, however, explains that Yehoshua was called a youngster because he served Moshe with enthusiasm and diligence - Zerizut - as if he was a youngster. If we apply this explanation to Binyamin, it means that Binyamin was someone who acted with Zerizut. In what way did Binyamin act with enthusiasm and diligence?

Perhaps the answer lies in a Rashi from last week's Parsha (43:30 s.v. Ki Nichmeru Rachamav), in which Rashi explains that the names of Binyamin's sons all hinted to the tragedy he thought had befallen Yosef, namely being eaten by a wild animal. In this way, Binyamin was diligent in preserving the memory of Yosef.

With this explanation of the Ibn Ezra, one of the Chassidic masters gleaned a powerful lesson from Yehuda's words by applying them to how we do Mitzvot. He interpreted the verse as saying, "For how can I go up to my father (Hashem), if the Naar (i.e. No'ar, youthful enthusiasm and diligence toward Mitzvot) is not with me?"

It is very important to do Mitzvot with enthusiasm. Chazal make this point in Mechilta on the Pasuk in Parshat Bo (12:17), "UShmartem Et HaMatzot," "And you shall guard the Matzot" (so that they do not become Chameitz- Rashi). Rabbi Yoshiah makes a play on words and reads "Matzot" as "Mitzvot" (both are spelled with the same letters). In other words, just like we must guard the Matzot from becoming Chameitz by not letting them sit for too long, we must also be careful to guard the Mitzvot from becoming "Chameitz" and do them as soon as we get the opportunity.

Rav Yitzchak Hutner emphasizes, in the first comment on Pesach in his famous work entitled Pachad Yitzchak, that a Mitzvah that is not done with Zerizut may be a Mitzvah, but it is blemished in some fashion. From Binyamin and Yehoshua we should learn that it is of paramount importance to take advantage of opportunities to do any Mitzvot that we can. If we can incorporate this enthusiasm into our lives, then we will merit seeing Mashiach BiMheira VeYameinu, Amen!

-Adapted from a Drasha by Rabbi Paysach Krohn on the topic of Zerizut

Wagon Worries

by Gavriel Metzger

Once Yosef revealed to his brothers the fateful news that he was indeed their long lost brother, he sent wagons up to Eretz Canaan to bring his father to Mitzrayim. The Midrash relates that Paroh originally sent wagons to Yaakov, but the Pasuk only mentions, "VaYar Et HaAgalot Asheir Shalach Yosef LaSeit Oto,", "He recognized the wagons sent by Yosef to bring him" (Bereishit 45:27). Since the wagons commissioned by Paroh had idolatrous symbols etched into their sides, Yehuda burned them. However, as the episode unfolds, the Pesukim detail how Yaakov acquiesced to Yosef's request to join him in Mitzrayim and traveled southward "BaAgalot Ashier Shalach Paroh,", "In the wagons supplied by Paroh" (Bereishit 46:5), despite the fact that such wagons, because of the Avodah Zarah etched into them, were previously deemed unfit for use by a Jewish traveler, especially Yaakov Avinu. What caused the change of heart?

In truth, Avodah Zarah was not embedded within the wooden frames of the wagons, but rather the wagons represented something else entirely, something which did not draw the respect of Yaakov and his family. The Zeir Zahav elucidates that, initially, Yaakov felt that this trip to Mitzrayim would be a vacation of sorts, a trip made to reunite with Yosef and celebrate with him, but with the plan in mind to return to Eretz Canaan after the festivities. Once he saw that Paroh himself sent wagons, he realized that this preliminary plan would not likely come to fruition, as Yaakov and his family were expected to stay and reside there. Such an idea was inconceivable for them, as the Gemara in Ketubot (110a) notes that leaving Eretz Yisrael and living in Chutz LaAretz was considered tantamount to straying from Hashem's ways by choosing a lifestyle centered on Avodah Zarah.

These qualms were set to rest as a result of Hashem's appearing to Yaakov in Be'er Sheva, assuring him that "Anochi Eired Imecha Mitzraimah," "I will descend with you to Mitzrayim" (Bereishit 46:4), and there was no issue with leaving Eretz Canaan. As soon as Yaakov understood that this journey to Mitzrayim would not be a trip but rather a more permanent move as per the order of the Ribono Shel Olam, he was willing to travel in Paroh's wagons. Knowing full well that this move to Mitzrayim was part of the Jewish destiny and a step towards the fulfillment of the Brit Bein HaBetarim, Yaakov now viewed Paroh's wagons as a facilitator of such an idea, and could travel in them in peace.

As a young child, one is told not to accept gifts from strangers, and people generally have reservations towards other people or objects that are not familiar to them. Certain things are completely taboo and shunned by society, but if one takes a step back and observes using a different viewpoint, sometimes provided by a third party, perhaps the previously eschewed idea will prove beneficial after all. When we realize that everything is part of Hashem's master plan, it becomes easier to be accepting of seemingly adverse events.

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