1. Being Able to Move Ahead in Life Despite Adversity
The Torah tells us that when Yosef's first son was born, "Yosef called the
name of the firstborn Manasheh for 'G-d has made me forget all my hardship
and all my father's household'", Yosef wished to express his thanks and
praise to Hashem for causing him to forget his hardship so he named his
firstborn Manasheh (In Hebrew `Nashani' means "caused me to forget"). In
the pasuk his "father's household" refers to Yosef's brothers. Why did
Yosef feel so fortunate that Hashem caused him to forget his hardship and
what his brothers had done to him? One may think that it may be important
to remember suffering in order to be reminded of one's fallibility and keep
one humble. Yosef did not say that his suffering had ended; he merely
wanted to give thanks and praise to Hashem.
Very often a person may have a negative experience that is difficult to
surpass and get beyond. The lingering memory of the negative experience
may be so strong and consuming that it prevents one from seeing the many
blessings in one's life and is completely distracted by the thoughts of the
pain of the experience. Even though the experience is in the past, it is a
human tendency to remember and to feel ongoing anger and frustration from
the experience. Rather than focusing on the opportunities that are
present, the person is caught in the past and cannot move ahead with his life.
The incident, which Yosef experienced with his brothers, was traumatic and
painful. He pleaded with his brothers as they pulled him from the pit
without any compassion and sold him into slavery. Yet Yosef forgave his
brothers and was able to later divorce himself from that emotional pain
that his brothers caused him. He was able to overcome any feelings of
hatred or anger towards his brothers and he realized that this was a great
blessing, which was not typical of the human experience. Yosef recognized
that Hashem helped him resolve all the negativity within himself towards
his brothers and he wanted to thank and praise Hashem for this
blessing. Yosef therefore named his firstborn Manasheh.
Yosef also realized that had he not been given the blessing to forget his
painful past he would not have been able to focus on the opportunity in
Egypt to become the Viceroy and to ultimately protect and nurture the
The Rambam teaches us in Hilchos Deios about human nature and our inherent
characteristics. The Rambam speaks about how people anger easily, have
insatiable desires, or can be unmoved by tragic events (to name a few
characteristics). He says that a person needs to strive to be at the
equidistant point from the extremes of these inherent human
characteristics. This Rambam, unfortunately, is often misinterpreted to
mean that a person should be a "moderate Jew" when in fact this is
definitely not the meaning of the Rambam. He states that one needs to be
moderate with respect to one's behavior.
Why should we strive to be moderate in our behavior as the Rambam suggests?
The answer is that a person processes information based on "feelings" and
"emotions". For example if a person does not want to give charity, he will
(even subconsciously) fabricate endless excuses why he should not give
charity. Intellectualism does not enter into the calculation and his
innate character dominates the analysis. Therefore if one is able to be at
the equidistant point of his behavior, then he can have the ability to be
objective and process information from an intellectual point of view. If a
person operates completely through his emotions, resentments, or feelings,
he is not able to be a functioning and objective person.
In life we experience many situations- some are very positive and some may
be very negative. We may feel hurt and persecuted but we must not allow
these feelings to undermine our efforts and to de-focus from the
opportunities which Hashem gives us each day. This is why Yosef gave
praise and thanks to Hashem. His pain and suffering was in the past
(because of Hashem's blessing of forgetfulness) and he was able to move
ahead and achieve greatness.
2.Seeing Life Clearly
At the beginning of this week's parsha Yehuda approached Yosef, whom he
knew only as the Viceroy of Egypt, to plead, argue and threaten for the
release of Binyamin. The Viceroy's goblet had been discovered in Binyamin's
sack; "He shall be my slave," declared the Egyptian ruler in the closing
verse of last week's parsha "and you go up in peace to your father."
But the brothers refused to go in peace. Yehuda, their spokesman and
leader, and the one who assumed personal responsibility to Yaakov for
Binyamin's safe return, pleaded: "How shall I come to your servant my
father, and the youth is not with us?- since his soul is so bound up with
his soul- it will happen that when he sees that the youth is gone, he will
die, and your servant will have brought down the hoariness of your servant
our father in sorrow to the grave."
Yosef could not restrain himself any longer and asked all the Egyptians in
the room to leave and said to his brothers, "I am Yosef; is my father still
alive?" And his brothers could not answer him, because they were
overwhelmed with shame and bewilderment before him.
The Brisker Rav zt'l comments that in the previous parsha (prior to Yosef's
revelation), Yosef asked his brothers, "Is your aged father of whom you
spoke at peace? Is he still alive?" and his brothers answered him, "Your
servant our father is at peace; he still lives." The difficulty is why did
Yosef ask his brothers again if his father was still alive? There had been
no new developments since the initial inquiry and his brothers were not
aware of any new facts about their father Yaakov, yet Yosef asked the
question again - why?
The Brisker Rav explains that in actuality the second time Yosef inquired
about Yaakov it was not a question to be answered. It was a rhetorical
question that was asked after Yehuda had recounted how Binyamin was so
close to their father and that if they did not return with him, Yaakov
would die. They had implied that Yosef was cruel, scheming, and heartless
to separate their aged father from the son that he loved so much. It is at
this point that Yosef said, "I am Yosef; is my father still alive?"
By saying this to his brothers, Yosef intended to remind them of what they
had done to him without being concerned about the consequences for their
father. There was no one closer to Yaakov than Yosef and his brothers did
not consider the effects of their actions against Yosef on their
father. They had thrown him into a pit, sold him into slavery, and
informed Yaakov that he had been killed. Yet his brothers were so consumed
with themselves and their own concerns that they did not consider the
Yosef was giving his brothers mussar (rebuke) by implying that they should
analyze their own behavior toward him before accusing him of being
heartless and cruel. Yosef's brothers could only focus on his failings
vis-à-vis Binyamin and did not look at their own shortcomings and lack of
sensitivity. Therefore when Yosef said, "I am Yosef; is my father still
alive?" his brothers were silent with shame because they had realized the
injustice they had done.
The Gemara in Sotah tells us that after Yaakov passed away he was taken by
his children to be buried in Eretz Yisroel (in the Machpelah). At that
point, Esav appeared and demanded that Yaakov not be buried there because
it was his burial plot. Esav started to argue vehemently back and forth
with Yaakov's children. Chushim Ben Dan, a deaf grandson of Yaakov, watched
this heated debate and witnessed the disgrace of his grandfather lying
unburied while Esav argued for the plot. Chushim Ben Dan became so enraged
by this disgrace that he took a club and beheaded Esav.
Reb Chaim Shmuelevits zt'l asks why was Chushim Ben Dan the only person to
react to the disgrace of Yaakov while the debate continued? Why did none
of Yaakov's other children sense the disgrace? Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz
answers that Chushim Ben Dan was deaf and therefore not involved in the
fray. He was removed from the argument and was therefore able to remain
objective- thus recognizing the disgrace that was occurring. However, all
of the other sons were completely involved in the argument and preoccupied
with stating their own point of view rather than tending to the burial of
Yaakov. They did not have the same level of clarity as Chushim who could
clearly see the chillul Hashem without hearing the self-absorbing debate
that surrounded him.
All of us are caught up with our own issues to the exclusion of everything
else. We are consumed with our own self-centered emotions, goals and
desires that cause us to lose our objectivity. Yosef's brothers were
completely involved in their own concerns to the point of not taking into
account the tragedy that befell their father as a result of their actions
against Yosef. They regretted their actions later; however initially, they
glossed over them at the time because they could not see beyond
themselves. So too was it with Yaakov's children at the time of his burial.
The Gemara tells us that a person who is blind is considered like a dead
person. The question is why? The answer is that when one sees things we
are drawn into them. By seeing our surroundings we gain a personal self
interest in many situations, which diminish our objectivity and
clarity. Yitzchak, who had poor eyesight in his old age, was able to
maintain objectivity and clarity. We find that Hashem associated his name
with him (Elokei Yitzchak) even though Hashem's name is usually associated
with a person who has passed away. This is the case because a person who is
still alive could always become a heretic and Hashem does not want to be
associated with heretics. From this, we see that Yitzchak could not become
a heretic while he was still alive.
We find that Moshe pleads with the Jews to "see" the path of life (Torah),
which is before them. Because if we are able to focus on the "seeing" the
world through the eyes of Torah and not our own conflicted and
non-objective vision, we will be able to have clarity.
3. The Power of Truth
The Torah tells us that when Yosef, who was of the youngest of the
brothers, revealed himself to his brothers they were bewildered and
overcome with shame in his presence. The Yalkut states, "Woe to us on the
Day of Judgment! And Woe to us on the Day of Rebuke!" We find that Bilaam
who is referred to as the "wise man of the nations of the world" beat his
donkey and it spoke back to him. The donkey told Bilaam to stop beating it
and reminded him of all the good it had done him. When Bilaam heard the
words of his donkey he was stunned and silenced because its words of truth
had been a rebuke- thus giving him an understanding of the wrong that he
had been doing.
Yosef, the youngest and least respected of the brothers intensified the
level of shame experienced by his brothers when they heard his rebuke which
were only words of truth. The degree that Bilaam (the wise man of the
nations) was taken aback by hearing the truth was intensified by the fact
that it was his donkey that had communicated it to him. We see from these
incidents that when truth is revealed to a person, he will acknowledge it
regardless of its source.
The Yalkut continues- that when Hashem will judge and admonish each one of
us - how much more will we be silenced into shame. The Chazal are drawing
an analogy between the situations of Bilaam and his donkey, Yosef and his
brothers, and ourselves when we will come before Hashem. If Yosef's
brothers were overwhelmed with shame when they were confronted with the
truth from their youngest brother - how much more ashamed will we be when
Hashem (who is the most exalted King) will confront us with the truth about
our lives? If Bilaam was ashamed from the truth from his donkey - how much
more ashamed will we be on the Day of Judgment before Hashem? We will be
completely unable to respond to any of Hashem's claims.
A person is able to evade the truth if they are able to put it within their
own context (perspective); however, if the truth is revealed in a way that
is outside of our their own context then they will be compelled to confront
it. Therefore if truth cannot be evaded, then one must deal with it. The
Chazal suggest that we deal with the truth because ultimately there will be
a reckoning before Hashem.
The Mishna tells us that a person will never sin if he considers three
things: From where he comes, to where is he going, and before whom he will
stand in judgment (before Hashem). Rabbanu Yona in Perkei Avos explains
that while we are alive as physical human beings we have the tendency to be
able to forget our actions regardless of how shameful they are. Therefore
to understand Rabbanu Yona one could say that as a result of our
physicality, we have a natural instinct of survival- we cannot tolerate
We cannot live with guilt and therefore we have short memories. However
when our physicality is shed and we become spiritual beings after our death
there is no way to forget our actions. Our actions will stand before us
eternally and shame us without the ease of forgetfulness. We will no
longer be able to evade the truth. This is how Rabbanu Yona explains the
Mishna. If we could understand that when the soul departs from our body
that our actions will remain before us forever, we would never sin.
We are able to cope with many situations in life, although we know they are
wrong because our short memory causes them to fade out. Often we are
interested in maintaining our self-esteem by hiding from the truth. If a
person could maintain his self-respect he could justify anything. The
moment that there is a chance that he may lose his self-respect; he is able
to deal with the truth without his ego interfering. When Yosef confronted
his brothers with the truth, they at that moment saw the ugliness of their
actions; however, over time they would be able to forget this experience.
The reality is, as Rabbanu Yona explains, that our actions will never be
forgotten and we need to be cognizant of that.
4. We Need to Follow the Right Path
We read in this week's parsha that after Yosef revealed himself to his
brothers, they became overwhelmed with shame and were unable to
respond. Yosef said to his brothers, "And now, do not be distressed, do
not be angry with yourselves for having sold me here, for it was as a
supporter of life that G-d sent me ahead of you." Yosef told his brothers
not to be "distressed/depressed" and not to be "angry" with themselves,
which seem to be two contradictory emotional states. The emotion of anger
emanates from arrogance or a sense of "self", while depression or distress
emanates from feelings of lowliness and worthlessness.
The Ohr Ha'Chaim Ha'Kadosh explains that Yosef had overheard a conversation
between his brothers in which they expressed that the reason why they were
experiencing so many difficulties was because Hashem was punishing them for
ignoring the pleas of Yosef. His brothers expressed, in that conversation,
that they were guilty of mistreating Yosef and that they were heartless.
Yosef understood that this was the source of their
"distress/depression." Recognizing that his brothers' distress was as a
result of their guilty feelings, Yosef tried to ease them by telling them
"do not be distressed". Yosef said this because they recognized the wrong
they had done- which itself was a correction.
The reason why Yosef's brothers sold him into slavery was because they
believed that he was trying to undermine their relationship with Yaakov in
order to position himself as the leader of the Jewish people. By selling
Yosef into slavery his brothers believed that his illusions of grandeur of
one day leading the Jewish people and having his brothers bow to him would
never come to fruition. What actually transpired was the exact opposite
their intent. Yosef was able to rise to power only because his brothers
sold him into slavery. He was summoned from prison to interpret Pharaoh's
dreams and subsequently was appointed Viceroy of Egypt - functioning as the
supporter and protector of the Jewish people.
The irony of the situation was that Yosef's brothers believed that they
were preventing him from reaching greatness by selling him into slavery
when in fact they served as a catalyst for his success. Having realized
that their efforts ended in opposite results, Yosef's brothers could have
easily become angry with themselves. In order to address this, Yosef told
his brothers not to be angry with themselves because his success was as a
result of Hashem's divine plan and not their actions. They were not the
cause of Yosef's success but rather Hashem deemed that Yosef should rise to
power and lead the Jewish people.
Very often in life we pursue courses of action that we believe will bring
us success yet they, G-d forbid, result in disaster. On the other hand we
also confront situations, which appear to be tragedies, and they ultimately
lead to positive results. This is only because Hashem controls the outcome
and success of our actions. We can only pursue actions that are consistent
with the Torah and trust that Hashem will bring about an outcome, which is
in our best interest.
The Gemara in Taanis tells us the story of Nochum Ish Gamzoo (who was Rebbe
of Rabbi Akiva). Nochum Ish Gamzoo was appointed by the Rabbis of the
community to go to Rome with a chest of jewels (as a gift) in order to
plead for the Jewish people. While staying at an inn on the way to Rome,
the innkeeper, without Nochum's knowledge, stole the jewels and replaced
them with dirt.
Subsequently, he appeared in Rome in front of the Emperor to present his
gift. When the Emperor discovered that the chest was filled with earth
rather than jewels, he became enraged and ordered that Nochum be executed.
Nochum's response was, "Gamzoo l'tova (It is all for the best)." However,
before sending him to the gallows, the Emperor asked Nochum, whom he knew
to be a wise man, why he would forfeit his life so easily by presenting a
gift of dirt. Nochum explained that the dirt was special because it was the
same dust used by Avraham to vanquish the four mighty kings.
Hearing this, the Emperor sent batches Nochum's dirt to his troops who were
then able to easily defeat their enemies. The Emperor spared Nochum's life
and gave him a chest of diamonds, gold, and jewels as payment for the
"magical dirt ".
When Nochum returned to the inn where he had stayed, the innkeeper, who had
stolen his jewels, noticed that he had returned with new riches in place of
the dirt he had placed in the chest. The innkeeper immediately took a
cartload of dirt to the Emperor and told him that it was the same as
Nochum's. The Emperor tried the innkeeper's dirt with no success - his
troops were slaughtered in battle. As a result the Emperor executed the
We learn from this that "Gamzoo L'Tova (It is all for the best)" means that
what ever happens to us is in our best interests. Even tragedies, G-d
forbid, that we may confront are in fact in our best interest because we
are unaware of G-d's plan. Situations that may seem to be favorable for us
may, G-d forbid, end as being detrimental. We can only do the right thing
and leave the rest up to Hashem.
As the Gemara tells us that Chizkeyahu Ha'Melech (The King of Judah) chose
not to procreate because he had foreseen through divine inspiration that
the son that he would father would truly be evil. He subsequently fell ill
and was on his deathbed. Yeshaya, the prophet, told Chizkeyahu that he
would not recover if he did not perform the mitzvah of procreation.
Chizkeyahu informed Yeshaya of his vision of having an evil son and Yeshaya
responded by saying," You should not meddle with G-d's hidden plan." We do
not have the ability to understand the will of Hashem - We can only do the
5. The Special Dimension of Yaakov
The Torah tells us that when Yehuda pleaded before Yosef (the Viceroy of
Egypt) for Binyamin's release, he highlighted reasons why the Viceroy
should acquiesce. Yehuda said to Yosef, "We have an old father and a young
child of [his] old age; his brother is dead, he alone is left to his mother
(va'yevasayr hu l'vaado), and his father loves him". Yehuda stressed that
Binyamin was left alone to his mother, which means that since his mother
Rachel passed away, he was the only surviving member of her family. Why did
Yehuda mention that Binyamin was left alone to his mother? He could have
simply stated that Binyamin was the most loved child of his elderly father
- what was Yeduha adding by stressing left alone to his mother?
Although Yehuda knew that Egypt's culture and civilization was rooted in
paganism, he understood that the Viceroy was not of this belief; but
rather, Yosef believed in a monotheistic being who controlled the
universe. The Viceroy, at an earlier encounter (with the brothers) had
expressed himself - "I fear G-d", which was an indication of his
beliefs. Therefore Yehuda understood that he was addressing someone who
could appreciate concepts that relate to G-dliness and consciously crafted
his message accordingly.
The Torah uses the same terminology, "left alone" regarding Yaakov. When he
was on his way to meet his brother Esav he went back across the Yaabok
River to retrieve "small earthenware vessels". The Torah states in parshas
Vayishlach, "And Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him..." What
is the Torah stressing when it states that Yaakov was left alone? The
Midrash explains that just as Hashem is exalted alone at a level which is
not comparable to anything else in existence so too is Yaakov alone at a
level that is not comparable to anything else. As a special spiritual
being, Yaakov was at a unique level.
Rabbanu Bachaya explains that there are many similarities between Yaakov
and Hashem as well as similarities between Yaakov's family and the heavenly
retinue of angels, which surround the Heavenly Throne of Hashem. There
are seventy angels that are classified into four groups. The Torah states
that there were seventy individuals who went down to Egypt- these
individuals emanated from Yaakov through his four wives just as the seventy
angels emanate from Hashem. Rabbanu Bachaya explains that Yaakov is the
spiritual representation of Hashem in the world. From this we can
understand the expression, "he alone is left to his mother (va'yevasay hu
l'vaado), and his father loves him". Yaakov loved Binyamin because he was
left alone to his mother- he was the only surviving family member of
Rachel. What is the meaning of this?
The Torah tells us that when Reuvain removed Yaakov's bed from the tent of
Bilha after Rachel passed away and placed it in Leah's tent - it was
considered a serious sin. The Torah considered this act as if Reuvain had
relations with his father's concubine! Before Yaakov passed away he
reminded Reuvain of the sin which he had committed by removing the bed of
his father. Subsequently Reuvain fasted and wore sackcloth for forty years
to atone for this sin. Why was it considered such a grave sin to remove
Yaakov's bed from one location to another?
The Chazal tell us that our Holy Patriarchs are the location of Hashem's
presence on this earth, which is an indication of the type of special
individuals they were. Just as the Holy of Holies in the Beis Ha'Mikdash
(the Temple) contained the Divine Presence (Shechina), so too the
Patriarchs were the location of the Shechina. Yaakov was the most special
of the Patriarchs and if he decided that his location should be in the tent
of Bilha then the Shechina is designated to be there and not any other
Rachel was the true zeevug (soulmate) of Yaakov. Therefore Yaakov's
"location" was tied to Rachel and her offspring. Yaakov was associated
with Binyamin because he was Rachel's only remaining child. Yaakov's
"location" was Binyamin and if that is the case, then Binyamin is the
location of the Shechina. The Gemara tells us that the Holy Ark (the Aron)
rested in the portion of Binyamin in the Beis Ha'mikdash. Just as Binyamin
is associated with Yaakov, his father, who is the location of the Shechina,
so too will Binyamin's portion be associated with the location of the Aron.
Yehuda was communicating to the Viceroy of Egypt that Yaakov was synonymous
with the Shechina and Binyamin is intimately tied to Yaakov (G-d's presence
on earth). Binyamin is alone in the sense that he is uniquely special
because he is the son of Rachel and is therefore the appropriate location
of the Shechina. Thus, Yehuda was telling Yosef that he could not disturb
the location of the Divine Presence by withholding Binyamin.
Mishkan Shilo was in the portion of Yosef for over three hundred years and
he was the eldest son of Rachel. In the time of the Third Beis Ha'Mikdash
(may it be rebuilt speedily in our time) the Holy Ark will again be placed
in the portion of Binyamin.