Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Parshas Vayigash begins with the brother's - with Yehuda acting as
their spokesman - embittered plea for the release of their brother
"Therefore," Yehuda pleads, "please allow your servant
[Yehuda] to remain instead of the youth [Binyamin] as a
slave to my master, and let the lad return with his brothers.
For how can I go up to my father if the youth is not with
me - lest I witness the adversity that will befall my father!
Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, who had until this point been going
through elaborate machinations in order to conceal his true identity,
while at the same time putting his brothers through what must have
been one of the most befuddling and troublesome ordeal of their
lives, suddenly decided that the time had come to reveal himself to
"'Remove everyone from before me!'" he cried out. "And no
one remained present when Yosef revealed himself to his
As one learns through the Chumash, one can not help questioning
Yosef's actions. Mefarshim (commentators) explain that he did not
reveal himself immediately to his brothers because he had seen in his
prophetic dream that all eleven of his brothers would bow down to
him; thus he knew that he must succeed in bringing Binyamin to
Egypt before he could divulge his secret. Binyamin had indeed come,
bowed down, and been sent off, all without Yosef revealing himself,
only to be dragged back to Egypt under false accusations. Now, as
his brother Yehuda stands and pleads for his release, Yosef finally
relents and reveals his true identity.
What were Yosef's motives? Why could he not have
revealed himself to the brothers earlier? What had suddenly
changed that now permitted him to let down his veil?
Reb Noach, a disciple of the holy Rebbe of Apta (the "Ohev Yisrael"),
had once been a wealthy and successful merchant. Now, as he
dejectedly stood before his Rebbe, he was broke. "All I have left," he
tearfully told the tzaddik, "is one ruble - the last reminder of my better
days. And my daughter has reached marriageable age, yet I have
nothing with which to marry her off!"
"Tell me," said the Ohev Yisrael, "how much does a man like you
need for a dowry and wedding expenses, so that you can marry-off
your daughter respectfully?"
Reb Noach sighed from the depths of his heart. "One thousand
rubles, holy Rebbe."
"And how much do you have?" asked the tzaddik
"I already told the Rebbe - I have but one ruble left from all my years
of hard work!"
"Fine," said the tzaddik, "it is enough! Hashem's blessing can rest
upon one ruble just as well as a larger amount. Go in peace, and
accept the first business offer that comes your way. And remember:
Yeshuas Hashem ke-heref ayin, Hashem's salvation comes in the
blink of an eye!"
Not long afterwards, as he travelled home, Reb Noach stopped over
in an inn to rest his aching feet. Though the food being served made
his mouth water, he could hardly spend his last ruble on it, and
preferred instead to partake of the stale bread he carried in his sack.
Some well-to-do merchants sat next to him enjoying a sumptuous
meal. Noticing the raggedly dressed pauper sitting next to them, they
decided to amuse themselves. "Tell me, my fellow Jew," one of them
said, "you have the appearance of a merchant. Perhaps you would be
interested in a business proposition?!"
Startled, Reb Noach suddenly remembered the tzaddik's words. "Yes!"
he replied enthusiastically.
"And how much money do you have at your disposal?" they asked.
"One ruble!" Reb Noach replied without hesitation.
"One whole ruble!" they mocked. "Let's see what kind of a deal we
can strike with a wealthy merchant who possesses one whole ruble.
Reb Yid, I am sure," one of the merchants piped-in, "that for one
ruble you could do no better than to purchase my share in the World
to Come! Do we have a deal - your one ruble for my Olam Ha-Ba?!"
'The first business offer,' reb Noach reminded himself of his Rebbe's
words. "Yes," he responded, "I will do it." Eager to prolong their
amusement, the merchants went about arranging the writing of a
legal contract, and the deal was done.
The wealthy merchants were still basking in their revelry when the wife
of the merchant who had made the sale entered the room. Seeing
her husband's face red with laughter, she now wished to know what
was going on. Priding himself on his cleverness and wit, he related to
her exactly what had happened. By the time he finished his story to
the laughter of his peers, however, his face had turned ashen white.
He could tell by the deathly serious expression of his wife, and by her
blazing eyes, that his idea of fun pleased her not the least. Nor could
he do as he please, for his wife was the daughter of a wealthy
merchant, and everything he had was ultimately her's.
A tense silence now came over the once-merry group. All at once, the
woman began pouring out her wrath at her husband in front of the
entire crowd - the empty-headed yokel who could find nothing better
to do than to give-away his insignificant portion in Olam Ha-Ba! "You
fool!" she cried, "How does a Jew dare to make sport of the most
important thing he possesses! Take me to the Rav immediately - I
refuse to be married to an imbecile like you who is so disconnected
from Yiddishkeit that he does not even have a share in the World to
Overwhelmed with shame, the merchant realized that his only hope
was to buy back his portion. Reb Noach was searched for, found, and
brought back to their table. "Hey, Reb Yid," called out one of the
merchants, "cute joke you played on our friend! Now give him back
his share in the World to Come!"
Noticing the merchant's hysterical wife standing over him, Reb Noach
began to grasp what had occurred. Slowly, he spoke up. "Honored
gentlemen," he began in a composed voice, "I ask all of you here to
bear witness to the fact that the transaction between myself and the
merchant was no joke nor prank. Indeed, I have the contract to show
for it. That is not to say, however, that for the right price I would not
be willing to relinquish my purchase and give him back his share in
the World to Come..."
The merchant pleaded with Reb Noach to sell it back to him; he
would even pay him fifty rubles - a five-thousand percent profit - if only
he would relent. But Reb Noach was adamant - one thousand rubles
was his price, not one ruble less. "Understand, honored merchant,"
said Reb Noach, "that I was once a highly respected and successful
merchant. Then one day, the wheel turned, and I lost all my money.
This is how I fell into the state in which you now find me. Just
recently, when I could not gather a sum sufficient for a dowry for my
daughter, and other wedding expenses, I travelled to the holy tzaddik,
the Ohev Yisrael, to ask for his advice. It was he who instructed me
to accept the first business offer that came my way. It is clear to me
that Hashem has guided my steps and brought me here - and that
the money for my daughter's wedding lies with you."
The couple could not speak. Tears welled up in the merchant's eyes,
although ostensibly he had never before experienced such emotions.
Without hesitation, he withdrew a fold of bills from his pocket, and
counted out one thousand rubles into the hands of Reb Noach. The
merchant took the contract from Reb Noach, and tore it into shreds.
"Even without this contract," he said, "it is worth investing a thousand
rubles for the mitzvah of hachnassas kallah (providing for a bride)!"
His wife, who had been standing at his side the entire time, glanced
at him in amazement. She was prepared to swear that in all his life,
this was the first time that such selfless and noble thoughts had ever
entered his mind.
"I wish to meet the tzaddik that blessed you," the merchant's wife
said to Reb Noach. "Perhaps we too will merit receiving his blessing."
Reb Noach could not refuse, and together they made their way back
to the Rebbe. The tzaddik received his visitors with a shining
countenance; he had already known of the rich merchant's noble
deed, and bestowed the couple with many blessings.
Before they left, the merchant's wife turned to the tzaddik and said,
"Holy Rebbe, there is one thing I would like to know: Is my husband's
portion in Olam Ha-Ba really worth the thousand rubles he paid for
"If the truth be told," he said, "at first, when he sold it, it was not even
worth the one ruble he received for it. But now, that he has merited
giving one thousand rubles for the mitzvah of hachnassas kallah, its
value is so great that it is impossible to estimate!" [Adapted from A
Share in the World to Come, Menachem Gerlitz, HaModia Vayechi
Sometimes, one doesn't fully grasp the true value of what he has until
it is taken from him, and he is forced to fend for it in order to get it
back. Only then does he truly appreciate what he has lost. If, in the
end, he succeeds in re-acquiring that which he squandered, it takes
on greater meaning than it ever would have had he never lost it in the
Perhaps this can help us understand Yosef's motives. Yosef knew that
his brother's had done teshuvah and repented for their having sold
him. Yet he knew that in order for them to fully appreciate their sin -
having sold their own brother into slavery - they would have to go
through the same ordeal again, this time battling to regain that which
had been taken from them. When Yosef saw their anguish and
burning desire to get Binyamin back, he understood that their
teshuvah was now complete, and wasted no time in revealing himself
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.