By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week's parsha, Vayigash, deals primarily with Yosef revealing his
true identity to his brothers and the subsequent descent of Yaakov and
his whole family to Mitzraim.
A very troubling aspect of this whole episode is that Yosef must have
known that his father was mourning his alleged death. There were many
times when he was in a position to contact or even visit his father.
Why didn't Yosef do that and thereby save his father much anguish?
The Ramban (42:9) explains that Yosef knew that his dreams were not
simply dreams but were prophetic visions which needed to be
actualized. He needed to wait until he was elevated to a royal
position. Only then would the eleven brothers bow down to him as their
eleven bundles had bowed to his bundle in the dream. Had Yaakov known
that Yosef was alive, he would have come immediately to see him. It
was only after the bundles had bowed down, that the second dream of
the sun (representing Yaakov), the moon (representing Bilhah who had
raised him) and the eleven stars (representing the brothers) could
then be fulfilled.
When the brothers first arrived without Binyamin, Yosef realized that
before he could reveal his identity he must find a way to force
Binyamin to come down to Mitzraim, thereby fulfilling the first
prophecy. He therefore treated them harshly and warned that no future
food would be given unless all of the brothers would come.
Once the first prophecy had been fulfilled Yosef was now able to
reveal his identity, causing Yaakov and the entire family to come, and
bringing about the fulfillment of the second prophecy.
At this climactic moment, Yosef orders that all outsiders leave the
room leaving only he and his brothers. "Ani Yosef, ha'ode avi chai?!
(45:1) - I am Yosef, is my father still alive?!", he cries out. The
brothers, in a state of shock and embarrassment, are unable to answer.
Yosef then comforts his brothers. "V'atah al tayatzvu (45:5)" - and
now don't be saddened - I know you were upset and saddened over the
sale - I'm not a slave and there's no reason for sadness. "V'al yichar
b'ainaichem" - and don't be angry. The Ramban explains that one
normally gets angry when one's actions produce precisely the opposite
result from what one intended. The brothers had sold Yosef to prevent
the dreams from being fulfilled and their actions actually led to and
caused the fulfillment! Nevertheless, don't be angry, "ki l'michya
sh'lachani Elokim lifnaichem" - for (your) sustenance Hashem has sent
me here before you. In fact, your actions did benefit you
tremendously. There is now a person in position to uphold and maintain
you and your families during the years of famine.
Yosef then falls upon his brother Binyamin - the only other son of
Rachel - and they weep on each others necks. Rashi quotes the Medrash
that Yosef was crying for the two Temples which would stand in
Yerushalayim on the portion of Binyamin and would be destroyed.
Binyamin was crying about the Mishkan (the Tabernacle - the temporary
resting place for the Holy Ark until it was established in
Yerushalayim) which would stand on the portion of Yosef and would be
The Divrei Yisroel poses three questions on this Medrash: 1) Why was
this ecstatic moment of reunion chosen to mourn future tragedy? 2) Why
did each cry over the destruction in the others portion but not over
their own? 3) Didn't Binyamin realize that only the destruction of
'Yosef's' Mishkan would allow the Temples to be built (on his
He explains that Yosef and Binyamin were crying bittersweet tears at
their reunion. They realized that it was 'sinas chinam' - baseless
hatred - which had led to their torturous years of separation. They
also foresaw that this sinas chinam would continue to afflict their
descendants, chasing the Shechina (Hashem's Holy Presence) out of
their midst, thereby leading to and precipitating the destruction of
the Temple. They realized that the only way to forestall this was with
ahavas chinam - baseless love and compassion. An intimate caring for
others who might have done nothing to cause you to care for them. To
care for them even more than you might care for yourself.
Yosef and Binyamin were crying for each others tragedy. My own I can
bear... your misfortune brings me to tears. Binyamin mourned the
destruction of the Mishkan which had stood on Yosef's portion even
though its destruction enabled the Temple to be built on his portion.
I'm willing to forego my happiness, my honor, if it will spare you
your pain, your degradation.
It is this affliction of sinas chinam which caused our present galus
(exile) to begin and still maintains it today. The real caring for
others will cause a revelation of Hashem's care for us, resulting in
the ultimate redemption.
Yosef then sends his brothers, laden with food and goods, to inform
Yaakov that he is still alive and that Hashem has placed him over the
whole Mitzraim. Wagons are sent for Yaakov to transport the entire
family to Mitzraim.
Yaakov hears the startling words, "Ode Yosef chai! (45:26)" - Yosef is
still alive! - and he is afraid to believe it. He hears the message
that Yosef had sent and sees the wagons and feels rejuvenated. "Ode
Yosef b'ni chai ailchah v'erenu b'terem amus (46:1) " - My son Yosef
is still alive! I'll go and see him before I die!
Yosef personally readies his chariot to go greet his father. "Vayipole
ol tzavarav, vayaivk ol tzavarav ode (46:29)" - and he (Yosef) fell on
his (Yaakov's) neck and he wept much on his neck. What was Yaakov
doing at the time? Rashi again quotes the Medrash that Yaakov wasn't
kissing Yosef nor was he crying on his neck... he was reciting Shema
Now?!?! Upon seeing his beloved son after twenty two years of
separation he decided to say Shema?! If there was another time to say
Shema why didn't Yaakov wait until then? If there wasn't another time
to say Shema, why wasn't Yosef also saying it?
The Ohr Gedalyahu explains the similarities between Yaakov's state
during Yosef's absence and our state in this present galus. This falls
under the general rule of 'maaseh avos semon labanim' - the lives and
happenings of the Forefathers foretell what will later befall the
During those twenty two years of Yosef's absence, the Shechina did not
appear to Yaakov. It seemed as if Hashem was angry with him. It was
his personal galus. The test for Yaakov was to maintain his level of
service even under these depressing circumstances. Yaakov had the
midah (attribute) of emes - truth. Consistency. Even when the
environment seems to be in constant flux we must remain the same.
During the morning prayers we say "emes v'yatziv" - our conviction is
"true and firm". During the evening prayers we say "emes v'emuna" -
it's true and we believe. Day is the time for clarity. Night for
confusion. Our perception of what goes on around us changes. The truth
doesn't change. At times we see - it's true and firm. At other times
it's confusing - it's true and we believe. Galus is the time of
confusion - it seems that Hashem is angry with us. Our test is to
remain true. Emes. Consistency.
This state continued for Yaakov until he heard the words, "Ode Yosef
chai". Yosef is still alive. The Shechina then returned to him. His
galus, the galus of the Avos, had ended. He now looks back, reflects
and sees with perfect clarity that all that transpired was the kind
hand of Hashem. Hashem was not angry. The cruel leader of Mitzraim
causing them so much hardship was in fact his beloved son preparing
the way for redemption. Only now did he understand the hardships of
the past twenty two years. He saw that the midah (attribute) of Hashem
- mercy - and that of Elokim - justice - were One. This was his
transition from galus to geula, from exile to redemption. He sees
Yosef. He reached that clarity of 'the end of days', of the time of
the Redemption. AT that precise moment he proclaimed "Shema Yisroel
Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echad"! Accept Israel, Hashem (mercy) is
Elokainu (justice), Hashem is One!
With Yaakov's arrival in Mitzraim, the 'bonim' - the descendants-
however, were now entering their galus. Yosef didn't recite the Shema.
Rather he cried on his father's neck. He had cried on Binyomin's neck
over the destructions which would lead to galus, and now he cried
May we the descendants, through caring for others, also merit to
speedily pronounce with absolute clarity "Shema Yisroel Hashem
Elokainu Hashem Echod".
Have a good Shabbos,
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).