In most surprising ending in a Biblical saga, 11 men stood before their youngest brother, Yoseph, humiliated and threatened. Yoseph, in his role as viceroy of Egypt, had incarcerated Binyamin and left his siblings fighting him for his release. Otherwise, they would have to answer an aging father who would certainly die if Binyamin would not come home. They pleaded, begged and cajoled — then they threatened to go to war over Binyamin. Yoseph is impressed.
Suddenly he reveals himself as the brother they had sold to slavery 22 years ago.
“I am Yoseph,” he declares. “Is my father still alive?” The brothers stood in shock and disbelief.
Many commentaries ask why Yoseph asked a question when he knew the answer. His brothers spoke all along about their father and the anguish he would sustain lest Binyamin not be returned to him.
What message was Yoseph sending?
A man walked into the office of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn with tears flowing down his cheeks. “Rebbe,” he pleaded, “I need your help. I have no means of supporting my family, and my wife has gone into severe depression as the doctors suspect one of our children may have leukemia. I am at the verge of bankruptcy and only despair looms on the horizon.”
The Rebbe’s sympathy was obvious. Quickly he took all the money that he had in his desk and then summoned his sexton. “Have you any cash on you?” the Rebbe asked. “I need whatever you can spare to help a Jew in trouble.”
The gabbai (sexton) responded to his mentor’s request and handed the sum of nearly $2,000 to the Rebbe.
After the indigent man left the house the Gabbai innocently asked the Rebbe, “That was not for the man who just left here — or was it?”
“Surely,” exclaimed the Rebbe. He has nine children, including one who may be very ill. His wife is on the verge of a breakdown and he is in a state of despair.”
“Despair?” exclaimed the sexton. “Nine children? That man has two kids, a wife who shops nicely on the Avenue and makes a modest living. Things may be a little tight — but he’s not at all desperate!
“You mean his wife is not ill?”
“His child is not ill?”
He is not even going bankrupt?”
“By no means!”
“Wonderful,” the Rebbe smiled, “I could not bear to hear the pain of such terrible news. How good is it to hear that one less Jew is suffering.” The next day the Rebbe called in his Gabbai and returned the $2,000 he had borrowed from him.
In revealing himself to his brothers, Yoseph had choice words to tell them. He could have chided them, taunted them and called their misdeeds upon them. He didn’t. All he wanted to know is, “How is father feeling? Is it really true that he survived the tragedy of my sale? Is he still able to come see me?”
Often when we are wronged we have opportunities to harp on the conduct of those who harmed us. In his opening revelation Yoseph didn’t. He picked up the pieces. He did not choose to discuss the past deeds that were dead and gone. He just wanted to speak about the future, his father, and his destiny.
Good Shabbos ©1996 Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky
Text Copyright © 1996 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.