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Posted on December 6, 2013 (5774) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Parshas Vayigash

The Challenge

In this week’s parashah, Bnei Yisrael begin their first exile. R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l (1903-1993) observes that the Jewish People had two trailblazers who prepared the way for their sojourn in a diaspora — Yaakov and Yosef. Each in his own time was sent to prove that it was possible to live in exile yet adhere to the ideals and teachings of Avraham and Yitzchak. In Yaakov’s case, his mission was to prove that Torah can be practiced amidst poverty and oppression. In Yosef’s case, his mission was to demonstrate that Torah can be lived amidst success, riches, prominence and power. Also, Yaakov was tested in a backward pastoral country, while Yosef was tested in the wealthiest, most civilized country of the time.

R’ Soloveitchik continues (speaking in December 1973): Historically, the Jew has proven his ability to remain loyal and devoted to tradition in poverty, in oppression, and in distress. However, he failed miserably to prove his loyalty when his destiny was one of success and glorious achievements. We met the challenge of poverty, oppression and persecution with courage and determination, and we emerged victorious. However, with few exceptions, we have failed the challenge of affluence, of prominence in society. We have not learned the lessons that Yosef was sent into exile to teach. (Days of Deliverance p.163)


    “Then Yehuda approached him and said, ‘If you please, my lord, may your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears and let not your anger flare up at your servant, for you are like Pharaoh’.” (44:18)

Rashi z”l writes: “From these words you may infer that he spoke to him in harsh terms.”

Commentaries ask: First the brothers said (44:9), “Anyone among your servants with whom it [the Egyptian viceroy’s goblet] is found shall die, and we also will become slaves to my lord.” Later they said (44:16), “We are ready to be slaves to my lord — both we and the one in whose hand the goblet was found”-they will all be slaves, but no one will die. Now, Yehuda is arguing with Yosef and even prepared to go to war! Why did his attitude change?

R’ Gershon Weiss shlita (menahel ruchani of Yeshiva of Staten Island, N.Y.) quotes R’ Yaakov Lorberbaum z”l (1760-1832; known as the “Ba’al Ha’nesivos”), who explains: Originally, the brothers accepted their situation as a punishment for selling Yosef and assumed that Yosef’s goblet would be found in the possession of whomever was most guilty of that sin. Apparently, one of them deserved to die, and they all accepted that.

When the goblet was found in Binyamin’s possession, they understood that they had been wrong, for Binyamin was innocent of selling Yosef. Rather, they reasoned, this must be the beginning of the exile to Egypt; therefore they said, “We are ready to be slaves.”

However, when they saw that the Egyptian (i.e., Yosef) wanted to take Binyamin as a slave and release the others, they could not find any sin to attribute it to. Rather, they understood that G-d was testing whether they would stand up in Binyamin’s defense. Indeed, some commentaries say that that was Yosef’s intention. (B’ikvei Ha’tzon p.269-270)


    “Then Yehuda approached him and said, ‘Bi adoni / If you please, my lord, may your servant speak davar / a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger flare up at your servant . . .'” (44:18)

R’ Yisroel Taub z”l (the Modzhitzer Rebbe) asks two questions about this verse. First, why does the pasuk include an apparently extra word – “davar” / “a word”? The pasuk could have said: “May your servant speak in my lord’s ear?” Second, why did Yehuda have to speak directly into Yosef’s ear? The pasuk seems to imply that Yehuda wanted to tell Yosef a secret – apparently a secret that would calm Yosef’s anger!

R’ Taub explains that when one person gets angry at another person, it’s usually rooted in the fact that they have a disagreement. Each person feels that he is certainly right, and that his friend’s claim is unjust. Each person’s sense of propriety and justice is offended. However, if one would only entertain the thought that just maybe the other person is in fact correct, any anger that one feels will quickly disappear. One’s own sense of justice will no longer be offended, and he will be able to accept the situation more rationally.

Yehuda personally had an experience that taught him this – the incident with Tamar. Yehuda was livid with anger when word reached him that Tamar was pregnant, and he ordered that she be put to death. But the moment that Yehuda was willing to hear Tamar’s message, and he recognized the signs that showed that he in fact was the father, his anger immediately subsided, and he declared (38:26), “She is more right than I am.”

This very lesson is what Yehuda wanted to share with Yosef. This is the “word” that he wanted to whisper. He approached Yosef, wanted to speak nearby and quietly — directly into his ear. His message is “Bi adoni.” Literally, “bi” means “please,” but it also means “in/from me.” Yehuda said to Yosef, “Look at me, at what happened to me.” Yehuda shared his personal story, seeking to create a crack within Yosef’s wall of anger, as if to say, “If you will learn from my mistake, you will see that there really is another side to this issue. Once you consider that, your anger will disappear.” And, of course, the best way for Yehuda to accomplish this is to share a personal story, not a lecture. A personal story establishes a rapport, easing the listener into the acceptance process as well. (Divrei Yisrael)


    “Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him because they were left disconcerted before him.” (Bereishit 45:3)

Midrash Rabbah states: Rabbi Abba Kohen Bardela says, “Woe to us from the Day of Judgment! Woe to us from the Day of Rebuke! Yosef was the youngest of the tribes [involved in the dispute], yet his brothers could not reply to him. When Hashem comes and rebukes each of us, how much more so [will we be left speechless]?”

R’ Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg z”l (rosh yeshiva in Berlin and Switzerland; died 1966) asks: Where do we see that Yosef rebuked his brothers? Furthermore, why will Hashem rebuke us on the Day of Judgment? At that point, it will be too late for rebuke!

He answers: Yosef gave his brothers the greatest rebuke possible – he said nothing. When the brothers recognized Yosef’s power and saw that, despite having the ability to do so, he had no plan to harm them, they were thoroughly humiliated. Similarly, the rebuke that we will sense on the Day of Judgment will not come from anything Hashem will say to us. It will simply result from our recognition of His greatness. The shame we will feel will be the ultimate rebuke. (Li’frakim p.607)


Memories of Yerushalayim

    R’ Moshe Nussbaum/Reisher z”l, best known as the author of Mishlei Yaakov, a collection of the teachings of the Dubno Maggid z”l, grew up in Yerushalayim in the mid-1800s. Around 1868, he traveled to Europe as a fundraiser, and there he wrote Sha’arei Yerushalayim–a sort of guide book combining Talmudic teachings about Eretz Yisrael with his own experiences in, and observations of, the Holy Land. The following is an excerpt:

In our Holy Land, the Jews and the bet din / rabbinical court have the authority to judge a person who doesn’t go in the Torah’s way, especially someone who refuses to obey an order of a bet din or who uses secular courts. The bet din can impose all types of penalties, can excommunicate and even can inflict lashes until a person obeys the bet din’s order. They will not release him from excommunication until he appeases the bet din and pays his penalty. Bet din even has the power to exile a person from the Land. The sultan does not mix into the Jews’ affairs, especially regarding religious matters. As for the Ashkenazim, each of them is under the protection of a consul–some under the Austrian consul, some the Russian consul, or the English or Prussian consuls, etc. . .

[Changing subjects, the author continues:]

Portuguese Sephardim and the Ashkenazim (known as the “Poylishe”) generally will not marry each other because their ways of life, customs, languages, nusach of prayer and the tunes they use are so different. But, [as for other nationalities,] although Sephardim follow the views of the Bet Yosef [R’ Yosef Karo z”l, author of the Shulchan Aruch], while Ashkenazim follow the stricter views of R’ Moshe Isserles z”l, today they do marry each other.

The editors hope these brief ‘snippets’ will engender further study and discussion of Torah topics (‘lehagdil Torah u’leha’adirah’), and your letters are appreciated. Web archives at start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.

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