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By Rabbi Heshy Grossman | Series: | Level:

Plagued by famine, Ya’akov Avinu sends his sons down to Egypt to purchase the food they need for survival. Yosef HaTzaddik, who in the interim has become the ruler of Eretz Mitzraim, immediately recognizes the ten brothers who sold him into slavery.

“….and the brothers of Yosef came before him, and they bowed before him, their faces to the ground……and Yosef remembered the dreams that he dreamt regarding them, and said to them: you are spies who have come to uncover the land.” (Breishis 42: 6-9)

“……when Yosef saw his brothers bowing to him, he recalled the dreams …and knew that neither of them had been fulfilled, for the resolution of the first dream was that all his brothers would bow before him at once….since Binyamin was not with them, he devised a scheme to accuse them, so that they would bring Binyamin back with them, to fulfill the first dream.”

“For this reason, he did not tell them: ‘I am Yosef, your brother’, and to send them quickly with wagons for his father, as he later does, and his father would undoubtedly come….If not for this [explanation], Yosef would be committing a great sin by causing his father great pain, along with years of suffering and mourning for his own loss, and that of Shimon. Even if he wished to cause his brothers pain, why didn’t he have mercy for his elderly father?”

“Rather, everything he did was at its proper time, in order to fulfill the dreams, which he knew would certainly come true.” (Ramban, ad. loc.)

The Ramban teaches that the plan of Yosef was not haphazard, nor was it an attempt to take revenge against his brothers. Still, it remains to be understood by what authority could Yosef ignore a Torah command? Was he not obligated in Kibbud Av? Certainly, one may not violate a Mitzva on the basis of dreams and visions.

In our shiur this week we will explain Yosef’s actions, and demonstrate how his deeds were nothing less than the salvation of Klal Yisrael, a portent of the coming redemption.


Yosef understood that the original dreams were a form of prophecy, and as such, they could not be defied. Though modern-day dreams may mostly be of little significance, the visions of our forefathers, in contrast, were Divine messages with implications for the future, a destiny that would certainly come true.

Yosef recognizes that the future of Klal Yisrael will be achieved only through the twelve sons of Yaakov. Further, he knows that this goal demands perfect unity, with each element of the nation working in harmony towards a common objective. If the brothers were to never admit the error of their original plot, this unification would never be achieved, and therefore Yosef devises a plan to bring about their repentance. Were he to reveal himself too soon, though the brothers would undoubtedly accept him back, a complete reconciliation would never be realized. For Yosef to be accepted by the others as a leader of the nation, the dispute between the brothers must be totally resolved, not merely shelved for the sake of an interim agreement.

Let us study how this unfolds.

“And he raised his voice, crying…..and Yosef said to his brothers: I am Yosef, can my father still be alive? And his brothers could not answer him, for they were frightened before him.” (Breishis 45:3) – “Woe to us on the day of judgment, woe to us on the day of rebuke. Yosef was the smallest of the Shevatim, yet, his brothers could not stand before his rebuke, as it’s written, ‘And his brothers could not answer him…’. When G-d will come to rebuke each individual according to what he is, as is said, ‘I will rebuke you and arrange it before your eyes’ (Tehillim 50:21), how much more so [will we have no answer]. (Breishis Rabbah 93:10)

This is puzzling. Chazal cite these words as the prime example of an effective rebuke, but where is the criticism in Yosef’s message to his brothers? He barely says anything at all!

On the contrary. Our Sages are teaching us the lesson of true Tochacha.

The most common usage of Tochacha is rebuke, as in: “Hocheach Tochiach Es Amisecha” – “You shall surely rebuke your fellow.” (Vayikra 19:17) But in another context, Tochacha is translated as proof. For instance – “Sim Koh Neged Achai V’Achecha V’Yochichu Bein Shneinu” – “Place them here before my brothers and yours’, and let them clarify between us.” (Breishis 31:37)

Because no one word in Lashon HaKodesh has conflicting interpretations, these two meanings must share a common theme, which is this: One cannot accept rebuke unless he is certain of his mistake. In other words: to mend his ways, he must be proven wrong.

“Said Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah: I would be amazed to find someone in this generation who knows how to provide rebuke.” (Erechin 16b)

Is it possible to give rebuke? To prove moral ideas to a doubting individual? If one is convinced of the validity of his own opinion, will a superior argument sway his firmly held belief? Individuals can present only their own way of thinking, but nothing guarantees that his disputant will accept this argument, right though they may be.

People are certain only of ideas they have personally experienced to be true. Only when his own life validates the message, or where the given concept is consistent with his own beliefs, will one be forced to accept another’s rebuke.

Yehuda approaches Yosef, begging for the release of the imprisoned Binyamin:

“And now, when I come before your servant, my father, and the lad is not with us, whose soul is as dear to him as his own….and when he’ll see that the lad is not [there], he will die….for how can I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, perhaps I will witness the suffering that will stab my father.” (Breishis 44)

And Yosef responds:

“Ani Yosef, HaOd Avi Chai?!?” – “I am Yosef, can my father still be alive?”

What’s that you say? You mean, you’re worried about your father? Yes, your poor father! You don’t want to cause him any suffering, correct? You would never do anything to bring harm to your honored father, right?

But, I am Yosef. And where were you then?!?


Yosef’s brilliant scheme achieves its goal. Suddenly, the brothers are forced to recognize their mistake. Yehuda, who has been out-maneuvered into expressing his personal concern for Binyamin’s welfare, trips over his own words.

He could never cause his father pain.

It dawns upon him that his actions don’t match his words.

He has been rebuked. Proven wrong.

It is not the words of another that reveal the light. There is no attempt to have him accept another’s opinion. He faces up to the reality of his words, and has no choice but to admit the fallacy of his ways.

He has no other option.

There is only one truth.

Here lies the secret of the future redemption.

Let us explain.


“And it was at the end of two years – ‘an end was given to darkness’ (Iyov 28:3) – The world was given a designated period, the duration of years it would remain in darkness….Another explanation: a certain period was given to Yosef, the years of darkness in jail, and when the end arrived Phaaroh dreamed his dream.” (Breishis Rabbah 89:1)

For generations, an argument raged between the world’s philosophers and the sages of Torah. While the empiric evidence indicated that darkness was merely the absence of light, rabbinic scholars insisted that darkness was itself an independent creation, with the original light of Breishis concealed underneath.

This dispute is not merely theoretical, for each position reflects a particular worldview. The secular approach originates with Greek wisdom, those who believed only in what their senses could measure. Unable to fathom a dimension that was completely metaphysical, they perceived the entire world to be within their grasp. Reality was defined as the expanse of the physical universe. Because this world defines the totality of man’s existence, it is held to be an embodiment of all creation. Just as G-d is eternal, so too, the earth, and hence, the heretical concept of ‘HaOlam Kadmon’ – the world as omnipresent. Whatever is – was and always will be.

Klal Yisrael, on the other hand, perceives this world as a mere creation. Time, space, and all of the elements are temporal constructs that hint at a deeper existence. Destined to partake of a higher truth, the Jew has never been able to attach himself to Olam HaZeh, nor take it too seriously, and he certainly has never related to this world as an immutable reality.

This world is darkness – a mere creation.

As the darkness, which merely delays the coming dawn, so too, the redemption of the Jewish people hides beneath the surface, a dream that must be revealed.


In the modern era, despite the turmoil of recent times, we are witness to a certain consistency in the pattern of Divine Providence.

G-d does not interfere in the efforts of mortal man, indeed, man has been given the freedom to pursue his every dream.

Unfortunately, though this independence has made our communities more prosperous, our homes and families are less secure than ever before. The achievements of the industrial age have not produced a happier and healthier existence. Visions that inspired millions in the past century have been discarded by a disillusioned public, and in fact, some of society’s greatest difficulties are a direct consequence of our supposed ‘progress’.

In light of the tragedies of the past year, it is sobering, for example, to reflect upon the herculean efforts to build a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisrael. In the early part of the twentieth century, opposition to the Zionist movement focused on the lingering problem of the resident Arab population. The secular response to this issue is well documented: “No reason to worry about the Arabs”, they proclaimed, a bit too hastily. Too confident in the strength of their own hands, and too complacent about their destiny, they could not foresee the present quagmire.

Events in Israel have evolved precisely as the leadership had planned. The State has flourished in many different ways; more successful than the founders had hoped. But still, we look around in desperation, with no place left to run.

Perhaps, we can formulate our message thus:

Hashem allows man to walk wherever he pleases, and at times, He even helps him along. And so man proceeds. Until one day, he finds himself standing at the edge of a cliff, with a sharp drop looming below.

Only then does he realize the futility of his efforts.

Nothing is certain other than the Dvar Hashem.

Even more, he learns this lesson on his own. His very words and actions seal his own fate.

This is his Tochacha.


Yosef knew how to interpret dreams.

He understood the Divine message, and recognized that the Dvar Hashem would be fulfilled, no matter what.

The future of the Jewish people hung in the balance, waiting for his brothers to reach the same conclusion, exactly as Yosef planned.

All other calculations, admirable as they may be, are only temporary patchwork, with faultlines that are destined to appear. Man’s most valiant efforts leave him groping in the darkness, searching for the hidden salvation.

Yosef understands that “Ketz Sam L’Choshech” – darkness is a mere creation, a veil which must be lifted.

He brings all his brothers down to exile, deep into the darkness, knowing full well that Yaakov will shortly follow. But he knows too that the long, dark night will someday be illuminated by the light of G-d’s Word, the beacon that heralds the coming dawn.

Have a good Shabbos.

JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 2001 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project Genesis, Inc.