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Posted on December 22, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Yisrael said, “There is much!”[1]

This was Yaakov’s reaction to the news that Yosef was alive, and the viceroy of Egypt. Chazal[2] expand upon Yaakov’s intent with the word “much.” They see three kinds of abundance. The first is the greatness of Yosef’s righteousness, for having maintained his convictions through all his suffering and tribulations.

This is surprising. Yaakov’s sons had just described Yosef’s prominence in Egypt. They told him nothing about the years that preceded his rise to fame. We would have expected Yaakov to praise Yosef for having withstood the challenges of fame and fortune – for having remained a true son of the Abrahamic line despite all that beckoned from a different direction. Why did he focus on Yosef’s earlier ordeals, which he could guess about, but knew little about?

If we had to compare the spiritual challenges of poverty and wealth, we would easily conclude that the latter is the more serious of the two. The greatest, however, is that of a rapid change between penury and extreme wealth. The nouveau riche, who experience a sudden reversal of their fortunes, are susceptible to feelings of gaavah, and are known to lord it over those who previously were their superiors. (When Yitzchok gave his brachah to Yaakov, he said, “May G-d give you of the dew of the heavens and the fatness of the earth.”[3] Rashi elaborates: “May He give, and continue to give.” Yitzchok was cautious. He did not want Yaakov to achieve the fullness of the brachah at one time. Better that he should be given it a bit at a time, so that he could acclimate himself to a life of brachah, without any sudden transition that would leave him unprepared for the challenges of quickly-gained euphoria.)

This is what Yaakov meant. Yosef’s greatness was not just in withstanding the temptations of his prominence in the Egyptian court, but in his meteoric transition from rags to riches.

The abundance of Yosef’s tzidkus was the first of three blessings that Yaakov referred to in his “much.” Two more followed: I have sinned much; I am confident in the abundance of Hashem’s goodness. The three can be seen as a progression. When first contemplating the tragic loss of Yosef, Yaakov assumed the propriety of Hashem’s justice. Yosef must have sinned, in order to have deserved such treatment. Now that he heard of his incredible tzidkus, Yaakov assumed that he himself had greatly sinned! (Indeed, he worried about the 22 years that he had absented himself from Yitzchok, and did not have an opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah of honoring his parents.) This came with a silver lining. If Yosef’s disappearance was a consequence of Divine Providence marking Yosef for punishment, then Yaakov’s long bereavement was simply a consequence of something intended to affect Yosef. Yaakov’s own sorrow and pain would not be a kapparah for his own sins. As Ramban teaches, only yesurin that come about through deliberate hashgachah offer kapparah. Those that come about through happenstance do not afford such atonement. But now that Yaakov understood that it was his own sins that led to his years of sorrow, he could rejoice. It is always better to be punished in this world, rather than the next. Yaakov could now celebrate the abundance of Hashem’s goodness in olam haboh, having paid his debt in this world!

  1. Bereishis 45:28
  2. Bereishis Rabbah 94:3
  3. Bereishis 27:28