These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion: Tape # 78, The Uses of Snow in Halacha. Good Shabbos!
Mystery of History Solved with ‘I Am Yosef’ / ‘I Am Hashem’
At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Yehuda enters a dialogue with Yosef and tells him that it would be impossible for their father to withstand the loss of Binyomin: “It will happen that when he sees the youth is missing he will die, and your servants will have brought down the white-haired head of your servant, our father, in sorrow to the grave.” [Bereishis 44:31]
Finally, after this touching and dramatic scene, Yosef breaks down and admits his true identity to his brothers. “Now Yosef could not restrain himself…he cried in a loud voice…and he said to his brothers ‘I am Yosef’ (Ani Yosef).” [45:1-3]
At this moment, when Yosef finally told his brothers ‘I am Yosef,’ what were the brothers thinking?
Perhaps the brothers were thinking that twenty-two years of history suddenly has become clear.
Think about what has been happening during the past twenty plus years. Their father, Yaakov, is a broken and depressed Jew. He is crying. He refuses to be comforted. He goes into a prolonged mourning. The Shechina [Divine Presence] leaves him. The brothers witness all of this.
Then there is a famine. The brothers have to go down to Egypt. They are wondering why all this is happening. In Egypt, they meet this fellow who gives them such a terribly hard time. They are accused of being spies. They are taken hostage. They have to go back to their father. They have to negotiate with him. They find the silver cup…
During those twenty years, the brothers were probably wondering, “What is happening to us? Why are all of these troubles… our father… spies… accusations… hostages… happening?” They didn’t understand what was happening to their lives.
Finally, with two words: “Ani Yosef” (I am Yosef) everything becomes clear. They understand that this was Yosef doing all this to them. They understand, perhaps, that there was a reason why Yosef was taken down to Egypt — that if Yosef hadn’t been in Egypt they all would have died in famine. They now understand what they did wrong.
Twenty-two years of their lives suddenly became clear with two words. They understand their father. They understand Egypt. They understand the accusations. Like a bolt of lightening, things that made no sense whatsoever now became totally clear.
We always look to find a connection between the Haftorah of a Parsha and the Parsha itself. This week’s Haftorah is from the book of Yechezkel. The obvious connection between the Parsha and the Haftorah is that at the beginning of the Haftorah, G-d tells Yechezkel to symbolically unify the Tribe of Yosef and the Tribe of Yehudah. This event parallels the opening verses of this week’s Parsha. This is the simple connection between the Haftorah and the Parsha.
But the Avnei Shoham says that there is, perhaps, a different connection between the Parsha and the Haftorah. At the end of the Haftorah, G-d talks about the future redemption: “And my dwelling place shall be upon them and I shall be a G-d unto them, and they shall be unto Me for a people. Then the nations shall know that I am the L-rd (Ani Hashem)…” [Ezekiel 37:27-28]
We find the same expression as we find in the Parsha, but instead of ‘Ani Yosef’ (I am Yosef) we have ‘Ani Hashem’ (I am the L-rd).
We lived in Exile for two thousand years. For thousands of years, Jews have had questions. They didn’t understand and we still don’t understand — what is going on with us?
We’ve been expelled from France; we’ve been expelled from Germany; we’ve been expelled from England. There were pogroms; there were Inquisitions; there were Holocausts. History doesn’t make sense!
This is the Chosen People? Chosen for what? Chosen for slaughter? Chosen for persecution? This is the Chosen Nation?
I met an old Russian Jew recently. He was not a religious Jew. I started talking with him and he told me he misses Russia. He misses the language. He misses the culture…
I asked him, “Don’t you enjoy the ‘religious freedom’?”
He responded, “I’m not religious. Why do I need it? This is a Chosen People? To be trampled and killed?”
He didn’t understand it. There have been thousands and millions of Jews throughout the years who haven’t understood it.
And then… in the future… with two words — ‘Ani Hashem,’ I am HaShem, everything will become eminently clear. Just like the brothers of Yosef, who, with the two words of ‘Ani Yosef,’ understood all the troubles and all that happened to them, the prophet tells us that in the future, when we hear — Ani Hashem –, when there will be an end to this bitter Exile, we will also be able to look back and say “We understand it all — all the Holocausts, all the persecution, all the troubles.”
Don’t Complain About Life — Don’t Even Look Like Complaining About Life
Towards the end of the Parsha, Yaakov comes down and meets Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks him, “How old are you?” Yaakov responds “I’ve lived 130 years. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.” [Bereishis 47:8-9]
The Daas Zekeinim m’Baalei haTosfos comments on the fact that the first question Pharaoh asks Yaakov upon meeting him is his age. It does not seem an appropriate opening question upon meeting someone for the first time. They explain that Yaakov gave the appearance of being extremely old, and therefore Pharaoh questioned him about his age.
This, they say, is the simple interpretation. However, they say that according to the Medrash, when Yaakov said the words, “I’ve had a bitter life,” G-d said to him, “I saved you from Esav and Lavan, I returned Dinah and Yosef to you and now you are complaining about your life that it has been bitter? By your life, the number of words from ‘vayomer’ (and he said) until ‘b-ymei megureihem’ (in the days of their sojourns) will be deducted from your life”.
The Medrash is saying that the Patriarch Yaakov was punished for every word of complaint that he said starting from ‘And he said’ until ‘their sojourns.’ These 33 words explain the fact that Yaakov (147) lived 33 fewer years than did his father, Yitzchak (180).
We see unbelievable things from this Daas Zekeinim. First, we see that Yaakov complained about his bitter life. G-d responds, “What are you complaining about? I saved you from Lavan and Esav, I returned Dena and Yosef!”
One can perhaps ask: Is this worthy of gratitude?
G-d saved him from Esav? Yasher Koach! [Congratulations!]
He Saved him from Lavan? Yaakov had to put up with that cheater for Twenty-two years before You Saved him from Lavan! Yasher Koach!
Could Yaakov have said to G-d: “You gave me back Dinah — my daughter who was raped?”
“You gave me back Yosef — my favorite son, the son of my old age who I lost for 22 years — You gave him back to me?”
“Tell me, G-d, did I have a terribly bitter, horrible, life or not?”
And yet, we see, of course, that G-d is right!
We see from this teaching of Chazal, our Sages, an especially difficult concept for we in America who talk about ‘the quality of life.’ We see from this Chazal that a person can have trouble with his children… A person can have trouble with his life… He can have enemies… He can have to go into exile… but life, even under bad and trying circumstances is a beautiful thing. The gift of life itself, even with troubles, is worth living. And if a person does not appreciate life, G-d will hold him accountable.
But one sees even more from this Chazal. One sees how much more a person has to be appreciative of life. Why? The Mirer Rosh Yeshiva, z”tl, asks that when one counts the words from ‘Vayomer Yaakov el Paro’ until ‘b-ymei megureihem’ one sees there are only 27 words! The Daas Zekeinim says that from ‘Vayomer’ until ‘megureihem’ is 33 words!
He answers that the count of 27 words is starting from the wrong ‘Vayomer.’ It is not the ‘Vayomer Yaakov el Paro’ (and Yaakov said to Pharaoh) that is the basis of the punishment. It is the previous verse beginning ‘Vayomer Paro el Yaakov…’ (and Pharaoh asked Yaakov — how old are you) that is the basis of the punishment! Counting from there, we find 33 words.
The question is, just because Pharaoh asked Yaakov how old he was, G-d should deduct from Yaakov’s life? Yaakov didn’t even open his mouth yet to complain? Why should the reckoning against him begin already?
We see from here that the reason why Pharaoh asked about Yaakov’s age was because Yaakov looked like a broken and decrepit old man, all white and bent over. That is the complaint against Yaakov. Looking old and feeling old — looking and feeling unhappy — in such a way that one is prompted to ask ‘How old are you?’ is not blameless.
Not only is there a blame for complaining about life, for articulating it and expressing it — but if one feels that way and looks that way, it already means that he does not have a proper appreciation of life! That too, is deserving of blame… to the extent that five extra years were deducted from his life.
The Gift of Life is something that we don’t appreciate enough!
Shechinah — Divine Presence of G-d (prophecy)
tzores — troubles
z”tl — zecher tzaddik livracha (the memory of the Righteous for a Blessing)
Personalities & Sources:
Daas Zekeinim m’Baalei haTosfos — Collection of comments on Chumash by the Tosafists of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (France/Germany).
Rav Chaim Shmelevitz (1902-1978) Mir Rosh Yeshiva, Jerusalem.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, Maryland.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#78). The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: The Uses of Snow in Halacha. The other halachic portions for Vayigash from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
- Tape # 036 – Taxing the Community
- Tape # 127 – Baby Naming
- Tape # 174 – Twins
- Tape # 220 – Host Mothers in Halacha
- Tape # 264 – The Bracha for Kings and Presidents
- Tape # 310 – Honoring Elderly Parents
- Tape # 354 – Honoring Grandparents
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
Yad Yechiel Institute
PO Box 511
Owings Mills, MD 21117-0511
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through your local Hebrew book store or from Judaica Express, 1-800-2-BOOKS-1.