These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1100 – K’rias Shema: What is the Proper Kavanah? Good Shabbos!
Yosef Rules in the Entire Land of Egypt—The Rest of the Story
Yosef finally reveals his true identity to his brothers and tells them, “It was not you who sent me here, but G-d; He has set me as a father to Pharaoh, and as a master of his entire household, and as a ruler in the entire land of Egypt.” [Bereishis 45:8] He tells his brothers not to be upset at what they caused; everything that transpired was all personal Divine Providence (Hashgacha Pratis).
However, technically speaking, Yosef’s statement is not correct. Although he states that G-d made him “the ruler in the entire land of Egypt,” in fact he was not the ruler in the entire land of Egypt. He is clearly only second in command. L’Havdil, when Ronald Reagan was shot and temporarily incapacitated during an assassination attempt (March 1981), his Chief of Staff at the time—Alexander Haig—made the inaccurate and much ridiculed statement to the press that, “I am in charge here now.” Observers suggest that with that faux pas he ruined his chances of ever becoming president. Someone who is not president does not make such a statement! So how could Yosef tell his brothers “Ani moshel b’chol Eretz Mitzrayim” (I rule over all Egypt)?
It is also interesting to note that when the brothers returned to Yaakov and reported to him, “Yosef is still alive, and he is ruler over the entire land of Egypt” [Bereishis 45:26] they do not give all the titles and functions that Yosef had previously mentioned to them. They ONLY say that he ruled the entire land of Egypt. What happened to “father to Pharaoh”? What happened to “master of his entire household”?
The Chasam Sofer says a single thought that answers both these questions.
When the brothers came back and told Yaakov that Yosef had been living in Egypt all these years (20+ years), Yaakov was not interested in what his title was, he was not interested in how much money he was making, he was not interested in what his position was. He was only interested in one thing: Has he remained a Jew or not? Here you have a young boy separated from his father, separated from his family, separated from the entire spiritually enriching environment in which he grew up. He is thrust into a corrupt and spiritually hostile environment. What has happened with him?
Yaakov Avinu was interested in one thing, and that is the message the brothers delivered to him. They told him that Yosef was moshel b’chol Eretz Mitzraim (he ruled over the entire land of Egypt). This meant that rather than Egypt controlling him, he controlled Egypt. This answers our first question as well. How could Yosef make the claim that he ruled over all Egypt? The answer is that he was not stating his political position in the country. He was speaking spiritually. Who got the best of whom? Did Egyptian culture influence me or did I remain above it? U’moshel b’chol Eretz Mitzraim means I remained above the culture, I did not allow it to influence me.
This was what Yaakov wanted to hear from the brothers, and this is what they told him. Yosef ruled over Egypt rather than vice versa.
The next pasuk (verse) following the previously quoted portion of the report from the brothers to Yaakov reads as follows: “And they related to him all the words of Yosef that he had spoken to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, and then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived.” [Bereishis 45:27]. There is a famous Rashi on the words “and he saw the wagons that Yosef sent”. Rashi quotes Chazal that the wagons are a hint to the passage of the Eglah Arufa (the calf whose neck is broken), which was the Torah portion Yosef was studying with his father immediately prior to their separation. There almost appears to be an unwritten rule that a person may not publish a book of Torah thoughts on Sefer Bereishis without giving at least one homiletic explanation of what this teaching of Chazal symbolizes.
I heard a beautiful insight on the deeper meaning of this Rashi in the name of a Dayan from Manchester, England who is no longer alive. He Anglicized the lesson he learns from here; I will transform the analogy somewhat to give it an American flavor:
To what can the matter be compared? Imagine an elderly pious Jewish couple. They had a son to whom they had given a good Jewish education. They sent him to Day School, and then they sent him off to Yeshiva. But then the son went off to University, to College, and he became very prominent in his field—whether it is law, medicine or business—and he moved away. Where is he living? He is living in Alabama.
The parents are thinking to themselves, “What must be with our son’s religiosity?” They sent a single boy to Alabama. He is a good son. He calls every Erev Shabbos to wish them a Good Shabbos. Now he is already 30-35 years old. Imagine that for some reason, the parents do not really know about this boy’s life. What must be with a successful single fellow living in Alabama? Is he married or not? Does he have a Jewish wife? Does he have children or not? In our imaginary story, the parents are clueless to all these private aspects of his life.
One Erev Shabbos he calls up and his parents say to him, “You know what, we haven’t seen you in all these years. We want to come visit you.” The son says, “You know what, I have a better idea. I will come visit you, instead!” Why doesn’t he want them to come to Alabama? If they come to Alabama they will see what’s doing there with him. It is not going to be a pretty scene. Therefore, he tells his parents, “No. Don’t come to me. I’ll come to you.”
Yaakov saw the wagons Yosef sent for him to come meet him in Egypt! If Yosef was embarrassed about what happened to him in Egypt, he would come to visit Yaakov, he would not let Yaakov come down to Egypt to see him in his own environment! That is what rejuvenated the spirit of Yaakov. The wagons proved that Yosef was not afraid to have Yaakov come visit him. This proves that indeed “Yosef rules in the entire land of Egypt.” He has not lost his Yiddishkeit!
The Cedars of Beer-Sheva Accompany Klal Yisrael to Egypt and Back
The next thought I would like to share is a beautiful observation by Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky on the next pasuk: “So Israel set out with all that he had and he came to Beer-Sheva where he slaughtered sacrifices to the G-d of his father Yitzchak.” [Bereishis 46:1] Rav Kamenetsky in his Emes L’Yaakov says something he mentioned previously in Chumash as well. Beer-Sheva occupies a special place in the hearts of the patriarchs. What happened in Beer-Sheva? Chazal say that when Avraham Avinu came to Beer-Sheva, he planted cedars. These cedar trees were going to be the wood from which the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was going to be built.
Avraham Avinu already knew prophetically that his children were going to be oppressed strangers in a land that was not theirs for 400 years [Bereishis 15:13]. Therefore, he already planted the trees to build a Mishkan when they emerge from this exile and return to Eretz Yisrael. This, Rav Yaakov says, is why when Yitzchak came to Beer-Sheva it was spiritually invigorating for him. He knew that his father planted those trees there, and he came there to receive spiritual nourishment. Now when Yaakov, on his way to Egypt, comes down to Beer-Sheva, what does he do? Chazal say he cuts down the trees and transports them to Egypt.
Why? Yaakov Avinu understood full well what was about to happen. He was very afraid. The Almighty had to reassure him. Yaakov understood that his offspring were about to remain in Egypt for a very long time. He feared that they would assimilate. That is, in fact, what happened. They reached the 49th of fifty levels of spiritual impurity there. Yaakov was legitimately afraid.
However, Yaakov Avinu, in his wisdom, cut down those trees when he journeyed to Egypt, and he told his children, “Kinderlach (my children), one day we are going to come out of here and these are the trees you are going to use to build a place of worship for the Almighty when you return to Eretz Yisrael.” Therefore, while they were in the land of Egypt, they still had this connection to the Land of Israel. From generation to generation, they would give over the wood from the trees. Every generation would be told the family tradition: These are the trees Avraham planted in Beer-Sheva and one day we are going to leave. One day we are going to get out of this bondage. One day we are going to build a Sanctuary to the G-d who created Heaven and Earth!
That gave them this connection and link to the Holy Land so that they would not totally become impure and assimilated amongst the nations.
Rav Yaakov then says an interesting interpretation to a Gemara in Tractate Megilla [31b]. The Gemara says that Avraham Avinu asked the Ribono shel Olam – what is going to be with Klal Yisrael in galus? The Ribono shel Olam responded, they will bring sacrifices and have atonement. Avraham persists: “That is fine when the Beis HaMikdash is in existence. What will be when the Beis HaMikdash is not in existence?” The Ribono shel Olam responded, “I have already established the order of the sacrificial service, as long as they read it before me, I will consider it as if they have offered sacrifices and I will forgive them.”
Rav Yaakov said that the simple interpretation of this Talmudic passage is that when someone reads the section of “Korbonos” it is as if he offered the sacrifices. (Whoever reads before Me the chapter of the burnt offering, it is as if he offered before Me a burnt offering…) Rav Yaakov says that there is a deeper interpretation here as well. At the time the Beis HaMikdash was standing, we had a connection to Eretz Yisrael, but we will go into Galus. We have no cedars there. What will keep us attached to the idea that one day there will be a Beis HaMikdash again? In the Egyptian exile, they had the cedar wood to tell them that one day they would get out of this exile—here are the trees! But now, in our current exile, we have no such cedar wood. Lacking that, what will preserve our connection with Eretz Yisrael and allow us to continue to hope to return? The answer is that every day we recite Korbonos (as part of the preparatory prayer service).
Why do we say Korbonos? It is because, G-d willing, there will be Korbonos again one day. Reciting Korbonos provides the same affect that the cedar trees had in Egypt—to connect Klal Yisrael with Eretz Yisrael. It provides a concrete reminder that we will not be lost here forever.
Avraham was worried: What is going to be with Klal Yisrael when there will be no Beis HaMikdash? The Almighty responded: They will read Parshas Korbonos. The Almighty was not just addressing the atonement that such reading will provide. He was telling Avraham that this reading will reinforce the idea that one day—hopefully speedily in our time—He will rebuild the Beis HaMikdash and we will go there and offer sacrifices once again. The reading of Parshas Korbonos, thus, will remind us that our existence here in galus is merely temporary.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Vayigash is provided below:
- # 036 – Taxing the Community
- # 078 – The Uses of Snow in Halacha
- # 127 – Baby Naming
- # 174 – Twins
- # 220 – Host Mothers in Halacha
- # 264 – The Bracha for Kings and Presidents
- # 310 – Honoring Elderly Parents
- # 354 – Honoring Grandparents
- # 398 – K’rias Shma: How Early, Interruptions, Misc.
- # 442 – The Umbrella on Shabbos
- # 486 – Grandchildren in Halacha
- # 530 – Performing a Mitzvah Personally
- # 574 – Being the Bearer of Bad Tidings
- # 618 – K’rias Shema: Fascinating Insights
- # 662 – Learning and Davening on the Road
- # 706 – Z’man K’rias Shema
- # 750 – Will I Make Z’man K’rias Shema?
- # 794 – Must I Always Stand For the Rov
- # 838 – Answering Kedusah in the Middle of K’rias Shema
- # 882 – Father or Grandfather – Whom Do You Honor?
- # 926 – It’s The Thought That Counts
- # 969 – Burial In Eretz Yisroel II — How Important Is It?
- #1013 – My Chumrah vs Your Hurt Feelings
- #1057 – Lashon Kodesh: The Uniqueness of the Hebrew Language
- #1100 – K’rias Shema: What Is The Proper Kavanah?
- #1143 – Oops! I Forgot today is a Fast Day after I Mad a Bracha on Food
- #1186 – Facts About K’rias Shema You May Not Know
- #1230 – Waking Up Early To Eat Before a Taanis
- #1274 – Honoring Grandparents Revisited
- #1318 – Ectogenesis: Artificial Wombs – The Coming Era of Motherless Birth?
- #1362 – Flying East to West-West to East on a Fast Day-When Can You Break Your Fast
- #(2018) – Being an Araiv – Guarantor – Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.