Analysis of the Opening Pesukim of Vayigash
At the end of last week’s parsha (Miketz), Binyomin is “caught red handed with stolen goods.” Of course, it was a ruse, but the brothers did not realize this at the time. The pasuk says, “And Yehudah said, ‘What can we say to my master? How can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? G-d has found the sin of your servants. Here we are: We are ready to be slaves to my master – both we and the one in whose hand the goblet was found.'” [Bereshis 44:16]. Yosef responds: “It would be unseemly for me to do this; the man in whose possession the goblet was found, he shall be my slave, and as for you – go up in peace to your father” [Bereshis 44:17].
This statement of Yehudah, “What can we say? How can we speak? How can we justify ourselves?” is an act of great contrition on his part. “We are your slaves. You caught us red-handed!” He could not have been more contrite. That is the end of Parshas Miketz. Then, at the beginning of Parshas Vayigash, Yehudah suddenly seems to be a different person. “…May your anger not flare up at your servant…” [Bereshis 44:18]. Rashi says: “From here we see that Yehudah spoke harshly to Yosef.” Two pesukim ago, this same Yehudah expressed such contrition. Now he changes his tune and is letting Yosef have it! What happened to cause this metamorphosis?
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains what happened. Until now, the brothers felt that all of this was happening to them as a result of Divine punishment. The Almighty was paying them back for the way they treated Yosef. “Aval asheimim anachnu” (“indeed we are guilty!”) [Bereshis 42:21]. They sensed that this was all a case of “From the L-rd this has happened” (may’ais Hashem hayesa zos) [Tehillim 118:23]. Now suddenly Yosef says “No. You can go free. It is the youngest brother, Binyomin, who will be my prisoner.” As a result, their previous explanation of the events they were experiencing had to be rethought.
Yehudah said, “Wait a minute! This is not from the Ribono shel Olam. This could not be a punishment for what we did, because Binyomin was not involved in that incident at all. So why is this happening? It must be happening strictly because of the perverseness of this Egyptian ruler. I am going to give him a piece of my mind!” This is the great change that happened.
The Vilna Gaon shares a very interesting insight on the pasuk “Vayigash eilav Yehudah…” [Bereshis 44:18] Rashi explains regarding the words “Ki avdecha arav es hana’ar” [Bereshis 44:32] that Yehuda promised his father “If I do not bring Binyamin back to you, I am going to be excommunicated both in this world and in the world to come.”
Yehudah stood to lose the most over here. The Gaon comments: The trop (cantillation notes) for the expression “Vayigash elav Yehudah va’yomer bi Adonee…” is as follows: Vayigash elav has the cantillation notes Kadma v’azla. Yehudah has the note reviyee. Va’Yomer bi Adonee has the notes zarka munach segol.
The Gaon interprets the trop as providing a hidden message: Vayigash elav – Kadma v’azla, meaning “Yehudah came forth.” Yehudah says – You might ask why I am acting as the spokesperson for the family – after all I am only the fourth son (reviyee). The reason the fourth son (reviyee) is coming forth (kadma v’azla) is that zarka munach segol – meaning I will be thrown away (zarka) from resting (being munach) in the World-to-Come among the Am Segulah (the Chosen People). Therefore, it is my life that is on the line – both here and in Olam HaBah. That is why I put protocol aside and came forward to speak, even though I am only the fourth son.
Do Not Waste the Precious Years of Youth
As part of Yehudah’s plea to the Egyptian ruler (who he did not yet know was his brother Yosef) Yehudah said, “For how will I be able to go back to my father if the youth is not with me.” [Bereshis 44:34]. To appreciate the thought that I am about to express, it may be necessary to have a bit of an inclination for Chassidishhe Torah. Also, please remember that Chazal say “one does not ask questions on Drush.” This may not be the true interpretation of this pasuk, but the message it delivers is certainly true.
One day, each of us will go up to the Yeshiva on High after we leave this world. The above cited pasuk can be read; “How am I going to go to my Father (in Heaven) when the na’ar is not with me.” — Meaning, if I wasted my youth, the easiest years of my life, on matters of nonsense – how will I be able to answer for myself before the Master of the Universe in that Final Judgement?
If there is one message my students at Ner Yisroel have heard from me over and over again throughout my entire teaching career it is: Do not waste these precious years. They are not repeatable. This is not to say, of course, that life ends at age 22 or 23. However, the care-free life that a typical yeshiva bochur lives today—from the age of say 18 until he gets married—is blissful. Baruch Hashem, most bochrim have parents. Their tuition is paid. Their cell phone bills are paid. Their car insurance is paid. Their health insurance is paid. They typically do not have to worry about earning a living or about chronic illness. These are the carefree years.
“How will I be able to ascend to my Father and the (years of my) youth will not be with me?”
I know that the demographic of the crowd I am speaking to tonight is well past the years of na’arus. But as I always say: The job of raising your children never stops, and the job of raising your grandchildren never stops. If there is one message that we should impart to our children and grandchildren and, IY”H, our great-grandchildren, it is: Do not waste these years. They are not going to repeat themselves!
The Kotzker Rebbe cited a pasuk from Tehillim: “Like the arrow in the hand of the mighty archer, such is youth” [Tehillim 127:4]. The Rebbe taught: When an archer pulls back his bow and is about to shoot his arrow, he still is in control of what is going to happen with that arrow. He can shoot it up, he can shoot it down, he can shoot it right, or he can shoot it left. Once the arrow leaves the bow, it is on its own. He cannot take it back. He cannot guide it. It is not like a ‘smart bomb’ that can be redirected mid-course. The Rebbe said, “So too it is with youth.” When a person is young, he is in control. He does not have illness, he does not have all the worries that come with older age, and that frustrate his ability to accomplish what he wants to accomplish with the talents and strengths the Almighty has granted him.
There is a famous quip – Youth is wasted on the young. When a person reaches a certain stage in life, that youth-like freedom is there no more. I knew an older Jew who was in a retirement home. He used to get up in the morning and his fellow residents would ask him “What hurts today?” A person loses all kinds of powers and capabilities that he one once had when he reaches old age. Ah, for the days of youth – bnei ha’neurim!
This is a message that we need to impart to our children, and even if our children are grown, we need to impart it to their children. “You must not waste the precious years of youth.”
Sensitive News Must Be Delivered with Sensitivity
“They told him that Yosef was still alive and that he ruled the entire land of Egypt…” [Bereshis 45:26] The Sefer HaYashar says that the brothers were afraid that if they would suddenly break the news to Yaakov that his beloved and presumed-dead son Yosef was still alive, he would die on the spot. The news would be too shocking. An older person can die from sudden shock.
So, what did they do? Serach, daughter of Asher, knew how to play violin. She played her violin and kept on singing “Od Yosef Chai; Od Yosef Chai.” Yaakov Avinu thus already had put into his consciousness these words stating that Yosef was still alive.
Consequently, when the brothers came in and they said “Od Yosef Chai!” it was not the same shock as it would have otherwise been. Yaakov had been inoculated, so to speak, to the concept that Yosef was still alive.
This is all well and good. But what is the lesson we learn from this Medrash? Rav Pam writes in his sefer that the lesson we learn is how sensitive we need to be about how we say certain things. We need to anticipate how our words will be taken by the intended recipient. Sometimes news needs to be broken softly. In all cases, we must speak sensitive words with sensitivity!
Rav Pam writes that Rav Yaakov Bender (Rosh Yeshiva of Darkei Torah in the Five Towns) has two rules whenever he calls a parent on the phone. The first thing he says is, “Hello. This is Rabbi Yaakov Bender. Your child is fine.” Why? Because whenever a parent gets a call from the principal the parent braces himself: “Okay. What did my kid do now? What did he break? What happened to him?” Therefore, the first thing out of the principal’s mouth is “Your child is fine” thus relieving the parent.
The second policy Rabbi Bender has is that whatever a child has done, he never suspends a child on Erev Shabbos. That is all that is needed to ruin a Shabbos. The kid gets thrown out of school; the kid is suspended; the kid flunked…. The kid will sit there at the Shabbos table with this just having happened to him. It will put a pall over the entire Shabbos for the whole family.
Maybe the child will be suspended… but that can always wait until Sunday morning. On Friday afternoon, he does not suspend students. That is a lesson learned from the Medrash about Serach bas Asher. “Od Yosef Chai.” We must always break news gently, softly, — even good news. This is the sensitivity we must have when dealing with people.
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
- #1406 – Being an Araiv – Guarantor – Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
- (2019) – I Came to Shul Late and They Are Saying Krias Shema – What Should I Do?
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.