Almost every darshan who writes a commentary on Chumash gives an interpretation to the following famous Medrash in this week’s parsha:
When Yosef said to his brothers “I am Yosef,” the pasuk says that the brothers could not respond to him because they were frightened of him (Bereshis 45:3). They were so stunned by this sudden revelation that they became tongue-tied.
The Medrash Rabbah here comments: “Woe to us from the Day of Judgment! Woe to us from the Day of Tochacha (rebuke).” This is the way it is going to be in the future when a person leaves this world and stands in front of the Throne of Glory. We will have the same experience that the brothers of Yosef had that day in Mitzrayim. Yosef was the youngest of the brothers and yet his older siblings were unable to withstand his terse rebuke. How much more so will this be the case when the Holy One Blessed Be He comes and appropriately rebukes every individual for their misdeeds while on Earth! If the brothers had nothing to say when rebuked by their younger sibling, what will we say after 120 years when the Almighty calls us on the carpet, so to speak? We certainly won’t be able to open our mouths.
The question everyone asks is that the Medrash refers to Yosef’s words to his brothers as a tochacha. Somehow in his brief statement, Yosef gave them mussar. It was a rebuke. But all he said were the words “I am Yosef”. Where is the rebuke?
I myself have shared several answers to this question in previous years. This year, I found a new interpretation (which is based on a Ramban) in a sefer called Nachal Eliyahu from a contemporary author — Rabbi Eliyahu Diskin.
The Ramban in Parshas VaYeshev (Bereshis 37:15 D.H. VaYimtza’ay’hu) makes one comment which is really fundamental to the understanding of the entire story of Yosef and his brothers. The Ramban says the whole story really does not make any sense. Too many people made too many egregious errors here. Yaakov made an egregious error by favoring Yosef over the other brothers. Yosef made an error by suspecting that his brothers transgressed prohibitions such as ever min ha’chai and gilui arayos, etc. The brothers made a mistake by thinking that Yosef was out to kill them. Everyone was way off base despite the fact that we are talking about people here for whom the term “Gedolei Yisrael” is a major understatement, spiritually and intellectually. How did they all fall into this mess called “The Sale of Yosef” and all that transpired in its wake?
Says the Ramban, “Ki HaGezeira Emes v’ha’Charitzus Sheker, v’Atzas HaShem Hee Sakum,” which means, this is what G-d wanted to happen (ha’Gezeira Emes); and all the efforts that everyone made were not going to count for anything (ha’Charitzus Sheker); because the Ribono shel Olam wanted it to happen this way (Atzas HaShem Hee Sakum).
For example: Yaakov said to Yosef “Go find your brothers.” How is Yosef supposed to find his brothers? They are out there somewhere in the dessert tending to their sheep. Canaan is a vast land. There were no cell phones. There were not even phone booths! How is Yosef supposed to find his brothers?
Yosef goes off to look for his brothers. He can’t find them. What should he have done? He should have turned around and gone home and said, “Daddy, I can’t find them.” End of story. Suddenly, he meets a person in the wilderness. Who is it? It is a malach! The malach takes him to his brothers. Why? It is because this is the way it had to happen. Klal Yisrael had to go down to Mitzrayim. That is the way Hashem told Avraham that it would happen by the Bris Bein HaBesarim. This is the way Klal Yisrael will be formed—”in a land that is not theirs”. (Bereshis 15:13)
HaGezeirah Emes. People try this and they try that. They make this effort and they make that effort. It is not going to work. V’HaCharitzus Sheker. All their efforts are going to fall by the wayside. They are for naught. At the end of the day Atzas HaShem Hee Sakum.
The reason why Yosef’s saying the words “Ani Yosef” was a rebuke was because those two words sent the message, “You tried to sell me as a slave and now ANI YOSEF – I am the second most powerful man in the world. What happened to your plans? What happened to all your efforts to get rid of me? They were all for naught! Nothing came of them!” Why was that? Because the DECREE WAS TRUE (haGezeirah Emes) and EFFORTS TO THWART IT WERE DOOMED (v’ha’Chareetzus Sheker).
This is the type of rebuke we will get in the future world. We all pay lip service to the famous Gemara that a person’s annual income is fixed at the beginning of the year (Beitzah 16a). We all believe—or at least we all say—that it was decreed in Heaven last Rosh HaShanah how much each of us will make throughout the year, to the penny. Now, if we are faced with a challenge or a nisayon in the middle of the year that we can make another ten or fifteen thousand dollars by doing something that is untoward or if not illegal, at least not on the up and up, we might think “Listen, this is a windfall here. I can make another ten or fifteen grand here! I am not going to let this opportunity slip by.”
So, do we believe that our income is fixed or not? In the future world, the Ribono shel Olam is going to have a list of all those situations where He said “This is the way I decreed it was going to be. You tried to outsmart me and to cut corners to get more money than you deserved—or whatever it may be…” That is the rebuke we will face in the World to Come.
It is the exact same rebuke that Yosef gave to his brothers: You thought that you could do me in. It didn’t happen. That is because the DECREE WAS TRUE. This is the way the Ribono shel Olam wanted it to happen, and so this is how it happened. And your EFFORTS TO THWART IT WERE DOOMED! That was how it was going to happen.
The Ribono shel Olam will have a whole lifetime of these type of things to present to us as rebuke. The immortal words “Ani Yosef” ring out for eternity with the message that the Almighty is going to make everything happen as He decrees. All human effort to circumvent those decrees will not make a hoot of difference.
Yaakov’s Disbelief Gives Way to Rejuvenation—How and Why Did That Happen?
My second observation comes from this same sefer, Nachal Eliyahu.
The brothers come back with good news and they tell Yaakov that Yosef is alive. The pasuk records: “Vayafeg leebo ki’ lo he’emean lahem.” (Bereshis 45:26). Simply put, Yaakov did not believe them. Is this not strange? Yaakov has been mourning for over twenty years for his lost son Yosef. He has been a depressed, broken, totally changed person. Finally, the brothers come in and tell him this wonderful news that Yosef is still alive. Why would he not believe them? This is the news he has been waiting to hear for twenty-plus years! Did he think they were trying to play a fast one on him – that five minutes later they would yell ‘April Fools!’? No son would do that to a grieving father. This is not a subject to joke about! What does “He did not believe them” indicate?
The pshat in this pasuk is revealed through a Medrash Tanchuma: A wicked person is considered dead during his lifetime because a rasha is dead emotionally and religiously if he does not recognize the Almighty and acknowledge all that He provides for this world. For all intents and purposes, he is in a “vegetative state” – totally oblivious spiritually to the world around him. He may have a pulse and a heartbeat, but if he can’t react spiritually to what the Holy One Blessed be He has provided for him, he is merely in a vegetative state. It is “life”, but it is not really “chaim“.
When the brothers came in and said to Yaakov, “Yosef is still alive” and Yaakov did not believe them, Yaakov did not think they were lying to him or playing a joke on him. Yaakov was concerned – what could be with a seventeen-year-old who was cut off from his family in his formative years and thrown into the fleshpots of Egypt? Yaakov reasoned – What kind of Jew could Yosef be at this point? Therefore, if he is alive but he doesn’t recognize a Ribono shel Olam in this world – he is not the Yosef that I once knew and then for all intents and purposes, he is not alive. Yaakov heard “Od Yosef CHAI” but he thought to himself “that is not what I call LIFE.”
What happened? Yaakov saw the wagons that Yosef sent…and the spirit of Yaakov their father rejuvenated (Bereshis 45:27). The famous Chazal says that Yosef was sending a signal to his father: The last thing that we learned before I was separated from you all those years ago was the parsha of eglah arufah. In other words, Yosef signaled that he still remembered the “sugyah that we were holding in.” Then, the spirit of Yaakov came back to life. “If Yosef remembers the Torah we learned together, then he really is alive.”
In 1940, Rav Elazar Shach (1899-2001) was in Vilna. Rav Shach was part of the Mir Yeshiva. The Mir Yeshiva went to Vilna at that time, as did most of the Eastern European yeshivos. Rav Shach met someone there, a Rav Kluf, and spoke to him in learning. They parted ways and did not see each other again until seven years later, after the war. They met again in Tel Aviv in 1947. When Rav Shach saw Rav Kluf for the first time after seven years of separation, the first thing he said to him was “I have an answer to that contradiction you raised in the Rambam.” After having gone through everything that occurred to him in those intervening years, still remembering “the kasheh that we left off with” and having “a teretz for that kasheh on the Rambam” exemplifies the meaning of preserving Chiyus (life) by a true Jew.
Medically speaking, a vegetative state is called life, but it is not much of a life in the eyes of people. In the eyes of upright Jews, life does not only mean eating, drinking and sleeping, but also recognizing that there is a Ribono shel Olam in the world.
That is what Yaakov did not believe at first, but when he saw the wagons – Ahh, Yosef is still thinking about learning; he is still thinking about that Sugya we studied together. If so, Yosef is in fact still alive and so, the spirit of Yaakov was then rejuvenated.
Finally, I have shared the following story in the past but it bears repeating.
A young fellow got married to a girl and then suddenly, in the middle of Sheva Brochos, he disappeared. He skipped town and abandoned his new wife, leaving her an agunah. Thirty years later a fellow walked into town and said “Honey, I’m home.” He claimed to be this woman’s long lost husband.
Twenty or thirty years later, we all look a lot different than we looked in our wedding pictures. Here comes this fellow and says “I am your husband.” How well did they even know each other? She did not know whether or not to believe him. Was this really her husband or not?
The fellow was not a fool. He started telling her all kind of intimate things that, apparently, he could only ostensibly know if he was really her husband. He told her all sorts of details about the wedding. She assumed it must be him – because how else could he know this?
They asked the Vilna Gaon whether they could believe him to be her husband on the basis that he seemed to know these minutiae about her and the wedding and everything that only her husband could have known. The Gaon said to take the fellow to the shul that he davened in when he was a chosson. Ask him to point out where he sat. They brought the fellow into shul and they asked him, “Where did you sit when you were a chosson?” The guy froze. The Gaon said, “He is a liar!”
How did he know the other details? The answer is that at some point, he met up with the real chosson who was certainly a scoundrel and told him all the little details to make the fool-proof case that he was really that chosson. But he didn’t tell him where he sat in shul, because a scoundrel like that doesn’t remember or doesn’t care where he sat in shul.
That is the acid test. A true Yid remembers the spiritual things in life. A scoundrel doesn’t remember that kind of information. He remembers what color the flowers were at the wedding. Who cares about the flowers? Where you sit in shul – that is what counts.
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.