In what must be one of the most dramatic events in all of Chumash, Yehuda pleads with his brother and asks one more time for Yosef to relent and not keep Binyamin as a prisoner in Egypt, which would minimally cause his father great pain and might even in fact kill him. Yehuda goes through virtually the same story he related at the end of Parshas Miketz, except that this time it has a different ending: “Yosef was not able to hold back… I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” The Torah’s narration continues: “The brothers were unable to respond to him, because they were frightened in his presence.” (Bereshis 45:1-3)
If Yehuda is merely repeating the same argument that he already advanced in Parshas Miketz, why was he successful this time, whereas he previously failed? I saw two different explanations as to what happened over here that suddenly caused Yosef to stop.
The Ramo in Shulchan Aruch cites (in the name of the Rokeach) that when a person begins to daven (pray) Shemoneh Esrei, he should advance three steps. The source of the Rokeach’s advice is that the word “VaYigash” (and he approached) occurs in relation to prayer three times in Tanach. We learn from here that when someone begins Shemoneh Esrei, he should step forward three steps.
What are the three times? The first time is by Avraham (Bereshis 18:23), when he approaches Hashem to plead that Hashem not destroy Sodom. The third time is by Eliyahu (Melachim I 18:36) when he approaches Hashem in prayer during his confrontation with the prophets of Baal. In both of those places, it is obvious that they were davening. The other time, writes the Rokeach, is our parsha: “Vayigash Elav Yehuda…” (Bereshis 44:18) The Rokeach understands that this was in fact tefillah. Yehuda was not merely speaking to Yosef anymore. He was in fact davening to the Ribono shel Olam.
The lesson we learn here is the following: I am sure Yehuda had already davened. But he davened once again. This is one of the great lessons of tefilla. We can daven and daven and daven, and our tefillos are seemingly not answered, but then there is a breakthrough. This is what the Gemara says (Berachos 32b) that if a person sees that his prayers are not answered, he should daven more. “Hope to Hashem, strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope to Hashem.” (Tehillim 27:14)
The Gemara says that Moshe Rabbeinu davened to Hashem the gematria (numerical equivalent) of the word “Vaeschanan,” which is 515 times! Until Hashem had to insist “…Do not continue to speak to me about this matter.” (Devorim 3:26) Why was Moshe asked to stop praying? The implication is that if he would pray just one more time about the matter, he would be forcing the Hand of Hashem, so to speak, and Hashem would need to let Moshe into Eretz Yisrael.
A similar thing happened here with Yehuda as well. Why did this argument win the day with Yosef, as opposed to all the previous arguments? The answer is that this request came together with another prayer. This was one last tefilla to Hashem that Yosef should have compassion. However, this time, the tefilla was answered.
That is one approach. I saw the other approach in the Ohr Hachaim haKadosh.
The Ohr Hachaim invokes the principle “As water reflects a face back to a face, so one’s heart is reflected back to him by another.” (Mishlei 27:19). The wisest of all men teaches us a foundational principle in human relations. The way you feel about someone is usually reflective of the way the person feels about you. Just like when someone looks into water, he sees a reflection of his own facial expression, that is the way it works with interpersonal relationships. If you love someone, as a rule, he will love you back. If you can’t stand someone, as a rule, the feeling is mutual.
The Ohr Hachaim haKadosh says that the following is happening here: Up until this point, Yehuda had terrible thoughts about this hard-hearted cruel viceroy of Egypt. He begged him, he told him about their old father, but nothing helped. “I can’t stand this guy. He is such a rasha!” That is how Yehuda and his brothers approached Yosef up until this point. Now, however, Yehuda overcame his feeling of despise. Yehuda knew the secret of “As water reflects a face back to a face, so one’s heart is reflected back to him by another” (Mishlei 19:19) and he made it his business, with great effort, to feel and show love and kindness towards this Egyptian viceroy. Yehuda was convinced that if he would manage to feel love and compassion for the viceroy, it would invoke a mutual feeling of compassion in him. And indeed, that is what happened. It worked like a charm.
This was not a simple matter of a person putting a smile on his face. Yehuda needed to work on his deepest emotions to get to the point where that smile was completely genuine. It was hard, but once he did it — “As water reflects a face back to a face, so one’s heart is reflected back to him by another.”
Reaching for Treife and Swallowing Kosher Requires Atonement and Forgiveness
I just saw a new interpretation of a very famous Medrash. The pasuk says “And Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef, is my father still alive?’ and the brothers could not respond to him for they trembled before him.” (Bereshis 45:3) The Medrash writes that this pasuk, indicating the speechlessness of the brothers in the face of Yosef’s inquiry, foreshadows for us the great shame and silence we will face at the time of the Day of Judgement. On that great day, when we will be standing before the Throne of Glory after having left this world, the emotions the Shevatim (Tribes) felt in the face of Yosef’s tochacha (chastisement) to them will be akin to what we will feel on the Day of Judgement, except what we will feel will be geometrically worse.
Yosef was the youngest of the Shevatim and yet they were not able to withstand his (implied) tochacha. How much more so will that be the case when Hashem confronts each of us with our shortcomings! We will certainly be speechless and won’t have what to answer. So says the Medrash.
However, the Medrash uses a peculiar expression. The Medrash says that at the time of the future Judgement, the Almighty will give tochacha to each and every individual “l’fi mah she’hu” (according to who he is). Many of the commentaries on the Medrash explore these three enigmatic words. In previous years, we discussed some of those explanations.
I recently heard a recording from Rav Isaac Bernstein, who cites an idea from the sefer Binyan Shlomo (by Rav Shlomo haKohen from Vilna, author of the commentary Cheshek Shlomo in the back of the Gemara). The Binyan Shlomo cites an interpretation of this Medrash that he heard from his brother (Rav Bezalel haKohen of Vilna):
In the end, Yosef’s sale to Egypt turned out good for him. Because of this sale, Yosef was able to save not only his family but the entire world. The Ohr Hachaim points this out in Parshas VaYeshev that we have a principle that those engaged on a mission that is a Mitzvah are not harmed. How then could Yosef, who was sent on a mission by his father to check on his brothers (thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of Kibud Av), be harmed as a result of this mission? The Ohr Hachaim answers that Yosef was not ultimately harmed by what happened. The Ohr Hachaim explains that a situation which involves initial harm, but, in the end, turns out for the best, is not considered harm. Yosef became the second most powerful person in the world, and saved his family and the whole world from famine and starvation. That is not harm!
The Sefas Emes says on the pasuk “that you sold me to here” (asher mechartem osi heina) as follows: Just as Chazal (Shabbos 87) say about the expression by the Luchos “asher shibarta” (that you broke) – Yasher Koach she’shibarta (congratulations for breaking them), so too the Sefas Emes says here by the brothers having sold Yosef, Yasher Koach she’machartem osi (congratulations for selling me). Thank you for selling me!
If that is the case, the Binyan Shlomo says, what did the brothers do wrong? Maybe they even did a mitzvah by selling Yosef? The Binyan Shlomo compares this to a case cited in the Talmud, where a person intended to eat a piece of pork and accidentally ate a piece of kosher lamb instead. Even though he technically did not do anything wrong, he still requires forgiveness and atonement.
This, the Binyan Shlomo says, is the interpretation of the Medrash: If Yosef’s brothers, who intended to do bad—but it turned out good—were nevertheless so embarrassed that they could not answer Yosef’s implied tochacha, how much more so in the future, when we approach the Throne of Honor and stand before the Ribono shel Olam, will we be embarrassed. By us, it will actually be a case of “intending to eat pork and indeed eating pork.” We intended to do bad and we did do bad. Woe to us from the Day of Tochacha. Woe to us from the Day of Judgement.
Here now is the cherry on the top of this ice cream sundae:
The Gemara says in Maseches Nazir (23a) that the pasuk “Her husband will nullify her (vow) and Hashem will forgive her” is referring to a case of a woman who violated a vow that she made without realizing that her husband had already nullified the vow (and that it was therefore not binding). Even though she was not in violation of any vow, she still needs atonement because she intended to do something bad (in violating what she thought was a binding vow).
The Talmud says that when Rabbi Akiva would reach this pasuk, he cried: If someone who intends to eat pork but actually ate kosher meat still needs atonement and forgiveness, then someone who intends to eat pork and actually eats pork, how much more so. This is the same concept.
Rav Yosef Engel asks, there in Masechta Nazir, why was it Rabbi Akiva who was so struck by the lesson of this pasuk? Why did none of the other rabbis cry when they learned this pasuk? Why just Rabbi Akiva? Rav Engel answers (based on the Zohar and the writings of the Ari z”l) that the Asara Harugei Malchus (Ten Martyrs) who were killed during the Roman persecutions (about which we read on Yom Kippur) were the Gilgul Neshamos (transmigrated souls) of the ten brothers who sold Yosef. The reason the Asara Harugei Malchus had to experience such terrible suffering was that it was a kaparah for the Shevatim. The Ari z”l further states that Rabbi Akiva was the Gilgul of Shimon. Shimon is the brother who suggested the whole plot of selling Yosef. That is why Rabbi Akiva cried. He knew that the Shevatim were guilty of “intending to eat pork but actually eating kosher meat” and that they still needed atonement. He sensed that “I am going to pay the price.” The price he paid was suffering worse than the others: They scraped his skin with iron combs…. That is why Rabbi Akiva cried.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Edited 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 Made 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
- #1450 – I Came to Shul Late and They Are Saying Krias Shema – What Should I Do?
- #1494 – Should You or Should You Not Take the Corona Vaccine?
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.