Parshat Hashavua Vayigash
By: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
In this week's Parshat HaShavua Vayigash, Judah pleads on behalf of his brother Benjamin, Yoseph reveals himself to his brothers, Jacob comes down to Egypt, and Yoseph's administration of Egypt saves lives but transforms all the Egyptians into bondmen.
Verse 45:3 tells us Yoseph said to his Brothers: I am Yoseph is my Father still alive? And his brothers were not able to answer him, for they were affrighted before Him.
Here the Torah supplies a foreknowledge of the judgement in the World to Come. “Woe to us on the Day of Judgment, woe to us on the day of reproof! Yoseph was the youngest of the tribes, yet they could not withstand his reproof. When the Holy One blessed is He shall come and reprove each one according to that which he is, how much more so [will he be affrighted]’ [Breshisis
The brothers had justified their actions against Yoseph by what seemed to them entirely sound reasons, and they considered themselves as acting out of pure motives of righteous concern for the future of the family and of the holy nation. Yoseph’s dreams were to them the results of his constant thoughts of seizing power.
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Now suddenly, like a flash of light in the dark of night, they saw their own fault: “His brothers were envious of him” [37:11]. Now they saw their own fault: “His brothers were envious of him” [37:11]. Now they saw that they had been blinded by envy, and that his dreams were true portents which had now been fulfilled, and that they had committed a great wrong to a brother of the highest character. Now they realized that they had bowed down not to an Egyptian, but to their brother Yoseph, just as he had dreamed. The Sages understand this episode as a model of what transpires when a man finally comes before the great judge Who suddenly confronts him with the full truth of his true motives and reveals to him the enormity of their misdeeds, at that time, the accused becomes unable to answer, and all his excuses and self-justifications fall away.
The Meam Loez tells us that upon hearing Yoseph announcement, the brothers were so ashamed that they hid their faces. They were embarrassed even to look at him. Yoseph spoke to them gently, and said, “Please come close to me.”
The Midrash says that another reason Yoseph told them to come close was that he wanted to show them something private, his circumcision. The brothers would not believe him until he showed them his mark of circumcision.
This might seem to be weak proof since Yoseph forced all the Egyptians to submit to circumcision. In reality, this was the greatest possible proof that he was Yoseph since he worked to spread circumcision. When the Midrash says that the brothers would not believe him until he showed them that he was circumcised, this cannot be taken literally. It obviously would not have been proper [for Yoseph to deliberately expose himself, even to his brothers]. But Yoseph showed them how he had gotten all the Egyptians to circumcise themselves, a commandment that had been given to his great-grandfather Avraham.
When the brothers came close, Yoseph whispered to them, “I am Yoseph your brother, whom you sold to Egypt.” He told it to them quietly, so that Benjamin would not hear. He also promised them that he would not tell their father that they had sold him as a slave.
Some of our sages say that Yosef was wrong in ordering everyone to leave his chambers. He left himself alone with ten powerful angry men, and they were very likely to kill him. Others, however, say that he did a very good thing in ordering the Egyptians out since he did not want to embarrass his brothers in front of strangers. He knew that they were pious men and that he would have nothing to fear. Besides, he said to himself, “Better they kill me, than that I commit the moral equivalent of bloodshed by embarrassing them publicly. According to one opinion, the brothers were actually ready to attack Yosef and kill him. The angel Gabriel suddenly appeared, and scattered them to the four corners of the palace.
YOSEF THE TREASURER
The economic situation in Egypt during the years of famine. After describing the severity of the famine, we learn: Yosef gathered all the silver which was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan for the grain which they had bought, and Yosef brought the silver to Pharaoh’s house. [Bereishis 47:14]
This is most puzzling. What was the point of this exercise? And, more specifically, the exact sequence of events seems obscure. It seems that firstly all of the silver was collected by Yosef and then it was deposited in Pharaoh’s treasury. What did Yosef intend? It would surely have been more usual and, indeed more practical, to have passed the silver to Pharaoh’s treasury as I was delivered by the populace, rather than waiting until it had all been deposited before handing it on.
R’Avraham Bornstein zt’l explained that Yosef gathered all of the wealth of the world so that the nation of Israel would eventually take it with them when the Exodus came centuries later. This concept actually extends far beyond the purely physical money. There is as always a spiritual parallel to physical events. The word Kesef, the silver in our story, finds its basic meaning in the words longing or desire. This can be seen in the following verse.
And now, so you have left, as you longed [nichsof nichsaftah] for your father’s house. [Bereishis 31:30]
The physical silver was paralleled by a spiritual yearning, and it was that feeling that Yosef was “gathering,” so to speak, in his role as viceroy of Egypt. Yosef collected every bit of desire for holiness that was present in the world at that time, ready for the nation of Israel to use at the appropriate moment. In real spiritual terms, this was the great wealth with which Israel left Egypt.
When they reached a point of sufficient development in their exile, they were able to appreciate and utilize all these “sparks” of desire and left Egypt to prepare for holiness and Matan Torah. The physical silver that Yosef gathered was merely a front for this aim. We could describe it as an outer garment to the real purpose that Yosef had to achieve.
This explains why Yosef returned his brothers money when they came to buy grain in Egypt. The silver, or, in our context, the desire for matters spiritual, which already belonged to Yaakov and his family did not need to be gathered by Yosef. This was the starting point, the level of desire that they already possessed, even before the exile began. This was left with Yaakov’s sons, ready to be the base upon which all future longings for spirituality would be based.
This concept will help us to resolve our original difficulty: why did Yosef gather all the silver first, before handing any to Pharaoh? Yosef was a great tzaddik, and knew that the corruption and immorality of Egypt would not be healthy for the family of Yaakov. Therefore, all the wealth of Egypt had to pass through the hands of Yosef to ensure that they remained pure and holy.
So when Yaakov and his sons arrived in Egypt to commence the exile
, everything was in place: they brought with them their own “silver,” their present level of spiritual yearning, and the means by which their descendants would acquire similar, stronger feelings, Yosef’s collection of all the “silver” in the ancient world. This was the wealth that the Klal Yisrael took with them as they left Egypt giving them a solid foundation to building the nation of Hashem and be a light to the world until the days of Mashiach.
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