Thursday, December 28, 2006

Vayigash by Reb Jay

In this week’s parsha, there is the culmination to the story of Yoseph and his brothers.

We see that the written and oral law do not whitewash the stories of our ancestors. If Yehudah and his brothers had simply wanted Yoseph out of the picture for malicious reasons, there is no way they would have been worthy in the eyes of Hashem to be the progenitors of the Jewish nation. So there must be more to the story.

The 12 tribes represented a unified Klal Yisroel—nation of Israel, with each brother taking a different role. Yehudah, as leader of the brothers, felt there was something in Yoseph which would lead to the ultimate disentigration of the tribes. These ideas were not produced out of thin air. When he saw Yoseph coming forward with dreams proclaiming that the brothers would eventually bow down to him, and when Yoseph would report anything that he perceived as negative back to Yaakov, Yehudah seriously worried for the future of the 12 tribes. He, along with the brothers, deemed it necessary for Yoseph to be out of the picture. Their first thought was to kill him. Later, they decided to sell him, and they told Yaakov he had been killed by a wild animal.

Why did Yoseph do these things that created such acrimony between him and his brothers? It says in Psalms: “Turn away from evil and do good.” This is manifest in the 2 types of commandments: positive commandments such as praying, tefilin, etc, and negative commandments such as not to steal, not to eat non-kosher animals, etc. Yoseph saw it as his responsibility to rebuke his brothers, to persuade them to turn away from evil (for this reason Yoseph “told” on his brothers to Yaakov. In reality he had judged them wrongly). In fact, when the Jewish people are redeemed, there will be 2 steps: first there will be the Moshiach from the house of Yoseph. His job will be to turn the Jews away from evil. Then shall come the Moshiach from the house of David, who will lead them in doing good. So although Yehudah fears of the disunity that Yoseph would cause were not unfounded (Rav Tzadok in fact explains, that, to a degree, these fears proved true 700 years later, when 10 tribes broke off, led by Yeravam, the leader of the tribe of Ephraim, who was the son of Yoseph) he misunderstood Yoseph’s motivation. And Yoseph was too impetuous in how he carried out his behavior.

After being sold, Yoseph ended up in Egypt where many miraculous events occurred to his benefit. Eventually Yoseph ended up as Prime Minister. Not knowing he was their brother Yoseph the brothers came to him to procure food , as a terrible famine is raging throughout the region.

Yoseph gave them a very hard time. He went so far as to plant a goblet in his brother Binyamin’s bag, accused him of stealing it, and told the brothers Binyamin must remain in an Egyptian prison. Only after Yehudah confronted him did he admit that he is their long lost brother Yoseph.

Why did he do this? Yoseph, now a man, still understood that it was his role to rebuke the brothers. Not rebuke them needlessly, but to improve them. The greatest test to see if a person regrets an action taken is to put him in the exact same situation. So Yoseph took Binyamin, who like Yoseph was the son of Rachel (they were the only two children Rachel had) and put him in a situation where he would be torn away from the family. It was the same situation as twenty two years earlier, when Yoseph was torn away from his father . Would they stand up for him? This time the brothers got it right and fought for their brother. When Yoseph saw this, he realized they had truly atoned for their earlier actions.

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