Parshas VaYigash 5759

A straightforward approach to Avodas Hashem.

"And Yehuda approached him (Yosef) and said, "please (Bi) my Lord. . .. " (Berieshis 44:18)

The verse says only that he approached him, but it doesn't specify who he approached. Since it is written ambiguously it can be considered an allusion.

"And Yehuda approached him", refers to Hashem. Yehuda is a hint to the Yehudi, the Jew. Here is a lesson how a Jew is can present himself to Hashem. Our Rabbis said, "Even though they have transgressed, they are still called Yisroel." (Sanhedrin 44a) "And even though they are defiled, the Divine presence is still amongst them." (Midrash Toras Cohanim, Parshas Metzora)

When a Jew looks at himself reflectively and considers how distant he really is from having a true connection with Hashem, if he at least harbors a desire to do Teshuva, even though he is defiled, (by being distant from the source of life) he is still called Yisroel. One ought to strengthen himself and say, "The way I am, is the way I am. This is the way I will approach Hashem." And since a Jew possesses a divine spark which never can be extinguished, he can come to Hashem saying, "Here I am. What you see is what you get (at present)."

This is the meaning if Bi Adoni (please my Lord), I am approaching You with the eternal divine spark that is inside of me (bi). "The bottom line", one says to Hashem, "Is that I am Jew and a Jew has a divine spark. There is always a part of me which is connected to You, no matter how far I might stray!"


R' Aharon of Karlin was once in Mezhibuzh, the town where the Ba'al Shem Tov lived and is buried. He wanted to go to the gravesite of the Ba'al Shem Tov to pray.

He turned to his attendant, questioning, "Nu, was sogst du? (What do you say?) How can we go to the Ba'al Shem HaKodesh empty-handed? We haven't got mitzvos to our credit, nor good deeds. We can hardly learn properly, much less daven!"

For some 20 minutes Reb Aharon stalled, lost in thought, searching for a strategy that would allow him to approach the Holy resting site of the Ba'al Shem Tov.

Finally he exclaimed, "Is it not true that simple people, unlearned women and children come here to pour out their hearts? If so, then we also shall go and pour out our hearts like them."

The winner doesn't necessarily come out on top.

“And Yosef said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me', and they approached. And he said to them, ‘I am your brother Yosef that you sold me to Egypt.'” (Bereishis 45:4)
The Ohr HaChayim HaKodesh asks why did Yosef repeat himself here telling his brothers his identity? Already, in the previous verse he revealed himself to them, “I am Yosef, is my father still alive. . .?” He knew it wasn't the brothers at all who caused his hardship, but the hand of Hashem. Therefore he wanted to calm them since he saw they were terrified and ashamed like thieves caught red-handed. Imagine their embarrassment, they had done all they could to be rid of him; they taunted him, pursued him, threw him into a deep pit with the intention of killing him and now here reappears, the virtual King of Egypt, and they are dependent on him for their very lives. All this Yosef knew, but he wanted them to be at ease and not to feel ashamed. “I am your brother Yosef. . .”; they didn't believe it was true and he wanted to reassure them that it was. Despite all that had happened, he was still behaving towards them like a brother. Even more, he reminded them, “. . . that you sold me to Egypt”. He implored them to believe that during the entire ordeal he never, at any time, maintained any feelings of anger or hate against them. “Although I don't know if I will remain alive or dead, I nevertheless forgive you.” This was Yosef's constant thought. And this was the proof that he was indeed Yosef since nobody but these 10 brothers knew what had happened 22 long years ago.

This idea provides an answer to a very challenging question asked by many commentators. During all the years Yosef was flourishing in Egypt; why didn't he dispatch a message to his father to inform him that he was still alive? Moreover, when Yosef met his brothers for the first time in years, and they bowed down to him, as it is written, “And Yosef remembered his dreamed that he had dreamed about them”. (Bereishis 42:9) Rashi points out that now he saw his dreams become reality. Why did he not reveal himself then and there, letting them know in no uncertain terms after all this time, that he was right and the dreams did come true. He could have had the small satisfaction after all the hardship he experienced to say, “I told you so”! And if he would have revealed himself at that moment, then they would have immediately grasped the truth, that he was Yosef and their sarcastic claim, “So will you be the King over us, you will rule over us...”, (Bereishis 37:8) was in fact the truth. Nevertheless, he kept his secret to himself.

Yosef chose to have pity on his brothers and to hold himself back from the thrill of triumph. The drive to be right, and to have one's will prevail over another's was a trait that Yosef repressed and never let have it's say. For that reason, at the critical moment, when the dreams were being fulfilled and the brothers, like the stars in the sky and the sheaves of grain in the field were bowing down to Yosef, he concealed his identity from them so as not to claim his victory and thereby greatly embarrass and disparage his brothers. That was something which Yosef wished to avoid at all cost. In the minds of the brothers they were bowing down to some Egyptian minister.

This is why, says the Kedushas Levi, (Parshas Miketz, beginning vayavo'u) Yosef didn't send a message to father revealing that he was alive. Certainly the news would have reached the ears of the brothers, and imagine their embarrassment in front of their father when he learned the truth about what had happened and how his sons had conspired to deceive him and protect themselves. They would then have to return to Egypt with Binyomin or with Ya'acov; their faces to the ground in embarrassment and disgrace knowing that now the dreams were being fulfilled. Yosef preferred to remain anonymous thus protecting the feelings of his brothers.

The benefits of such a policy are twofold, Firstly, one doesn't offer any encouragement to the all-too-human Yetzer (drive or ambition) that wants always to conquer another, leaving him maimed and demoralized as a result.

The second benefit is the avoidance of causing pain or emotional turmoil to another. A pleasant side effect is, that in the process, the other one gets the pleasure of having been correct or agreed with. For example, R' Yisroel Salanter would endeavor to find some pretext to back down from any argument in order to not have to win and cause anguish to another. And imagine the other's delight when he realized that not only did he match wits with the great R' Yisroel Salanter, but that he also adopted his opinion!

R' Yitzchok Meir of Gur, the Chiddushei HaRim, also used this practice. Once he paid a visit to R' Yeshaya Mushkat of Prague. A certain Torah scholar came to speak with him and posed a difficult Talmudic problem which the Chiddushei HaRim was able to solve without too much trouble., The visiting scholar however, was not so ready to accept the answer and refuted it harshly. R' Yeshaya then entered into a lengthy debate with the guest while the Chiddushei HaRim listened intently, but did not offering any more opinions. Finally, R' Yeshaya was compelled to agree with the visiting scholar.

The next day, R' Yeshaya took a good look at the problem they had debated and to his amazement he realized that the Chiddushei HaRim had been correct from the beginning.

He immediately set out for the quarters of the Chiddushei HaRim and confronted him, “Why didn't you push your opinion forward yesterday if you knew you were correct?”

“I saw from the onset”, answered the Chiddushei HaRim, “That the esteemed scholar had erred in his understanding of the basic reading of the text in question. If his true motive would have been to arrive at the truth, I would have pressed the point and showed him where he erred. But since I saw that his goal was to emerge victorious from the debate, I feared that my own Yetzer (drive or ambition) to win would overcome me. Since it is forbidden to gain honor from the Torah (Avos 1:13), I stayed out of the discussion completely, even though the scholar mistakenly thought that he succeeded in the debate.
(Based on Sefer HaMa'ayan HaNitzchi, Parshas Miketz, Ma'amar Beis)

Hashem's plans always succeed.

"And to his father he sent ten donkeys laden with the good things of Egypt. . . ". (Bereishis 45:23)
Why did Yosef send ten donkeys to Ya'acov? To what was he trying to hint?

The Maharal of Prague, (Gur Aryeh on Bereishis 45:23) writes that Yosef was trying to tell Ya'acov that the ten brothers, now returning to Canaan to bring Ya'acov down to Egypt, were like ten donkeys. A donkey only knows to carry it's load at the behest of it's master, without knowledge of what he is carrying, why or to where. So too the brothers. During the entire drama of the sale of Yosef, they were like donkeys. They had no awareness of it, but everything they did was according to a divine plan. They behaved according to the will of Hashem, thereby putting into place the eventual birth of the Jewish nation. It must be that this appeased Ya'acov, for he never scolded or derided his sons over the incident and its aftermath.

Yosef also sent calves to Ya'acov as a sign that he was indeed alive. The laws of the Eglah Ha'Arufa were the last subject they had studied together 22 years previous. But the Egelos (calves) which alluded to the Eglah Ha'Arufa, contained another message. When a dead man was found between cities and it was impossible to find the murderer, an Eglah Ha'Arufa was used to atone for the man's death and absolved the surrounding cities from any guilt. (Devarim 21:1-9) Likewise, Yosef indicated to Ya'acov that here there was no place for guilt. Each “player” in this drama did exactly as he was supposed to do. Everything was orchestrated perfectly by Hashem.
(Sefer Beis Yisroel 5715)

The interrelationship between Torah and Teshuva.

"And he (Ya'acov) sent Yehuda before him to Yosef to show (instruct) the way to the Land of Goshen, and then they came into the land of Goshen." (Bereishis 46:28)
Rashi quotes the Midrash which interprets the word to “show” or “instruct” (l'horos l'fanav). The Midrash learns that he was sent to establish a house of study or instruction (hora'a), which would serve to perpetuate their already established tradition of Torah learning.

Says the Divrei Yisrael, the Rebbe of Modjitz, when it comes to learning Torah, everything is dependent on Teshuva. This is reflected in the fifth blessing of the weekday Shmoneh Esreh. "Return us our Father (in Teshuva) to Your Torah, bring us close, our King, to Your service, and bring us back to You in wholehearted repentance. Blessed are You Hashem who desires repentance."

Teshuva comes first as a prerequisite to Torah, and afterwards serves as the safeguard for the Torah learned. Yehuda is considered one of the ultimate Baalei Teshuva.

The famous incident of Yehuda and Tamar is found in Genesis 38. Yehuda takes Tamar as the wife for his son Er. He was a bad guy and dies while Tamar is still a young woman. Yehuda commands his next oldest son, Onan, to marry his brother's widow and to perpetuate his name by having a child with her. (This is the Torah's first levirite marriage.) Onan doesn't like the idea of having to carry on for his brother and withdraws during relations so as not to impregnate Tamar. This act did not find favor in Hashem's eyes, and Onan also soon died. Yehuda promised his youngest son Shelah to Tamar as soon as he becomes of age. Tamar returns to her father's home a lonely widow. Years pass, Yehuda himself becomes a widower and neglects to marry his son Shelah to Tamar.

Nevertheless, Tamar knew that she was destined to be the mother of the Jewish monarchy. When Yehuda went out to the sheep shearing one season, she waited for Yehuda at a crossroads, disguised as a prostitute. Yehuda seeking comfort for the loss of his wife, and not recognizing Tamar, initiates relations with her for the price of a kid goat. Not having the animal with him, he leaves her some personal effects as security. When he later sends one of his men to deliver the goat to the prostitute, she is nowhere to be found (having returned to her father's home and resumed her widow's garb). "Let her keep the security", exclaimed Yehuda, wanting to be finished with the affair. (Bereishis 38:23)

Three months later came the report that Tamar, the widowed daughter-in-law of Yehuda, was pregnant. Yehuda passed judgment that she is to be burned alive for her lack of propriety. As she was being taken to her punishment, she sent a messenger with the personal effects of Yehuda saying that the owner of the items was the father of her child.

Yehuda immediately recognized them. He could have denied the charge and skirted the affair for life. Yet he publicly admitted his involvement with her exclaiming, "She is more righteous (innocent) than I, for I neglected to marry her to my son Shelah." (Bereishis 38:26)

Tamar gave birth to twins, Peretz and Zerach. Peretz, the oldest, was a direct ancestor of King David. (Ruth 4:18-20)

This quality of Teshuva is reflected in the blessing that Moshe Rabbenu gave to the tribe of Yehuda before his death. (Devarim 33:7) Normally the blessings for the tribes are given in chronological order, from oldest to youngest. Nevertheless Moshe Rabbenu preempts the blessings of Shimon and Levi, and blesses Yehuda, the fourth-born, right after Reuven, the first-born. Why? Rashi says that he was grouped together with Reuven since he also was a Ba'al Teshuva. (After the death of Rachel, Ya'acov moved his bed from her tent to the tent of her maidservant Bilhah. Reuven, concerned for the honor of his mother, removed the bed to her tent. (Bereishis 35:22) The Gemarra (Shabbos 45b) tells us that it is considered as if he actually slept with his father's wife. Reuven, however did Teshuva for his act.)

Therefore, since Teshuva is the prerequisite to Torah, there is no better person than Yehuda to entrust with the mission of establishing the House of Study in Egypt.

The Chassidic path of divine service.

". . .and he (Yosef) fell on his (Ya'acov's) neck and wept for a long time." (Bereishis 46:29)
Rashi comments that Ya'acov didn't reciprocate Yosef's display of affection, and didn't weep, or hug and kiss him at all. At that moment, says the Midrash, he was occupied with reciting the Shema.

Why did Ya'acov decide that that moment, his reunion with his beloved son Yosef after 22 years, was an appropriate time to recite the Shema?

The Baal Shem Tov taught that this is the way of the chassidus. One disciplines oneself to turn every urge and emotion towards Hashem. Therefore, when one feels like showing affection for a loved one, one should direct those emotions into affection for Hashem. Ya'acov, when he first saw Yosef after 22 years, wanted to throw his arms around him. Nevertheless he restrained himself and turned all of that love to Hashem, saying the Shema as the ultimate fulfillment of the commandment, "You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all soul and with all your might." (Devarim 6:5)

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