After Ya’akov Avinu dies and the brothers journey to Eretz Yisrael to fulfil Ya’akov’s wish of being buried with his family in ma’aras hamachpela, the Torah reports that the brothers were worried that Yosef would ‘pay them back’ for the bad that they had done to him in selling him into slavery years ago.

[1] Why were they suddenly worried? There are two answers, both stemming from the midrash;

[2] Rashi cites the first and the Chizkuni the second. Rashi’s answer is that the brothers used to all dine with Yosef in his palace, but once Ya’akov died, Yosef stopped these grand feasts, and so the brothers were worried that Yosef was starting to repay them for

their actions to him. The answer of the Chizkuni is that on the way back from burying Yaakov, the brothers passed by the pit which Yosef was thrown into, and Yosef made a [public] bracha thanking HaShem from his deliverance from such a precarious situation. The brothers then became worried that Yosef had brought back the memories of his having been sold by the brothers, and would punish them accordingly. We are going to go with Rashi’s answer for our purposes. Yosef reassures the brothers that there is nothing to worry about; he will continue to treat them well, and so their fears were unfounded.

[3] The question is, if Yosef harboured no new ill-feelings towards his brothers, why indeed did Yosef stop providing these royal feasts for his brothers after Ya’akov died? The Midrash Rabbah

[4] provides us with an answer. The Midrash reports that Yosef’s actions were leshem shamayim. Yosef felt that it was disrespectful to the brothers for him to sit at the head of the table, in front of Reuven and Yehudah, who were the firstborn and the symbol/ancestry of malchus respectively. However, as long as Ya’akov was alive, Yosef had no choice on the matter, for Ya’akov wanted the family to dine together and so Yosef had to honour his father’s wishes and put his personal feelings of ‘uncomfortableness’ aside. But after Ya’akov died, Yosef stopped the feast, for he felt that the seating arrangements were disrespectful for the brothers. [It seems that they had seating plan problems in those days too!] However, a different Midrash

[5] omits this reason, and so perhaps we can offer an alternative answer to the question of why Yosef called and end to these feasts after his father’s death? Perhaps we can introduce our answer with another talking point in our sedra. When Ya’akov dies, Yosef asks Pharaoh for permission to go to Eretz Yisrael to bury his father. Well, not exactly. The psukim report that rather than ask Pharaoh directly, Yosef asked the people of the royal house to ask Pharaoh on Yosef’s behalf.

[6] Why did Yosef not ask Pharaoh directly himself?

[7] One answer given is that once Ya’akov died, Pharaoh had already began to turn against the Bnei Yisrael.

[8] Pharaoh had been happy with Yosef for avoiding the troubles of the famine and for acquiring the land for Pharaoh, and indeed was satisfied with the bracha given to him by Ya’akov that the waters of the Nile should come up to greet Pharaoh. However, the years of famine were now over and Yaakov had died, and so Pharaoh did not have a particularly great need or want for the ‘new immigrants’ (Bnei Yisrael) and his gratitude for Yosef’s deeds had waned. In the words of the Mishna (Avos 2;3), ‘beware of people in authority for they only bring people near [ie act kindly] to them for their own needs. They make it appear like they like the person when it suits them (for their benefit), but do not act loyally to them when the person is in trouble.’ And so it was with Pharaoh; once he no longer needed Yosef and his family, he began to turn on them and act less favourably to them. This is why Yosef had to ask others to intercede with Pharaoh on his behalf; for Yosef could not get an audience with Pharaoh himself to request that he should bury his father, because Pharaoh had stopped speaking with Yosef directly. Using this answer, we can return to our question regarding why Yosef stopped dining with the brothers. We can suggest that when Yosef ate in the palace with his family, this was paid for by the royal coffers; sanctioned by Pharaoh as one of Yosef’s privileges. However, once Ya’akov died and Pharaoh began to behave differently towards Yosef and his brothers, this privilege was taken away from Yosef; he was no longer allowed to have these royal banquets on Pharaoh’s bill (and it’s quite possible that Pharaoh did not like/felt threatened by these family gatherings in and of themselves). Therefore, when Yosef reassures the brothers that they will have sustenance, he stresses the point that ‘I will provide for you sustenance,’

[9] alluding to the fact that previously the food was on Pharaoh’s account/bill, but now I shall be the one who provides the food from my account. The message here is to realise that galus is temporary, and that what can seem to be a peaceful life can turn around quickly, at the whim of the ruling power of the country. Jews across history have learnt this lesson the hard way; that when all seemed peaceful in the countries in which they settled, trouble and anti-Semitism flared up and the tranquillity was swept away. It is harder to feel this nowadays; we feel safer under modern systems of democracy than our ancestors probably felt under dictatorships or powerful monarchies. But the same theme is true; galus is temporary and history is a lesson to this. This is best underlined via a gemarra. The gemarra

[10] cites a cryptic and mysterious story, whose explanation complements our theme; here it is. ‘Rabbah bar bar Chana said: ‘we were once travelling on board a ship when we saw a giant fish which had much sand on its back, and vegetation was growing on this sand. We mistook it for an island (dry land), and disembarked onto this ‘island.’ We baked and cooked on it, and when it got hot, the fish turned over, and if our ship would not have been close by, we would have drowned.’’ One explanation of this gemarra is that it concerns life in galus. The giant fish symbolises any given country that we settle in in galus, and the point of the story is to tell us that no matter how secure one might feel in their place, one day ‘the fish will turn over;’ the country will turn its back on the Jews there, and cause them to flee to somewhere else. The point we are trying to convey is not necessarily that one should feel depressed at the temporary state of galus, nor the insecurity of living in a place where one has limited times of tranquillity. Rather, our point is to realise one of the six questions which the gemarra

[11] tells us that one will be asked when they leave this world; ‘did you anticipate/look out for the redemption?’ Realising the transience and temporary nature of galus is a prerequisite for anticipating Moshiach’s arrival. For the realisation that galus is temporary carries within it the acknowledgment that our true physical and spiritual ‘place/essence’ is not in galus, but as bnei ge’ulim; redeemed ones. And, in turn, the recognition that our essence does not belong in galus allows us to yearn, look to, and anticipate a time when we will be able to reach our real spiritual essence; the times of Moshiach. Have a great Shabbes!

[1] Bereishis 50:15

[2] Midrash Rabbah and Tanchuma

[3] Bereishis 50:19-21

[4] Midrash Rabbah 100:8

[5] Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis 50:15

[6] Bereishis 50:4

[7] The Midrash Rabbah 100:4 offers an answer that Yosef would not be allowed in the palace with his mourning garb.

[8] It seems that this answer will only work according to the opinion that this Pharaoh was the same Pharaoh who enslaved us years later, but not for the opinion that this was a different Pharaoh.

[9] Bereishis 50:21

[10] Gemarra Bava Basra 73b

[11] Gemarra Shabbos 31a

Add comment

Have something to say?
Please make your comment below!
All comments are reviewed prior to publication. Absolutely NO loshon hara or anything derogatory or hurtful to anyone will be permitted on the website.


Security code
Refresh