- Written by Daniel Sandground
- Hits: 1023
The mefarshim ask why out of all the brothers was it Yehudah who actually stepped forward? If we look back in the Torah to when Yoseph was originally sold, we see that it was Yehudah who was the main perpetrator of these events, so what we now see is how he seems to have changed character and learnt from his harsh rulings on Yoseph by stepping forward in the defense of his younger brother. Amazingly this goes further however with Yehudah even offering himself as a slave in place of Binyamin as a final bargaining plea to save him; an act which the mefarshim describe as a keporah in the form of "מדה כנגד מדה"; for just as Yehudah offered Yoseph as a slave, now he would be the one offering himself as a slave to Yoseph. We also learn that the reason why Yehudah took this active role is because he had a lot more to lose if Binyamin was taken as a slave than the others; back in Parashas Mikeitz the Torah taught us how he had promised his father that he would “personally guarantee him” and went further to state that “if I do not bring him back to you and stand him before you, then I will have sinned against you for all time” [both 43:9]. Chazal read into this assurance as one which means that not only would he sin against his father for the rest of his life but also in his life in the world to come if he did not return Binyamin… this was therefore a pretty solid way to back up a promise for his brother's safety!!
If we analyse the actual words of this long dialogue which was transmitted by Yehudah, then we can see hints at some of the feelings he was holding towards the situation at hand. The Torah quotes Yehudah's opening sentence to Yoseph, in which he requested that, “If you please, my lord, may your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears and let not your anger flare up at your servant – for you are like Pharaoh” [44:18]. The mefarshim teach that by requesting permission that he 'speak a word in my lord's ear', Yehudah was asking Yoseph to actually listen to his words, hinting to the fact that he accepted that his plea might actually be in vain. Rashi also points out from this opening sentence that by asking Yoseph not to ‘let (his) anger flare up’, Yehudah was technically warning the viceroy that he was about to speak in a blunt manner which could well arouse Yoseph’s anger, he therefore wanted to prevent Yoseph being caught by surprise and reacting furiously to his change in tone. Perhaps the most intriguing insights brought down, however, come from the final words of this opening sentence in which Yehudah tells Yoseph that, “you are like Pharaoh” [44:18]. At face value this seems to be a praise of the viceroy of Egypt with Yehudah surely comparing Yoseph favourably to the powerful king himself? We are taught by Rashi, however, that hidden within these words, lies both a threat and an insult. He explains how, by telling Yoseph that he is just like Pharaoh, Yehudah was actually threatening him and warning him how if he took Binyamin as a slave, he too would suffer the same fate that Pharaoh had previously when he took his great grandmother Sarah (Parashas Lech Lecha) and was consequently afflicted with a nasty skin disease that made cohabitation impossible (this was to assure that Sarah’s chastity would be safeguarded). What Yehudah was really therefore saying was that just as Pharaoh (the last Egyptian leader to take a Jewish captive) was punished directly by Hashem, so too will you be if you proceed with your plan to enslave Binyamin! Rashi also adds that by stating that Yoseph is 'just like Pharaoh', Yehudah was also implying that he was as devious and dishonest as the corrupt leader… insulting indeed.
Following on from Yehudah's dramatic plea for his brother, the Torah states that Yoseph, “could not restrain himself (anymore)” [45:1] and with this he was ready to reveal his true identity at last, and therefore consequently, after so many years of being parted from his family he was finally going to be reunited. What we observe during this emotionally tense time, however, is the incredible character of Yoseph with the next series of actions from him revealing how much of a Tzadik he had remained. The first of these observations comes from Rashi who notes that, rather than embarrassing his brothers in the presence of so many bystanders, Yoseph immediately ordered that they “remove everyone from before me” [45:1]. Contrary to this opinion, Rashbam sees this act in a different light and puts it down to Yoseph's personal concern regarding his own self image as he explains, it would have been seen as unseemly for him to break into tears in the presence of so many outsiders. With the removal of the other people who were present, the Torah informs us that Yoseph “cried out in a loud voice” [45:2], which shows how intense a build-up of emotion the whole episode must have caused which in turn quashes any view that he was enjoying the bullying of his brothers to see if they were righteous. Yoseph clearly didn't enjoy the tactics which were necessary in order to test his brothers and we see proof of this by the fact that he was extremely relieved to put an end to theses trials.
So the moment had finally come with Yoseph revealing himself with the words, “I am Yoseph. Is my father still alive?” [45:3]. From this revelation, we therefore see that Yoseph’s primary concern was his farther, and although he had been told several times by his brothers that Yaakov was indeed alive, the Ralbag explains that he needed to ask this additional time in order to verify that their information had been accurate. He expands by informing us that they could have been lying as part of a ploy to free Binyamin from inevitable slavery through the method of winning over Yoseph's sympathy and therefore their information regarding his safety was not reliable. According to Sforno, Yoseph wondered how his father could have survived so many years of sorrow following his tragic loss when he disappeared all those years prior and he explains that this is why he asked of his father immediately following his revelation. Unsurprisingly, the Torah describes how the brothers were left in a state off shock following Yoseph's revelation and “could not answer him because they were left disconcerted before him” [45:3]. Although at face value this seems quite an obvious reaction, the Chofetz Chaim gives an alternative, deeper reason for their silence by explaining that when Yoseph said “I am Yoseph”, Hashem’s master plan became clear to the brothers and they had no more questions, everything that had happened for the past twenty two years fell into perspective, hence their silence. He goes on to explain that, so too will it be in the time to come when Hashem will reveal himself and announce, “I am Hashem!” and the veil will be lifted from our eyes that we will comprehend everything that transpired throughout history and personally in our lives and will also be silent at this understanding... May it happen speedily in our days!
I wish everyone a Shabbat Shalom.
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)