“Vayetzei Haechad Me’iti…Tarof Toraf,” “One son has left me…he has been torn to pieces” (44:28). I am writing this article Le’ilui Nishmat my sister, Sara Leah Bat Pinchas, who was Nifteret on the tenth of Shevat, 1995. Her Neshama should have an Aliyah.
The Yaakov Avinu we see before his sons return from Egypt seems deeply entrenched in his mourning. He is still so upset that when he is finally convinced that Yosef is indeed alive, the Pasuk says (43:27), “Vatechi Ruach Yaakov,” “the spirit of Yaakov was revived,” implying that his spirit was effectively lifeless in the intervening years. Why was Yaakov Avinu unable to get past the initial and most painful stages of mourning? To his knowledge, his son Yosef had died more than twenty years before! Why did he remain so upset?
When I was in the army, I was once wounded. It was not what you might think. I had only been in Tzahal for two weeks when an emergency broke out in Lebanon. Although I was not yet trained as a mechanized infantry soldier, I was fit to schlep – and schlep I did! My unit had just started basic training under very primitive and difficult conditions when we were taken out of the field, Besimcha Gedolah, to an army base, where we were to load trucks with ammunition and supplies. We enthusiastically began our task early in the morning, happy with the thought that anything would be better than what we had suffered during the previous two weeks. By midmorning, however, the great Simcha had disappeared. Our arms and legs were tired and heavy. By the afternoon, our backs were aching. About this time, I skinned the outermost knuckle on my left hand. “No big deal,” I thought; it hardly bled. I wiped it off and continued. By the time we finished, we were actually shivering and shaking with exhaustion – we were totally spent!
We were dismissed at 10:00 PM. As we walked to the twenty-man tents set up for us, we were exhaustedly joking that no earthly force could possibly keep us awake. A few hours later, I dreamt that I was sleeping in my childhood bedroom in Massachusetts. A Mac truck, parked immediately under the bedroom window, was blasting its horn at ear-splitting volume. I awoke, instinctively touching my skinned knuckle. I nearly jumped five feet in the air! The pain was unimaginable. The area around my knuckle was swollen nearly to the size of a golf ball! I suffered in this state for the rest of the night until the hospital base opened. The doctor told me that I had a very serious infection that had actually entered the bone. He put a mysterious yellow cream on the wound, dressed the wound, filled me with antibiotics, and sent me home. After about two days, the pain had diminished to the extent that I did not have to shower with my hand outside the shower. By the next day, sleeves could now touch the wound. A day or two later, I was back in the field. But even years later, every now and then, when the weather or temperature changes, I am aware of the wound. (In fact, it is even bothering me slightly as I write this article.)
For those of us who have been through it, Aveilut (mourning) is much the same. The first few days of Shiva are very painful. Afterwards, as the pain diminishes and the tears dwindle, the mourner becomes more comfortable. As the year progresses, the pain continues to subside. Still, even after the year is over and all the restrictions are off, the pain never completely goes away.
Chazal teach us that the natural diminishing of pain that a mourner experiences only occurs when someone actually dies. Yaakov Avinu, given his Ruach Kakodesh, never emerged from the initial stages of mourning because he knew on some level that Yosef was still alive. To him, the wound of Yosef’s death was still fresh.
Much like my wound, a former mourner’s pain causes him a twinge every now and then. This is particularly present on a Yahrtzeit. Unfortunately, I am afraid that Kaddish is waiting for all of us. It therefore hurts me to see people talking during Kaddish. What could anyone possibly have to say that is more important than answering “Amen” and “Yehei Shemei Rabbah?” The person saying Kaddish is reliving the pain of mourning. We must consider this and treat the occasion with proper respect.
Like Teacher, Like Student
by Willie Roth
Parshat Vayigash begins with Yehudah petitioning Yosef to free Binyamin from custody. Yehudah opens his famous speech by comparing Yosef to Pharaoh, saying, “Ki Kamocha Kifaroh,” “For you are like Pharaoh” (44:18). In what way is Yehudah comparing Yosef to Pharaoh?
Rashi clarifies that Yehudah is actually rebuking Yosef. Just as Pharaoh made promises that he did not keep, such as appointing Yosef as a ruler even though he was a slave, so, too, Yosef did not keep his promise that he would merely rest his eyes upon Binyamin, but in fact arrested him. However, it is still not clear what Yehudah was implying by comparing Yosef to Pharaoh.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explains that Yehudah’s comments should really be understood as follows. If Yosef makes decrees that he does not follow, people will think that his master, Pharaoh, does the same thing, since a servant usually imitates his master. This notion is found in Sefer Mishlei (29:12), which says, “Moshel Makshiv Al Divar Shaker, Kol Misharitav Rishaim” “When a ruler listens to a lie, all his servant are wicked.” However, the opposite is true as well. As the Gemara (Chullin 4b) states, if a master listens to truth, then his servants must be righteous. Chazal extrapolated this idea from the case of an adulteress, as the Torah says, “…Et Aviha Hee Michalelet…,” “She is disgracing her father” (Vayikra 21:9). Since we assume that the girl who committed this sin learned her evil ways from her father, he, too, is worthy of disgrace. Thus, by rebuking Yosef, Yehudah warned Yosef not to learn the evil ways of his master.
It is important to learn that when one acts, he does not only represent himself, but his parents and Rabbeim as well. If one acts righteously, people will be greatly impressed, and give much credit to his parents and teachers. However, if one acts inappropriately, people will blame the parents and teachers for his actions. Even more importantly, we must constantly remember that we represent Hashem and all that is associated with Him. This is truly a great responsibility, and one which we must constantly pay attention to.
It’s Not Just About Me
by Avi Wollman
The week’s Parsha starts with Yehuda asking Yosef, not knowing his true identity at the time, not to take Binyamin captive. He asks Yosef to show mercy toward their father, Yaakov, who would die if he found out that Binyamin had been taken prisoner. Finally, Yosef bursts out and reveals his true identity saying his famous line (45:3), “I am Yosef; is my father still alive?”
The Brisker Rav notes that in last week’s Parsha, Yosef also asked about Yaakov’s wellbeing and was told that he was alive and well. Therefore, the Brisker Rav asks, why did Yosef ask his brothers if Yaakov was still alive if he already knew his current condition? Ingeniously, the Brisker Rav answers that his was a different type of question, not one meant to be answered. When the brothers came to Yosef to ask him to spare Binyamin, their manner showed they thought Yosef was a completely heartless and cruel ruler. With this statement, Yosef intended to remind the brothers that they did not have this type of consideration for their father Yaakov when they sold Yosef into slavery and told Yaakov that he had been killed. They spent so much time involved in their personal issues and problems that it did not occur to them that they might be hurting their father in the process of taking care of themselves. Through Binyamin, Yosef tried to rebuke his brothers and point out their faults and misdeeds.
Quite often, we too get wrapped up in our lives and act without thinking of anyone else. It is often just a little too late when we realize how self-absorbed we have been and how we have wreaked havoc on the lives of others. In order to deal with our problems, we must start with ourselves. As the Pasuk says about Teshuva in Parshat Nitzavim (Devarim 30:11-13), "It is not in Heaven... It is not distant from you... For the matter is very near. It is in your mouth and heart to do it." We must train ourselves to think about the people around us and their needs, and then it will be “in your heart to do it.”
Wagons of Atonement
by Ben Krinsky
After Yosef reveals to his true identity his brothers, he commands them to go home and inform their father Yaakov that he is still alive. When they reveal this information to him, the Pasuk says (45:26), “Lo He’emin Lahem,” “he did not believe them.” The next Pasuk, however, says, “Vayar Et Haagalot… Vatichi Ruach Yaakov,” “and when he saw the wagons… the spirit of Yaakov was revived.” This Pasuk raises an obvious question: why did the wagons convince Yaakov that Yosef was still alive?
Rashi (ad loc.) explains that before Yosef was kidnapped, the last thing that he had learned with his father was the concept of Eglah Arufa. The Torah in Devarim 21:1-9 explains what to do if a person is found dead between cities, and no one knows who was responsible. The Torah commands that the elders of whichever city the body is closest to must take a young calf and kill it in a special ceremony. Since the word in Hebrew for calf (Eglah) is spelled the same as the word for wagon (Agalah), the wagons Yosef sent were symbolic of the Eglah Arufa. However, this explanation only makes sense if the wagons were not inherently necessary, and were sent for symbolic reasons. But given that they were sent to take Yaakov to Egypt, how do they symbolize Yosef’s learning about Eglah Arufa with his father?
Rabbenu Bachya believes that there is a deeper meaning to the connection between the wagons and the Eglah Arufa. Why do the elders of the city have to kill the calf in atonement in the first place? After all, they probably had nothing to do with the death! Rashi explains that since the elders did not pay attention and make sure the person leaving their city was properly protected, they must offer a sacrifice of atonement. The Eglah Arufa is teaching us that even if one indirectly contributes to something negative, he still has an obligation to atone for it. This is what Yosef accomplishes by specifically sending wagons to his father. Yosef is trying to send the message to Yaakov that he regrets that they have been separated for twenty-two years. Despite the fact that it was not his fault, he is asking his father to forgive him. Yosef wants to right the wrong he has been a part of by bringing his father to Egypt so they could one again spend more time together. When Yaakov sees this message, he realizes that it is Yosef trying to bring them back together, and that it must be true that Yosef is still alive.
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