“Where small men succumb, great men overcome.” This meaningful quote, ironically from Terrell Owens (yes, the football player), best describes Yosef’s life. In the last several weeks, we have read about Yosef’s ability to maintain his Emunah, even to resist tremendous temptation, in the face of adversity. After being sold by the brothers, Yosef arrives in Egypt, and credits God with all of his success in the house of Potiphar. Smaller men might abandon God after being treated the way Yosef was by his brothers, especially because (according to some explanations) the brothers sold Yosef in the role of a Beit Din, a Jewish court. But Yosef comes to Egypt and manages to pick himself up, only to face another great challenge. He stands firm with his religious morals, and where does it get him? He is thrown into jail. Is this how God rewards someone for doing the right thing? Smaller men might use this as an excuse, but not Yosef. He continues attributing success to God, this time in the form of his ability to interpret dreams. It is God, proclaims Yosef, who can interpret the dreams of the wine maker, bread baker, and ultimately Pharaoh. After Yosef overcomes all of these tests, he is faced with the ultimate challenge: his brothers stumble into his hands. What younger brother would not dream of the opportunity for revenge on his older brothers? Would any one have blamed Yosef for feeling bitter towards his brothers for the way they treated him?
Instead, the Torah in Parshat Vayigash describes the great sensitivity Yosef shows his brothers both in revealing his identity to them and in easing their move to Egypt. When he is ready to reveal his identity, he invites his brothers to his palace and sends all of his servants out in order to avoid publicly embarrassing his brothers. This gesture demonstrates great self-sacrifice; once his servants leave, Yosef’s life could be in danger. His brothers might attack him immediately in order to save Binyamin. Furthermore, Yosef cannot know what the response of his brothers will be once he reveals his identity. The same brothers who sold him into slavery and then hardly searched for him might want to prevent the disclosure of their terrible misdeed. When Yaakov will find out that Yosef is alive, he will inevitably also find out that the brothers sold him into slavery and lied for years about what had happened. With all these reasons to be afraid, it is even more remarkable that Yosef’s concern for his brothers’ dignity remains more important to him than his own safety. Yosef could not be faulted for not being so sensitive to his brothers, but he again overcomes all excuses.
Yosef’s attention to his brothers’ dignity continues later when the family is reunited in Egypt. Due to dire famine, the Egyptian people sell everything they have to Yosef for food. Yosef takes this opportunity to move around each Egyptian to a foreign locale so that the brothers will not feel like foreigners; after all, with nobody living in his home town, the brothers will feel no different. The Gemara (Chullin 60b) praises Yosef for this great expression of consideration to his brothers. Finally, possibly Yosef’s greatest sacrifice for the sake of not embarrassing his brothers is that for the seventeen years he has lived in Egypt, he has avoided a private encounter with his beloved father. Yosef feared that if he had a private meeting with his father, Yaakov would certainly ask what had happened to him. He did not want to put himself in a situation in which he would have to embarrass the brothers by telling his father the truth. To avoid this, Yosef sacrificed the special relationship he shared with his father.
Yosef symbolizes an ability to deal with adversity head-on and overcome it. He had plenty of excuses to lessen his level of sensitivity, but never used one. As Benjamin Franklin said, “I never knew a man who was good at making excuses who was good at anything else.” Yosef personified an extreme sensitivity, one that even under normal circumstances would be challenging, never mind the circumstances under which he was actually operating. Yosef leaves a legacy of taking all kinds of circumstances, no matter how challenging, and using them not as an excuse, but rather as an opportunity.
by Zev Kahana
One of the most moving accounts in the entire Torah is when Yaakov is reunited with his son, Yosef, after being separated for twenty-two years. The Chumash states, “Yosef harnessed his chariot and went up to meet Yisrael his father, to Goshen; and he appeared to him, and he fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck excessively” (46:29).
One common question on this Pasuk is: who was the one doing the weeping? It is unclear whether it was Yosef or Yaakov. The Torah does say “he wept” in the singular, implying that only one cried. This contrasts with the reunion of Yaakov and Eisav, where the Torah says, “And they wept” (33:4). There, because the Pasuk uses the plural “they,” there is no question as to who did the weeping; in our Parsha, though, we are not sure if it is referring to the subject of the Pasuk, Yosef, or the apparent antecedent of the pronoun, “his father Yisrael.”
Rashi answers this question by suggesting, “It was Yosef who appeared unto his father and wept on his neck…but Yaakov did not fall on Yosef’s neck, and he did not kiss him. Our rabbis state that he was reciting Shema.” Ramban, disagreeing with Rashi, claims that it was actually Yaakov who wept on his son’s neck.
These two commentators help us understand why the Pasuk specifically says that “he wept on his neck excessively.” According to Ramban, who feels that Yaakov was the one crying, the Pasuk says “excessively” because he had already been crying for twenty-two years over his son, and now he continued to cry even more. According to Rashi, who believes that Yosef was the one crying, the Pasuk says “excessively” because Yosef had not been able to cry for all these years. Now that he had the opportunity to cry, he wept excessively.
Rashi’s position still leaves one more question: why was Yaakov reciting the Shema? What is the connection between this reunion and Shema? Rav Soloveitchik suggests a beautiful answer to this question. He notes that in Shema, we mention the Mitzvah for a father to teach his son Torah: “VeShinantam LeVanecha,” “Teach [Torah] thoroughly to your children” (Devarim 6:7). Over the twenty-two years of separation, Yaakov did not have the opportunity to teach Torah to his son Yosef. Yaakov’s recital of the Shema at this time expressed his joy that he would finally be able to fulfill this Mitzvah.
A famous Midrash on our Parsha expresses this point as well. It says that the Agalot, wagons, sent by Yosef to Yaakov hinted at the topic of Eglah Arufah. Since Yaakov and Yosef were learning about Eglah Arufah just before Yosef was sold, the Agalot demonstrated to Yaakov that Yosef still remembered the Torah he had learned with Yaakov. Clearly, then, the Mitzvah of VeShinantam LeVanecha was a major aspect of the relationship between Yaakov and Yosef. Now that they were reunited, Yaakov took some time to thank Hashem for returning to him the ability to fulfill VeShinantam LeVanecha.
Diligence in Mitzvot
by Avi Levinson
Parshat Vayigash opens with Yehudah’s impassioned pleas that Yosef allow Binyamin, the alleged thief of Yosef’s “magic” goblet, to go back home to Yaakov. In his final argument, Yehudah begs Yosef to accept him as a slave instead of Binyamin, because Yehudah had assumed responsibility for Binyamin’s return (see Bereishit 43:9). He asks Yosef, “Ki Eich E’eleh El Avi VeHaNa’ar Einenu Iti,” “For how can I go up to my father if the youngster is not with me?” (44:34).
A simple question must be raised here: how old was Binyamin at this point? If one looks back at the story of Binyamin’s birth in Parshat Vayishlach (35:16-20), it seems clear that Binyamin was born before Yaakov entered Eretz Yisrael (see Ramban to Vayikra 18:25). We know from Rashi (Bereishit 28:9 s.v. Achot Nevayot) that Yaakov was 77 when he arrived at Lavan’s house, and he worked for 20 years until Yosef was born. Yaakov spent 2 years traveling back to Eretz Yisrael, at which point Binyamin was born. From this sequence of events, we see that Binyamin was only 2 years younger than Yosef. Yosef was 39 years old at the beginning of this week’s Parsha (see Rashi ibid.), making Binyamin 37. If so, why was he called “Na’ar,” a youngster?
Ibn Ezra and Ramban discuss a similar question regarding the description of Yehoshua in Shemot 33:11 as “Na’ar” when he is already 56 years old (possibly only 42, see Seder Olam). Ramban explains that servants are always called “Na’ar,” however old they are. If so, Yehudah was referring to Binyamin as a youngster because he was addressing royalty, and as such, Binyamin was considered Yosef’s servant. Ibn Ezra, however, explains that Yehoshua was called a youngster because he served Moshe with enthusiasm and diligence – Zerizut – as if he was a youngster. If we apply this explanation to Binyamin, it means that Binyamin was someone who acted with Zerizut. In what way did Binyamin act with enthusiasm and diligence?
Perhaps the answer lies in a Rashi from last week’s Parsha (43:30 s.v. Ki Nichmeru Rachamav), in which Rashi explains that the names of Binyamin’s sons all hinted to the tragedy he thought had befallen Yosef, namely being eaten by a wild animal. In this way, Binyamin was diligent in preserving the memory of Yosef.
With this explanation of the Ibn Ezra, one of the Chassidic masters gleaned a powerful lesson from Yehudah’s words by applying them to how we do Mitzvot. He interpreted the verse as saying, “For how can I go up to my father (Hashem), if the Na’ar (i.e. No’ar, youthful enthusiasm and diligence toward Mitzvot) is not with me?”
It is very important to do Mitzvot with enthusiasm. Chazal make this point in Mechilta on the Pasuk in Parshat Bo (12:17), “UShmartem Et HaMatzot,” “And you shall guard the Matzot” (so that they do not become Chameitz- Rashi). Rabbi Yoshiah makes a play on words and reads “Matzot” as “Mitzvot” (both are spelled with the same letters). In other words, just like we must guard the Matzot from becoming Chametz by not letting them sit for too long, we must also be careful to guard the Mitzvot from becoming “Chametz” and do them as soon as we get the opportunity.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner emphasizes, in the first comment on Pesach in his famous work entitled Pachad Yitzchak, that a Mitzvah that is not done with Zerizut may be a Mitzvah, but it is blemished in some fashion. From Binyamin and Yehoshua we should learn that it is of paramount importance to take advantage of opportunities to do any Mitzvot that we can. If we can incorporate this enthusiasm into our lives, then we will merit seeing Mashiach BiMheira VeYameinu, Amen! -Adapted from a Drasha by Rabbi Paysach Krohn on the topic of Zerizut
by Chaim Strassman
Parshat Vayigash opens with Yosef’s brothers arguing with him as to whether or not Binyamin, the youngest brother, will be allowed to go back to his father Yaakov. Yehudah, speaking for the brothers, makes the argument that Binyamin has to return to Yaakov, for if Binyamin will be kept away, Yaakov will die. This does not seem to make sense. The brothers apparently did not care a bit about what would befall Yaakov when they sold Yosef; why are they so worried now about what will happen to him if Binyamin stays in Egypt?
There are many answers to this question. Rav Zalman Sorotzkin suggests that the brothers are not actually arguing about Binyamin, but rather about themselves. What Yosef really wanted was to imprison all the brothers save Binyamin. Then Binyamin would go back home while the other brothers would remain imprisoned in Egypt. However, the brothers now object to this idea, ostensibly because they are looking out for Yaakov. Not only do they want Binyamin to go back home; they want every brother to go back except for one (not Binyamin), a desire that they couch in terms of danger to Yaakov.
We may also suggest a different answer based on an alternate reading of Yehudah’s concern. We so far have assumed that when he voices the fear that “he will die” (44:31), Yehudah refers to Yaakov. However, one could argue that he is actually saying that Binyamin is delicate, so Yosef should not imprison him because it might be fatal. Rather, Yehudah suggests that he be imprisoned in place of Binyamin. Thus, the brothers are not concerned for Yaakov’s safety any more than before; they are expressing concern for Binyamin’s life.
One word in the Pasuk particularly supports this alternative answer. The Pasuk consistently describes Binyamin as a “Na’ar” (44:22, 30, 32, and more). The Mishnah teaches that a Na’arah is a girl between the ages of twelve and twelve and a half years of age. The male equivalent, Na’ar, also refers to a very young male. Yet by the end of this week’s Parsha, Binyamin already has ten children! How is it possible for a twelve-year-old to have so many children? Obviously, Binyamin must be much older than twelve. If so, why is Binyamin referred to as a Na’ar?
To answer this question, we return to the Mishnah, which indicates that a Na’arah is an adult in some senses but still has specific connections to her parents. This is apparently true of Binyamin, as well. Although he is an adult in terms of age, he is still very dependent on Yaakov. All the other brothers are shepherds and can live on their own, but ever since the disappearance of Yosef, Yaakov would not let Binyamin go out, which created in Binyamin a strong connection to and dependency upon Yaakov. By using this term “Na’ar,” the brothers are relating how important it is that Binyamin be safely returned to Yaakov.
Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Ariel Caplan, Jesse Dunietz
Managing Editors: Etan Bluman, Roni Kaplan
Publication Managers: Josh Markovic, Gavriel Metzger
Publication Editors: Kevin Beckoff, Avi Levinson
Business Manager: Jesse Nowlin
Webmaster: Avi Wollman
Staff: David Gross, Shmuel Reece, Dov Rossman, Chaim Strassman, Yitzchak Richmond, Josh Rubin
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Chaim Jachter