Intellectual Honesty by Rabbi Hershel Solnica


Parshat Vayigash is the climax of the story of Yosef as Yosef reveals himself to his brothers.  It is not simply the playing out of a soap opera, but rather a profound מוסר השכל, eternal ethical message, that should strike us deeply.

“And Yosef said to his brothers: ‘I am Yosef, is my father still alive?’”  (45:3).  The Seforno notes Yehuda’s inconsistency.  Yosef knew that Yaakov was still alive (יש לנו אב
זקן, 44:20); however, he derisively points at Yehuda and says, אי אפשר שלא מת מדאגתו עלי, “How is it possible that you did not worry about father’s health when you sold me?” 

The ילקוט שמעוני (45:154) says:אמר ר"ש בן אלעזר אוי לנו מיום הדין…יוסף קטנו של שבטים היה ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו…כשיבוא
הקב"ה ויוכיח לנו…על אחת כמה וכמה, “Rav Shimon ben Elazar says, ‘Woe to us on the day of judgment…Yosef was the youngest of the tribes, and the brothers could not respond to him…when Hashem comes to rebuke us, how much more so [will we not be able to answer]?!’”

The Seforno and the ילקוט שמעוני ought to scare us to tears when we think of our intellectual dishonesty.  How can we preach Derech Eretz when we practice so little of it?  How do we expect our young ones to speak decently and cleanly when we abuse, curse, and lack Shemirat Halashon?  How do we expect our children to pray with respect when we go to Shul and talk to our friends about the Mets and the stock market instead of talking to Hashem?  How do we expect the new generation to respect the Torah, the Shul, or טהרת המשפחה when we are simply indulgees in lip service?  אוי לנו, “Woe is to us.”  The day of judgment is not necessarily the end of our lives; perhaps it can refer to the middle of our lives when we see the foolishness of our hypocrisy.

Let the story of Yosef not simply be the text of a Broadway musical, but the framework of how we should live our lives, teach our young ones, and be role models for all of Klal Yisrael.  וינשק לכל אחיו ויבך…ואחרי כן דברו אחיו אתו, “And Yosef kissed all of his brothers, and he wept…and afterward his brothers spoke to him” (45:15).

It is time to show love to all and weep for our errors, and then the dialogue will begin and we can rightly expect redemption.

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