Mind Over Matter by Rabbi Sariel Malitzky


The long wait was finally over. After twenty-two long years of believing that his son was dead, Yaakov Avinu would finally be able to see his son.  We can only imagine how much Yosef HaTzadik and his father Yaakov longed to be with each other.  After all, Yosef was the Ben Zekunim whom Yaakov Avinu loved more than anyone else.  Finally, Yosef would be able serve his father, learn with him, and properly fulfill the Mitzvah of Kibud Av VaEim.  However, the Torah seems to imply that, even after being united, Yaakov and Yosef really did not spend much time together.  The Pasuk states, “VaYehi Achar HaDevarim HaEileh VaYomer LeYosef Hinei Avicha Choleh,” “And it came to pass after these things that someone said to Yosef, ‘Behold! – your father is ill’” (Bereishit 48:1).  The Daat Zekeinim MiBaalei HaTosafot asks: why did they have to tell Yosef that his father was sick?  Shouldn’t he have known that his father was sick?  One would think that they were in constant contact with each other!

He answers that in truth, Yosef did not spend time with his father and actually chose to avoid his father.  Yosef was scared that his father would ask him what had really transpired on that mysterious day twenty two years earlier.  Yaakov thought Yosef had died and would want to know how he had been saved and if wondrous miracles had occurred.  However, this was a conversation that Yosef did not want to have.  He did not, under any circumstances, want to tell his father what his brothers had done, because he felt that such information would do more harm than good.  Therefore, as much as he longed to be with his father, Yosef pushed that desire away in order to distance himself from potentially having to tell Lashon HaRa and embarrassing his brothers.  Yosef had the ability to use his Seichel, his mind, to conquer his emotion and to do what he knew was right, putting Halacha before his personal interests.

From the Daat Zekeinim, we see that Yaakov Avinu never discovered the truth about what happened to Yosef, a conclusion that is also the opinion of the Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya (45:27; see, however, Rashi to Bereishit 49:6 and 9).  Later in the Parasha, the brothers came to Yosef and told him that Yaakov had commanded them to tell Yosef that he must forgive them for the injustices they had perpetrated against him years before.  The Gemara (Yevamot 65b) notes that this interaction is the source for the Halacha that one may lie for the sake of peace, as Yaakov never made such a statement to the brothers, but they lied in order to achieve peace.  The Ramban asks: if Yaakov had in fact known the truth, why didn’t the brothers ask him to talk to Yosef?  Moreover, why wouldn’t Yaakov himself instruct Yosef to forgive them?  Evidently, says the Ramban, Yaakov never discovered the truth.  However, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes that when the brothers returned and told their father “Kol Divrei Yosef,” “All the words of Yosef” (45:27) they indeed revealed the truth.  Seemingly, the Ohr HaChaim would avoid the Ramban’s proof by saying that even though Yaakov knew, he still didn’t feel the need to tell Yosef because he did not suspect that Yosef would do anything to harm his brothers (see Rashi to 50:16).  Clearly, one of Yosef’s foremost qualities was his sensitivity towards the feelings and emotions of others, leading his father to act accordingly.

We find that Yosef acted in line with this Middah in another instance as well.  In Parashat VaYigash, the Torah describes how Yosef could not control himself anymore and needed to reveal his identity to his brothers.  The words, “I am Yosef” just came out, as if a conscious decision to speak was not even necessary.  Yet before he revealed his identity, he asked all of the Egyptians to leave the room so as not to embarrass his brothers, which seems to contradict the description of Yosef being unable to control himself.  If the words were indeed just blurted out, then how did he have the presence of mind to ask all of the Egyptians to leave?  Rav Yeruchim Levovitz, the Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva before the Holocaust, elucidates that we see from here how, once again, Yosef did not allow his emotions to control his Seichel.  Though Yosef had to reveal himself and tell them who he was, he could not bring himself to embarrass the brothers in front of all of the Egyptians and therefore asked his servants to leave.

This Middah of being able to conquer our emotions by using our Seichel is a crucial Middah in Avodat Hashem.  Often, we are faced with a situation where we are tempted to do something and, sometimes, our intentions are even noble and sincere.  However, before we let our emotions take over, we must first use our Seichel and figure out what is truly the right thing to do.  With the help of Hashem, may we all merit to follow in the footsteps of Yosef, specifically in this area, and always act in accordance with our Seichel HaYashar.

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