This week’s Parsha stresses the theme of Middah Kineged Middah, literally measure for measure. Middah Kineged Middah is the way Hakadosh Baruch Hu punishes people in the manner in which they sinned (and rewards us in a manner that corresponds to our good deeds). For example, when Am Yisrael was in Mitzrayim, the Egyptians were punished with the Ten Plagues, each of which was a form of Middah Kineged Middah. For instance, the Midrash explains that the plague of blood in the river corresponds to Pharaoh’s decree to drown all the Jewish first born sons. According to the Midrash, Parshat Vayigash contains numerous such instances of Middah Kineged Middah.
The first example is Yosef and his relationship with his brothers. The Midrash describes Yosef telling his father Yaakov that his brothers are eating an animal that was not slaughtered. Yosef is actually wrong in this accusation, since the animal was the fetus of a slaughtered mother (Ben Paku’ah), which is Halachically permissible to eat even if it is not slaughtered itself. Because of this false accusation, Hakadosh Baruch Hu punishes Yosef with Middah Kineged Middah when the brothers show Yaakov Yosef’s coat stained with blood after they sold him. Yosef speaks Lashon Hara about his brothers when he judges them by the sight of animal blood, so using Middah Kineged Middah, Hakadosh Baruch Hu judges Yosef, too, with blood.
A second (Midrashic) example of Middah Kineged Middah in this Parsha is when Yosef tells Yaakov that Leah’s sons are calling Bilhah and Zilpah’s sons “the children of slaves.” In actuality, however, the brothers were not calling these children’s mothers slaves, because they knew that Yaakov had freed the women before he married them. So Hakadosh Baruch Hu once again punishes Yosef, dooming him to be a slave himself.
Of course, this concept is true of our everyday lives as well. If one cheats another person in business, for example, Hakadosh Baruch Hu may punish the offender with his own monetary loss. However, Middah Kineged Middah can also go the other way. If one treats others well and fairly, he will be treated the same way in return. If we do as Hillel’s famous “summary” of the entire Torah states, “Do unto others only as you would have done unto yourself,” we will surely merit similar treatment ourselves.