It’s the last day of the semester. All you can think about in class is the vacation to Israel that you will be taking in about ten days. You think about how everything is going to be great. It will be warm there, a welcome change. There will be so many things to do; where will you even start? Much to your dismay, you find the answer to that question from a very unlikely source: your teachers. At that very moment when your mind starts to wander its way out, you hear the words “next semester.” You think to yourself, “Next semester!? All I can think about right now is the delicious Shawarma that awaits me in Israel! Why are you making me think about next semester already? Can’t it wait until after vacation?”
In Eretz Goshen, life is wonderful for Yosef’s brothers. They have plenty of grass to feed their flock. They are able to live the simple lives that they always wanted. There is finally no more strife between them and Yosef; they are a family again. It is at this time that Yosef introduces an idea that they probably had not thought of yet: Returning to Eretz Kena’an. The Pasuk states, “VaYishba Yosef Et Bnei Yisrael Leimor Pakod Yifkod Elokim Etchem VeHa’alitem Et Atzmotai MiZeh,“ “And Yosef made Yisrael’s children swear, saying, ‘Hashem will surely remember you, and you shall take up my bones from this place’” (BeReishit 50:25). Why does Yosef mention leaving Mitzrayim? The brothers showed no intent on leaving anytime soon!
We have to analyze the use of clothing in Tanach to understand the answer to such a question. The way a person dresses enables the viewer to recognize who he is, what he represents, and his duty or title. The Gemara, in Mesechet Sanhedrin (83b) states, “BiZman SheBigdeihem Aleihem, Kehunatam Aleihem; BiZman SheEin Bigdeihem Aleihem, Ein Kehunatam Aleihem, VeHevu LeHu Zarim,” “When the Kohanim have their proper clothing upon them, their Kehunah is likewise upon them (and they are therefore able to do the Avodah in the Beit HaMikdash), but if not, they are considered like strangers (who are not allowed to even be there).” From this Gemara, we see that a person’s office or fate is determined by what garment he is wearing.
When the Torah uses the word “Pakod,” “remember,” it connotes divine intervention. Such is the case when Hashem made Sarah become pregnant with Yitzchak (“VaHashem Pakad Et Sarah,” BeReishit 21:1). In connection with this Gemara, Hashem figuratively changed the clothing of Sarah Imeinu, changing her destiny. This may be the source behind saying the Berachah of “Malbish Arumim,” clothes the naked, in Birchot HaShachar. When the word “Pakod” is used in regards to people, it has the same meaning. Hashem is “changing our clothing” and thus, changing the brothers’ destiny.
If things were so good for the brothers, why would Yosef imply that Hashem would change our fate? When Yosef uses the language of “Pakod Yifkod Elokim Etchem,” “Hashem will surely remember you one day,” a time will also come when Hashem will not be giving us special providence. Yosef envisioned what a Jewish Galut would be like. At this point, Bnei Ya’akov did not have yet have significant power. Hashem did not need to intervene in order for them to fall, but rather to allow history to run its course. It is the preservation of the Jewish people that requires Hashem’s divine intervention to make a miracle. It is at the time when Bnei Yisrael have to submit themselves to the Kanfei Nesharim, the eagle’s wings (Shemot 19:4), that Hashem will elevate them to salvation.
Yosef’s warning to the brothers is very similar to what Avraham heard at the Berit Bein HaBetarim. The Jewish people are going to be living among an “Am Lo’eiz,” a “strange nation,” whose outlook on spirituality is very different of that of the Jews, leading to the most bitter and painful of exiles. Yosef was trying to tell his brothers that indeed, hard times do lie ahead of them, but he also prepares them for the salvation that was bound to come. Yosef makes them swear as Bnei Yisrael, referring to the nation, not the family, in order to bind this promise for future generations to come.
This past Sunday, we observed the fast of Asarah BeTeiveit, the date when Nebuchadnezzar began his siege on Yerushalayim. This was the beginning of one of the darkest eras in Jewish history. We ask Hashem to save us and allow to change from wearing ashes on our heads and sacks on our bodies to having ashes leftover from the Korbanot and sacks full of Bikkurim to be thankful for in Hashem’s own sanctuary, the Beit HaMikdash.