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6 Teves 5763 - December 11, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Brothers' Patience And Final Consolation

by Rabbi D. Makover

Three anomalies

Three anomalies are evident at the beginning of this week's parsha.

One: At the end of the previous parsha, the brothers were exposed as thieves and taken to Joseph. Yehuda accepts this guilt and offers himself and his brothers as slaves. Joseph replies he is only interested in detaining the thief of the royal goblet, Binyomin. This however provokes protest: "We told you we cannot leave Binyomin with you because his father is extremely attached to him, and if we return without him, he will die. Now you want to arrest him! I will only allow you to take me in his place!" But if he was willing to offer all the brothers as slaves, including Binyomin, why should he object to his detention now?

Second, even so, Yehuda first explains that the reason he cannot release Binyomin is that he guaranteed his return to his father (44:32). And we know that in his guarantee, he even pledged his entry to the Next World (Rashi 43:9). He doesn't want to go back on his word. But he supplies a second reason (44:34): "I am unready to see my father die." Since he has already given one reason, the second reason seems to jar. Moreover, he has already given Joseph this information (22). Why repeat it again?

Third, in the previous parsha, the brothers, including Yehuda, are unfailingly and tacitly compliant with Joseph's position despite the facts that, as the Medrash reports, they could have easily defeated Egypt in war and Joseph provided a string of provocations: They are fictitiously accused of spying. Shimon is taken hostage. Joseph asks a series of prying questions (43:7). The return of the brothers' money is obviously suspicious. They are incriminated falsely a second time. And other provocations could be mentioned. Yet in this parsha Yehuda changes policy 180 degrees and confronts Joseph to a point of offering war.

Accepting Heaven's punishment

How do we explain these anomalies?

The answer turns on a well-known klal regarding suffering in Torah. If you know Heaven has singled you out for punishment, the right thing to do is to accept it and stick it out compliantly till Heaven decides you have completed your punishment.

With the first incident, the brothers realized they were being punished. "We are guilty because of what we did to our brother. We saw his distress when he begged us [not to punish him] and didn't listen to him. This is why this sorrow has happened to us." And Reuven added, "I told you so. I told you, `Don't sin against the boy.' And you didn't listen. And now Heaven seeks his blood." (42:21, 22)

They knew had they had sinned terribly and they must pay for this. Thus they passively complied with everything imposed on them in parshas Mikeitz.

End of their Punishment

What changes at the beginning of the present parsha is that Joseph wants to focus his pressure on his brother, Binyomin, by taking him hostage; and second on his father, by depriving him of Binyomin. Yehuda -- and the brothers with him -- knew that Binyomin and Yaakov had no price to pay for the sale of Joseph. They were not involved.

Joseph's provocations were thus no longer linked to Heaven's punishment of them and they were free to resist.

We see too that Rabbi Yishmoel of the Ten Martyrs, who were gilgulim of the brothers, understood that Heaven had decreed their grotesque martyrdom at the hands of the Romans and went up to Heaven to ask if the decree could be annulled. The angel Gabriel told him they must go through with it. The Ten then accepted this decree willingly, although they could have easily evaded the Romans.

Virtue of Acceptance of Punishment

The Ben Ish Chai tells the story of a father and his son. The father thought he came up with a good idea in sending his son off to study astrology under a master astrologer. The son graduated and returned home.

Soon the father wanted to take advantage of his investment in his son's education and asked him, "What do the stars predict for me?" The son replied; "Your cat is due to die." The father sold the cat. The father asked the son again: "What do the stars say now?" The son replied; "Your donkey is due to die." The father sold the donkey, and asked the son again: "What do my stars say now?" The son replied; "Your cow is due to die." The father sold the cow; and asked again, "And what now?" The son replied, "Your house is due to burn." The father quickly sold the house and bought another.

The father was delighted because each time his son's star- readings turned out to be correct. Finally, the father asked his son, "What is my mazel now?" This time the son answered, "You are about to die."

The moral of the story is that Heaven starts with the small punishments. If a person accepts them, Heaven will bring its disciplinary action to an end. If not, he graduates to ever worsening punishments.


Incidentally, if you ask how was Joseph prepared to risk his father's death after it had been explained to him that if Binyomin was kept back, he would die, the simple answer is that he thought that if the brothers would explain the background to Binyomin's detention, that the brothers had been found guilty of theft and so on, he would accept the explanation and not die. The brothers explained that Yaakov would die as soon as he saw them returning without Binyomin.

Eitzot to reduce Heaven's Punishment

1. If you judge yourself, Heaven will not judge you. 2. To pray for the end of your suffering in order to be able to perform mitzvos better. 3. To ask for Heaven's mercy for yourself together with Klal Yisroel. This adds merit to your prayer.

Seeking a Person's Harm produces Opposite Effect

Finally, we see that the brothers' patience which we described above was rewarded with the end of their punishment and Joseph supplied them with perfect consolation.

This comes across in Joseph's speech following his self- exposure. Like the opening of the parsha, this also presents three anomalies.

First, he declares, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But the brothers had emphasized repeatedly that Yaakov is alive. On the contrary, they has made it clear that they were not prepared to endanger his health. Why, then, did Joseph ask them, Is my father still alive?

Then Joseph then declares: "I am Joseph your brother whom you sold to Egypt." Why does he stress Egypt here? " . . . whom you sold to Egypt." Why link self-exposure to Egypt?

Then Joseph gives further emphasis to Egypt: And you know why you sold me to Egypt? For a good reason, so that in the end Hashem will provide you with food.

Perhaps the explanation is as follows. Joseph was aware that the brothers were in deep anguish. They had become aware that his visionary dreams which provoked their ire were divine and true: he was to become king and they were to bow down to him. They had reacted without understanding and cruelly. They had sold him into slavery and, still worse, to the most corrupt country in the world at the time, Egypt.

On an even more profound level, they had assumed that Joseph was no more essential to the ultimate redemption of the Jewish nation than they were. Now they found out that he did have a special role to play at this point in the history of the nation.

They must have felt they had bluntly rebelled against Heaven, no less!

In saying what he did, Joseph was actually giving them the best possible comfort. "You think you did the worst possible to me and to Hashem's will. Just the opposite. When you seek to do harm against someone for no satisfactory reason, you precisely help that person along. And in helping me, you made the passage of a number of processes easier."

First, in the Bris Bein Habsorim, Heaven had decreed that Yaakov was to be exiled to Egypt. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have never been willing to move to Egypt; and he would have to be tied in chains of iron and taken forcibly (Shabbos 89b). Because Joseph had become ruler of Egypt, Yaakov came willingly and with due dignity.

Second, Joseph's slavery brought him to kingship.

Third, he was now in a position to support his family in a time of world famine. And the theme of michiya is not only material sustenance but also redemption. "You, the brothers, helped start the long process of redemption get off to a comfortable start."

Achieving the Opposite Effect

The gemora tells how once King Shlomo met the Angel of Death and found him upset. "Why are you sad?" he asked him. "Because," he answered him, "I am under orders to kill two of your ministers, but I know you have a special affection for them and I can't bring myself to kill anyone you have a special affection for. The frustration is depressing."

Shlomo then arranged to whisk them off immediately to a city called Luz, where he knew the Angel of Death had no access. So he believed he got them out of harm's way.

The next day he met the Angel of Death again grinning like a Cheshire cat. "What makes you so happy today?" he asked him. "Mission over and successful," he told him. "I killed your ministers. When I am ordered to kill someone," he explained, "I am also given the place where I am supposed to kill him, and somehow the person always arrives at some time at the due place. The place I was given to kill your two ministers was the entrance to Luz." (See Meam Lo'ez, Bereishis 1, p.357 and sources given in Index, n.107, p. 398.)

More Haste, Less Speed

The brothers were of course only concerned for the good fortune of Klal Yisroel. They feared Joseph wanted to displace the eternal kingship of Klal Yisroel under Yehuda. Nonetheless a certain reactiveness led them to make mistakes. The challenges Hashem gives us are often bewildering and it is very often hard to find direction in them. But on the road in a fog, a person should pull up and wait till sign posts reveal themselves.

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