Parshas Vayigash 5757 - 1996
Outline # 15
Chodshei Hashanah Following the Weekly Parsha
by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Several years ago, we discussed Ramban's explanation of Yoseif's behavior. The Torah forbids taking revenge, yet Yoseif initially treated his brothers harshly. The Ramban described the responsibility of a prophet to bring about his prophecy. Yoseif had dreamed that his eleven brothers would bow down to him -- when he saw ten brothers bow, he plotted how to bring the last brother to Egypt. Even though many disagree with Ramban, the Vilna Gaon concluded that this idea -- effort to fulfill the prophecy -- is the principle on which the entire Torah is based, for the entire Torah is the prophecy of Moshe. (See early issues of Insights, Volume 6, 1993-4)
Last week's discussion was devoted to an analysis of the Beis Halevi's words, describing Yoseif's error in asking help from the royal cupbearer. Beis Halevi concludes that the error was minute. Yoseif only used a few words; besides, what he really said was merely his prophetic vision -- the cupbearer would be returned to his former position, and he would mention Yoseif to the king...
We are faced with a difficulty: If effort to fulfill the prophecy is the responsibility of the prophet, wasn't it Yoseif's responsibility to exert himself to fulfill the prophecy about himself?
The Tzadikim Do Not Benefit from the Brocha
The Zohar in parshas Vayeishev mentions an interesting, if not difficult, point. Yoseif was sold as a slave. The house became blessed due to Yoseif; it was so apparent that even the master realized that his own blessings were due to Yoseif. The Zohar notes that the Tzadikim -- special, righteous people -- cause everyone to be blessed, even the wicked ones. On the other hand, the Tzadikim themselves do not receive the blessing. So, although the master's house was blessed because of Yoseif, Yoseif did not attain his freedom, but instead became encarcerated in prison! (The Zohar concludes that eventually, the Tzadikim will have the greatest of all blessings.)
This would also make sense in the story of Yaakov and Lavan, his evil father-in-law. Lavan was always blessed due to Yaakov's hard work, but it was many years before Yaakov acquired family and property. And, of course, the forefathers never owned any real estate.
Yoseif's mention of his prophecy to the cupbearer -- that the cupbearer would, indeed, remember Yoseif -- could be seen as a conflict of interest. Was he saying it in order to bring about his prophecy -- or was he saying it for his own self-serving interest? Yoseif -- your own freedom is not in your hands at all! You will always be enslaved to Pharaoh -- for the good of your people.
Yoseif needed this lesson now, before he came to power. He would, indeed, have to compel his brothers to come again, to bow down with the eleventh brother. Now, he would know to act without conflict of interest. The Torah tells how Yoseif concealed his tears, and hardened his demeanor -- purposefully, deliberately -- to fulfill the Torah's prophecy! From his own years of suffering, his heart had not hardened, but had softened with supreme faith. "Do not be saddened that you sold me -- for Hashem has brought me here for salvation!" Yoseif is acting for the good of all, and has brought out the best from each of his brothers.
The Torah urges its leaders to act with pure intention. Nonetheless, we should not be quick to look for scandal and sensationalism. Korach's rebellion against Moshe seemed very logical: Moshe was head of state, his own brother head Kohein, his own tribe elevated to special status. Conflict of interest! The truth is that Amram had been leader of the previous generation in Egypt; Aharon had taken his father's place as prophet and judge for many years. Moshe was told at the burning bush that his brother Aharon was coming out to the desert to greet him. How did Aharon know to go out to the desert to greet Moshe?
The tribe of Levi had shown their worthiness by remaining (alone of all the tribes), in Goshen, the safe habitat designated by Yoseif himself. There, they remained steeped in the teachings and traditions of their forefathers, learning to avoid assimilation (and attraction to Golden Calves!)
It should be up to the courts, not the slanderers, to determine conflict of interest violations.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
1 Babbin Court
Text Copyright © 1997
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
and Project Genesis, Inc.