For Crying Out Loud
Volume 5 Issue 11
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
It was a war of words, a battle of will, power, and courage. Who would
blink first: Yehuda or Yoseph?
This is the scenario. Before the brothers departed Egypt. Yoseph had
surreptitiously planted his silver goblet in his brother Binyamin's sack.
Not long after Yoseph sends his brothers back to Canaan, his agents pursue
them, arrest them, and accuse them of robbery. Lo and behold, Binyamin is
caught with the silver goblet. Binyamin is brought back to the palace
where Yosef sentences him to eternal servitude. The brothers are helpless.
Yehuda, having accepted full responsibility for Binyamin's safe return,
pleads with Yoseph while he also prepares for battle. After all, he
exclaims, "How can I return to my father without my brother, lest I see the
evil that will befall my father!" (cf. Genesis 44:34).
Yoseph sees the true feeling that Yehuda and the brothers show for the
youngest one, and cannot continue his charade. He sends all the Egyptians
from the room and bursts out, "I am Yoseph! Is my father still alive?"
(Genesis 45:3) Hardly a commentary fails to expound upon the obvious
question. Yoseph was just told how eagerly Yaakov awaits the return of
Binyamin. Therefore Yoseph knew that Yaakov was alive. Why now did he ask
It was the Jewish wedding of the century, the daughter of Rabbi Chaim
Elazar Schapiro, the illustrious Munkatzcer Rebbe, was to marry the son of
the Rebbe of Partzov. Both Chassidic dynasties were royal, aristocratic,
and majestic. And the ceremony was to be equally regal. The bride and
groom would ride in opulent carriages, drawn by four white horses. The
wedding meal was so large that every needy member of the community would be
allowed to partake. It was the Jewish event of the century!
There was so much excitement that an actual news crew came to film the
wedding. The footage would be incorporated as part of the pre-feature
newsreels shown at American movie theatres across the Atlantic! "Imagine!"
thought the reporters, "this would attract hundreds of Jewish people who
had roots in Europe into the theatre!" The difficult part was to convince
the Munkatzcer Rebbe to speak for the cameras. The Rebbe vehemently
opposed the frivolities and wanton ideas of the cinema, and would not
participate in a film. The producer assured the Rebbe that only his voice,
not his face (an assurance that proved to be false), would be presented to
the large audiences.
"Rebbe, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to talk about the Hassidic
court of Munkatzc! Imagine how many Jews would be fascinated by your
life's work. It would also be a wonderful opportunity to send personal
wishes to all your followers who have left Europe to come to America."
Finally, the Rebbe consented. The film caught the Rebbe speaking for the
microphones and the camera that was obscured from his view. He was very
brief. Tearfully, he repeated his message a few times and then turned his
head and stopped talking.
The American crew was excited. They were going to present the wedding with
its entire mystique and majesty to American audiences.
However, when the wedding film was shown in American theatres the scene of
the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony was a stark contrast to the
interview with the Rebbe. They did not see a jubilant Rabbi Schapiro
toasting the large audience upon the joyous occasion. Instead, they saw
Rabbi Schapiro pleading tearfully on the silver screen. "Yidden heet der
Shabbos!" "Jewish Brothers! Keep the Shabbos!" Those were the only words
he said. Then he turned his face and wept. Those were the only words that
the Rebbe chose to speak. (The film is now archived at the Museum of
Jewish Heritage in New York City.)
Yoseph had bottled his emotions from the moment he saw his brothers upon
their entry to Egypt until the moment he revealed his identity in the
privacy of his chambers. But all the while of his pent-up emotion there
was one question he felt he had to ask. How is my father? Is he alive and
well? Although the information was afforded him, he felt a responsibility
-- almost instinctive in nature -- to ask about his dear father's welfare.
All he had on his mind throughout the ordeal was that one question. The
moment he was free to talk his piece, he instinctively asked, "Is my father
still alive? How has he fared through this trying ordeal? Those words were
on his heart and mind for 22 years. The moment he had the opportunity to
speak, he did not chastise his brothers. He did not demand retribution. He
did not seek vengeance. All he did was reveal his true feelings and asked
the question that was quashed for 22 years. How is my father?
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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