Rabbi Label Lam
We Can Compartmentalize but We Cannot Hide
And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?"
And his brothers could not answer him because they were embarrassed before
him. (Breishis 45:3)
Woe to us on the Day of Judgment! Woe to us on the day of rebuke!
The Mikvah (purification) of Israel is Hashem! (Jeremiah 17:13)
Why does Joseph ask, "Is my father still alive?" Judah had based his
entire appeal to save Benjamin on the claim that it would cause great harm
and may even kill Jacob, their father, if he would remain in captivity.
Joseph understood from this that his father Jacob was still alive. Where
do we see that Joseph rebuked his brothers?
The following story I heard from the son of a prominent Rebbe a number of
years ago. The names have been changed to protect the guilty:
Reb Yudel wearily steps off the bus after a long journey. It is Erev
Shabbos, the eve of the Sabbath. He stares at street signs with a look
that betrays his lack of orientation. His quizzical appearance invites a
kindly gentleman to volunteer some help, and secure an invitation to a
Friday night Shabbos meal. Kindly Mr. Yozzel Schwartz gives him directions
to his home, points him to the stores, the synagogue, and other
Reb Yudel buys some little snacks and goodies to be enjoyed on Shabbos and
parks his bags at his place of lodging. With The Holy Shabbos rapidly
approaching Reb Yudel hurries to the local Mikvah, the ritual bath. As he
removes his shoes and his glasses he is finally beginning to relax, in
hopeful anticipation of the goodness ahead.
He descends into the hot pool where heads are bobbing like beach balls.
The steam is rising all around. "Ahhh!" he says, and turning casually to
the fellow soaking next to him asks, "Do you happen to know a fellow named
After a moment of hesitation, the fellow asks, "Why?" Yudel explains, "I
want to know if his wife is a good cook. I'm going there to eat tonight.
I just want to know if I'm in for a big treat or a disappointment."
The other man now tells Yudel, "It's a good thing you asked me. I know
Mr. Schwarz very well. He used to be a rich man. Times have been hard
for him lately. His house, it's large and lovely. Don't be deceived.
Inside the table is long and elaborately set but there is no real food.
I suggest you fill up as much as you can on the Challah because soon after
the meal has begun it will end. I'm afraid you'll leave hungry."
Arriving at Yozzel Schwartz's home it was just as described by the man in
the Mikvah. After Kiddush and a sip of wine came the giant Challahs.
Reb Yudel just kept eating that bread with passion till his stomach was
entirely full. Mrs. Schwartz then brought out three types of fish, and
multiple salads and then soup. Yudel had no room left to think about
other dishes. They insisted he eat. He could hardly swallow. Then the
main dish arrived with every species of kugel and meats. Reb Yudel was
ready to explode and kindly Mr. Shwartz was urging him to enjoy his wife's
Yudel backed off from the table and confessed, "I adopted the wrong
strategy. I filled up on the Challah. I have no more room left for the
fine foods. I'm sure it's delicious." At that moment Yozzel turns to
Yudel and says ever so gently, "I look different in the Mikvah, don't
I?" Reb Yudel was aghast!
When Joseph asked his brothers if his father was still alive, he was not
just seeking information. After having revealed his true identity, Joseph
gently pointed out the fault in their appeal. "You express concern about
our father's well being. I'm Joseph! I was at the bottom of the pit
twenty-two years ago. Is my father still alive after that?" The power of
a rebuke is that excuses and alibis are proven feeble and shrink before
the pure gaze of truth. Woe to us! Woe to us! Joseph teaches us, we can
compartmentalize but we cannot hide.
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Label Lam and
Project Genesis, Inc.