By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
At the end of two years, Pharaoh dreamed and behold, he was standing by the
river. (Bereishis 41:1)
"At the end of two years ... The end of ten years and an additional two
years [that Yosef spent in prison]." (Ba'al HaTurim)
It was the moment that Yosef had waited for: freedom from jail, though he
didn't know what to expect -- would matters get better or worse? We, of
course know that Yosef is finally on the way up, because we've read the
story many times before.
It's been a lot of hardship for a teenage boy. From seventeen years of age
until twenty-nine, Yosef had to fight to survive, not just physically, but
psychologically as well. He was hated by his brothers and forced into
slavery -- literally stolen away from the father and the life he loved.
And, as if that weren't bad enough, his troubles followed him down to
Egypt, and again he was forced into even greater captivity, this time by
the wife of his master, Potiphar.
"What could be next?" Yosef must have wondered.
"What did Yosef do to deserve all of this?" we must be wondering.
Well, according to Rav Chaim Vital, Yosef himself caused the brothers to
sell him, and all that happened to him as a result (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, p.
88). Between publicizing his dreams of rulership, and speaking loshon hara
about his brothers, Yosef brought upon himself all of his misfortune. And,
apparently, the ramifications of his actions went far beyond his own
suffering. In fact, according to Rav Chaim Vital, Yosef HaTzaddik, unlike
the future Rebi Yishmael Kohen Gadol, got off easy.
We know that the Ten Martyrs that we read about in the Mussaf Service of
Yom Kippur and the Kinos of Tisha B'Av have a historical connection to the
sale of Yosef. The Roman Emperor of that time even went so far as to fill
an entire room with shoes just to set the atmosphere: Yosef, in the end had
been sold for shoes!
"What is the law according to your Torah," the Roman ruler craftily
inquired of the ten great sages of that time, "for a Jew who sells another
"Capital Punishment," answered Rebi Akiva and his colleagues.
"But, Yosef's brothers were never punished for their crime!" the Roman
protested, and then began to set his deadly trap. "Justice must be done,
and there has been no leaders to take their places until the ten of you!"
And they did take their places. Among the ten rabbis who died sanctifying
the name of G-d was the great Rebi Yishmael, son of Elisha -- the Kohen
Gadol of that time. He was the one, says the Talmud, who was so handsome --
handsome just like Yosef himself -- that the Emperor's daughter asked to
have his skin flayed and preserved.
In fact, says Rav Chaim Vital, he WAS Yosef HaTzaddik -- or, at least his
reincarnation -- and his death was an atonement for the sin of Yosef
himself! This wasn't the only reason why Rebi Yishmael had to die so
gruesome a death, but it was the main reason.
The truth is, as the commentators point out, Yosef did what he did for
"good" reasons, and we've discussed many of those in the past. However,
this reveals to us how even the "wrong" thing for the right reasons are
still wrong -- very wrong. Good intentions are great when doing the right
thing, to make them even better.
However, as we see from the Yosef-Rebi Yishmael story, it is important to
be super careful when doing any act which may (or should be) questionable,
especially when other people are involved. The ramifications of our actions
are far reaching, even into future lifetimes yet to be lived.
Ya'akov their father told them, "You have bereaved me of children: Yosef is
no longer, Shimon is no longer, and Binyomin you will take?! All these
things are upon me (ahlai)!" (Bereishis 42:36)
This just about summed up what Ya'akov's life was coming down to. He had
survived Eisav, his hating and murdering brother, and his treacherous
father-in-law, Lavan. But all of that was paling next to the sorrow that
Ya'akov was being forced to undergo as his family slowly but surely
disintegrated before his very eyes. It was more than the average father
Nevertheless, the Torah, when reporting Ya'akov's sentiments, seemed to add
a few extra words: All these things are upon me. Of course they are -- upon
whom else could they be? This is why the Gra (Vilna Gaon) sees in these
words a different meaning, albeit on the level of hint.
According to the Gra, the word "ahlai" (ayin-lamed-yud) actually stands for
three other words: Eisav (ayin), Lavan (lamed), and Yosef (yud). In other
words, says the Gra, the Hebrew word "ahlai" was an allusion by Ya'akov as
to what he understood, through prophecy, to be his tests in life: his
battle against Eisav, his struggle with Lavan, and his loss of Yosef.
However, complained Ya'akov, this did not include losing Binyomin and
Shimon as well!
This is what Ya'akov was really worried about. A negative prophecy does not
have to come true, but this one was being fulfilled in double! Had
everything been by the book, that is, had the prophecy he had previously
known about come true as Ya'akov had been told it would, then there was at
least some consolation in knowing that nothing had really changed regarding
his Divine Providence.
However, this change in history represented a change in Providence, Ya'akov
assumed, one which may have meant an abandonment by G-d, G-d forbid, and
failure of the Jewish mission. THAT was more than even Ya'akov could
handle, for it meant that HE personally had failed to finish what his
fathers before him had started.
Thank G-d, in the end, even Yosef was returned -- the yud of the word
"ahlai," which personalized the word. With the return of Binyomin, Shimon,
and even Yosef (in next week's parshah), the word "ahlai" is transformed
from "upon me" to just "upon," indicating that Ya'akov was better off than
his prophecy had previously indicated! The troubles that Ya'akov had been
destined to suffer stopped at his own personal family, including only Eisav
and Lavan in any permanent way.
Well, not exactly, as we saw in the previous d'var Torah, and others as
well. And, as I have discussed before, after Ya'akov's death, the brothers
will reveal that the seeds of doubt that led to the sale of Yosef in the
first place were still very much alive in their minds, as indicated by the
fear of Yosef's revenge at the end of Parashas Vayechi.
However, even still, even after the remaining rectifications to be made to
Ya'akov's family have taken place throughout the millennia and into our own
day -- as we struggle for unity and unconditional love of one another like
never before -- we're still better off. For, it is better to have brothers
you can "hate" for a period of time, with whom to mend the relationship,
than no brothers at all, and no relationship to mend -- ever.
And, that was comfort enough for their father, Ya'akov Avinu, to take to
his final days, because, make no mistake about it: there WILL be unity
among the Jewish people. As difficult a reality that may be to fathom
today, it will happen. Either we, as a people, will do it on our own by
rising to higher levels of consciousness and out of own self interests, or
G-d Himself will facilitate the higher state of brotherhood.
Yehudah said, "What can we tell my master ... what can we say ... and how
can we justify ourselves? G-d found the sin of your servants, and we are
now slaves to my master -- us and the one in whose hand the cup was found."
Talk about turning points! Few passages in the Torah better convey the
emotions of the characters involved than Yehudah's submission to the
viceroy of Egypt in the above posuk. In last week's parshah we mentioned
that dreams can take up to twenty-two years to become fulfilled; now we see
from Yehudah's admission that past mistakes can come back at us after
twenty-two years as well.
According to Yonason ben Uzziel, Yehudah meant the following:
"What can we tell my master .... Regarding the first money [we found in our
sacks] ... What can we say ... Regarding the latter money (i.e., the goblet
found with Binyomin) ... And how can we justify ourselves ... ?"
In other words, Yehudah is saying, "I know what it looks like, and I know
what you're thinking -- but you're wrong. Yes, the punishment here fits the
crime, but not THIS crime. Rather, it is Divine retribution for a previous
sin of ours that goes way back in years, twenty-two years to be exact --
when we sold our brother into slavery."
Had Yosef less self-control, he might have blurted out, "YOU BETTER BELIEVE
IT, brother! And, you don't even have to look so high up for a cause either
... It is me, Yosef, that brother you refer to and whom you sold who is
engineering all of this confusion for you!" However, Yosef's ruse wasn't
over yet, so he kept his comments to himself and instead took the drama to
its next pre-planned step.
It is considered to be an accepted fact among all the Torah commentators
that Yosef worked for altruistic reasons. For one, there is no indication
that Yosef was ever punished for putting his brothers, and even his father
to some degree, through so much anguish. Secondly, Yosef's own father never
criticized his son for all that had transpired, but rather, he blessed him
with a full heart on his deathbed.
True, the Talmud states that Yosef died before his brothers for having a
position of authority (Brochos 55a), but that does not seem to have any
connection to the hide-and-go-seek episode Yosef played with his brothers.
On the contrary, Yosef's revelation to his brothers is used as an analogy
for how G-d will reveal Himself to man on that awesome prophecized "Day of
It is another reason to call Yosef "tzaddik." Normally, Yosef is called
"tzaddik" because he resisted the temptation of the wife of Potiphar (in
last week's parshah), but, we can now include this entire story as a reason
as well. How many people could sit in Yosef's position, looking down upon
his personal antagonists, and not take revenge -- or even feel it in his
heart? After all, everyone knows that a desire of revenge in the heart
can't help but make it to the outside into the "real" world of action, a
least a little.
Yet, Yosef kept his cool, and did not let revenge figure into his actions
even a touch. How? Because, Yosef learned, understood, and accepted that
everything that had happened to him, and was happening to him -- including
Yehudah's humbling of himself before his previously hated brother -- was a
function of DIRECT Divine Providence. Allowing personal feelings of revenge
to entire the scenario would have been like stepping on G-d's "toes,"
so-to-speak, and interfering with the Master of the Universe's plan. Yosef
was just grateful that G-d included him in the rectification process.
It sounds like an easy thing to accomplish, but in truth, it is most
difficult. Even for people who believe in and accept the notion of G-d
being behind all that happens to them, still, it is not so easy to act
according to that belief when one is wronged, and, especially when one is
in a position to "repay" that wrong. Of course, a person may say he is only
"punishing" the perpetrator for the sake of justice, and the betterment of
the other person. However, the question is, is that REALLY true ... even in
his heart of hearts?
It better be. Because if it isn't, then the person is only setting himself
up for G-d to step in, either to foil his plan NOW, or to let it go through
to bring about punishment LATER. It is certainly no way to go about earning
the appellation "tzaddik," and earning one's portion in the World-to-Come!
A psalm, sing to G-d a new song, for He has done wonders; His own right
hand and His holy arm have helped him. (Tehillim 98:1)
This tehillah by Moshe Rabbeinu, the fourth in the Kabbalos Shabbos
service, was written with the Naftali in mind. From Moshe's blessing of
Naftali (Devarim 33:23), we see that Naftali symbolizes contentment and
abundant success. Even Naftali's name implies this:
Rachel said, "G-dly wrestles (naftuli) I had with my sister, and I have
prevailed; she called his name Naftali. (Bereishis 30:8)
To "prevail" in This World is not simply to be materialistically
successful. In fact, so often material success comes at the cost of
spiritual failure, which is why the Talmud says:
Be careful with the poor, for, from them Torah comes out. (Nedarim 81a)
"Poor," as we have seen in many cases, does not have to mean complete and
abject poverty. Rather, it can mean that a person is quite well-to-do, but
is also undistracted by his physical success, using it meaningfully but not
defining himself by it -- and certainly not letting his financial concerns
interfere with his spiritual growth.
In order to be able to achieve this, one has to be content with whatever he
has whenever he has it. If a person has to always be concerned about
protecting his property, or, increasing it, there is little time and energy
left over for spiritual "projects." This, in turn, is only possible when
one is in "partnership" with G-d, that is, one has faith in G-d and
believes that G-d looks out for his best interest.
For twenty-two years, Ya'akov worried about the loss of Yosef. The Midrash
says that this is what aged him the most, and he is faulted for not having
had more faith in G-d. That may be difficult for us to comprehend (who
wouldn't mourn the loss of a treasured child?), but, the Midrash says, for
someone of Ya'akov's stature, it was possible.
In fact, as Shlomo HaMelech wrote:
From the heights of faith you shall sing. (Shir HaShirim 4:8)
This means that one does not always have to feel privileged to sing shirah
(holy song) to G-d; one needs to feel faith in G-d, as the prophet
Blessed is the one who trusts in G-d -- G-d will be his trust. (Yirmiyahu 17:7)
This was Naftali. This, says the Midrash, was also the trait of Avraham
Avinu, whose faith never wavered in spite of all his tests and hardships.
And this, says the Midrash, will be the trait of the entire Jewish people
in the time of Moshiach -- when tranquillity will reign and peace will be
commonplace. However, in the meantime, it remains to be the test of every
Good Shabbos & A Freilechen Chanukah,