Reading the Signs
Yosef said to his brothers, “I am Yosef, is my father still alive?”
But his brothers weren’t able to answer him because they were in shock.
Overall, it had been quite the deception. When it was all said and done,
Yosef had really taken his brothers for a ride, and not just deceiving them,
but even causing them to panic on probably more than one occasion. They may
have deserved it because of what they had done to Yosef, as Reuven said in
last week’s parshah:
The brothers said to one another, “We are guilty because of our brother.
When he pleaded with us, we didn’t pay attention. Therefore this anguish has
come to us.” (Bereishis 42:21)
Nevertheless, what happened to “two wrongs don’t make a right,” and,
“revenge is God’s”? Wasn’t Yosef, by putting his brothers through the
wringer acting in God’s place, and therefore, making a big mistake?
Apparently not, because we never see that he is either reprimanded for
having acted as he did, or punished for it. It seems that he not only didn’t
act in God’s place, but that he acted with God’s consent. It was as if, in
the end, God was the One doing everything against the brothers, and Yosef
was just the Divine instrument to execute the will of God.
This is certainly not something the average person can do. For example, as
much fun as it may be for some to stand behind a door and to a scare a
person who walks into the room, almost giving them a heart attack, or to
pull a chair away from a person just as he is about to sit down so that, to
his utter surprise, he misses the chair, hits the floor hard, and suffers
humiliation, this is a halachic problem.
What if someone actually died from a prank, God forbid? There are cases
where the person might not be held responsible by a human court, but as far
as God is concerned, the person is guilty, and will have to answer for his
actions at some point. Killing a person indirectly is not necessarily a
reason for a human court to give a person capital punishment, but that
doesn’t mean that God won’t.
Perhaps Yosef knew that after all was said and done, his brothers would be
OK, but the Torah testifies to their mental state:
Yosef said to his brothers, “I am Yosef, is my father still alive?” But his
brothers weren’t able to answer him because they were in shock. (Bereishis 45:3)
Yet we know that everything Yosef did he did was done because he knew it was
what God wanted him to do. He knew that his brothers needed to undergo
rectification, and that God had arranged everything for that reason. His
job, he understood, was to do what had to be done, but not to get personally
involved in the situation, at least not negatively. He knew that the moment
he would, then taking vengeance on behalf of God would become vengeance on
behalf of himself.
We have an example of both in the Torah. For example, when Shimon and Levi
went into the city of Shechem and took vengeance for the kidnapping and
violation of their sister, Dinah, they were later criticized by Ya’akov, on
his deathbed, for the damage they did and almost caused. Apparently some
personal anger had slipped into the picture and had tainted their
motivations and therefore their actions.
On the other hand, much later in history, when Pinchas pursues Zimri and
Kosbi to kill them on behalf of God, he acted solely on behalf of God even
though anyone else might have come at Zimri with a lot of personal disgust.
However, God confirmed his purity of motivation by saying:
God told Moshe, “Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon HaKohen,
stopped My anger towards the Children of Israel because he was zealous on My
behalf, which prevented Me from destroying them because of jealousy.
That’s quite a level to reach. In fact, it is such a high level of spiritual
commitment and ability to nullify one’s own thoughts and feelings that it
begs the question: How does one know that he has reached that level? Shimon
and Levi, prior to entering Shechem and wreaking havoc in Shechem, must have
thought they were on that level, only to find out after the fact that they
had fallen short.
How do we know that Yosef did not fall short, and that he never acted with
any personal motivation? The Torah, as if anticipating our question, writes:
They didn’t know that Yosef understood them because there was an interpreter
between them. He turned away from them and wept. (Bereishis 42:23-24)
This shows that it wasn’t anger that Yosef harbored towards his brothers,
but mercy. He truly felt bad for them, and at that point, seeing their
remorse, it would have been easy to reveal himself and unite the family.
Furthermore, he knew that whatever he did to his brothers was going to get
back to his father, and cause him pain as well. That had to have made it
very difficult for Yosef to carry out his plan.
In fact, because it was so difficult for him he knew that carrying it out
was only possible if he was l’Shem Shemayim, acting for the sake of Heaven.
This is why he revealed himself prematurely, when Yehudah, at the beginning
of this week’s parshah, threatened to go to war against him and to destroy
But then again, that wasn’t his fault. He had already gone this far with the
charade; what would be the point if its purpose wasn’t satisfied? Rather,
the brothers never really caught on to what was going on to pronounce the
magic words that would have ended everything quite differently, result
instead in an earlier Messianic Era, rather than thousands of years of
exile: You are Yosef!
After all, wasn’t it obvious? How else could the Viceroy of Egypt known so
much about them, as Yehudah pointed out to Ya’akov Avinu back in Parashas
Mikeitz? And, why else would the Viceroy take such an interest in them and
their family, and toy with them as Yosef had. By eliminating all the
possible explanations, the only one that would fit the bill was that the
Viceroy was Yosef, as hard as they would have been to believe and accept.
However, we shouldn’t be too quick to shake our heads at Yosef’s brothers,
because they’re probably doing it right now, in Heaven, at us. They’re
probably watching history transpiring for us, knowing full well that God is
wrapping up history and warning us about what He plans to do next. And,
though we scratch our heads and remark out loud that weird things are
happening that cannot be explained by normal historical trends, still, we go
on with our lives as nothing much is changing.
So the brothers yell down at us, “Can’t you see what is happening around
you? Can’t you see the direction history is going? Do you not see how
everything is leading in the direction of the War of Gog and Magog, and
after that, Yemos HaMoshiach? How can you just get up the same way each day
and continue on as if nothing is changing?”
They might even add for good measure, “If you think we were shocked when our
brother revealed himself, just imagine the shock you’ll be in when you see
how you overlooked all the warning signs that God was bringing the Final
Redemption? We kicked ourselves because of what we overlooked. Just wait and
see how you’ll want to kind yourselves because of what you overlooked!”
Chanukah is now past us, but its main message is supposed to guide our lives
all year round. One of the reasons why we light eight candles, though the
oil only burned for seven extra days, is to remind us that nature is just
the miraculous in disguise. As Rebi Chanina ben Dosa told his daughter,
“Ultimately, it is as big a miracle that oil burns as it is if vinegar burns.”
The person who becomes real with this message and is able to see past the
obvious is the person who can read the signs that God sends man to warn him
of what is coming up. That is the person who, on the Final Day of Judgment,
won’t have to be told by God, “I am God,” because he’ll already be saying,
“You are God . . . and I saw Your hand in my life every step along the way.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.