Parshios Vayigash & Asara BeTeves
For Shame or Pride
Imagine the shame! For twenty two years they collectively harbored a dark
secret. For twenty two years they lied to their father while witnessing
his descent into the bowels of misery and pain. For twenty two years they
lied to each other that the decision to sell Yoseph into slavery was
justified and judicial – essential for the survival of their family and
future nation! And now he stood before them all powerful and mighty
holding their destiny and the destiny of their family in his hands. How
did they feel? Their younger brother, the apple of his father’s eye, the
dreamer, the handsomest and sharpest of them all, the one they so deeply
wronged in a manner beyond comprehension and empathy. Yoseph stood before
them as the second most powerful, if not most powerful man in the world.
The scene destroyed the protected sanctuary of twenty two years of lying
and denial in a single inescapable moment! It was too much to accept, to
much to register. His words assaulted their disbelieving senses. (45:3) “
I am Yoseph! Is my father still alive?” Imagine their absolute and abject
The Torah records, “…His brothers could not answer him because they were
bewildered.” Rashi explains their reaction in two words (Hebrew), “because
of the shame.” Let’s analyze the brothers and their reaction. As young and
impetuous young men they judged Yoseph lacking and dangerous and decide to
do something about it. At first they wanted to kill him but not everyone
agreed. Reuven was the first to voice his dissent followed soon after by
Yehudah, and in the end they decided to consign his fate into the hands of
G-d by selling him as a slave to the passing merchants. Did the brothers
ever regret their decision? Did they ever tell Yakov the horrible mistake
they had made and start searching for their long lost brother? Even the
Medresh about them entering Egypt from ten different gates in hope of
possibly finding Yoseph appears more opportunistic than corrective. If
they never regretted their decision, if they believed that despite the
great sacrifice and pain they were justified, why were they ashamed?
Regardless of what he had become, if their decision was the correct
one what was there to be ashamed of? Granted, the moment could not have
been very comfortable for the brothers; however, as G-d fearing men their
shame should only have been before G-d, not a mere man of flesh and blood!
More so, if they now believed that they had wronged Yoseph, why was their
reaction shame for what they had done rather than terrible regret for
having committed a seemingly unforgivable sin against Yoseph and G-d?
Shame is a feeling that should come after having sinned when the sinner
realized the grievousness of having sinned. It should not be shame first
and regret for sinning second. My Grandfather asked this question and his
answer is a fundamental insight into the processes that Hashem instilled
in our nature to help us avoid sinning, and if need be, do Teshuvah.
Shame and embarrassment are feelings and reactions that Hashem created
within us to stop us from sinning. “Who is a wise man? A person who can
anticipate the future.” The wisdom of the wise is not intended to be
reserved for strategic planning alone. The wise man is one who anticipates
the future in all areas of his life - not least among them the cause and
consequence of every action. When Yoseph was challenged with Potifar’s
wife the Talmud relates that at a critical moment in the confrontation
Yoseph recalled the face of his father Yakov. This Medresh underscores the
power that shame could have as a deterrent to sin. “How can I, the son of
Yoseph and grandson of Yitzchak and Avraham, allow myself to stay in this
place at this time?” My other grandfather, Rav Yitzchak Isaac Tendler
Zt’l, explained, Yoseph was so smart yet he left his garment behind as
evidence. How could he have been so foolish? He explained that Yoseph
would have taken it with him if his reaction had been intellectual rather
than instinctual. It was not! Instead, he reacted from the gut. “I cannot
be here. This is wrong for me. I am the son of Yakov!” Instead, he fled
and left his garment behind. The shame Yoseph would have felt had he
sinned deterred him from staying where he should not have remained.
My Grandfather Zt’l explained in Darash Moshe that the brothers
deliberately turned off their shame after selling Yoseph into slavery.
Regardless of what regrets they may or may not have had over the
intervening twenty two years, they refused to feel ashamed. When finally
confronted by Yoseph himself, the Torah states that it was the shame they
felt more so than the regret of their sin. The reason was that had they
imagined to themselves at the time of the sale what they would feel like
if at sometime in the future their actions would be exposed for all to
see, they would never have sold Yoseph. Therefore, it was the immediate
shame that they felt that rendered them bewildered and speechless before
the victim of their sin.
A wise person sees the future. Actions have consequences and first among
them is the shame we feel when what we have done is exposed. If only we
would embrace the inherent protectors that G-d has programmed into us and
imagine the shame and embarrassment we would sin far less. Would we be
like Yoseph Hatzadik and the son and daughter of Yishamel the Kohain Gadol
(High Priest), running from sin because of where we come from and who we
are supposed to be? I do not know; however, the lesson is clear. The faces
of our mothers and fathers should always be before us. We must imagine the
shame and imagine the pride. Hopefully we will choose pride.
(Please note that "shame" is often clinicaly defined as feeling bad about
oneself rather than bad about what was done. Feeling bad about oneself can
lead a person to see themselves as bad and unworthy. That feeling
of "shame" should be challenged or else the personal feeling of "being
bad" can lead to other negative behaviors that reenforce the feelings of
shame which in turn leads one into the classic "one sin leads to another
Tenth of Tevet
This coming Tuesday, January 10, will be the Fast of the 10th of Tevet.
This is the second fast-day commemorating the destruction of the Bais
Hamikdash. The fast begins 72 minutes before sunrise and concludes 45
minutes after sunset.
Eating and drinking are prohibited, but should an exemption be required
due to illness or health related conditions contact your local Rabbi for
possible consideration. Except for Yom Kippur which is Biblical, the
other five fast-days are Rabbinically mandated. The Rabbis imposed the
fast on all adults, both male and female. Contrary to popular thought,
women are equally obligated to fast.
The Rest of the Story
Five tragic events occurred during the month of Tevet.
1. 1st of Tevet: In the year 3319 – 442 b.c.e., Yichoniah and the great
scholars and prophets were exiled to Bavel.
2. 8th of Tevet: In the year 3515 -- 246 b.c.e., the Torah, as per the
demand of Talmi, was translated into Greek (Septuagint) by 72 different
Torah Scholars. His intention was to find inconsistencies that would
undermine the power of the Rabbinic tradition. Instead, every one of the
72 translated the Torah in the exact same manner. The translation was
completed on the 8th of Tevet and Chazal compared it to the day on which
the Golden Calf was worshipped.
3. 9th of Tevet: In the year 3448 – 313 b.c.e., the great Ezra Hasofer
4. 10th of Tevet: In the year 3336 – 425 b.c.e., Nevuchadnetzar began
the 2 and ½ year siege against Yerushalayim that ended in the destruction
of the first Bais Hamikdash.
5. 23rd of Tevet: In the year 5257 – 1497 c.e., the Jews of Portugal
were expelled. Among those expelled was Rav Avraham Zacuto who had been
consulted on astronomy and navigation by the explorer Vasco da Gama before
a trip to India. Rav Yitzchak Karo, Uncle of Rav Yoseph Karo, was also
among the refugees. (The Jewish Timeline, Rabbi Mattis Kantor)
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.