by Rabbi D. Makover
The Brothers' Patience And Final Consolation
Three anomalies are evident at the beginning of this week's
One: At the end of the previous parsha, the brothers
were exposed as thieves and taken to Joseph. Yehuda accepts
this guilt and offers himself and his brothers as slaves.
Joseph replies he is only interested in detaining the thief
of the royal goblet, Binyomin. This however provokes protest:
"We told you we cannot leave Binyomin with you because his
father is extremely attached to him, and if we return without
him, he will die. Now you want to arrest him! I will only
allow you to take me in his place!" But if he was willing to
offer all the brothers as slaves, including Binyomin, why
should he object to his detention now?
Second, even so, Yehuda first explains that the reason he
cannot release Binyomin is that he guaranteed his return to
his father (44:32). And we know that in his guarantee, he
even pledged his entry to the Next World (Rashi 43:9). He
doesn't want to go back on his word. But he supplies a second
reason (44:34): "I am unready to see my father die." Since he
has already given one reason, the second reason seems to jar.
Moreover, he has already given Joseph this information (22).
Why repeat it again?
Third, in the previous parsha, the brothers, including
Yehuda, are unfailingly and tacitly compliant with Joseph's
position despite the facts that, as the Medrash
reports, they could have easily defeated Egypt in war and
Joseph provided a string of provocations: They are
fictitiously accused of spying. Shimon is taken hostage.
Joseph asks a series of prying questions (43:7). The return
of the brothers' money is obviously suspicious. They are
incriminated falsely a second time. And other provocations
could be mentioned. Yet in this parsha Yehuda changes
policy 180 degrees and confronts Joseph to a point of
Accepting Heaven's punishment
How do we explain these anomalies?
The answer turns on a well-known klal regarding
suffering in Torah. If you know Heaven has singled you out
for punishment, the right thing to do is to accept it and
stick it out compliantly till Heaven decides you have
completed your punishment.
With the first incident, the brothers realized they were
being punished. "We are guilty because of what we did to our
brother. We saw his distress when he begged us [not to punish
him] and didn't listen to him. This is why this sorrow has
happened to us." And Reuven added, "I told you so. I told
you, `Don't sin against the boy.' And you didn't listen. And
now Heaven seeks his blood." (42:21, 22)
They knew had they had sinned terribly and they must pay for
this. Thus they passively complied with everything imposed on
them in parshas Mikeitz.
End of their Punishment
What changes at the beginning of the present parsha is
that Joseph wants to focus his pressure on his brother,
Binyomin, by taking him hostage; and second on his father, by
depriving him of Binyomin. Yehuda -- and the brothers with
him -- knew that Binyomin and Yaakov had no price to pay for
the sale of Joseph. They were not involved.
Joseph's provocations were thus no longer linked to Heaven's
punishment of them and they were free to resist.
We see too that Rabbi Yishmoel of the Ten Martyrs, who were
gilgulim of the brothers, understood that Heaven had
decreed their grotesque martyrdom at the hands of the Romans
and went up to Heaven to ask if the decree could be annulled.
The angel Gabriel told him they must go through with it. The
Ten then accepted this decree willingly, although they could
have easily evaded the Romans.
Virtue of Acceptance of Punishment
The Ben Ish Chai tells the story of a father and his son. The
father thought he came up with a good idea in sending his son
off to study astrology under a master astrologer. The son
graduated and returned home.
Soon the father wanted to take advantage of his investment in
his son's education and asked him, "What do the stars predict
for me?" The son replied; "Your cat is due to die." The
father sold the cat. The father asked the son again: "What do
the stars say now?" The son replied; "Your donkey is due to
die." The father sold the donkey, and asked the son again:
"What do my stars say now?" The son replied; "Your cow is due
to die." The father sold the cow; and asked again, "And what
now?" The son replied, "Your house is due to burn." The
father quickly sold the house and bought another.
The father was delighted because each time his son's star-
readings turned out to be correct. Finally, the father asked
his son, "What is my mazel now?" This time the son answered,
"You are about to die."
The moral of the story is that Heaven starts with the small
punishments. If a person accepts them, Heaven will bring its
disciplinary action to an end. If not, he graduates to ever
Incidentally, if you ask how was Joseph prepared to risk his
father's death after it had been explained to him that if
Binyomin was kept back, he would die, the simple answer is
that he thought that if the brothers would explain the
background to Binyomin's detention, that the brothers had
been found guilty of theft and so on, he would accept the
explanation and not die. The brothers explained that Yaakov
would die as soon as he saw them returning without
Eitzot to reduce Heaven's Punishment
1. If you judge yourself, Heaven will not judge you.
2. To pray for the end of your suffering in order to
be able to perform mitzvos better. 3. To ask for
Heaven's mercy for yourself together with Klal Yisroel.
This adds merit to your prayer.
Seeking a Person's Harm produces Opposite Effect
Finally, we see that the brothers' patience which we
described above was rewarded with the end of their punishment
and Joseph supplied them with perfect consolation.
This comes across in Joseph's speech following his self-
exposure. Like the opening of the parsha, this also
presents three anomalies.
First, he declares, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?"
But the brothers had emphasized repeatedly that Yaakov is
alive. On the contrary, they has made it clear that they were
not prepared to endanger his health. Why, then, did Joseph
ask them, Is my father still alive?
Then Joseph then declares: "I am Joseph your brother whom you
sold to Egypt." Why does he stress Egypt here? " . . . whom
you sold to Egypt." Why link self-exposure to Egypt?
Then Joseph gives further emphasis to Egypt: And you know why
you sold me to Egypt? For a good reason, so that in the end
Hashem will provide you with food.
Perhaps the explanation is as follows. Joseph was aware that
the brothers were in deep anguish. They had become aware that
his visionary dreams which provoked their ire were divine and
true: he was to become king and they were to bow down to him.
They had reacted without understanding and cruelly. They had
sold him into slavery and, still worse, to the most corrupt
country in the world at the time, Egypt.
On an even more profound level, they had assumed that Joseph
was no more essential to the ultimate redemption of the
Jewish nation than they were. Now they found out that he did
have a special role to play at this point in the history of
They must have felt they had bluntly rebelled against Heaven,
In saying what he did, Joseph was actually giving them the
best possible comfort. "You think you did the worst possible
to me and to Hashem's will. Just the opposite. When you seek
to do harm against someone for no satisfactory reason, you
precisely help that person along. And in helping me, you made
the passage of a number of processes easier."
First, in the Bris Bein Habsorim, Heaven had decreed
that Yaakov was to be exiled to Egypt. Under ordinary
circumstances, he would have never been willing to move to
Egypt; and he would have to be tied in chains of iron and
taken forcibly (Shabbos 89b). Because Joseph had
become ruler of Egypt, Yaakov came willingly and with due
Second, Joseph's slavery brought him to kingship.
Third, he was now in a position to support his family in a
time of world famine. And the theme of michiya is not
only material sustenance but also redemption. "You, the
brothers, helped start the long process of redemption get off
to a comfortable start."
Achieving the Opposite Effect
The gemora tells how once King Shlomo met the Angel of
Death and found him upset. "Why are you sad?" he asked him.
"Because," he answered him, "I am under orders to kill two of
your ministers, but I know you have a special affection for
them and I can't bring myself to kill anyone you have a
special affection for. The frustration is depressing."
Shlomo then arranged to whisk them off immediately to a city
called Luz, where he knew the Angel of Death had no access.
So he believed he got them out of harm's way.
The next day he met the Angel of Death again grinning like a
Cheshire cat. "What makes you so happy today?" he asked him.
"Mission over and successful," he told him. "I killed your
ministers. When I am ordered to kill someone," he explained,
"I am also given the place where I am supposed to kill him,
and somehow the person always arrives at some time at the due
place. The place I was given to kill your two ministers was
the entrance to Luz." (See Meam Lo'ez, Bereishis 1,
p.357 and sources given in Index, n.107, p. 398.)
More Haste, Less Speed
The brothers were of course only concerned for the good
fortune of Klal Yisroel. They feared Joseph wanted to
displace the eternal kingship of Klal Yisroel under
Yehuda. Nonetheless a certain reactiveness led them to make
mistakes. The challenges Hashem gives us are often
bewildering and it is very often hard to find direction in
them. But on the road in a fog, a person should pull up and
wait till sign posts reveal themselves.
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