Wednesday, March 29, 2023

All of us cringe at some of the unwise things we’ve done. I remember spending a week’s vacation with friends in Tzefas. One night, as we sat together eating dinner at a café, I spotted someone walking by dressed in unusual attire. I thought it would be fun to engage him in conversation, so I called out to him from a distance … twice! Wrong decision! He marched over to me and gave me a piece of his mind, saying that I had really embarrassed him. I felt genuinely ashamed. He explained that as a yeshiva bochur, I had extra responsibility to act and speak with care. I took him aside, apologized and asked for his forgiveness. We actually had a good conversation, and he made me realize that I need to think carefully before I act. He told me he would forgive me … if I invite him to my wedding!

I took his name and address. A year later, when I got engaged, I sent him a letter inviting him. To my relief, he wrote back wishing me bracha in my marriage and future life, but sending his regrets about attending the wedding.

In Parshas Vayigash, we witness the whole charade of Yosef accusing his brothers of being spies. Finally, he reveals himself, to their utter amazement. They are stunned, speechless. In that moment, they realized just how much pain they caused their father all those years. They never thought about that consequence when they sold Yosef.

We can relate to the brothers’ reaction. Their shame and remorse make total sense. What’s unexpected, in terms of human behavior, is Yosef’s point of view. He clearly tells his brothers that his being sold was part of a Divine plan. Hashem sent him there in part to provide for his family during the famine. The brothers, he said, were merely agents in a bigger story that needed to unfold.

Anyone reading the parsha is struck by this marked shift in Yosef’s demeanor. Up until now, he was accusing, he was threatening and he was taunting his brothers. And now … he is forgiving and noble.

Why did he wait to reveal himself until just now? Why put his brothers through the gauntlet?

Chazal provide many explanations. The Ramban says that Yosef’s dreams of many years ago were prophecies that needed to come true. Yosef was acting as a conductor, leading his unknowing orchestra through the motions. His brothers thus bowed down to him, as in his dream of the sheaves of wheat. But others say that Yosef was trying to impress upon his brothers the full gravity of their actions in selling him into slavery. They needed to come to terms with this and prove they would now choose differently. When Yehuda stepped up to fight for his brother Binyamin’s safety, Yosef knew that a paradigm shift had occurred.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz explains that Yosef was showing us how to conduct ourselves when we’re hurt by someone else. There are guidelines to follow. Yosef rose above his emotions to see the Divine plan. The Seforno explains that Yosef saw that the whole story was out of his hands. Hashem forced them into selling him so the sequence of events would unfold. Yosef’s use of comforting words, after he manipulated them into realizing how wrong their judgment was in selling him, shows us that he saw Hashem’s involvement fully and his conduct demonstrated to us the proper path when we experience challenges.

In my own situation, I had embarrassed another person. His response was similar to that of Yosef: He expressed disappointment in my behavior. He let me know his feelings, but mostly, he wanted to make sure I understood what I had done wrong. He helped transform my mistake into a learning opportunity, and offered me a way to atone by asking for the wedding invitation. His response to my invitation, a letter filled with blessings and good wishes, closed the loop and taught me a lifelong lesson.

Let us see the Hand of Hashem in our life’s journeys, and act and speak with sensitivity to everyone around us, so we can play a positive role in Hashem’s ongoing plan for our betterment.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged, but contributions are always welcome.

Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

Sign up now!