June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Upon revealing his identity to his brothers, Yosef tells them “don’t be sad.”

This remark implies that the brothers were sad and distressed. But they were finally reunited with their long lost brother after so many years! The brothers were in desperate search for Yosef—they split up and searched through Egypt to look for him. They were willing to spend all the money necessary to ransom him if need be, and to be moser nefesh for his sake just to get him back with the family. Shouldn’t they be relieved now that they reunite with Yosef?

Furthermore, imagine what it was for them upon knowing the depth of agony and pain their father has been in for all these years, and yet not being successful in finding Yosef to bring him back to their mourning father. But now Yosef reveals his identity—wouldn’t they be jubilant? Ecstatic? Jumping for joy? Rav Leib Chasman says it’s like waking up from a bad dream and realizing that it was all just a dream. There should be a profound sense of relief and happiness! Why are they sad? So maybe you’ll say they are still distressed for originally selling Yosef.

However, even if in theory we grant that they felt the sale was an inaccurate decision, still, why should they be distressed once they saw Yosef is doing quite fine and that nothing negative resulted from their decision to sell him?

Rav Chasman explains by prefacing that our decisions and actions stem from our internal dynamic. Our middot, molds, shapes, and informs our plans and what course of action we take. Therefore when a truly wise person examines his ways, he doesn’t solely judge his actions as they are. Rather, he delves into his inner dynamic, his middot, for perhaps his actions stem from an improper character trait.

The brothers’ concern was on their middot! In fact, their confession in last week’s parsha was targeted towards an internal character deficiency: “For we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us but we did not listen”—they regretted not having mercy on him and instead being cruel. Hence, whether they were right or wrong in selling yosef was not necessarily the main issue at hand for them. Instead, their main concern was on the improper source from which the sale stemmed from—the middah of cruelty, a lack of compassion. For if they weren’t faulty in this middah then it’s possible that their dealings with Yosef could have been drastically different! It is for internal deficiency they were still distressed and saddened over (see “Ohr Yahel” 1, Vayigash).

In response to what occurred to their sister Dina, Shimon and Levi wiped out Shechem and the males of his city. Interestingly, we find that their father Yaakov seemed rather displeased with them. He said, “In their rage they killed men…Accursed is their rage….” If we look closely, we can see a resemblance to the above idea. Yaakov perhaps did not solely rebuke their action they took per se, but seems to focus more on their middah of anger that they possessed all the while. Perhaps their action itself wasn’t Yaakov’s main concern, but it stemming from an improper source—a negative middah—was the center of Yaakov’s attention. For if they were clean of this middah, their actions might have been completely different.

We can learn from all the above that if our actions are an outgrowth of our middot, it becomes imperative to focus on improving and enhancing our internal being.

So as we know, Yosef says: “I am Yosef, Is my father still alive”—and his brothers are more than shocked. They are speechless, embarrassed, and regretful. The midrash quotes Abba Kohen Bardela who views this emotional and dramatic moment as a microcosm of what each and every one will experience on the great day of judgment in the next world: “Woe to us from the day of judgment, woe to us from the day of rebuke…Yosef was the youngest of the tribes and yet the brothers could not withstand his rebuke…when Hashem will come and rebuke each and every one…how much more so [that we will be unable to withstand His rebuke].”

But where’s Yosef’s rebuke?!

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (“Beis Halevi,” Vayigash) explains that Yosef asking if his father is still alive was the rebuke itself! For wasn’t it already clear from Yehuda’s earlier appeal to Yosef that he was alive (see very beginning of the parsha), and from when the brothers return to Egypt where Yosef asked if their father was still alive and they replied in the affirmative (see 43:27-28)!? Hence, Yosef was really hinting to his brothers a hidden rebuke. “Is my father still alive,” is meant to be understood as a bewilderment, and Yosef intended to impart to them: How can it be that my father is still alive despite all the agony that he has been experiencing all these years since you sent me away? You claim to care about the pain of our father by not wanting Binyamin away from him, but why didn’t you care about his pain when it came to selling me?

Yosef’s hidden rebuke was sharp—pointing out a direct and inherent contradiction in his brothers’ ways.

That’s the rebuke on the great day of judgment in the next world where the inconsistencies and contradictions within the realm of our actions will be revealed. We may have excuses and justifications for our lack of growth in areas of ruchniyot, but there may be other areas in our life which show that we in fact had the capability. For example, says Rav Soloveitchik, one might justify his refraining from giving charity, when however he will be shown that he was quite capable of freely spending his money in other areas of his life.

I thought that based on this maybe there’s also another idea we can derive from Yosef’s rebuke:

If we go to the core of Yosef’s rebuke and what he was pointing out to them, it was perhaps that they had something specifically against him: You say you care about our father—why by me you didn’t? The answer seemingly is because they felt something negative towards Yosef. As we know, they had a miniscule sliver of a deep rooted middah of jealousy that ultimately influenced their dealings with Yosef, and thus this is perhaps what Yosef was really getting at. Yosef may therefore be hinting to them that if they had perfected themselves of this middah, then it could very well be that the sale never would have happened!

So while we learn from Yosef’s rebuke that one can perceive the validity and legitimacy of his ways and actions by comparing and contrasting one to the other to ensure they pose no inherent contradiction, we perhaps also learn from Yosef’s rebuke the imperative of focusing on the root of our actions, the internal dynamic—the middot and drives—that may ultimately promote and give way to our decisions and actions.

I heard an insightful story from my father (which I later saw brought down in the sefer “Tenu’at Hamussar” 1, p. 249), of a businessman who came to Rav Yisrael Salanter and asked him, that due to his exceptional lack of time and busy-ness, he only has one hour free for learning—should he learn mussar or Gemara during that time? Rav Yisrael responded, that he should learn mussar, because through that study, he will realize and find that he—in fact—has quite a number of available hours to learn Gemara.

Mussar is the study that centers on shaping our internal being. When implemented, and our middot—the root of our actions—are enhanced, that can ultimately change how we perceive the reality of our abilities, the decisions we make, and the actions we take.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rebbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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