April 15, 2024
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Zera Shimshon on Parshas Vayigash

וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי אֲדֹנִי יְדַבֶּר נָא עַבְדְּךָ דָבָר בְּאָזְנֵי אֲדֹנִי וְאַל יִחַר אַפְּךָ בְּעַבְדֶּךָ כִּי כָמוֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹה
(בראשית מד:יח)

On the opening pasuk of our parsha, “And Yehuda approached him (Yosef) … ” the midrash comments that this meeting between Yosef and Yehudah is alluded to in (Tehillim 48:5), “Behold the kings assembled, they came together.”

“Behold the kings (plural) assembled,” the midrash explains is referring to Yosef, who ruled over Mitzrayim like a king, and Yehuda, who was the king of the brothers. The second part of the pasuk, “they came together” is written in Hebrew, “ovru yachdov,” which literally means, “They passed over together.” However, there is another meaning for the word “ovru,” it can also mean, “they got angry.” The midrash explains the pasuk according to this alternative translation. The pasuk is teaching us that Yosef was angry at Yehudah, and Yehudah was angry at Yosef.

The Zera Shimshon asks: Why did they both get angry? It is easy to understand why Yehuda was angry at Yosef. Yosef prevented Binyamin from returning to Yaakov Avinu in Eretz Yisroel. Yehudah had told Yaakov Avinu that he had accepted responsibility for Binyamin’s return, before the brothers had left for Mitzrayim. Yehudah, therefore, was understandably angry at Yosef. But, why was Yosef angry at Yehuda?

The Zera Shimshon explains that we can understand Yosef’s anger by examining what happened immediately, before Yehuda approached him.

At the end of last week’s parsha, the head of Yosef’s house “discovered” Yosef’s goblet in Binyamin’s sack. Yosef, then, told the brothers that they could all return to their father in Eretz Yisroel, and only Binyamin has to stay behind in Mitzrayim and become a slave to Yosef.

The brothers were in agony and returned to the palace of Yosef to protest this verdict, and they offered that they would all become slaves. The Zera Shimshon gives a very interesting explanation of the reason they were all willing to become slaves.

Even before the brothers sold Yosef as a slave, they knew from the bris bein habesarim between Hashem and their great-grandfather, Avraham, that Avraham’s descendants will be slaves in a land that is not their own. The brothers thought they would be able to satisfy this decree, even if only one brother would be sold. They decided that since Yosef spoke lashon hora about them, he should be the one to be sold as a slave.

However, when they were all together, they saw that they made a mistake and they all have to become slaves — not because of the stealing of Yosef’s goblet — but because of the original decree of the bris bein habesarim.

Yosef replied that he was not willing for all of them to be slaves for that would be a very harsh judgment, and if Hashem wants to punish them let Hashem do it, but he will not do it. He will only judge according to the letter of the civil law, and he wants nothing to do with Hashem’s judgements.

The Zera Shimshon asks: Why is immediately enslaving Binyamin “judging according to the letter of the law?” The punishment for stealing is only to pay double (kaiffel). One is sold as a slave, only if he doesn’t have the money to pay. Therefore, to straight away take Binyamin as a slave is much harsher than the civil law!

However — the Zera Shimshon continues — Yosef justified his verdict by saying that only when one steals from a “commoner” does he pay kaiffel, and he is not sold as a slave. However, when one steals from royalty, a more stringent punishment is appropriate and especially here when he stole the goblet that Yosef used to foretell the future and expose hidden thoughts.

When Yosef said this, “And Yehuda approached him,” and counter argued and accused Yosef of lying! Yehuda argued that he knew that Yosef came to Mitzrayim as a slave, and according to the law of Mitzrayim, a slave cannot become the king! Therefore, Binyamin didn’t steal from royalty, and there is no reason to be extra harsh on him.

Yosef answered back to Yehuda that, “Even if you would be right that I am not worthy to be a king, since you admitted that you sold your brother into slavery; it must be that your family is also a family of slaves — because no upright family member would sell their sibling into slavery — and, therefore, taking Binyamin to be my slave is not considered a harsh punishment.”

The Zera Shimshon concludes that Yehuda’s argument that Yosef wasn’t worthy to become a king made Yosef angry at Yehudah!

What we still have to understand though is, was Yosef really not fit to be a king according to Egyptian law, or did Yehuda make a mistake?

First, a little background…

During the time when slave purchasing was permitted, an idol worshiper who buys a slave doesn’t own the person of the slave. He only owns this person’s labor, meaning, whatever money the slave earns automatically belongs to his owner. Therefore, if his master wants to set him free, he does not need a “document of freedom (get shichrur).” A Jewish person has the power to own the slave’s person and, therefore, for the slave to be truly free with the ability to marry a Jewess, his owner must give him a get shichrur.

The Kessef Mishna is undecided if an idolatrous king only has the power to acquire a slave for his labor — like all other idol worshipers — or do they have special power, and are able to acquire even the person of the slave.

According to this, the Zera Shimshon explains that Yosef wasn’t lying that he was fit to be a king and Yehuda didn’t make a mistake. How is this?

Yosef was of the opinion that a king is able to acquire the person of the slave, and the law that a slave cannot become a king only refers to such a slave. Since Yosef was not sold directly to Pharaoh — but was first sold to a simple Yishmaeli — Yosef held that he was able to be a king and, therefore, Binyamin was subject to a harsher punishment than if he stole from a commoner.

On the other hand, Yehuda paskened that an idolatrous king has no special power and, therefore, the law that a slave cannot become a king also includes a slave that was only owned for his labor, and Yosef was, therefore, unfit to be a king!

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