Third Temple Torah, True Teachings

Parashas Vayeishev

From the Book of Bereishis (Genesis)

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

In this week's portion of Vayigash, Yosef reveals his true identity to his brothers. After Yehuda's impassioned plea for Binyamin's release, the Torah tells us (Gen. 45:1) that Yosef could not restrain himself any longer. Rashi explains that Yosef could not bear the thought of embarrassing his brothers in front of the Egyptians in the room. He knew that the revelation of his true identity would mean revealing that his brothers had sold him, and that this would be intensely humiliating for them. Therefore, Yosef ordered all of his Egyptian servants to leave the room before he stated, "I am Yosef."

We might wonder how Rashi knows that Yosef was primarily concerned with preventing his brothers' embarrassment. Perhaps he sent out his servants because it would not be proper for a great leader to cry in front of his subordinates. In other words, maybe Yosef was interested only in preventing his OWN embarrassment! The Iturei Torah counters this claim by pointing out that Yosef, immediately after sending out his servants, raises his voice and cries so loudly that all of Egypt and everyone in Pharaoh's palace hears his sobbing (Gen. 45:2). Clearly, Yosef is not concerned with maintaining his own dignity if this is how he behaves himself. Therefore, he must have dismissed the Egyptians only in order to prevent his brothers' public humiliation.

We can learn from Yosef's words and behavior how far we must go to keep from embarrassing others. Shortly after Yosef breaks down in tears, he tells his brothers, "I am Yosef your brother, whom you sold down to Egypt" (Gen. 45:4). The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh comments that the word "your brother," which seems superfluous in this context, actually conveys an important message. Through the intentional addition of this word, Yosef is telling his family, "Even when you sold me down to Egypt, I was still your brother. Even in the midst of that incredibly challenging time, I still loved you and still felt connected to you."

Furthermore, the Sfat Emet points out that the word "asher" ("whom") in this verse can have the connotation of "yasher kochacha," an expression that means "congratulations" or "thank you" (literally, "Your strength should be upright"). We see an example of this definition in Parshat Ki Tisa (Ex. 34:1), when G-d tells Moshe to carve a second set of Tablets like the first ones "that you broke" (ASHER shibarta). The Talmud (Shabbat 87a) explains that the word "asher" here means "yasher kochacha" in other words, that Moshe deserved congratulations for breaking the first set of Tablets. Based on this interpretation, we can understand the word "asher" in our verse the same way. Yosef tells his brothers, "I am Yosef your brother, whom (ASHER) you sold down to Egypt." According to the Sfat Emet, Yosef is implying, "I congratulate you for selling me down to Egypt, because it enabled me to support our entire family." Instead of being bitter or angry about his brothers' treatment of him, Yosef sees how their actions actually led to great benefit. They should not be condemned for selling him; rather, they should be congratulated!

Through Yosef's incredible efforts to put his brothers at ease and prevent their public disgrace, the Torah teaches us how we must strive to deal with other people in our own lives. Imagine how we would feel if we were in Yosef's place how difficult it would be for us to rise above our own hurt and resentment. Yet Yosef goes to great lengths to treat his brothers respectfully. Not only is he concerned with their possible humiliation, sending out his entourage so that no disparaging information will be overheard, but he even THANKS his brothers for selling him! This is a tremendous act of maturity that shows Yosef's ability to take himself out of the center. We can learn from here how to approach situations where we feel we have been slighted. Yosef does not allow himself to be dominated by feelings of bitterness about the past. Rather, he emphasizes the positive aspects of the situation to such a great extent that he is able to relate to his brothers with true warmth and respect.

May we learn to cultivate a warm, loving attitude towards every other person so that we can view everyone we meet as our brother or sister. May we learn to overcome resentments about the way we were treated in the past, rising above our own hurt so we can see the ultimate good in every situation. Just as Yosef was reunited with his family, which brought about redemption for all of the Jewish people at that time, so may we deserve to see unity and camaraderie among all the Jewish people with the coming of Moshiach and the building of the Temple, may it be soon in our days.

Shabbat Shalom,
Aba Wagensberg

Photos and Data © Third Temple and/or Avrahom Dovid 1980 through 2005. Parsha Highlights © Rabbi Aba Wagensberg.