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Vayigash 5772

By: Rav Michael Susman

Not the King’s Speech - Rav Michael Susman Since last week was Shabbat Chanukah, the necessity of reading Maftir from the Parsha of Chanukat HaMizbeach detracted from the natural tension which was created at the end of Parshat Miketz and reaches its climax in the beginning of Parshat VaYigash. At the end of last week's Parsha the brothers have returned to the Egyptian ruler's palace confused and angry. The man's chalice had just been discovered in Binyamin's bag, and even though everyone knew that it had been planted there Binyamin was still facing imprisonment and a lifetime of servitude. This is the message of the final passuk in Miketz, as Yosef tells Yehuda that only the one who had stolen the chalice must stay but that all the other brothers could return to their father. What will Yehuda and his brothers do now? The answer to this question is left hanging in the air, to be answered only at the beginning of this week's Parsha, which opens with the climactic confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef. But what was the nature of this confrontation? What could Yehuda possibly say that might sway the seemingly immovable liege who stood before him, implacably driven to imprison Binyamin? It is interesting to note that while a simple reading of the passukim (44:18-34) reveals Yehuda as being a supplicant, many Midrashim recast him as being the aggressor in the interaction with Yosef, to the point where (seemingly fantastically) he and his brothers threaten Yosef and all of Egypt with total destruction. (Rashi on passuk 18 quotes selectively from some of these Midrashim. We will explore the midrashim in greater depth in short order.) How can we understand Yehuda’s behavior according to each of these extremes and might there be a third way of looking at this confrontation which navigates between the two extremes? In her book, Iyunim B’Sefer Beraishit (pp 344-347 and 350-352 in the Hebrew edition) Nechama Leibowitz examines the explanation of both the pshat and the midrash. When focusing on the pshat, Nechama shows that Yehuda recognizes the weakness of his position vis-a-vis Yosef. As a result, he uses his speech to try and evoke mercy and understanding from the seemingly inflexible Yosef. While at first glance Yehuda is doing little more than recounting the events that had led them to this point, and then suggesting an alternate solution to the one that Yosef had decreed, in fact Yehuda is doing much more. In Nechama’s analysis Yehuda is hinting at messages throughout his speech that he dare not say openly. Yehuda stresses the difficulty that bringing Binyamin to Egypt will create for their elderly father (Yehuda uses the word AV, father, no less then fourteen times in these passukim). What he is really doing is trying to stress the emotional pull of kibbud av (even tyrants have fathers!) while signaling to Yosef how all of them realize that it was Yosef’s insistence that they bring Binyamin, despite the emotional toll on Yaakov, which had brought them to this point. Yehuda even puts words in Yosef’s mouth which we do not find Yosef using (“and I will lay eyes upon him” 44:21) to increase the pressure. What do these words mean? The general consensus amongst the meforshim (see for example, Rav Saadia Gaon, Ramban and Seforno) is that Yosef is giving his royal promise that no evil will befall Binyamin. By putting these words in his mouth Yehuda is hinting that Yosef has betrayed a trust by threatening Binyamin. This is yet another technique that Yehuda resorts to in his bid to free Binyamin. Yehuda then recounts to Yosef the discussions with Yaakov that preceded the return of the brothers to Egypt. According to Yehuda's account, Yaakov based his resistance to sending Binyamin on the fact that Binyamin was the last surviving child of Rachayl, Yaakov's beloved wife (44:27-29). But, as Nechama points out, the Torah never tells us that Yaakov actually said this. Moreover, it would be highly unlikely that he would, as to do so would be to openly acknowledge that his other sons were less important, a position which had already cost him Yosef! Rather, Yehuda chose to embellish the story (with facts that from the brothers’ perspective were all too familiar) in order to create more sympathy for the elderly, bereaved father back in Canaan. Yehuda then pulls out all the oratorical stops (44:30-31). Rather than simply declaring that the pain of seeing his remaining ten sons return without Binyamin might trigger Yaakov's death, Yosef dramatically scales his words to lead up to this dramatic denouement. In passuk 30 Yehuda pauses when predicting what would happen upon their return by reminding Yosef of the relationship between Yaakov and Binyamin, "v'nafsho keshura b'nafsho", and his (Yaakov's) soul is bound (by love) with his (Binyamin's) soul. He then repeats (passuk 31) the ominous phrase "when he sees the lad is not (with us)", in order to emphasize the result – and he will die! Yehuda's message to Yosef is clear. This old, helpless man will die because of your obstinate insistence on enslaving Binyamin! With the groundwork now laid, Yehuda can offer Yosef a reasonable alternative - Yehuda himself will take Binyamin's place as Yosef's slave (passuk 33). And if this were not enough, in passuk 34 Yehuda lays it on the line, “how can I return to my father without him”? According to this analysis, everything falls into place. Yehuda's speech, so carefully crafted to win Binyamin's freedom, seems to fit beautifully with the pshat of the passukim. And this is Nechama's starting point for the second half of her analysis. If the pshat works so well, why would the midrash suggest a belligerent Yehuda, challenging Yosef as if Yosef was at Yehuda's mercy and not the other way around? In order to answer this question we must first see the entire midrash in Tanchuma (Vayigash 5). When we do so we quickly realize that while similar, this is not the midrash that Rashi quotes (Rashi is actually quoting Breishit Rabba 93). The more complete midrash contains a full dialogue between Yehuda and Yosef, with Yehuda throwing accusation upon accusation at Yosef for his treatment of the brothers, Yaakov and Binyamin, and with Yosef parrying each accusation by questioning Yehuda's behavior toward Yosef himself. And the climax of this midrash is Yosef revealing himself to his brothers by calling out "Yosef ben Yaakov, come to me and confront the brothers who sold you!" When the stunned and confused brothers don't see Yosef emerge, Yosef shouts to them, "Why are you looking about, I am here in front of you!" When reading the midrash in full we can only be astonished. The more Yehuda fulminates the sharper Yosef's retorts become. What is Chazal telling us by describing this unlikely exchange? The answer, says Nechama, is clear. This exchange only takes place in Yehuda's mind. Every time he wants to defend Binyamin, every time he wishes to confront the Egyptian ruler, his own conscience shouts him down. How can he self righteously defend Binyamin from Yosef's obvious entrapment when he himself was responsible for the sale of Yosef? But Yehuda's speech also contains the way out. By offering himself as a slave in Binyamin's stead he has created the framework for teshuva and for Yosef to reveal himself to his brothers. Up until now we have quoted Nechama Leibowitz’s analysis of the two extremes of pshat and drash. But our presentation of the pshat was faulty, because there are far more differences between Yehuda's presentation of the story and what the Torah recorded than the two we quoted above. Moreover, Yosef was an active player in much of what Yehuda recounts. How could Yehuda have dared to describe things differently to Yosef himself? Rav Elchanan Samet (Iyunim B’Parshat HaShavua, first series) uses the differences between Yehuda’s repetition of the events and the Torah’s original telling to suggest a fascinating explanation of Yehuda’s speech and the motivation behind it. Rav Samet lists five discrepancies, and most surprisingly one astonishing omission, that can be found in Yehuda’s narrative of the events in Mitzrayim (pp 134-135) as opposed to the way the story is told in Torah. Let us focus on the omission and a single discrepancy (feel free to look up the other discrepancies on your own, as well as Rav Samet’s explanation of them on pp 139-141). When the brothers first came to Egypt they are brought before the ruler, who accuses them of being spies. This accusation becomes the legal basis for everything that happens afterwards. Incredibly, Yehuda makes no mention of this allegation when he confronts Yosef in his palace! How can it be that Yehuda simply ignores what is arguably the most important element of the entire story? Furthermore, nowhere do we find Yosef asking the brothers about their family, as Yehuda claims (“ha’yesh lachem av oh ach”, passuk 19). Why does Yehuda make that claim now, especially when Yosef could so easily deny it and turn Yehuda into a liar? Rav Samet suggests that by omitting the entire accusation of the brothers being spies, Yehuda is clearly communicating to Yosef that he has seen through the entire ruse. Yosef claimed that the brothers threatened “national security”, a charge which was clearly untenable given that no one else coming to Egypt to purchase food was treated the way the brothers were. In the words of the Midrash, (quoted by Rashi on 44:19) the brothers asked, “Did we seek to marry your daughter, or did you wish to marry our sister, that you asked all these question?” Yehuda now understands that Yosef was digging for information on the family and had set them up in order to entrap Binyamin. So instead of dignifying the trumped up charge of espionage with a mention, Yehuda focuses on the issue which he now recognizes had clearly been Yosef’s target all along, Yaakov and Binyamin. You asked if we had a father and another brother! You might not have come straight out and asked, but that was your interest all along! According to this analysis, Yehuda’s speech is intentionally inaccurate precisely because he fears being too open in his accusation against the ruler. So Yehuda chooses to send the message that he is on to Yosef’s game more subtly. We have seen three different interpretations of Yehuda’s speech, but all had the same effect. Be it through supplication, self flagellation or subterfuge, Yehuda succeeds in “smoking out” the Egyptian viceroy in front of him. And the results were far different than anything he or his brothers might have imagined. Shabbat Shalom


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