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Redemption Unfolding

By: Rav Yonny Sack

At the start of this week's parasha, Mikeitz, we see Yosef's speedy rise to power as he is brought out of the prison cell to interpret Pharaoh's dreams and within moments is given the job of second in command of the entire Egyptian Empire.  The predicted years of plenty subside and give way to the 7 years of famine and Yosef is in charge of the distribution of Egypt's storehouses. Yosef's brothers come down to Mitzrayim to buy some food and he immediately recognizes them. The parasha then unfolds with one of the most compelling, edge-of-the-seat sagas with Yosef treating his brothers as strangers, accusing them of being spies and demanding they return with their younger brother Binyamin to prove their  innocence. In the meantime Yosef takes Shimon into prison as hostage until they return.   When the brothers return to Yaakov without Shimon and demanding Binyamin, he is beside himself. He had lost Yosef all those years back and now Shimon has been captured and they want to take Binyamin, his only remaining son from Rachel as well!

One must ask a number of questions on this well known story. Firstly, why was Yosef so intent to cause such anguish to his brothers? Was this revenge? Did he see his brothers, recognize them and then think "Yes! Finally I get to give it back to them for what they did to me all those years ago. Now they will see!"? No.  Revenge would not explain the anguish he would be causing his father again with this whole debacle, not to mention his beloved brother Binyamin, who is also a focus of much of the anguish in this episode.

Rav Tzadok of Lublin writes [1] that everything Yosef did was with the purest of motives, without any selfish interest whatsoever. In fact, each and every step of this plan was intended for nothing other than tikun/rectification.

We get glimpses of Yosef's pure motives and his greatness as a person from various points within the Torah's account. Firstly, when Yosef first accuses his brothers, they begin to discuss amongst themselves how the situation that they have fallen into is directly as a result of what they had done to Yosef:

They then said to one another; "indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we did not listen; that is why this anguish has come upon us. . . “ Now they did not know that Yosef understood, for the interpreter was between them. And he (Yosef) turned away from them and cried.

It is amazing to think that while Yosef is causing them this anguish and maintaining his disguise, he is also turning away from them, distancing himself from them so that they should not see him crying! Why is he crying? Is this a cry of one who was wronged and now finally sees his enemy be brought to justice? Is this a cry of victory, of settling scores?  Or a cry of pain and love for his brothers? The Sforno writes that this was a cry of selfless love and compassion as Yosef was crying from compassion at the pain his brothers were going through [2] . Deeper , Rashi  explains that Yosef was crying  because of his brothers  regret, feeling deep sympathy and compassion for them as they were going through the painful process of  Teshuva[3]. What an incredible removal of ego! Instead of feeling his own understandable feelings of validation, satisfaction and payback, he was completely focused on their pain and their experience of tikun. He was moved to the point of tears at their pain of returning after the sin they had inflicted on none other than Yosef himself!

But this just exacerbates the question of what was Yosef doing here? If he is in such pain for their pain, then why does he not just say immediately "Ani Yosef!" (I am Yosef) and reveal himself? Instead he leads them and his father and Binyamin on a lengthy rollercoaster ride of even greater pain, worry and torment.

To understand Yosef's motives more fully we must visit the famous words of the Rambam in his laws of Teshuva. There the Rambam writes that a Baal Teshuva (Master of Repentance)  is one who is faced with the same temptation with which he had previously sinned and yet this time he says no. While being in the exact same situation again is unlikely if not impossible to ever occur with all the same variables the simple understanding of the Rambam is that a person needs to affect such a deep change in themselves when doing Teshuva, so much so that were they to be placed in the same situation they would act simply essentially be different and thus act different. This is the true sign of a transformation at the root of the person. If you really want to grow and steer clear from bad habits, it can't be superficial - you have to attack the roots to get the fruits that you want [4]. People often profess or hope to have changed and say 'I will never go down that road again' but when push comes to shove they fall again and again and it reveals that at a root level they still have the issue [5]. Real teshuvah must involve real change.

Yosef knows that for the future of the Jewish people, there must be achdut, unity amongst the tribes. The fragmentation that festered and ultimately resulted in the sale of Yosef would be the undoing for the future of the Jewish nation and the hold back the final redemption.  Yosef saw his brothers coming down to Egypt as the perfect opportunity to orchestrate a complete tikun (rectification) of what had transpired in the breakdown of the family. But to give the brothers the opportunity for complete tikun, at a root level, he needed to ensure they would be tested in the same way, with the other son of Rachel and beloved 'favorite' child of Yaakov, Binyamin. Had the brothers uprooted any trace of jealousy and resentment that they had once harbored? Instead of willfully harming, were they able to offer themselves in self sacrifice in order to save a child of Rachel?

 Yosef needed to bring them to a position of root and to rebuild the achdut (unity) from the deepest place.  Anything less would not stand the test of time, with traces of fragmentation and infighting residing deep within the DNA of the Jewish people for all time [6]. 

Deeper, the sin of the brothers was their Jealousy (on their level) of Yosef all those years before. Jealousy is rooted in the false inflated ego where you see what someone else has as deserved to you. Thus the tikun must involve a reduction of self, a self sacrifice. The brother's jealousy had caused, as it often does, hatred and thus fragmentation.  Yosef thus brings the brothers to a point where it is either save themselves and let Binyamin suffer, after all he was the one who had the goblet, or sacrifice themselves all together as one unit. They chose the latter and thus bring about the complete atonement and tikun for the division that had ruptured the 'tribes of Israel' to be.

This is thus a story of redemption. The redemptive process is a difficult one, and almost always involves anguish and pain along the way, but as the deeper sources say in the future world the taste of the tree and the fruit will be the same. On one level this means that the process and  the final result will be not seem detached, but rather we will see how the process of pain really is what enabled, in fact created the redemption at the end. This is the powerful message of "Ani Yosef" which we find at the start of next week's parasha. It is revealed that the source of all that anguish was none other than the salvation itself.

May we merit soon to see how the anguish of this exile we find ourselves in, somehow in Hashem's wisdom, is really a redemption unfolding.

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Rav Yonny


[1] Pri Tzadik Chelek 1, Page 18

[2] Sforno on the pasuk (Bereishit 42:24)

[3] Maharal in Gur Aryeh

[4] A paraphrase of Stephen Covey's line "you can’t have the fruits without the roots"

[5] Rabbi Nachman of Breslev taught that when you have grown and then fall back it is not a sign of lack of change but rather the natural way of growth that as you break through one layer of peel to fruit and continue digging you will inevitably arrive at another layer of peel surrounding the deeper layer of fruit. You have not fallen, you are just working on a deeper level now and thus the challenge comes at you again in a deeper more sophisticated guise.

[6] Indeed, every detail of Yosef's plan was to this end. For example, he imprisons Shimon 'in front of their eyes' as the verse says, while the other brothers return to Yaakov after their first encounter. The Midrash tells us that, 'in front of their eyes' means that Yosef only held him there for a moment as show to the brothers, but without their knowledge he then released him and cared for him. The Ktav VeKabalah writes that this was for Shimon's tikun as he was the one who had first advised to kill Yosef and throw him in the pit.


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