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It’s Not as Bad as it Seems

By: Rav Jonathan Bailey

After over a decade apart from his family, Yosef is finally reunited with his most beloved brother, Binyamin. Seeing him for the first time, Yosef’s “emotions well up”, “נכמרו רחמיו” and he simply cannot control himself; he quickly exits the room and begins to cry. Then, he quickly washes his face, composes himself and frames his beloved younger brother, publicly declaring him a despicable thief. What happened to all that emotion and tears? Where’s the love?

In this parsha’s haftarah (which we usually miss because Miketz is almost always read on Shabbat Chanukah and therefore a special haftarah is read) we are told of the (famous) story of Shlomo’s first recorded court case concerning two women who both claim ownership over the same baby. Shlomo decides that the ‘only’ way to solve the conflict is to split the baby in half, allowing both mothers equal portions. The haftarah then reports that ‘her [the true mother of the baby] emotions welled up’ - “נכמרו רחמיה”, saying that it was better to give up her claim to the boy than have him killed. With this, Shlomo recognizes the truth and the baby is returned to his rightful mother.

This expression of “נכמרו רחמיו”, “his emotions welled up” is used only twice in all of TaNaKH - in the haftarah’s story of the mothers, and in our parsha, when Yosef meets Binyamin. From its context in the haftarah, we can easily infer that the ‘emotions’ this expression conveys are deep, heartfelt feelings of motherly affection; a pure expression of devotion and love. Strangely, however, the subsequent relinquishing of ownership over her beloved baby seems outwardly contradictory to the previously expressed emotion. We must understand, therefore, that incorporated into these powerful feelings is the desire to do what is best for her child. In other words, it is specifically because she loves her baby so much, and not out of cruelty, that she is willing to give him away to prevent his death.

Knowing that Chazal selected the haftarot to enhance and further elucidate the messages and lessons within the parsha itself, we can now appreciate the true motivation behind Yosef’s seemingly ruthless actions. Upon seeing Binyamin, Yosef’s ‘emotions well up’, and, based on the nuanced meaning established from the accompanying haftarah, we understand this to mean that, upon seeing his most beloved brother, he expressed a deep, heartfelt ‘motherly’ love for him (perhaps stemming from the absence of a motherly figure that these two brothers shared); and, similar to the context in which this phrase is used in the haftarah, whatever actions then come next, although they may seem heartless and cruel, is only what is truly best for Binyamin and his family as a whole. Later, we are able to comprehend how correct this assumption is: due to Yosef’s accusations, Binyamin is arrested, Yehudah and all the brothers are truly repentant, Yaakov is brought down to join Yosef, and the Brit Ben HaBtarim process God promised to Avraham Avinu is finally set into motion!

I do not think it is coincidental that Miketz is the parsha almost always read on Shabbat Chanukah. (This year, it was parshat Va’Yeshev not Miketz; an aberration that brilliantly afforded us the opportunity to read Miketz’s haftarah and still appreciate the significance of its connection to Chanukah). Chanukah is the holiday when we celebrate the light that miraculously shined for eight days during one of the bleakest times in our national history. No matter how bad it seemed: the few fighting the numerous, the weak defying the strong – we triumphed; when there was not enough oil to rekindle the Beit Hamikdash’s menorah, one flask was found. The mercy of God, א-ל רחום וחנון, did not allow them to fail; it is only through this powerful love for His children then, that we are blessed with the opportunity to thank Him now.




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