Pop Quiz: How many years did the famine in Egypt last?
Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And Yosef said to his brothers, 'I am Yosef. Does my father still
live?'" (Beresheet 45:3)
As we all know, we live in a society that moves along at an extremely
fast pace. We are all so busy that many times it seems that a day can go
by before it began. Most times, we are busy doing good things - either
earning a livelihood, running the physical needs of a household, doing
misvot, and learning Torah. Sometimes we might work many hours a day,
hardly seeing or talking to the children. Some parents think that love
is giving their child a Mercedes for his sixteenth birthday. This is not
love. Love is spending time with your child and being there when he or
she needs you.
Rabbi Frand quotes an important statement of the Rambam: A teacher must
love his students as if they were his own children. He explains that
perhaps in previous generations this statement would be difficult to
understand. Why is this so necessary? However, we live in a generation
that at times a teacher may have a student starving for love and he seeks
that love in the classroom. Now it's the teacher's job to give a
friendly pat on the back to the student. Rabbi Frand tells a true story
of a student whose father deserted his family. The student ended up in
the corner, in the back of the classroom. The teacher tried many times
in vain to get close to the student. He tried inviting him over, he
tried bringing him into the class participation, with no luck. One day
they were learning the story of Yosef and his brothers. They got up to
the climax where Yosef asks his brothers his famous question after he
reveals his true identity, "Is my father still alive?" All the
commentators ask what he meant. The brothers up until then had been
telling him that Ya'akob was alive. The teacher asked the students for
their ideas. That forlorn student raised his hand after many months of
silence. He said, "Yosef is saying, 'I know YOUR father is still alive,
but is MY father still alive? Has my father given up on me? I have been
away from home in a strange land for 22 years; do I still have a father
who cares about me?'"
That child was not only asking Yosef's question. He was asking his own.
Sometimes we have children who are asking in many different ways, "Is my
father still alive?" Let's make sure it's not being asked in our home.
WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE
Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
The parashah begins by telling us about the dialogue which Yosef, the
ruler of Egypt, was having with his brother, Yehudah, about whether to
release Binyamin or not. The Midrash tells us that the debate was very
heated and Yehudah threatened to destroy Egypt and all of its
inhabitants. When Yosef saw that Yehudah had reached the limit of his
patience, he revealed his identity thereby diffusing the entire drama.
The Midrash calls Yosef a wise man who can appease people. It seems that
it would be obvious to anyone that this is what Yosef should have done in
this situation. What great wisdom is seen from Yosef's actions?
The lesson that can be learned from here is that there is usually a
point during an argument when it is wise to back down and retreat. When
one is involved in a dispute, it often escalates to levels far beyond the
original issues. One needs to look at it with a clear head, and know
when to cut it short. Otherwise it reaches another level which can bring
pain and destruction. Although it takes wisdom and foresight to be able
to concede to someone else, especially during the heat of "battle," one
who can muster inner strength like Yosef will diffuse the tension
bringing peace and harmony among all parties involved. Shabbat Shalom!
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
"And Yosef sustained his father and his brothers" (Beresheet 47:12)
"And they brought their cattle unto Yosef, and Yosef gave them
bread...and he provided them with bread" (Beresheet 47:17)
Rashi understands the word vaynahalem to mean "he led them." He thus
interprets the verse, "Yosef controlled the Egyptians by means of the
bread which he gave them." This contrasts to the word vaychalkel, "he
sustained them," which is emphasized regarding Yosef's brothers. Rav Z.
Sorotzkin explains the contrasting choice of words. While vaychalkel
means simply "to sustain," vaynahalem also means "to manage" or "to
The committed Jew will not allow himself to be sold in exchange for
bread. His commitment to Torah is resolute. Only Esav was prepared to
sell his birthright and his soul for a bowl of lentil soup. Although a
hungry Jew may be "sustained" by another's bread, he cannot be
manipulated by it. The Egyptians, however, accepted Esav's orientation.
They were willing to sacrifice their self-respect by selling their
conscience for a slice of bread during the Egyptian famine. Indeed, the
Egyptians were even willing to undergo circumcision in order to receive
food. Circumcision as a means of spiritual development was totally
antithetical to the Egyptian mindset. They agreed to circumcision in
order to satisfy their physical hunger.
Rav Sorotzkin applied this idea during a fundraising effort on behalf of
the Va'ad HaYeshivot in Israel. A number of people were reluctant to
donate on behalf of this cause, citing the ultra traditional orientation
of some of the yeshivot. They subsequently went on to stipulate that if
the yeshivot would "relax" their philosophy, they would offer their
encouragement and support.
Rav Sorotzkin responded in the following manner: The Torah uses two
words to describe the provision of food. The word vaychalkel is used
when Yosef feeds his family, while the word vaynahalem is used when he is
feeding Egyptians. We feed our brothers unconditionally. They are
supported with love, without limitations. When providing for a stranger,
however, one may make stipulations for his support. The manner in which
one individual supports another person indicates the nature of his
relationship with him. If there are "strings attached" to his support,
then he is not a friend or family member. Rav Sorotzkin turned to the
people and concluded his remarks, saying, "Decide among yourselves your
attitude towards the yeshivah students. Are they your brothers, or are
they strangers?" (Peninim on the Torah)
YOU NAME IT
"Hurry - go up to my father and say to him, 'So said your son, Yosef:
G-d has made me master of all Egypt.'" (Beresheet 45:9)
The words "bincha Yosef - your son Yosef" seem superfluous. Why did he
not simply instruct them, "Tell father I said...?"
When the brothers returned home after the sale of Yosef, they showed a
garment to their father and said, "Please examine it; is it your son's
shirt?" Ya'akob sensed in their words hatred and animosity. The mere
fact that they did not mention Yosef by name and referred to him as
"bincha - your son" conveyed to him their attitude to Yosef. Ya'akob, in
pain and anguish, cried out, "This is indeed my son's shirt, and tarof
toraf Yosef - [an evil beast devoured him and] Yosef has been torn to
The word "Yosef" seems extra. "He was torn to bits" would be sufficient.
Ya'akob was telling his children, "From your words I see that you have
'torn up' the name 'Yosef.' You hate him to the extent that you are
unable to even mention his name."
Yosef, therefore, instructed his brothers, when they returned to
Ya'akob, that they should specifically say the words "bincha Yosef - your
son, Yosef." Thus, Ya'akob would see that the hatred they bore against
Yosef had been erased. (Vedibarta Bam)
Answer to Pop Quiz: Two years. The famine stopped when Ya'akob arrived in Egypt.