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This week's publication has been dedicated by Moshe Rosenstein in memory of his grandmother, Mrs. Chana Rosenstein of Capetown S.A. (mother of Dr. Neil Rosenstein of Elizabeth New Jersey). Mrs. Rosenstein passed away on the 26th of Tishrei 5757.
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PARASHAT VAYIGASH 5757
THE BROTHERS' MISTAKE
"You see with your own eyes" ...that I am your brother, because you see that I am circumsized just as you are, and also that "it is my mouth that is speaking to you", i.e., I am speaking the Holy Tongue (Hebrew). (Rashi ad loc.)
Rashi tells us that Yosef's two statements were intended to convince his brothers he was indeed their brother Yosef. He told them to "come close" to show them that he was circumcised, and he pointed out to them that he was speaking the Holy Tongue, which is a sure sign of the family of Yakov Avinu. Apparently, the brothers did not believe Yosef when he first revealed his identity. It was necessary for him to prove to that he was indeed telling the truth.
A number of questions arise concerning this description of the events. Firstly, as Ramban points out, why did the brothers not trust Yosef when he identified himself? Rashi informs us several times (42:3,13,14) that the brothers were aware of the possibility that they might encounter Yosef in Egypt, and were in fact anxious to find him, buy him back and bring him home. They find a man in Egypt who mentions Yosef's name, as well as the fact that his brothers sold him as a slave to be taken to Egypt. How could there possibly be any room for doubt in the brothers' minds after hearing this?
It should be recalled that in 43:33 we are told that Yosef was able to seat his brothers at the table in precise age order, a feat at which they themselves marveled (ibid.). Even if the brothers did not guess Yosef's identity then and there, in retrospect it should at least have verified the truth of Yosef's statement when he eventually did reveal himself. (See also Rashi to 43:7, who adds that Yosef displayed to his brothers a familiarity with even their private lives, based on his memories from their youth.)
Secondly, how could the brothers ignore Yosef's constant efforts to have Binyamin brought to him, his profuse show of favor to Binyamin when he did come (see 43:34 and Rashi to 43:33), and finally his attempted abduction of him? Surely the peculiar attitude of the viceroy of Egypt toward Binyamin, coupled with the fact that he seemed to know so much personal information about them and their family, should have given them enough evidence that they had found the man for whom they were so anxiously looking!
Thirdly, even if we accept that the brothers needed further convincing, how would the two proofs that Yosef presented prove his identity at all? Rashi tells us (in 41:55) that *all* the Egyptians underwent circumcision during the first stage of the famine. Besides, all the various nations that descended from Avraham practiced circumcision, so how could it be considered an identifying characteristic of the son of Yakov? (This question is raised by the commentaries on Rashi -- Mizrachi, Gur Aryeh.)
Using his knowledge of Hebrew as proof of identity is no less perplexing. As the Ramban asks, wasn't Hebrew the language of the land of Canaan? Why, then, would it be so unusual for a high governmental official to be able to speak a foreign language, especially that of a neighboring country? Surely many Egyptians spoke Hebrew well! Besides, what motive would anyone have -- especially a powerful governor of a powerful nation -- in claiming to be Yosef?
OR THE SLAVE?
"Yaakov saw that the sale (Shever) of food was taking place in Egypt..." -- Yaakov saw through divine inspiration that there was something for him to look forward to (Sever) in Egypt. It was not a clear enough prophecy, however, for him to realize that this glimmer of hope was the discovery of Yosef. (Rashi to 42:1)
Perhaps it was not simply a flash of divine inspiration that occurred to Yaakov that gave him the premonition that Yosef might be found in Egypt, but also an insight into the course of events happening there.
The Gemara tells us that Yaakov was the personification of the Talmudic statement that "With the arrival of the Torah scholar, there arrives blessing." (Berachot 42a). Indeed, in Bereishit 31:9-12 we see that Yaakov was blessed, through supernatural means, with an inordinate amount of economic success in his dealings with Lavan. Lavan himself noted the connection between Yaakov's presence and financial prosperity (30:27). Furthermore, after Yaakov had just lavished a fortune of gifts upon his brother, we read that Yaakov arrived in Shechem "complete," which Rashi (33:18) explains to mean that he immediately regained all the money that he had spent on Esav. Even in the years of famine, after the rest of the residents of Canaan had long since depleted their supplies of grain Rashi (42:1) tells us that Yaakov and his family were blessed with sufficient food for themselves. In fact, when Yaakov arrived in Egypt, we are told that the famine which was to have plagued the area for another five years abruptly ended in his merit (Rashi 47:19). Wherever Yaakov went, and in whatever situation he was to be found, there was sure to be prosperity and blessing -- both for him and for those in his vicinity.
In 37:2 Rashi (quoting Bereishit Rabba) points out the amazing similarities between the life's events of Yaakov and those of Yosef (both were hated, both were pursued by their brother(s), etc.). The Gemara in Berachot (ibid.) tells us that Yosef shared with his father the quality of bringing blessing to his surroundings as well. This is seen clearly in several places in the Torah: "Everything he did, Hashem caused to succeed" (39:3,23). And of course, let us not forget that he became the viceroy over all of Egypt! Like his father, his ability to bring blessing wherever he went extended to those around him as well: "As soon as (Potiphar) appointed him to be in charge of his house... Hashem blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Yosef" (39:5).
Yaakov saw that whereas the famine was affecting the *entire* region, the seven years of plenty were mysteriously limited to Egypt alone (see Ramban to 41:2). If Egypt was benefiting from such an unusual degree of prosperity, it occurred to Yaakov, it might be that Yosef had something to do with it. The fact that this prosperity started as soon as the new leader took control in Egypt only heightened Yaakov's feeling that a single person was somehow involved in the turn of events. The brothers may have come to the same conclusion. This may be why they came to Egypt with full confidence that Yosef was to be found there (Rashi, 42:3,13,14).
This analysis however, only seems to *add* to our wonder. Why did the brothers not suspect that the ruler himself was Yosef, especially after he told them his identity outright?
The answer to this question is that the brothers did not even remotely consider that their brother could have ascended to such a senior position in Egypt. He could not speak the Egyptian language; he was a foreigner; and he had -- at least at one time -- -been a slave. Any one of these factors, as the Sar Hamashkim (chief butler) pointed out, would have disqualified Yosef for any senior appointment under normal circumstances (see Rashi to 41:12). Furthermore, the brothers knew that this ruler was married and had children. They knew that Yosef was a holy man and would never have married an idolatrous Egyptian woman! (In fact, the Midrash [Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, 38] says that the "daughter of Poti Phera" whom Yosef married was actually an adopted daughter, for Poti Phera had adopted a foundling from the land of Canaan -- who turned out to be none other than the daughter of Dinah and the granddaughter of Yaakov!)
No, the possibility that this ruler of Egypt was Yosef was out of the question. On the other hand, they suspected, perhaps this ruler had been the *master* of Yosef in the past. It was his association with the righteous Yosef that brought such unusual prosperity to his land (the same type of prosperity that Potiphar, Yosef's first master, had experienced)!
Now we can understand why the brothers were not suspicious when they saw that the ruler knew so much personal information about them and their missing brother. A master may certainly have questioned his slave about his past, and this would be especially true in the case of such a holy and extraordinarily successful slave. The brothers indeed knew that they were on to something when they heard all that Yosef told them, but they thought that "something" was not Yosef himself but the man who *owned* Yosef!
THE PLAN FOR
If the ruler was now deprived of the services of his righteous servant, as indicated by the fact that Egypt was now suffering along with the rest of the region, it would be quite understandable that he would want to find a substitute of equal qualifications. Surely he would know from Yosef that he had other brothers and that one of them was a full brother (and was more likely to share his characteristics) who was not involved in the grievous sin of selling Yosef as a slave. This was Yosef's only brother who remained righteous, and he would therefore be able to bring blessing himself. It was only natural, therefore, that the viceroy should want to use any means possible to try to entice Binyamin to come to Egypt and to seize him as his slave.
Bearing all this in mind, we can understand the manner in which Yehudah tried to persuade Yosef not to keep Binyamin. He told Yosef that keeping Binyamin would certainly lead to the death of their father. This father, as the ruler certainly knew, was the source of all the blessings that Yosef merited, and bringing about his death would definitely frustrate any plans he might have of obtaining the blessing of prosperity through enslaving Binyamin. Furthermore, Yehudah argued, if Binyamin leaves his father he himself will die (see Ramban to 44:22), and there will certainly be no benefit gained by keeping him away from his father!
This is why the brothers refused to believe Yosef even after he revealed himself. They suspected that he was responding to Yehudah's argument. He had become convinced that keeping Binyamin would not accomplish anything, as the blessing that the ruler was seeking would not be able to function. "This ruler is now trying to get us to bring our father Yaakov himself to join him in Egypt, in order that he may bring about the return of Egypt's blessing!" they thought. "To this purpose, he has taken up the tactic of masquerading as Yosef himself!"
Since this was the brothers' suspicion, it is obvious that hearing the viceroy mention Yosef's name and that he was sold by his brothers would do nothing to alleviate their skepticism toward the ruler.
UNMASKING AN IMPOSTER:
THE VILNA GAON'S STRATEGY
An authoritative story about the Vilna Gaon is recorded at the end of the book Divrei Eliyahu as follows:
Once there was a man who fled to an unknown location shortly after his wedding, leaving his wife an "Aguna" (i.e., unable to remarry, as her husband had never formally divorced her). About fifteen years later a man came to her town claiming to be the abandoned woman's long-lost husband. No one in town was familiar enough with the man to be able to positively identify him after so long a lapse of time. He tried to prove his identity by mentioning all sorts of personal details about himself and his wife, including very private matters that only a husband could know. Nevertheless, the woman didn't trust him. She insisted that she would not accept him until the matter was brought before the Torah scholars of the generation. The family decided to refer the question to the Vilna Gaon: How could they ascertain whether this man was indeed the long-absent husband, or not?
The Gaon suggested that the man be asked to show his alleged father-in-law the seat in the synagogue in which the father-in-law sat. A new husband normally accompanies his father-in-law to the synagogue on the first Shabbat after the wedding and sits next to him, so the man should have no trouble identifying the seat. His advice was taken. The man was unable to identify his supposed father-in-law's seat, and was exposed as an impostor. As it happened, this man had simply met the true husband, and had learned from him all about the husband, his wife and her family, down to the most personal details. Shortly thereafter, the true husband did return, and was immediately recognized by all.
When asked how this particular test of true identity occurred to him, the Gaon replied that if someone would stoop to such depths of deceit -- and the sin of adultery -- to steal someone's wife, he would never have the slightest interest in anything that has to do with sanctity or religion. He may have quizzed the husband about many personal matters, but the synagogue would certainly never enter his mind.
Perhaps we can apply the moral of this story to our Parasha. If Yosef was suspected of being an impostor, the only way to disprove this allegation would be to show that he was aware of matters of *holiness*. A charlatan might know every detail about the person he is trying to impersonate through extensive questioning, but he would not think of asking questions involving sacred issues! Yosef was not exhibiting the physical property of being circumcised or the intellectual ability of being able to master the Hebrew language; he was showing the brothers that he was aware that the circumcision was a sign of the *sanctity* of the House of Israel, and that the Hebrew language was the *Holy Tongue*, which embodies the sanctity of prophecy and of Divine creation (see Ramban, Sh'mot 30:13). When the brothers saw that he was aware of these facts, they were convinced that they were not dealing with an Egyptian scoundrel as they had originally suspected. This man was indeed their brother Yosef!
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