(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l. written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
We shall read in this week’s Parashah, “Yosef could not hold in his emotions. Since all his attendants were present, he cried out, ‘Have everyone leave my presence!’ Therefore no one else was with him when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers…Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?’ His brothers were so startled, they could not respond” (Bereishit 45:1-3).
The Midrash states, Rebbi Abba Bardela said, Woe to us from the Day of Judgement! Woe to us from rebuke! Yosef was the youngest tribe, and yet his brothers couldn’t answer him! When Hashem will come and rebuke each and every person according to his behaviour, how much more so!
We must contemplate, where do we find in the Torah that Yosef HaTzaddik rebuked his brothers? He only said to them, “I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?” So where do we see that he rebuked them? It is further difficult to understand Yosef’s question, “Is my father still alive?” Did he not know that his father was still alive? From the very beginning his brothers had said to him, and especially Yehudah, that the reason that they are unable to return to their father without Binyamin is because Yaakov will not be able to live if he sees that Binyamin if left behind in Egypt, as it states, “When he sees that the lad is not there, he will die! I will have brought your servant our father’s white head down to the grave in misery” (ibid 44:31). If so, for what reason did Yosef ask again, “Is my father still alive?”
The explanation is that Yosef HaTzaddik did not intend to the simple meaning of the question, “Is my father still alive?”, but rather he indicated with his words to his brothers that contained within this was a huge rebuke to them for their misdeeds!
Yosef asked his brothers, “Is my father still alive?” You say in your pleading that father is unable to suffer Binyamin missing, so why then when you sold me did you not think about father?! I am Yosef! Is my father still alive? When you sold me, you didn’t consider then what you reflect on now. You didn’t care what will happen with father. Isn’t it written, “Yisrael loved Yosef more than any of his other sons” (ibid. 37:3), and despite this you told him that Yosef was dead. What happened in the end? For many years Yaakov mourned, he didn’t sleep on his bed and all his years were filled with crying and eulogising from his great pain! So this was the penetrating question of Yosef’s question, “Is my father alive?” Yosef followed the way of the chachamim that he didn’t overtly rebuke his elder brothers, but rather by inference. His brothers who were great chachamim immediately understood what he wished them to infer from his words.
Let us return to the Midrash, Rebbi Abba Bardela said, Woe to us from the Day of Judgement! Yosef was the youngest tribe, and yet his brothers couldn’t answer him! When Hashem will come and rebuke each and every person “according to his behaviour”, how much more so!
The explanation is that Yosef HaTzaddik didn’t rebuke his brothers, how could you have treated me in this way or anything similar to this but rather he rebuked them from their very own selves, from their own words used against themselves, now you say that our father cannot suffer Binyamin’s removal, how could you not have thought about this when you sold me to Egypt!
So it is with Hashem when He will Judge a person. He rebukes him from his very own self, from his very own behaviour. For example, a Jew travels and suddenly a poor heartbroken man approaches him, embarrassed to have to ask, he stretches out his hand for some money. The Jew replies to him, “May Hashem have mercy”. After a while the Jew sees his old friend, who travelled 30 years ago to America, and he hasn’t seen him since! He is standing by the bus stop with his wife and two children. The Jew runs, boards the bus and immediately pays for 5 people, for himself, his friend and his wife and two children! Why did he do this? To show his affection for his friend whom he hasn’t seen for decades.
When he will arrive at the Heavenly Court, they will say to him, why didn’t you say to your friend, “May Hashem have mercy?” Why did you pay for him and his family’s journey? Your friend doesn’t even need your money! Yet this poor man, who genuinely needed your assistance, you sent him away embarrassed! Woe to us from the Day of Judgement! Woe to us from the day of rebuke! They didn’t rebuke him based on someone else’s behaviour, but from his very own actions, he has rebuked himself from his own misdeeds! And what will he reply on the day of reckoning?
A person prays Shacharit, and someone ascends the Bimah to act as hazan, he has a pleasant voice and sings a little during his prayers. But this person looks at his watch again and again getting impatient and he asks, “What is this? Why are you dragging it out? Is it Yom Kippur today? Why are you taking so long?” At the end of the prayers, before they have even reached Aleinu Leshabeach, he bows his head and has already left the Bet Kenesset. On his way he bumps into an old friend whom he hasn’t seen for 20 years! He meets him with great joy and asks him, “How are you? How is the Mrs? How are the children? How was it in America? How is President (Bush) [Biden]?” Suddenly he has plenty of time to speak! He isn’t rushing to work now! In heaven they will ask him, for a chat with your mate, you had time, you delayed quite a while, so why for the honour of the prayers couldn’t you wait? Why were you in such a hurry?!
Imagine a newspaper stand, where all the newspapers are placed and a person can read all the headlines. He stands in front of it and reads the headlines and enjoys himself, for example how Likud faired in the polls! How the majority voted in the party conference! He is so enthralled that he continues reading! Yet during the prayers, he looks at his watch to ascertain when the prayers will conclude, yet here he has all the time in the world!
There was once a young man who felt unwell so he stayed at home. He put on tefillin, but he placed them twisted so far down near his ears [and thereby below the hairline on his forehead and too far down resting on the nape of his neck]! In the middle of his prayers he approached the mirror in his home and he saw that his necktie wasn’t straight so he adjusted it so that it will be exactly in the middle, precisely in the centre of his shirt! Another person saw him and said to him, “You big fool! You have half an hour to put on tefillin! Why don’t you pay attention that the tefillin are totally twisted out of place!” He has caught him out from his “very own actions”. His behaviour regarding material things show his lack in spiritual matters! And so in this vein.
Due to our many sins, there are many people who when their child approaches bar mitzvah age they make a huge, splendid party to honour the occasion. For example, a person hires a hall and invites 200 people to his son’s bar mitzvah and every place sitting costs 25 dollars [often exceedingly more in today’s prices!]! He makes everything in the most meticulous fashion. When it comes to the tefillin however, he travels to Meah Shearim to “Mendel Freidman’s shop” which sells Jewish artefacts. He enters the shop and asks, “Do you have tefillin for my son?” The vendor finds beautiful pair of tefillin. The father asks him how much are they? And he tells him 200 dollars [today the price would perhaps be 1,500 dollars]. The father replies, “200 dollars! Wow! So expensive! Perhaps you have cheaper tefillin?” The vender finds another pair, “These are 150 dollars!” “Wow! This is also too expensive,” replies the father. After some haggling, he succeeds in bringing the price down to 125 dollars and he leaves the shop delighted. The main thing for him is that he simply bought tefillin! He doesn’t care one iota if the tefillin are kasher or not (pasul), the main thing is that he simply went through the process of buying tefillin!
The main mitzvah for a bar mitzvah boy are his tefillin! And yet here the father has his priorities all wrong! When it comes to the hall he pours in huge sums of money, yet with the tefillin he tries everything to get them as cheap as possible! Does this person lack intelligence? One must ascertain are these tefillin even kasher? Did a G-d-fearing sofer write them or just someone who does it just for “business”? Today there are young people who sit and write tefillin with the radio on and they listen to all types of nonsense. This is how they write tefillin! How can a person underestimate the mitzvah of tefillin and just buy whatever comes his way? Where is his fear of Heaven (yirat shamayim), that he is able to cause his son to put on non-kasher (pasul) tefillin for his whole life. I know of many instances of people learning in Kollel who had simple parents and when they were 20 years old they checked their tefillin and found them to have been pasul from day one! How much pain such a young man endures as a result of this! He will suffer his whole life from this! Every day he made a blessing in vain! Every day he never had put on tefillin [since they were pasul!]! And all through his father’s actions
“A deed is influenced by its initial thoughts!” A person should think about his actions, and if he doesn’t know, he should ask a talmid chacham, “appoint for yourself a rav and avoid doubt” [Avot 1:16]. A person who is close to talmidei chachamim can ask them and they will guide them in each matter what to do!
Rambam z”l states that talmidei chachamim heal souls! Sometimes there is a small village which doesn’t have a doctor unless someone is at death’s door, by which time a doctor isn’t much use, there is nothing for him to do! But in a large city there is a “family doctor” and as soon as someone doesn’t feel well, he turns to the doctor and the doctor cures him, preventing him from deterioration! Someone who is close to talmidei chachamim is comparable to someone who lives in a city, he can always ask a talmid chacham who will advise him what to do. He will guide him on the good path, he will tell him for example, how to obtain the best tefillin. But a person who is alone, ignorant, without talmidei chachamim around him, he does whatever he wishes and in turn he obstructs his son. What will the son say to himself when he is older? My father obstructed me all these years?!
Every person should be a “wise person with [active and alert] eyes in his head”. First he should contemplate what will be in the end, he should think about each and every thing and in so doing he will avoid the future rebuke that may otherwise come his way. For they will see how he acted with thought, how he sought advice for each thing and through this he will avoid embarrassment. He will avoid the shame of the tribes, like when Yosef rebuked them, and he will merit to be both close and confident in Hashem’s kindness that will produce a good and blessed judgement for him!