Halacha for Friday 10 Tevet 5784 December 22 2023

Parashat Vayigash

A ma’amar from HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, Maran’s zt”l grandson
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Explaining Why People Are Unable to Recognise the Truth When it Stares Them in The Face

In states in this week’s Parashah, “…I am Yoseph! Is my father still alive?’” and from the great shock his brothers were unable to respond, as it states, ‘’His brothers were so startled, they could not respond” (Bereishit 45:3).

In the work “Torat Chessed”, he addresses the great surprise that is evident throughout the story of Yoseph and his brothers: It is explained in the Midrashim that Yoseph’s brothers regretted his sale and therefore prior to coming to Egypt they accepted it upon themselves to redeem him at whatever cost would be demanded of them. For this reason, when they entered Egypt, they entered through ten different entrances and for three days they investigated and enquired where Yoseph may be, in the hope that they will be able to trace him. Because of this behaviour they understood that when Yoseph accused them of being spies (ibid. 42:8) it had indeed due to their conduct which resembled that of espionage.

However, it then begs the questions, how this didn’t make the holy tribes think that perhaps “Tzaphnat Pa’aneach” [the name that Yoseph had been called by Paro ibid. 41:45, meaning “Revealer of Secrets” Targum and Rashi ad loc.] Egyptian’s viceroy, is their brother Yoseph?! And if we are to say that they didn’t see this because Yoseph left them before he had matured with a beard, whereas now he has a beard [see Targum Yonatan ben Uziel 42:8], it is still astounding, for after a few minutes they had engaged in conversation for a number of minutes with Yoseph, how could they not even one of them have thought that this is indeed Yoseph himself? His face is the same face and his voice remained the same, how did they not notice that?

The question becomes more pertinent when we continue to analyse the Parashah: Our chachamim said that at the time when Yoseph attempted to arrest Shimon, 70 Egyptian mighty warriors got up to restrain him, but he fought them all off with a miraculous strength, which Yaakov’s children had. Until in the end Yoseph asked his son Menasheh to restrain Shimon.

With one swipe, Menasheh ben Yoseph got Shimon into prison and shackled him in metal chains. When Shimon saw this, he said, “This is a smite from father’s house!” Shimon realised that this hitting, with an unnatural force, wasn’t from an Egyptians but rather from one of their family [Midrash Tanchumah, Vayigash, 4]. If so, how could Yoseph’s brothers not have considered that their brother Yoseph stood before them?

This and more. As the Parashah continues, Yoseph says to his brothers, “I fear Hashem!” (ibid. 42:18). There was no one in Egypt who feared Heaven, no one who was G-d-fearing [believing in a monotheistic religion], yet Yoseph says to his brothers, clearly enunciated, that he is like them, he is a G-d-fearing person. And if so, again, how did the brothers not discern that this is actually Yoseph? Likewise, Yoseph distresses the tribes over and over again with phenomena [various statements and accusations] that have no explanation. He knows everything about them, with the pretext that his goblet reveals to him secrets (ibid. 44:5) and despite this, the brothers do not think that this is Yoseph!

Rabbenu Chaim ben Atar z”l (1696-1743) in his work Or HaChaim (Miketz) explains that Yoseph’s bothers, the very ones that sold Yoseph, due to his dreams manifesting, was clearly before them. However, because Yoseph was the one that brought upon them this great trauma, he was guilty for what happened, due to his vacuous dreams, that he will be the king and his brothers will bow to him. Therefore the brothers couldn’t consider that these dreams actually materialised, and that the king stands before them and they are bowing down to him, he, he is Yoseph! Moreover, they couldn’t possibly conceive that his dreams are actually true. For if so, it meant that the sale was illegitimate, and they were truly guilty for everything that happened to them and their father! They were incapable of considering this! [see however ibid. 42:21].

In the word of Rabbeinu the Orach Chaim, because they experienced Yoseph in such an elevated (regal) status “they kept this idea away from their hearts”, they literally suppressed this logical thought, that Yoseph was indeed standing before them!

However, despite the fact that we must be mindful that we don’t have the slightest grasp of the spiritual level and thoughts of the holy tribes, we may however learn from this a great moral lesson: When a person is immersed in “nature”, absorbed in desires, captivated in ideas and various ideologies, not only are they unable to recognise the truth, but also when the truth shines like the sun in front of their face, it will be covered, and they will say, “This isn’t the sun!”

They relate that some people once spoke in the presence of the Gaon the Tzaddik Rebbi Eliyahu Dessler z”l (1892-1953) about the war that was raging at that time, and those speaking said to one another, “It is correct that everything is from heaven, however despite this, let us consider based on the natural course of events, how is it possible that so and so will defeat the other”. HaRav Dessler responded and said, this is akin to two people saying, “We know that the truth is such and such but let’s talk like morons!”

We must arise above the conventions that we set ourselves, we must be open, submissive and prepared to accept the truth and the rebuke from the one who said it [see Rambam’s z”l introduction to his Eight Chapters]. May Hashem merit us to make our will like His will, to serve Him with a complete heart.

Shabbat Shalom!

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