Parshas Vayigash: The Final Judgement

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayigash, after twenty-two long and painful years of separation, Yosef and his family are reunited.  From slave boy to viceroy, from hated to revered, from Canaan to Egypt, Yosef’s dreams have finally come true.  He is the provider and sustainer over Egypt and the ancient Middle East, his brothers have bowed down before him, and his family relies upon him for sustenance. 

Seeing that his brothers have repented for his sale, and they will not allow Binyamin to be lost (as Yosef was lost), the Torah narrates:

 וְלֹא-יָכֹל יוֹסֵף לְהִתְאַפֵּק, לְכֹל הַנִּצָּבִים עָלָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, הוֹצִיאוּ כָל-אִישׁ מֵעָלָי; וְלֹא-עָמַד אִישׁ אִתּוֹ, בְּהִתְוַדַּע יוֹסֵף אֶל-אֶחָיו – And Yosef could not endure in the presence of all who stood before him, and he called out: Remove everyone from before me!  And no one stood with him when Yosef made himself known to his brothers; וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-קֹלוֹ, בִּבְכִי; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּשְׁמַע בֵּית פַּרְעֹה – And Yosef gave forth his voice in weeping, and Egypt heard and Pharaoh’s household heard; וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-אֶחָיו אֲנִי יוֹסֵף, הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי; וְלֹא-יָכְלוּ אֶחָיו לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ, כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ מִפָּנָיו – And Yosef said to his brothers, “I am Yosef.  Is my father still alive?”  And his brothers could not answer him because they were stunned before him (Bereishis 45:1-3). 

Rashi (45:3) explains that the brothers could not answer him מפני הבושה, because of the shame.  The shame of having sold him, the shame of what they did to their very own brother, the shame of being responsible for their father’s unceasing yearning and pain… the shame of hatred that divided a family for twenty-two years. 

Medrash Tanchuma (Vayigash 5) teaches that when Yosef revealed himself and said, אֲנִי יוֹסֵף אֲחִיכֶם – I am Yosef, your brother, מִיָּד פָּרְחָה נִשְׁמָתָן וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ, immediately, their souls left them and they could not answer him

From the shock of the brothers, when confronted with the shame of Yosef standing before them, we can derive a sobering lesson.

Continues the Medrash: אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן, וַי לָנוּ מִיּוֹם הַדִּין, וַי לָנוּ מִיּוֹם תּוֹכֵחָה – R’ Yochanan says, Woe unto us from the day of judgement, woe unto us from the day of rebuke!  If, when Yosef said to his brothers, “I am Yosef,” their souls left them, on the day of judgement (when the soul ascends after one hundred and twenty years to the Eternal World of Truth), when Hashem demands the insult of the mitzvos and transgression of Torah (that we have insulted and transgressed), how much more so (will our shame be too great to fathom). 

R’ Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l (1902-1979) teaches, “The reference in the Medrash to Yosef’s rebuke is puzzling.  While the verse tells of the shock of the brothers at the revelation that this was Yosef, it does not, however, mention any rebuke at all.  Yosef merely said, ‘I am Yosef.’  Where is the תּוֹכֵחָה, rebuke?

“This implies that תּוֹכֵחָה in essence is not the verbal castigation that we have come to see it.  Rather, it is making a person aware of the fact that he has erred.  When a person realizes that he has lived a life with a totally mistaken perspective, then תּוֹכֵחָה has accomplished its purpose. 

“Thus, no great תּוֹכֵחָה than Yosef’s can be imagined.  The very act of selling Yosef into slavery became the stepping stone to Yosef’s ascension to royalty.  Their very actions, perpetrated in order to prevent the fulfillment of his dreams, became the means for their realization.  Yosef’s simple declaration ‘I am Yosef’ was absolute proof that he was not a ba’al ha’chalamos, a grandiose dreamer, as they had accused him of being, but, rather a prophet of G-d conveying the Divine word.  It was the shock of this תּוֹכֵחָה in the face of their strong convictions that so overwhelmed the brothers and left them speechless. 

“If the youngest of the brothers can cause such shame and agony to his brothers by revealing the truth, how great will be our agony when we will be shown by the Holy One how our lives were so filled with mistakes” (Reb Chaim’s Discourses, p.97-98). 

So often we live by the error of our ways, and even worse, we may fail to realize when our ways are wrong.  To spare ourselves shame in the Next World, we must strive to open our eyes to the truth of Torah, mitzvos, and improving interactions bein adam l’chavairo (between man and fellow man), so that we can mend our wrongs before it is too late, R”L.   

Henny Machlis’ (d.2015 at the age 57, J’lem) daughter relates, “My mother always worked on herself.  For example, she would say, ‘I’m working on not getting upset.’  I would say, ‘But, Ima, you were screaming before.  You were screaming, ‘Why isn’t anyone helping me!?’ Why did you scream?’  And she’d answer, ‘You’re right.  I’m working on not screaming.’

“When I was growing up, our house was not organized.  A few weeks before she died, she said, ‘I’m working on getting the house organized.’  Two weeks before she died, she told me, ‘We have to get a new closet for the boys’ room and that room has to be more organized.’  It was a goal of hers. 

“In terms of giving presents for birthdays or weddings, she wasn’t so good at it.  She would say, ‘My sisters are good at giving presents.  I’m not good at that.  I’m going to get better at giving presents.’  On her last trip to America, she bought every kid and every grandkid a present’” (Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup, p.383).

Let us strive to be inspired, humbled, enlightened, as well as honest and truthful with our very own selves, so that we can mend and improve our ways in this world, and merit eternal rest in the next world. 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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