Parsha Vayigash 5773: Yosef, the Brothers and Distinguishing Real Teshuvah From Mere Words, Spoken or Textual

by Moshe Burt

Every so often, over the past 7 1/2 years since the expulsion of our brethren from their homes and neighborhoods in Gush Katif and the 4 Shomron towns, we read a piece on one of the news sites or receive an email voicing regret from those who either supported the expulsion or who sat on their hands and did nothing and who now would beg forgiveness from their evicted brethren in the hope of bringing peace to within Am Yisrael.

Such a paradigm piece was an Israel National News report a few years ago about how former IDF Chief Rabbi Yisrael Weiss expressed regret at having supported the expulsion, or as they call it the “disengagement.”

Rabbi Weiss expressed the following:

“Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, former IDF Chief Rabbi…, has expressed regret over his role in the 2005 “Disengagement” from Gaza and northern Samaria. At the time, Rabbi Weiss came out against refusing orders…, saying that IDF soldiers who are told to expel Jews from their homes by force must do so.”

“I think that many, many people, not just myself, are sorry for having supported the Disengagement,” he said in an interview with the Hebrew-language daily Yediot Aharonot.

So, what was Rabbi Weiss’s kavanah, intent in expressing regret? Was it true, genuine contrition?

The INN report goes on to say;

Rabbi Weiss did not blame himself or others for having supported the expulsion. “We have to measure things according to how they looked at that time,” he argued…

He accused then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of having lied to get his support. “I asked [Sharon], ‘Why uproot those communities?’ and he told me, ‘Rabbi Weiss, I understand defense, right? I promise the people of Israel 40 years of peace,’” he recalled.

“Today I know that he lied to me,” he added.

R’ Weiss seems to offer no real personal heart-felt contrition — only that Sharon lied. There seemed more contrition from Pete Rose regarding his baseball gambling than from Rabbi Weiss’ expressions to Yediot Aharonot. It seems that Rabbi Weiss had no concern for the fact of eviction of Jews from Jewish land, their long-term displacement, their trauma and their resultant failure to acquire employment and thus again become independent. Further, it seems apparent and obvious from the intent expressed in his words, that if called on to help to expel more Jews, i.e. from Yehuda and the Shomron, he’d expedite it again.

So what constitutes true intent, true contrition in Teshuva?

Looking back at Parsha Vayeishev one wonders at the incompleteness of Reuven’s saving Yosef’s life. Renowned Torah commentator Rashi comments that had Reuven known that his action saving Yosef was to be recorded in Torah, he would have carried Yosef back to Yaakov on his shoulders. But Reuven didn’t know and, probably couldn’t have known that his role would later be recorded in Torah. In saving Yosef from being killed, it seemed that his foremost concern was that he would have been held responsible for Yosef’s death by Yaakov until his death.

The story of the Brothers’ efforts to be rid of Yosef seems to have ocurred chronologically after the Reuven’s episode with Yaakov’s bed. So Reuven urged the brothers to throw Yosef into the pit and then went about his business — one of numerous reasons that Reuven left the scene being that apparently the day was his day to serve his father. Had Reuven been truely selfless and wholehearted in completing the Mitzvah — it seems logical that he then would have carried Yosef home as he went to serve his father. That, however, was not to be.

And then, with Reuven out of the picture, Yehuda urges the other brothers present to sell Yosef, to make some money on the situation, dab blood on his tunic and carry the tunic home to Yaakov who then believes that a wild beast ate or ripped apart Yosef.. Reuven returns later to the pit and is grief-stricken having found the pit empty. When the sons see the unconsolable grief in their father Yaakov, they rebuke Yehuda and cast him out from the family — thus the story of Tamar. But couldn’t any of the brothers have anticipated in advance their father’s unconsolable grief-stricken reaction to what was believed at the time to be the death of their father’s most beloved son? Were they sooo blinded by their jealousy and hatred of Yosef and sooo irresponsible that they cared not about the consequences of their actions until after the fact? Maybe they just didn’t chap that old detective Barretta line — “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

Parsha Mikeitz records the whole affair between Yosef and the brothers when they came to Mitzrayim to buy food and were accused by the Viceroy of being spies. We learned how after hearing their story and family history through a translator (actually Yosef’s son Menasha who acted as translator although Yosef understood the brothers completely), Yosef demanded that they bring their youngest brother to him and incarcerated Shimon as insurance that the brothers would indeed return with Binyamin, their youngest brother. We learn that in the middle of Parsha Mikeitz, with the imprisonment of Shimon, the brothers recognized and attributed their predicament to the sin they had committed earlier by throwing Yosef into the pit and then selling him to the Mitzriyim. Yosef heard and understood their conversation and left their presence to cry silently. (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 42, posukim 21-24)

Then, we learn how when Binyamin was finally brought to Yosef, the brothers were provided with food, but then it was made to appear as if Binyamin had stolen the Viceroy’s silver goblet. The Viceroy detained Binyamin under charges that he had stolen the goblet and released the other brothers to return to their father.

Our Parsha Vayigash begins with Yehuda speaking his appeal to the Viceroy on behalf of his father Yaakov regarding Binyamin’s imprisonment.

Rav Zelig Pliskin (Growth Through Torah, page 119) makes a point regarding Yehuda’s plea to the Viceroy (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 44, posuk 18):

“And Yehuda approached [unknowing that the Viceroy was actually his brother Yosef] and he said, Please My Master, allow your servant to speak in the ears of My Master and do not become angry at your servant for you are like Pharoah.”

Midrashim indicate that there were also competing tests of strength, some of which could be ascertained as far away as Pharoah’s Palace.

Pliskin continues by citing his Rebbe, the late Rosh HaYeshiva of Brisk in Yerushalayim who explained Yehuda’s speech to the Viceroy in two ways (Growth Through Torah, page 119-120):

Even though Yehuda thought… [the Viceroy] did not understand the language he was speaking, he wanted him to hear the depth of feeling behind his words. Even if one does not speak the language, sincerity will come through. “Words that come from a person’s heart enter the heart of the listener,”

The second idea…, was that when you try to influence someone, it is imperative that he [or she] be open to what you have to say. If a person is close-minded and has made up… [their] mind not to pay attention to you, nothing you will say will influence… [them]. Therefore, Yehuda asked… [the Viceroy] to at least give him a fair hearing. “Keep your ears open to the possibility that what I will say has merit.”

Upon hearing Yehuda’s plea regarding the special love affection which Yaakov had for Binyamin, Yosef could no longer restrain himself and revealed himself as he cried out so loudly that he was heard by Pharoah.

Yehuda, not knowing who he was really talking to, and fathoming all of the power of Pharoah was behind the Viceroy’s edicts and actions, he had to measure his words just right, just so. But in today’s word where communications between people are all-to-often reduced to written text over any number of different chat platforms, not as in the not-too-distant past where communications took place face-to-face and mouth-to-mouth, or by telephone, any textual word can be strung or understood all out of proportion to how either writer meant them. One person’s joke or light-hearted comment can be misinterpreted by the other person as judgementalness, rebuke or repudiation.

Yosef’s emotions were aroused to that extent because the brothers had shown, by their rising to the defense of Binyamin, that they had genuinely recognized their aveirah, had done teshuvah, showed true, sincere and serious contrition for what they done to Yosef and were unified in their concern for Binyamin’s welfare. Yosef embraced his brothers and comforted them and “told them not to be sad that they had sold him, for Hashem had actually sent him here to keep them alive during the years of famine.” (L’lMod Ulamed, Parsha Vayigash, page 57).

This unity displayed by the brothers was crucial for the future travails of enslavement in Mitzrayim as the Jewish nation was forged.

But, in our time, the type of unity expressed by Yehudah, and the other brothers, for their brother Benyamin is lacking amongst B’nai Yisrael.

It appears as if the various sectors are sooo blinded by their pervasive disdain and hatred for who and what they are that they can’t see the forest for the trees — that in their blind hatred of Torah, their can’t see the abject error of their ways even as the consequences become ever clearer.

All the while, these modern-day hellenists continue their drive toward “land for peace (sic)”, toward the absurd, bogus concept of “2 states for 2 peoples”; all disguises for nothing less than the endoctrination of mass-eradication from the hearts and minds of Israelis of all vestiges and expressions of Jewishness. And the vast majority of those who should know better seem unprepared to put their individual lives on hold and collectively act with unity, as one to do everything necessary to confront the evil. We haven’t learned the brother’s lesson yet.

And further, the political protexia-class hellenists have learned more than we have — they know our weaknesses intimately and they how to divide and conquer us by virtue of our own machlokesim (internal disputes/disagreements). Each religious sector seems set against the other with little if any effort by any of the sectors to sit together and thrash out the unity and consensus which is crucial to overcome a Hellenistic regime and to ultimately restore Torah Halachic justice as law of the land.

When the brothers returned to Yaakov, there is a midrash which indicates that they were worried about how to break the news to him of Yosef’s survival and meteoric ascent to a position 2nd only to Pharoah. The brothers feared that the shock of the news might endanger Yaakov’s life. And so, they sent Asher’s daughter Serach, with her great spirituality and her special harp playing talent, to gently sing a melody to Yaakov; “My uncle Yosef is still alive; he is ruler over Egypt.” (The Midrash Says, Sefer Breish’t, page 426) And from this can be learned a rule of human nature regarding breaking of important news, the old adage; “Break it to me gently.”

And so, we can look back and surmise that had all of the implications and all that has happened in the past 18 or so years been known about, derived or anticipated by the masses of B’nai Yisrael when Oslo was first hatched, the Jews would not have stood for it. We were left with the soft refrain when Rabin signed Oslo, “If they’re bad boys, we’ll just go and take it back.”

We’ve watched the evolution of events; Oslo, Oslo 2, Wye, leaving South Lebanon to Hezbollah, “Roadmaps”, the Expulsion from Gush Katif and the 4 Shomron Towns, the kidnapping of Jewish soldiers and release of thousands of terrorists (many with blood on their hands) for a couple of body-bags or a solitary soldier held hostage some 6 years, the two front war of summer 2006 in Gaza and in Lebanon, the so-called “ceasefire” in Lebanon and it’s bogus UN UNIFIL “peacekeepers”, the successive bogus “ceasefires” in Gaza which led to January 2009’s inconclusive Gaza “Cast Lead” operation and to November, 2012’s equally inconclusive Gaza “Operation Pillar of Defense”, the unarrested creeping Arab seizure of more and more Jewish land in Yehuda and the Shomron, the High Court’s continued systematic demolition of Torah and Yiddishkiet, continuing attempts by Olmert, and now Netanyahu, to bring about Expulsion 2 by way of both destruction of new Jewish towns and villages and by way of defacto building freezes and much much more. Every intelligent person knows about the above, that the past at least 18 years has seriously damaged Israel on ALL levels. There are no links necessary!

They were bad boys and the government of Israel did nothing except concede more and more and more. And so I harken back to the lesson of how to boil a frog, or a lobster; turning the heat up gradually, a little at a time, each time allowing it to re-acclimate before the final boil when the heat is turned on full and the frog or lobster dies.

Torah’s account of the actions and teshuvah of Yehuda and the other brothers on behalf of their brother Binyamin serves as a paradigm for the genuine, heartfelt contrition — the kind soo vitally necessary amongst the sectors of the religious, the kind of action-backed contrition which needs to be expressed to the former residents of Gush Katif so that there can be a beginning to the binding of the national self-inflicted wounds and re-forming of an overriding national unity amongst Am Yisrael which existed through to sometime in the 1980s.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.