Parshat Vayigash 5774: Yosef, the Brothers, Real Teshuvah and, Our Connection to Our Roots Today?

by Moshe Burt

Every so often, over the past 8 1/2 years since the expulsion of our brethren from their homes and neighborhoods in Gush Katif and the 4 Shomron towns, there is a piece on one of the news sites, or one of our brethren receives an email voicing regret from someone who either previously supported the expulsion or who sat on their hands and did nothing, and who now would express contrition and beg forgiveness from their evicted brethren in the hope of either clearing their personal consciences, or sincerely seek peace within Am Yisrael.

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. 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.

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 fathomed 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. But, had Reuven been truely selfless and wholehearted in completing the Mitzvah he started — it seems logical that he then would have carried Yosef home as he went to serve his father. That, however, was not to be.

“The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman notes on our parsha (Sefer Breish’t, Parshat Vayeishev, page 354):

Reuven left the company. He never partook in meals since he was constantly fasting and praying for having committed the sin of disarranging his father’s couch.

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 it seems unfathomable that none of the brothers could have anticipated in advance their father’s unconsolable grief-stricken reaction to what was believed at the time to be the death of his 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 Baretta 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.”

“Chumash Mesorot HaRav”, The Chumash with Commentary Based on the Teachings of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik z”l quotes from our Parsha Vayigash (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 44, posukim 18 – 19):

“Yehuda approached him [the Viceroy]…. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’

In his Chumash commentary, Rav Soloveitchik cites a cheder Rebbe from his youth indicating that the purpose of the Viceroy’s [Yosef’s] question was:

“…Whether his brothers were still attached to their roots and origins? Are you… rooted in your father?… Do you see your father as the foundation of your existence?… Or are you just like rootless sheperds wandering from place to place, … who forgot their origin?”

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

Rav 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 Yehuda, and the other brothers, for their brother Benyamin seems lacking amongst B’nai Yisrael.

In previous vorts on Parshat Vayigash, this author spoke of the modern-day hellenists who 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 but 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 modern-day 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 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.

Are we, in our time, chayev to be asked, as R’ Soloveitchik’s cheder Rebbe asked if we are “still attached to our roots and origins? Or have we forgotten our roots?”

It appears as if the various sectors are sooo blinded and polarized by their pervasive disdain and hatred for each other sector that they can’t see the forest for the trees — that in their polarization, they can’t see the abject error of their ways even as the consequences become ever clearer. And in their polarization, it’s not merely leftist “land for peace” vs “Eretz Yisrael Shelanu”, but it is literally Jew vs Jew — Us vs Them. What is meant here?

Yes, there were the Jews of Eastern Europe who fell victims to pogroms and countless other heinous acts because of their Jewishness, who lived and survived by their guile and for whom anything, and everything was justified if it saved a Jewish life.

But what of interactions Dat Torah between Jews of different sectors in the Land of Israel? An END arrived at by lying, cheating, fraud, bribery or other types of corruption aimed at hurting another Jew CANNOT and DOES NOT JUSTIFY such means Dat Torah, whether in the context of a business transaction between 2 Jews, between Jewish merchant and Jewish customer, or in politics between 2 or more Jewish candidates, regardless of whether or not one or both those Jews wears a kipa, keeps Shabbos, keeps kosher, is shomer negiyah, etc.

Such means, while perhaps normal, SOP (standard operating procedure) as to the way non-Jews act toward each other, i.e. “buyer beware” or, “vote early and often” don’t stand up to Torah standards and ethics of a higher Jewish calling.

This author has cited, from Sefer L’lmod U’Lamed, by Rabbi Mordechai Katz, (p. 81-82, quoting Yerushalmi Bava Metzia, Perek 2, Choshen Mishpat 266) in a vort on Parshat Mishpatim, the story of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach and the small, but valuable diamond found in the saddle of the donkey he had purchased from an Arab. Despite the protestations of Rabbi ben-Shetach’s student to keep the diamond and never want for money again, the Rabbi returned the diamond to the astonished Arab. “I don’t believe that anyone could be that honest” said the Arab. “The Jews must have wonderful laws. Blessed be the G’d of Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach.”

As Jews in OUR Eretz Yisrael, within a Jewish Sovereign State, if it was a Kiddush Hashem to return a valuable item, thus not cheating a non-Jew, so much more so in the letter and spirit of Dat Torah and Kiddush Hashem it must be not to cheat or defraud one’s Jewish brother. What was justified in the ghetto, in the cruel gentile dictatorships of Eastern Europe, to save a Jewish life seems clearly NOT justified here.

Those who have perpetrated acts of these sorts in Eretz Yisrael have what to repent for — Bein Adom L’Chaveiro, and Bein Adom L’Mokom. And again, are we are “still attached to our roots and origins? Or have we forgotten our roots?” Seems we haven’t learned the brother’s lesson yet.

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, in the same sincere, contrite way as those who beg forgiveness from 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! Chodesh Tov!
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.