Parshat Vayigash 5781: What Might Yaakov Have Thought Upon Hearing that “Yosef is Still Alive?”

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Vayigash is being sponsored by Benyamin and Tracy Skriloff of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for a Refuah Shleima for Binyamin’s Mother Chana Bat Sarah. To Mishpochat Skriloff, many thanks for your sponsorship, and your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or comemmorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Vayigash 5781: What Might Yaakov Have Thought Upon Hearing that “Yosef is Still Alive?”

by Moshe Burt

Last week, in Parshat Mikeitz, this author discussed the various rationales for why Yosef treated his brothers as he did.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides a summary of Parshat Vayigash in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Breish’t, Parshat Vayigash, page 242) which this author will excerpt here:

Yosef, moved by Yehuda’s heartfelt pleas, is unable to maintain his masquerade. He tearfully reveals himself to his brothers and inquires after his father’s welfare. Yosef reassures his stunned brothers, telling them that it was Hashem’s will that he descend to Egypt to act as provider for the entire family.

Yosef instructs the brothers to return to their father with news of Yosef’s survival and success. He further urges them, with Pharaoh’s approval, to bring Yaakov and the entire household to Egypt. If the extended family settles nearby, in the region of Goshen, Yosef argues, he will be able to provide for its members during the years of continuing famine.

The brothers return to Yaakov laden with wagons bearing gifts and with the news that Yosef is still alive. After initial disbelief, and upon seeing the wealth that Pharaoh and Yosef have sent back with the brothers, Yaakov comes to the realization that his beloved son has indeed survived. Excitedly, Yaakov gathers his household and begins the descent to Egypt.

Rabbi Goldin echos the unanswered question which Ramban asks (ibid, page 242):

How could Yosef… have been so callous as to neglect to communicate with Yaakov concerning his survival and unimagineable success in Egypt? Rabbi Goldin referring to Ramban on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 42, posuk 9)

This author adds a few more questions to the mix:

What must Yaakov Avinu have thought upon reflection on the brothers’ previous news, years before, in light of their news now that Yosef is, in fact, “still alive?”

Yaakov, this author surmises, would have to surely question the veracity of his other sons’ when they presented him with Yosef’s tunic. In Parshat Vayeishev, Torah relates that Yaakov recognizes the tunic and exclaims:

“My son’s tunic! An evil beast devoured him! Yosef has surely been torn to bits!” (cited and rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 37, posuk 33)

Here, this author offers a thanks and a hat tip to Rabbi Binyamin Jacobson of Ramat Beit Shemesh and interim Rabbi at Beit Knesset Beit Tefillah Yona Avraham. Rav Jacobson indicates that Rashi, on the above posuk, renders the term “an evil beast” as a lion, and later, in Parshat Vayechi where Yaakov blesses all of his sons, relates to Yehuda comparing him to a lion. Therefore, Rashi would seem to indicate that Yaakov surmised that Yehuda had murdered Yosef. We learn that shortly after Yosef being sold into slavery, Yehuda separated from the other brothers and we learn of the story of Yehuda and Tamar.

There is also a question which this author surmises and which Rabbi Goldin provides two possible rationales, as to why Yosef never contacts his father once he achieves the great success of being appointed Pharaoh’s Viceroy (ibid, pages 244-245):

The contemporary Israeli biblical scholar Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun… postulates that Yosef had no way of knowing that his brothers had deceived his father with the lie that Yosef had been devoured by a wild beast. For all Yosef knew, Yaakov never believed him to be dead.

Yosef was therefore plagued for years with the question: “Where is my father? Why has no one come to look for me?”

Yosef comes to the erroneous, yet to him, inescapable, conclusion that Yaakov was somehow complicit in the brothers’ actions. In Yosef’s mind, someone — perhaps the brothers, perhaps Leah, perhaps Hashem himself — had clearly persuaded Yaakov to cast Yosef off from the family, as Yishmael and Eisev had been cast off in earlier generations.

Yehuda, rising in defense of Binyamin, inadvertently proclaims what Yosef has, for years, desperately desired to hear: “Your servant, my father, said to us: ‘You know that my wife [Rachel] bore me two [sons]. One has left me and I presumed — alas — he has surely been torn to pieces and I have not seen him since.'” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posukim 27-28)

Suddenly, Yosef realizes that, all these years, his father has assumed him dead; he has not been rejected, after all. Moved by uncontrollable emotion, he reveals himself to his brothers. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, “A Tragic Misunderstanding: Why Did Yosef Not Send Word to His Father?” translated by Dov Lappin in Ein Tzurim: Yeshivat HaKibbutz HaDati, 2002)

…A careful reading of the [Torah] text may reveal a totally different explanation for Yosef’s silence toward his father.

Yosef does not contact his father, after ascending to the position of Egyptian Viceroy, simply because he cannot. Any attempt at such contact would have endangered not only his newfound status, but his life.

…A clear case can be made that Yosef’s most dangerous period in Egypt begins when Pharaoh appoints him viceroy over Egypt… At that point, Yosef enters a court of intrigue, a palace that has already seen the king’s butler and baker imprisoned, each accused of trying to undermine the king.

Yosef is suddenly surrounded by powerful figures who resent his [Yosef’s] authority, even as they pine for their own advancement. He finds himself in a world where he can trust no one, where any messenger he sends to Canaan might simply… report him to a member of the court or even to the king, raising accusations of dual loyalty against the new viceroy.

This author has learned, along the way, that numerous texts and commentators have indicated that these questions were never verbalized between Yaakov and Yosef, and between Yaakov and the other sons.

But, the unanswered questions, which surely would have had to enter Yaakov’s mind, have their parallels throughout history and through to today, i.e. two contemporary assassinations of national heads of state, one being the assassination of an American President and one being assassination of an Israeli Prime Minister — where the world, seemingly, will never know the actual truth behind “who done it” and how wide the conspiracy actually was. The world may also never know the true facts of how the corona virus made it’s way from Communist China to the rest of the world, or the true extent of how a contested 2020 American election was attempted to be stolen or, in whether, as of now, the theft was actually successful.

May we, the B’nei 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 and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and can come home to Eretz Yisrael once his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha completes her treatments for cancer. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. 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 prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — 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.