Friday, December 10, 2010

Parshat Vayigash - פרשת ויגש

"וְלֹא-יָכֹל יוֹסֵף לְהִתְאַפֵּק לְכֹל הַנִּצָּבִים עָלָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, הוֹצִיאוּ כָל-אִישׁ מֵעָלָי; וְלֹא-עָמַד אִישׁ אִתּוֹ בְּהִתְוַדַּע יוֹסֵף אֶל-אֶחָיו. וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-קֹלוֹ בִּבְכִי; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּשְׁמַע בֵּית פַּרְעֹה - Then Yoseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him and he cried: 'Let every man go out from [before] me.' And there stood no man with him while Yoseph made himself known unto his brothers. And he wept aloud; and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard."
(בראשית מה:א-ב)

In the two verses above, the story of Yosef and brothers finally reaches its climax. The story is one of the most famous in the Torah, and one I thought I was very familiar with. But maybe familiarity does indeed breed a sense of contempt; this week, for the first time, I noticed a discrepancy in the passage above.

Yoseph, we are told, is unable to bear the pressure any longer. To this end, he clears his court of all observers. So far, so good. But what does the Torah tell us next? That he raises his voice and cries so loudly that all of Egypt knows precisely what is happening. If that's the case, what's the point in instructing all those present to exit the room?

The Radak (if I recall correctly – my Chumash doesn’t have his commentary, unfortunately) presents a novel, yet straightforward, explanation of what is meant by "and the Egyptians heard." He posits that rather than Yoseph's voice - miraculously - carrying over the length and breadth of Egypt, his cry was a normal one and only overheard by a few. From here, the knowledge was passed on by word of mouth.

Not that this event wasn't dramatic enough as it was, but Rav Chasman writes in 'Ohr Yahel' that Yoseph knowingly put himself in a situation of poetentially grave danger. The last time he was alone with his brothers, they sought to kill him. There was no way he could be sure that, given the cicrumstances, one of might not attack him. He took a very real risk in isolating himself so.

With the above in mind, we may understand the depth of Rashi's commentary. Rashi is noted for typically giving the simplest explanation. However, despite his simplicty, there are often complicated concepts and motivations alluded to in his words. When Rashi writes here that Yoseph felt it important to protect his brothers from being embarassed in front of strangers, we may now understand that he wasn't merely writing a simple explanation. Instead, Rashi indicates just how sensitive Yoseph was. Even though he knew that the word would get out in any case, he did his utmost to protect them from unecessary embarrassment. For as long as was possible, Yoseph wanted to protect his brothers. He understood that sooner or later the story would become known, but while he could, he felt it imperative to guard their dignity.

At this point I'd like to mention that a friend of mine pens weekly D'var Torah, too. This week, he wrote that Yoseph was so sensitive to his brothers that there is no evidence in the Torah that Yosef ever let his father Yaakov or brother Binyamin (who wasn't present at his sale) know about this episode at all, such was his concern and sensitivity for his brothers' pride.

Wishing a Shabbat Shalom.

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