This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Vayigash (5767)
This week finishes the story of Yosef torturing his brothers. Although he recognized them immediately when they came to Egypt to buy food he nevertheless concealed his identity for weeks, or longer, to drive them crazy with worry and grief.
Why did he do it? Why didn't he just reveal himself immediately and tell them how G-d saved him and how he forgave them.
To answer this here are two stories.
The first I heard on a radio program just last night. It occurred some 450 years ago in Israeli city of Tzfat. The story is quite long but here are the main points in short.
A great Talmudic scholar, rich, famous and the head of a large Yeshiva in Tzfat arrived in the home of the holy Master Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (nicknamed the 'Ari') with a troubling story. His wife had passed away years earlier and left him with only one child; a charming and G-d fearing daughter and now the time had come for her to get married. But lately his departed wife appeared repeatedly in the dreams of both him and his daughter saying that the girl must marry none other than the janitor of the Synagogue; a young, simple fellow with no family pedigree or future whatsoever.
The 'Ari' revealed that it was he, the Ari himself, that sent the young man to work in the Synagogue and even foresaw the strange match. He blessed the marriage, advised the father to not only go through with it but to sign all his properties over to his new son-in-law as a gesture of good faith and promised that he would see miracles.
The strange couple married with great festivities and everyone was waiting for the miracle to begin but the opposite occurred.
The new bride became pregnant and nine months later something went wrong in birth and, may HaShem have mercy, both she and the child perished!
Then, after the seven day mourning period, the young ex-janitor reminded his father-in-law that he had signed everything over to him in the dowry and proceeded to oust him from his home and confiscate all his money.
The poor father-in-law, now homeless and destitute, dragged himself to the Ari for help but all he got was a Kabbalistic explanation.
He, his departed daughter, her stillborn child and the young janitor were all re-incarnations ('Gilgulim' in Hebrew) of the participants of a great injustice that occurred many years ago.
In generations past a certain evil woman married a rich old man hoping he would die and she would get his money. But when she became pregnant from him she decided to speed up the process.
She took some sort of potion to induce abortion, then bruised herself on her chest and stomach and went to the local judge claiming that her husband beat her and caused her to miscarry.
She bribed the Judge and needless to say he decided in her favor, awarded her the entire fortune of her bewildered husband and even had him put into jail where he died of a broken heart.
"Now" continued the Ari, "this evil woman was reincarnated into your daughter. Her dead husband was reincarnated into your son-in-law and the Judge was reincarnated into you.
"So, just as in the previous 'gilgul' she killed the baby and you stole the old fellow's money…in this 'gilgul' the baby killed her and your money was 'returned' to your son-in-law namely the old man who you stole it from'.
"Justice has been done."
As I said, I heard this on the radio and the Rabbi who said it seemed to be driving at the conclusion that if we see the 'big picture', there is no such thing as tragedies or empathy… only objective justice.
And this, I think, is why Yosef put his brothers through such difficulties.
I would like to explain with another story.
Some two hundred years ago lived a great Tzadik called Rabbi Mordechi (Mottel) of Chernoble.
He had hundreds, if not thousands of followers and was renowned for his erudition and holiness.
But it so happened that once he became so critically ill that he lost consciousness for four days and was literally hovering between life and death.
His Chassidim and followers prayed and said T'hillim non-stop and it worked. G-d heard all the prayers; Rabbi Mottle regained consciousness and several weeks later made a great thanksgiving meal with hundreds of participants.
At the meal, one of the older Chassidim present gathered his courage, took a few Le'chiams and asked the Rebbe what he saw in the four days he was 'out'.
"Yes," he answered. "I saw that my situation was desperate so I requested an audience with my departed father Rabbi Nachum of Chernobil. I was sure that if he would intercede for me in the upper worlds I might have a chance.
"I was raised from heaven to heaven and my father was lowered to my level but when we were finally face to face he didn't recognize me!
"I tried to make him remember but to no avail. Finally he asked if I had done any sins since he passed away because sins can conceal one's identity.
"So for two and a half days I just tried to remember if possibly I had done something wrong but when I found nothing he asked me to tell him what I had done in the last day or two before my disease.
"I told him one thing that came to mind, but it certainly wasn't a sin. A wealthy Jew that had recently lost all his money and became a pauper came to ask me for a loan of several hundred rubles to get on his feet. Of course I had to turn him down because I barely had one ruble to my name. So I gave him what I had and, as it says to do in the Shulchan Aruch (book of Jewish law) I tried to comfort him.
"I reminded him that, 'The one that is beloved by G-d, He reproves' (Prov. 3:12). Namely that G-d often reproves those He loves. So he shouldn't think that G-d hates him."
"Aha!" replied Rab Nachum. "Now I know why I didn’t recognize you! Here in Heaven we learn that sentence completely differently!
"We learn it like this:
'The one that is beloved' namely if you see someone that you love and that person is suffering… then…. 'G-d reprove'! Namely you should reprove G-d!
Just as Moses did when G-d seemed to delay the exodus from Egypt: "Why do you make Your people suffer!!?" (Ex. 5:22)
"After all, G-d is infinite.. surely He can accomplish what He wants without making people suffer! So we have to come to G-d with complaints and not try to justify Him!"
This is what Yosef was teaching his brothers.
Earlier the Torah tells us that (Gen. 37:18) "His brothers saw him from afar ….. and planned to kill him."
In other words, the brothers were big Tzadikim and just like our Kabalist on the radio they saw the 'big picture': that according to the spiritual plan Yosef had to suffer. And so they were 'afar'; cold and objective to his suffering.
But Yosef was on a much higher level then they were (and that is why they hated him). He wanted them to see the world differently (like Rabbi Nachum in our story).
Namely that we are here in this world not to justify G-d but rather to CHANGE G-d's will!! As Moses and all great leaders after him cried out constantly and as we pray thrice daily: "For your salvation we wait all the day! Remove from us suffering and moaning!" This is the lesson that Yosef implanted in his brothers and in all of us. We must all demand and do all we can to reveal…..
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.