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Proper Intentions

Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )

by Eitiel Goldwicht

I have a fond childhood memory from my elementary school days. One morning we came to school, and all the chairs were outside of the classroom. I suppose there was a substitute janitor who took the job of washing the floor to literally mean just washing the floor, and didn’t think to return the chairs. In turn, our Rabbi instructed the boys to each grab one chair and bring it inside. Being the obedient children that we were, we followed the Rebbi’s directive, and each brought ourselves a chair and sat down. The Rabbi then proceeded to say something profound, “While you all listened to my directions, you also missed an opportunity to do an act of kindness, to do something great. You each brought a chair for yourselves. For the same effort, you could have brought a chair for your friend rather than yourselves. And if each of you would have done that, everyone would not only have a chair, but would have done an act of kindness as well.”

Many times, one can do the same exact action as his friend, but what will differentiate one person’s action from another is our mindset and the thought process behind the action. Was it an act of kindness, or an act of selfishness?

One of the most emotional reunions in the Torah takes place in this week’s parsha. Yosef hasn’t seen his father in over twenty-two years and as could be expected, was very excited to see him. He knows that his father too, is just as excited, if not more, to see him as well. Yaakov hasn’t seen his beloved son in twenty-two years, and the main reason for his journey down to Egypt was for this purpose.

It’s interesting to note how the Torah describes Yosef’s emotional reunion with his father. “Joseph harnessed his chariot, and he went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and he appeared to him, and he fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck for a long time.”1 The words “and he appeared to him” seem to be superfluous. Rashi explains that these seemingly extra words can be explained as, “Joseph presented himself to his father.” However, this just leaves the reader with a greater question. What is Rashi trying to teach us regarding Yosef’s specific behavior here?

Jewish wisdom is teaching us a profound lesson from Yosef’s interaction with his father. Although Yosef was personally anticipating the reunion with his father that he loved so much, he understood that even greater in significance was the fact that his father would be reunited with his son. He realized how great the moment would be for his father, how much joy and peacefulness it would bring to Yaacov to finally meet Yosef after so many years apart.

This is precisely why the Torah adds the words “and he appeared to him” meaning “Joseph presented himself to his father.” Yosef’s entire intention was for his father to experience the joyfulness of the reunion. It is true that there was nothing more that Yosef wanted than to see his father again. This could have been a selfish moment for Yosef where he could have placed the focus on himself and his needs. Instead, he maximized the opportunity of ‘honoring one’s parents’, creating an altruistic moment, which defined Yosef’s greatness. Many times in life our mindset and intentions will define our actions. The difference between selfish acts and acts of kindness and greatness will very often be determined in our minds and our hearts.

  1. Bereshit 46, 29


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