Purely Positive Perspective

June 23, 2009

3 min read


Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )

Joseph's behavior teaches us how far we must go not to embarrass others.

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

In this week's parsha, Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers. After Yehuda's impassioned plea for Binyamin's release, the Torah tells us (Genesis 45:1) that Joseph could not restrain himself any longer. Rashi explains that Joseph could not bear the thought of embarrassing his brothers in front of the Egyptians in the room. The revelation of his true identity would mean revealing that his brothers had sold him, and that this would be intensely humiliating for them. Therefore, Joseph ordered all his Egyptian servants to leave the room, before he stated, "I am Joseph."

We might wonder how Rashi knows that Joseph was primarily concerned with preventing his brothers' embarrassment. Perhaps he sent out his servants because it would not be proper for a great leader to cry in front of his subordinates. In other words, maybe Joseph was interested only in preventing his OWN embarrassment!

The Iturei Torah counters this claim by pointing out that Joseph, immediately after sending out his servants, raised his voice and cried so loudly that all of Egypt and everyone in Pharaoh's palace heard his sobbing (Genesis 45:2). Clearly, Joseph was not concerned with maintaining his own dignity if this is how he behaved. Therefore, he must have dismissed the Egyptians only in order to prevent his brothers' public humiliation.


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Joseph's behavior teaches us how far we must go to keep from embarrassing others. Shortly after Joseph breaks down in tears, he tells his brothers, "I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold down to Egypt" (Genesis 45:4). The Ohr HaChaim comments that the word "your brother," which seems superfluous in this context, actually conveys an important message. Through the intentional addition of this word, Joseph is telling his family, "Even when you sold me down to Egypt, I was still your brother. Even in the midst of that incredibly challenging time, I still loved you and still felt connected to you."

Furthermore, the Sfat Emet points out that the word asher ("whom") in this verse can have the connotation of yasher kochacha, an expression that means "congratulations" or "thank you" (literally, "Your strength should be upright"). We see an example of this definition in Exodus 34:1, when God tells Moses to carve a second set of Tablets like the first ones "that you broke" (asher shibarta). The Talmud (Shabbat 87a) explains that the word asher here means yasher kochacha - in other words, that Moses deserved congratulations for breaking the first set of Tablets.

Based on this interpretation, we can understand the word asher in our verse the same way. Joseph tells his brothers, "I am Joseph your brother, whom (asher) you sold down to Egypt." According to the Sfat Emet, Joseph is implying, "I congratulate you for selling me down to Egypt, because it enabled me to support our entire family."

Instead of being bitter or angry about his treatment, Joseph sees how the brothers' actions actually led to great benefit. They should not be condemned for selling him; rather, they should be congratulated!


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Imagine how we would feel if we were in Joseph's place - how difficult it would be for us to rise above our own hurt and resentment. Yet Joseph goes to great lengths to treat his brothers respectfully. Not only is he concerned with their possible humiliation, sending out his entourage so that no disparaging information will be overheard, but he even thanks his brothers for selling him!

We can learn from here how to approach situations where we feel slighted. Joseph does not allow himself to be dominated by feelings of bitterness about the past. Rather, he emphasizes the positive aspects of the situation, to where he is able to relate to his brothers with true warmth and respect.

May we learn to cultivate a warm, loving attitude toward every other person. May we learn to overcome resentments about the way we were treated in the past, rising above our own hurt so we can see the ultimate good in every situation.

Just as Joseph was reunited with his family, which brought about redemption for all of the Jewish people at that time, so may we deserve to see unity and camaraderie among all the Jewish people and our final redemption.

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