The Secret of Forgiveness
Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )
In this week's parsha, we read of the dramatic moment when Yosef reveals his identity to his brothers. This moment is the climactic end of a twenty-two-year period that began when Yosef's brothers sold him into slavery. It is at this very moment that we discover a truly remarkable aspect of Yosef's character.
The verse states, "And Yosef was unable to bear for all those standing by him and he called [out] 'take out every man from before me' and no man stood with him when Yosef made himself known to his brothers (Gen. 45:1)."
What exactly was it that "Yosef was unable to bear"? Rashi elucidates: "He was unable to bear that the Egyptians would be standing there before him and listening when his brothers would be shamed when he would make himself known to them."
This is truly amazing! The enormous, pent-up emotions that Yosef must have had building up inside of him over the past twenty two years would be more than sufficient to cause even the most lucid mind to become lost in a tempest of confusing thoughts at such a moment. Simply being separated from one's family for more than two decades - without any communication whatsoever, and without having any idea if he would ever see them again - would be quite emotionally taxing and would not leave much room for clear, considerate thought at the time of reunion.
Yosef, however, was standing before the very brothers that deliberately caused him his untold suffering. They tossed him - totally stripped of his clothing - into a pit full of snakes and scorpions, and sold him into slavery. They thereby brought upon him the tremendous anguish of being a lonely slave far away from his father and home that were so dear to him. Furthermore, it was a result thereof that he had to bear the ongoing test and temptation of his master's wife. That in turn led to him being thrown into jail under humiliating circumstances, etc. etc. All this was directly caused by the brothers - through their deliberate actions - who were now standing before him!
We would surely have empathized with Yosef had he acted somewhat insensitively toward his brothers at this difficult moment. He certainly had sufficient reason to overlook a form of consideration that many would have likely disregarded even with nothing bothering them at all.
But not Yosef! Yosef was inscribed for eternity as a paramount example of the extent to which one must care for and be sensitive to one's fellow Jew. One of the greatest ways that this sensitivity is manifest, as was so with Yosef's sensitivity to his brothers, is by how much effort one puts forth to minimize the embarrassment of another.
We must ask ourselves, though, how indeed was Yosef able to muster such tremendous inner strength to overcome and overlook any feelings of ill will toward his brothers, to the extent that he showed them such delicate care and sensitivity?
In truth, Yosef himself answers this question: "And Yosef said to his brothers...And now do not be saddened...that you sold me [to] here because for [a source of] livelihood did the Almighty send me before you...And now [it is] not you that sent me here rather the Almighty... (Gen. 45:4-8)."
Yosef perceived his long chain of difficult and tempestuous life experiences as an ongoing act of hashgacha pratis, Divine providence. Yosef understood that irrespective of the power of another human being to affect others, Hashem is always in control; always watching and guiding the course of history. He understood that whatever role the impact of his brothers' free will may have played in respect to his life experience,(1) it would always remain minimal and inconsequential, because, ultimately, what happens to us is always from On High.(2)
The result of this worldview is that Yosef did not retain any trace of anger or ill will toward his brothers. He loved them just as much as before they had wronged him, and he expressed this when he displayed the utmost of care and sensitivity towards them.
By trying to emulate - on whatever level we can - Yosef's conviction and trust in Hashem, we can empower ourselves with the ability to overlook and completely forgive any pain that we may have suffered at the hands of others.
1. See the first Biur Halacha in siman 218.
2. See Seifer Ha'Chinuch Mitzva 241.