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ב"ה

WHAT WAS DISCOVERED THIS WEEK?

Thursday, 13 December, 2018 - 10:21 pm

A dentist, after completing work on a patient, came to him begging.

Dentist: Could you help me? Could you give out a few of your loudest, most painful screams?

Patient: Why? Doctor, it wasn't all that bad this time.

Dentist: There are so many people in the waiting room right now, and I don't want to miss the four o'clock ball game.

In this weeks Torah portion Vayigash Judah has made a passionate plea for Benjamin’s release. Yes, the missing silver cup has been found in his possession. Judah does not challenge the facts. Instead, he throws himself on the mercy of the Egyptian ruler, of whose identity he is still unaware. He asks him to think of the impact Benjamin’s imprisonment will have on his father. He has already lost one beloved son. The shock of losing another will kill him.

“Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord's slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father.”

These are the words that finally break Joseph’s heart. He is overcome with emotion. He commands all his attendants to leave, turns to his brothers, and reveals his identity:

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone leave my presence!" So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh's household heard about it. Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still living?" But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

The question raised by many commentators, what was Joseph trying to achieve in all of his encounters in Egypt with his brothers?

Let us recall the sequence of events. Sometime earlier, as famine struck the entire region, the brothers had come before Joseph for the first time, in order to obtain food from the Egyptian Prime Minister for themselves and their families.  He recognizes them. They do not recognize him. He “speaks harshly” to them, accusing them of being spies. He puts them in prison for three days.

He then releases them, holding Shimon as a hostage, telling them that they must bring Benjamin with them next time, to verify their story. Unbeknown to them, he has the money they had paid for the grain put back into their sacks. When they discover this, they are unnerved again. Something is happening to them, but they do not know what.

Eventually, the food runs out and they have to return. It takes much persuasion on the part of Judah to convince Jacob to let Benjamin come with. This time, Joseph greets them with warmth, inviting them to eat with him. Eventually, having provided them with fresh supplies of grain, he sends them on their way. Now, however, he does more than place money in their sacks. He has his favorite divination cup placed in Benjamin’s grain.

The brothers have left the city, relieved that the visit has been unexpectedly painless. No sooner have they gone than they are overtaken by Joseph’s steward. Someone has stolen his master’s silver cup. The brothers protest their innocence. The steward searches their bags, starting with the eldest. Finally, they reach Benjamin, and there, in his sack, is the cup. It is their worst nightmare coming true. They knew that having once come home without Joseph, they could not lose Benjamin also. Judah had staked his honor on it. So the brothers appear before Joseph once more, and the drama moves toward its climax. As Joseph, at last, reveals his true identity to his brothers.

What is the logic of this sequence of events? What was Joseph trying to do? Why did he not share with them right away who he is?

The most eloquent answer has been presented by Reb Moshe Alshich, the Tzemach Tzedek, Joseph wanted to see if the family was ready to heal, if his brothers have come around. Have they repented for what they have done to their own brother? Did they do Teshuva?

Joseph constructs a scene to see if his brothers have indeed changed. They had once sold him into slavery. He now puts them in a situation in which they will have an overwhelming temptation to repeat the crime by abandoning Benjamin to slavery. That is why he plants the cup in Benjamin’s sack, arranges for him to be accused of theft, rules that his punishment will be to remain in Egypt as a slave, and tells the other brothers that they are free to leave.

The moment of the trial has now begun. Joseph has offered the brothers a simple escape route. All they have to do is walk away. It is then, when “Judah went up to him and said . . .” that the story reaches its climax. Judah, the very brother who was responsible for selling Joseph into slavery, now offers to sacrifice his own freedom rather than let Benjamin be held as a slave.

The circumstances are similar to what they were years earlier, but Judah’s behavior is now diametrically opposite to what it was then. He has the opportunity and ability to repeat the offense, but he does not do so. Judah has fulfilled the conditions set out by the sages and Maimonides for “complete repentance.” As soon as he does so, Joseph reveals his identity and the drama is at an end.

Not dreams, not revenge, but Teshuvah is what has driven Joseph all along. His brothers once sold him as a slave. He survived – more than survived, he has prospered. He knows (he says so constantly) that everything that has happened to him is somehow part of G-d’s plan. His concern is not for himself but for his brothers. Have they survived? Do they realize the depth of the crime they committed? Are they capable of remorse? Can they change? When they did, reconciliation happened.

As Jews were about to enter in the next phase of history, to become a people in Egypt, this was vital. It was important for them to learn how brothers have to be there for each other, even if they disagree. They had to learn that we are family, and a family must support each other, protect each other, fight for each other, love each other, and be there for one another. As a people, we would not be able to survive without that conviction and clarity. Whenever, in our history, Jews split into fractions it was a harbinger of disaster.

A story of an event when a Jew was freed from prison, more than one century ago.

Mendel Beilis (1874-1934) On March 12, 1911, a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy Andrei Yushchinsky disappeared on his way to school. Eight days later his mutilated body was discovered in a cave near a local brick factory. Mendel Beilis, a father of five children, employed as a superintendent at the Zaitsev brick factory in Kiev, close to the cave, was arrested on July 21, 1911. Beilis spent more than two years in prison awaiting trial. Meanwhile, a vicious Anti-Semitic campaign was launched in the Russian press against the Jewish community in Russia, with accusations that the boy was murdered in order to use his blood for matzah on Passover.

On October 8, 1913, right after Yom Kippur, the trial opened. The crucial question was posed by the prosecutor. The Talmud makes the following declaration “You [the Jewish people] are called, Adam, human, while the nations of the world are not called human, Adam.”

This supposedly demonstrated clearly that Judaism considered gentiles sub-human. Hence to kill a non-Jewish child would be totally acceptable in the Jewish perspective.

Rabbi Jacob Mazeh, the Rabbi of Moscow, answered the question brilliantly.

“You, the Jewish people are called Adam,” does not mean to say that non-Jews are G-d forbid less than human; after all, it was the Torah which claimed first that every single human being was created in the image of G-d. Rather, the Talmud meant to say that there was something about the title Adam which applied only to the Jewish people, and not to the non-Jewish world.

The title Adam is never found in the plural, only in the singular. All other Hebrew words can be found in both. Besides the word Adam. There are no words for many Adam’s. Thus, Adam can never refer to many humans, only to a single human. This, says the Talmud, is the unique condition of the Jewish nation: there may be millions of Jews around the world, but they are called Adam, they are considered a single human being.

This trial demonstrates the point. One Jew, Mendel Bailis, is accused of killing a child, but who is on trial? The entire Jewish world! Together with all of the Jewish texts from the beginning of time!

Imagine if a Russian gentile was accused of the murder. Would anyone entertain the idea of putting the entire Russian people and all of the Russian literature on trial?! If an Italian was found guilty in murder, would the entire Italian people be blamed for the crime?

Because you are a single Adam. You may be 14 million bodies, but you are one soul. You are like one person, one organism. When one Mendel Beilis is put on trial, the entire Jewish world stands at his side like one man. The Jewish people tremble for his welfare and would do everything in their power to remove the prisoner's collar from him. What would have been the reaction of the Gentile world if one specific gentile had been accused of a similar crime and was standing trial in a faraway country? Clearly, no more than the people of his own town would show any interest in the libel. Perhaps, at most, people in other parts of his own country would criticize the proceedings. But people in other countries? They certainly wouldn't take a personal interest in him.

They may very well be considered Anashim, the plural form of the word man, but they cannot be considered Adam, a nation that stands together as a single man.

This explanation left a deep impact on the court. After a long trial, the court threw out the charges, which were clearly fabricated. Mendel Beilis was set free. 

It all began at that moment in Vayigash when Judah and Joseph discovered together that we are one. Each and every Jew is interconnected and part of this great puzzle, this great Mosaic called "Am Yisrael," the nation of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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