"and he approached…"
This week we have been studying the next to the last par’sha of Sefer B’reshith. Sefer B’reshith spans approximately 2500 years, from the Six Days of Creation until the death of Yoseph in Mitsrayim. This week’s par’sha covers a small part of that time, beginning in B’reshith 44.18 through 47.27 and is entitled V’yigash. This Hebrew term means and he approached and, as the story opens, Yehudah approached Yoseph, whom they still had not recognized, to plead with him to allow Binyamin to return to their father.
In this par’sha, Yosef makes two comments that raise interesting questions and these questions lead to some rather far-reaching lessons. To understand them we have to begin with the brother’s first journey into Mitsrayim to buy grain. If you’ll recall, in Par’sha Miketz we learned that when the brothers first came into Mitsrayim, Yoseph had recognized them but they hadn’t recognized him.42.8
Seeing them reminded Yoseph of the dreams he had dreamed about them years earlier and this lead Yoseph to call his brothers spies, men who had come in to see the nakedness of the land. The brothers denied this and stated truthfully that they had come only to buy grain. They explained that they were all one man’s sons and that they were trustworthy. They also told Yoseph, We are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Kena’an. The younger brother was back in Kena’an, but didn’t bother to explain why, since there were twelve sons and one was still at home, why only ten brothers standing before the governor of Mitsrayim.
The conclusion of the matter came after the brothers had spent three days in prison. Yoseph announced that one brother, Shi’mon, would be held as prisoner while the other nine returned to their land to bring their younger brother back to confirm their story. Of course, when Ya’akov heard this, he at first flatly refused to even consider allowing Binyamin to return with them - but the famine continued. As a result, Ya’akov finally had to agree to allow Binyamin to go to Mitsrayim with them, along with some of the best fruit of the land…and a present for the man, a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh, nuts and almonds.43.11
So the brothers returned, along with Binyamin. They had a meal with their still unrecognized brother, purchased their grain, and began the return trip to Kena’an and this is where the trouble began. Yoseph had commanded his cup be hidden in Binyamin’s sack and then sent his servants after his brothers to discover which one had stolen his special cup. As the story goes, the cup was discovered in Binyamin’s sack and now all the brothers were back before Yosef.
As they fell to the ground before their brother, thus fulfilling one of Yoseph’s two dreams, Yehudah declared, Elohim has found out the crookedness of your servants.44.16 - although he didn’t qualify which crookedness he was referring to. The brothers had committed no crookedness in either of their two trips into Mitsrayim, so there was nothing for Elohim to find out in that regard. This suggests the crookedness of the brothers may have been something that had happened years earlier - in the wilderness around Dothan. Whatever the case, Yehudah now spoke for all the brothers, telling Yoseph, See, we are my master’s slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found.
Yoseph disagreed and told them than only the one with which his cup was found would remain as his slave. The other brothers were free to go up in peace to their father.44.16-17 and that is where this week’s par’sha begins. Yehudah came near to Yoseph to plead their case with, but notice, at this time Yoseph knew his father was still alive and, if there was any doubt, Yehudah’s plea would make it clear that they all believed Ya’akov was still alive.
In B’reshith 44.20, Yehudah tells Yoseph that Ya’akov was an old man, but he was still alive. (In fact, he would live at least seventeen more years.) He explained how their father had suffered when their other brother had taken from him and now, if they returned without Binyamin, it would surely bring their grey-haired father with evil down to Sheol.44.31
Yehudah went on to tell Yoseph that he had personally stood as surety for Binyamin and he couldn’t return to their father without him. He offered to remain as Yoseph’s slave if he would only allow Binyamin to return with his brothers to their father. Hearing this, Yoseph was unable to restrain himself before all those who stood by him.45.1 He sent everyone out and when he was alone with his brothers he declared, I am Yoseph, is my father still alive?45.3 These are the two comments I mentioned earlier that raise questions that lead to lessons - if we look beyond the simple explanations. One question is obvious and the other not so much so and I am indebted to some of my past teachers for the understanding they shed on this subject.
The obvious question is why did Yoseph ask if his father was still alive? Hadn’t that been made quite clear to him already? At least as far as any of the brothers knew Ya’akov was still alive and they had no reason to believe anything had happened to him. Also, if this question was so important, how is it that none of the brothers ever answered it?
The simple explanation is that there was no need to answer his question because they had already told him Ya’akov was still alive. Given that Yoseph did ask despite the obvious leads us to seek a deeper understanding for Yoseph’s comments.
One possible answer is that Yoseph was trying to get his brothers to understand the horror of what they had done to him. In a sense he was declaring, I’m Yoseph, the one you sold into slavery (as he said next). You are telling me that my father survived losing me, but he would not survive losing Binyamin? Where was this concern for our father when you returned to him without me?
His brothers were unable to answer him, for they trembled before him.45.3 Once again, the simple reason is that they were unable to answer him was because they were afraid of him. This man held their lives in his hands. Yoseph was, after all, the second most powerful man in the world and they had treated him shamefully years ago. Add to this the fact that they had lied and had been lying to their father ever since and its even more understandable why they were so worried.
Another possible answer is that they recognized the hypocrisy of what they were saying to the man they had sold into slavery. Realizing their hypocrisy, they had no justifiable answer for Yoseph. The men who had once so callously sold him into slavery were not strenuously arguing for the freedom of his younger brother. Whichever the case, studying this exchange from a Hebraic mindset leads to a lesson about the world to come when all men will stand in judgment before Elohim.
We know that on the Day of Judgment, we will all stand before Elohim. Will He deal with us in the same way Yoseph dealt with his brothers, by pointing out the hypocrisy on our own lives. The Midrash gives this example - when a person stands before the Heavenly Court, the adversary will also be there to accuse them of whatever he can. He may well accuse a person of not giving sufficiently to help others. That person may attempt to defend his giving record in his own defense, possibly stating that he had given all that he could afford. (This in spite of the fact that our Hebraic roots teach us that if we are short of funds that is time to increase our giving rather than decreasing it, as Y’H’V’H explained to the navi Mal’aki.)
One possible problem with arguing one has given all that he or she can afford will come if Y’H’V’H confronts us with a list of all the worthless items we did spent our time and money on. If we could afford all of toys or luxuries, could we not have given more to help others?
Sometimes, like Yoseph’s own brothers, we may not recognize our own short-comings, our own hypocrisy, and we need a wake-up call. The Midrash concludes this teaching with this thought: Y’H’V’H will judge each of us according to our works. Our own lives will provide the truth about our regard for His Word, what we really think and the decisions we make in life. Then we will be responsible for our own actions - just as Yoseph’s brothers were as they stood trembling, speechless before Yoseph.
The second lesson focuses more on Yoseph’s first words to his brothers, I am Yoseph. Many Hebraic teachers recognize Yoseph’s declaration as a strong rebuke of his brothers. As one teacher put it - the essence of reproving someone is not criticizing that person - it is simply making that person realize the mistake he has made. And, once a person understands his mistaken, he is more open to accept a rebuke or correction.
When Yoseph declared, I am Yoseph, he was explaining to his brothers that he was their younger brother - the one they had sold into slavery. They had intended to humiliate and harm him, but now he was the ruler over all Mitsrayim, second only to Pharaoh himself and they had just bowed to him - exactly as his dream had revealed they would. B’reshith 37.20 strongly suggests that the brothers’ plan had been an effort to stop his dreams from being fulfilled, (let us kill him…and we will see what will become of his dreams!), and yet looked at what happened.
They had judged their brother wrong. He never meant them any harm in revealing his dreams or taking reports to their father. It wasn’t his desire to force them to bow to him and even now, after all they had done, he harbored no ill-will for them. All that had happened - all that he had endured - was Elohim’s will. And now, they stood speechless and trembling before him because they realized how badly they had misjudged their brother. They had failed to see his true heart or Elohim’s plan for his life - something another generation failed to do with Messiah Y’shua.
This scenario also has implications regarding the world to come. The brothers had based their actions on a misunderstanding of Y’H’V’H’s will, His plan to save His people and their brother’s part in it. How many people do you know have based or are basing their lives on a misunderstanding of Y’H’V’H’s Word and His Will and possibly, your role in it?
What will happen to them, how will they respond, when they stand before the One who brought about the redemption and salvation and realize all they had said, taught and done was based on error, on a misunderstanding of His Word? Will they, like Yoseph’s brothers, stand before Elohim on that day filled with shame and regret and unable to answer?
We are not told all that was in Yoseph’s mind that day, or in the minds of his brothers. We aren’t told what Yoseph’s intentions were in the way he revealed himself to them. It is also left for us to put ourselves in their places and judge how we would have felt or what we would have said, but one thing is clear: we must all respond to those who injure us or cause us harm the way Yoseph did - better still, the way Mashiach responded. We must understand it is Elohim who directs our lives and our goal must be forgiveness and reconciliation, not revenge are evening some worthless scorecard.
Was Yoseph’s intention simply to reveal himself to his brothers and ask about his father or is there more to behind his words and actions? Are there deeper meanings for us to search out and apply to our lives? You be the judge, but no one can deny the lessons that are hidden behind every word, jot and tittle of the Torah for those willing to go beyond the simple and search for a deeper relationship with Elohim, our Messiah and with each other.
Have you ever struggled with trying to get someone to understand that while they are working hard to keep one part of the Torah, they are totally missing another part? As the Messiah stated, they are straining a gnat while swallowing a camel. If so, you are not alone.
Have you ever misjudged someone because what you believed was based on erroneous teachings or a misunderstanding? How did you handle it?
The Torah is a book of lessons, all designed to help us better understand this walk we are called to. Some are easy, some are hidden, but all reveal something about our Father, His Messiah and those whose lives are recorded in Scripture. Let me encourage you today; look beyond the simple, search out that which Y’H’V’H has hidden in His Word. It will be a life-changing endeavor.
7 Tevet 5667
19 December 2015