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IN RETROSPECT

by Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

This Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Vayigash which describes Joseph's reunion with his brothers after a long and difficult series of events. It is precisely in this story that we learn how to view our long exile with its many apparent contradictions.

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This Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Vayigash which describes Joseph's reunion with his brothers after a long and difficult series of events. It is precisely in this story that we learn how to view our long exile with its many apparent contradictions.

The Chofetz Chaim, the saintly Torah scholar and leader at the turn of the century, explains this concept in the following manner: Look at the events which occurred to the brothers in last week's Torah portion and they seem to make no sense at all from the perspective of the brothers. They go down to Egypt to buy food and they come before this viceroy (who they do not recognize as being Joseph), and what does this viceroy do? First, he accuses them of being spies and imprisons them for three days. But then the seemingly cruel viceroy lets them out of jail and keeps just one of them, Simeon, as sort of a hostage to guarantee that the brothers will bring the youngest son of Jacob that he can't bear to part with, Benjamin. The brothers don't understand; why are we being put into such a compromising position? On one hand, we cannot take Benjamin away from our father, but on the other hand if we don't we will not get Simeon back from this mad viceroy. Plus, eventually we will need more food, and we were told that we will not be allowed back into Egypt unless Benjamin is with us.

Then things get worse. Our money with which we bought the grain is put back in our sacks - we're being framed! We're going to be accused of theft, maybe even sold into slavery. Why is this happening to us!?

What's next - the famine gets worse and they need more food. Judah promises his father that he will guarantee the safe return of Benjamin. Jacob reluctantly agrees.

So the brothers are now standing before the viceroy again, and this time the viceroy is suddenly gracious and kind. He tells them the money that they found in their sacks is theirs to keep, and all of them are to dine with him. Then this viceroy continues to ask personal questions about their family and their father, showing very strange concern and care for "accused spies". He shows significant favoritism towards their youngest brother Benjamin and he again restores their money in their sacks.

Things are starting to look up. The next morning they get up to go and all of a sudden they are pursued, overtaken, and accused of stealing some goblet which they know they are innocent of, and then once again disaster strikes. Behold the goblet is found amongst them. They are thieves! But worse, the goblet is found in Benjamin's sack, and now the viceroy wants to keep Benjamin as a slave. Judah understands what this means. They will have to return home without Benjamin, which will result in his father's death of a broken heart. Judah pleads, bargains, prays , threatens, nothing is working. Nothing makes sense. What's going on here? Why is this happening? Then, all of a sudden, the Egyptian viceroy opens his mouth, says two words, and everything becomes crystal clear: "Ani Yosef - I am Joseph" (Genesis 45:3). This explains everything. What looked to the brothers like the irrational, unstable behavior of a mad ruler, was in reality their brother Joseph who, before revealing himself, wanted to make sure that the brothers had fully repented for their sin of selling him and that there was love and brotherhood amongst them all.

So too, says the Chofetz Chaim, it will be at the end of this long inexplicable exile. Why is the "am hanivchar - the chosen people of Hashem" seem instead to be chosen for persecution after persecution, expulsions, and pogroms? Why is the light of the nations scorned and disgraced, generation after generation, instead of being embraced and looked up to as the spiritual l eaders and teachers of Mankind? Why do the righteous suffer and why do the wicked prosper?

In the end of days, Hashem will reveal Himself and say just two words: "Ani Hashem - I am Hashem," and all will become crystal clear to us. Everything will make sense; it will all fit. We'll see that there was a divine scheme. A sequence of events had to take place the way it did for our ultimate benefit. And we will see clearly that even what seemed bad and unjust was, without a doubt, orchestrated by Hashem for our benefit.

So much so that the Chiddushei Harim, a great Chassidic Rebbe and one of the outstanding Talmudic scholars of the 19th century, says, do you know why we eat matzah and marror together on Passover? Matzah represents freedom, while marror represents slavery and embittered times. We eat them together to show that they are really one and the same. Both the good and what appears to be bad are equally needed for our ultimate benefit.

Hashem tells Moses, "You will see My back, but you cannot see My face" (Exodus 33:23). When things are happening before our eyes, while the events are occurring, "you cannot see My face" - you won't understand My ways. But "you will see My back" - in retrospect you will understand how all history was manipulated just for your benefit.

Nowadays we say two different blessings, "hatov v'hametiv" on good events, and "dayan emet" on tragedies. But in the future, we will only say "hatov v'hametiv," for what we thought was bad, we will see clearly was only for our ultimate good.

There are times when we have to realize and understand that we do not always need to understand. There are going to be things we see in the world that will seemingly not make sense, but this is nothing but a test of faith and of knowing that there is a Creator of the world who is supervising all events and who will eventually reveal to us all the seeming contradictions in history and in our personal lives as well.

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Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman writes from Atlanta.

You are invited to read more Parshat Vayigash articles.

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