Parashat VaYigash: Yosef’s Mistake
**Dedicated L’iluy nishmat Natan ben Shoshana Levy
From Your Children**
In the beginning of Parashat Vayigash, we read of Yehuda’s impassioned plea to Yosef – whom he did not recognize as his brother – to allow Binyamin to return home to his father. Binyamin had been framed as a thief, and Yosef wanted to keep him in Egypt as his slave. Yehuda appealed to Yosef to allow Binyamin to return, and offered to serve as his slave in Binyamin’s place. He explained that if Binyamin – the only remaining son of Yaakob’s beloved wife, Rahel – would not return home, Yaakob might die.
The Torah then says that Yosef “could no longer control himself” and revealed himself to his brothers, telling them that he was Yosef.
The implication of the text is that Yosef had not planned to reveal himself at that point. Something Yehuda had said changed Yosef’s mind, to the point where he had no choice but to reveal himself to his brothers. What changed?
We might suggest a novel explanation in light of the comments of the Sifteh Kohen to this episode. The Torah tells that just before Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he cried loudly and bitterly. The Sifteh Kohen explained that these were the cries of Teshuba (repentance). Yosef at that moment was overwhelmed by grief and regret for the trouble he had put his father through all these years. After being released from the Egyptian prison, he did not contact his grieving father to let him know he was alive. And even when Yosef’s brothers came to Egypt, he did not tell him who he was, and he caused his father even further grief by forcing his brothers to bring Binyamin. Yosef therefore cried in anguish, and exclaimed, “Is my father alive” – wondering if Yaakob could possibly still be alive after all the distress Yosef had caused him.
But this itself begs the question, why, in fact did Yosef not contact his father after being freed from prison? Why did he torment his brothers and his father by forcing them to bring Binyamin to Egypt? And why did he suddenly regret all this after hearing Yehuda’s plea?
The answer might be that all along, Yosef figured that his brothers sold him with Yaakob’s consent. After all, the Torah tells that Yaakob was angry at Yosef and criticized him for his dreams of leadership, and then Yaakob sent him to check on his brothers, who immediately threw him into a pit as soon as they saw him. Moreover, Yosef could not imagine that his brothers would do such a thing without their father’s guidance. All these considerations led Yosef to the conclusion that Yaakob decided together with his brothers that he should be sent away from the family, and he specifically sent Yosef to his brothers for this purpose. Therefore, Yosef did not contact his father because he assumed his father did not want to hear from him, that his father wanted him out of the family.
But then Yosef heard Yehuda’s plea. As part of his plea to Yosef, Yehuda explained why Yaakob did not want to allow Binyamin to go to Egypt. He said that Yaakob told his sons, “My beloved wife Rahel bore me two sons – one left from home, and I was told that he was devoured by an animal; and now if you take the other, I will leave this world bereaved.” At that moment, Yosef realized the grave mistake he had made. Yaakob did not conspire with the brothers to send Yosef away from the family. Yaakob was bereaved all these years, mourning for Yosef, whom he thought was killed by an animal.
At this point, Yosef realized that Yaakob still loved him, and was pained by his absence all these years. And, Yosef realized that he had contributed to this pain and grief by not contacting Yaakob and by forcing him to allow Binyamin to come to Egypt. He cried out in Teshuba, and told his brothers who he was.
There is a very meaningful lesson to be learned from this explanation of the story. Many people make a similar mistake to Yosef’s – they think that when misfortune strikes, their Father is sending them away and does not want a relationship with them anymore. But this is incorrect. Just as a father never gives up on his child, and always loves the child no matter what happens, likewise, Hashem, who loves each one of us more than any parent loves any child, never gives up on us. He always loves and cares for us, even when we think that He doesn’t want us anymore.
Yosef regretted having assumed that Yaakob wanted him out of the family. We must learn from this story that our Father never wants us away from Him, that He always loves us and always wants a close relationship with us. He never gives up on us, so we must never give up on Him.