Parashat VaYigash: Yosef’s Wine
After Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, he instructed them to return to Canaan to bring their father Yaakob Abinu, and their families, to live with him in Egypt. He sent his brothers with ten donkeys carrying "Mi’tub Misrayim" – "from the good of Egypt" (45:23).
Rashi, in his first interpretation of this phrase, explains that it refers to "Yayin Yashan" – "old wine."
Why would Yosef send "old wine" to Yaakob? Did Yaakob really need especially aged wine? Is this what was on Yaakob Abinu’s mind at this very emotional time, when he just discovered that the son whom he thought was killed twenty-two years earlier was in fact alive, and when he would be moving to Egypt to be with Yosef?
Additionally, from where did Yosef get wine that Yaakob could drink? As we know, Halacha forbids drinking wine prepared by non-Jews. Yosef was the only person in Egypt who could have made wine that Yaakob could drink. And, as Rashi tells us earlier, Yosef did not drink wine throughout the period he was separated from his family. Clearly, then, he was not making wine. How, then, did he have "old wine" that was permissible, which he sent to his father?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1902-1994) offered a beautiful explanation of Rashi’s comments. He suggested that when Yosef was first brought to Egypt as a slave, he made wine. His life seemed to be falling apart – at just seventeen years old, his brothers threw him into a pit with snakes and scorpions, and then pulled him out to sell him as a slave. He was brought to a foreign country, far away from home, with no family, where he knew nobody, and worked as a slave. However, in a remarkable display of faith and hope, he prepared wine with which he planned to one day drink "Le’haim" when he would be saved and reunited with his family. This bottle was twenty-two years old, prepared when Yosef was still a slave. This wine was prepared for precisely this time – when he would be reuniting with his family.
Yosef wanted to show his father that throughout his ordeal, he never lost faith. He always remained optimistic and hopeful, anticipating that one day, somehow, this crisis would be behind him. If we would have seen Yosef prepare this wine and express hope that he would one day use it for a festive "Le’haim," we would have thought he was delusional. But he wasn’t. Yosef was a man of pristine faith. He had no idea how this crisis would pass, but he trusted that somehow it would – and, indeed, it did.
This is the lesson of the "old wine" sent by Yosef. It teaches us to always retain our faith in Hashem and our hope. Whenever we face a difficult situation, we must believe in Hashem’s capacity to save us, and trust that He can find a solution. We must remain hopeful and optimistic that one day we, like Yosef, will be able to drink "Le’haim" and celebrate the end of the crisis, no matter how intractable the problem seems to be at the present. Even in life’s darkest moments, we can and must find within ourselves the faith to "make wine," to believe that one day the darkness will be overcome by a great light of happiness and success, Amen.