Parashat Vayigash- Squeaky Clean
Parashat Vayigash tells the dramatic story of Yosef revealing his identity to his brothers, after which he sent them to Canaan and instructed them to bring their father, Yaakob, to Egypt. The entire region was ravaged by a severe drought and food shortage, and Egypt was the only country with grain. Yosef therefore invited his father and brothers to settle near him in Egypt, where he, as the country’s vizier, could support them and their families.
One might wonder why Yosef decided to bring his father and brothers to Egypt, instead of just shipping food packages to them in Canaan. Yaakob was already an old man; it must not have been easy for him, at this stage of life, to move to a different country. And certainly Yosef had the stature and authority in Egypt to send food to his aged father in Canaan. Why, then, did he have Yaakob relocate in Egypt, instead of supporting him through shipments of food?
The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe Nahmanides, Spain, 1194-1270) explains that Yosef was concerned about how such an arrangement would appear to the Egyptian people. Yosef ran the country’s economy during a time of crisis. If it became known that he was sending food shipments out of Egypt, all kinds of suspicions would be raised. They would think that he has “off shore accounts,” or some kind of secret, black market business that he was running outside the country’s borders. Yosef was not prepared to run this risk, and so he did not entertain the possibility of shipping food to his father and brothers. Instead, he had them move to Egypt.
Yosef’s meticulous care to ensure a reputation for integrity did not go unnoticed. When Pharaoh heard that Yosef’s brothers had come to Egypt, he commanded them to bring wagons and food supplies to their father so he would be able to travel comfortably to Egypt. The Ramban notes that Pharaoh did not simply offer this to Yosef’s brothers; he issued a command, a royal edict. The reason, the Ramban explains, is that Pharaoh knew Yosef, and he knew that Yosef would not want to take advantage of his position to send goods to Yaakob. Pharaoh commanded the brothers to bring supplies to their father because he realized that otherwise, Yosef, in his impeccable honesty, would not allow his brothers to take anything.
When considering Yosef’s handling of these situations, we cannot help but notice something remarkable. Yosef had single-handedly saved Egypt from economic ruin and its people from starvation. He was the one who foresaw the drought years and capably oversaw the grain storage program which not only saved the country, but also made it the wealthiest nation on earth, as the surrounding peoples came en masse to purchase provisions from Egypt. Wasn’t he entitled to some modest “kickbacks”? Wouldn’t it have been justified for him to “siphon” small amounts of food for his famine-stricken family in Canaan?
Yosef understood the importance of being not only honest and clean, but “squeaky clean,” not giving any impression of any kind of impropriety. This is especially important for Jews in important positions, who have risen to financial or political success. Famous people are always under the public’s watchful eye, but Jews all the more so. A Jew must exercise extreme care in his financial dealings to not only be honest, but to always appear honest, not to do anything that could be mistaken for corruption.
Unfortunately, the media has been far too busy in recent years covering stories of high-profile scandals involving Jews, incidents that have tarnished our reputation and have desecrated God’s Name in the world. From the moment Yosef rose to power in Egypt, he was involved in “Kiddush Hashem,” in glorifying the Name of God through his honesty and integrity. This must be the model we follow while living among non-Jews. Every move must be carefully weighed to ensure that it is proper and that it appears proper. This way, we will bring honor to the Jewish people and to the Torah, rather than the opposite, Heaven forbid.