Parashat Vayigash: The Master of Self-Control
The Torah in Parashat Vayigash tells the dramatic story of Yosef’s revelation of his identity to his brothers. The revelation came on the heels of Yehuda’s impassioned plea to Yosef to allow Binyamin, the youngest brother, to return home to Eretz Yisrael. Yehuda’s petition pulled all the right strings, as it were, of Yosef’s heart, and the Torah says that Yosef was unable to contain himself. Overcome by emotion, Yosef felt he could no longer continue concealing his identity from his brothers, and he announced, “I am Yosef.”
It is noteworthy, however, that even in these moments of overpowering emotion, Yosef still remained fully in control. The Torah writes that before revealing his identity, Yosef announced that everyone else, all the Egyptian servants who were present in the room, should leave. He did not want to subject his brothers to unnecessary embarrassment by having other people hear of how they mistreated Yosef. This was a private family affair, and it would have been wholly inappropriate to expose the story to people on the outside. Yosef therefore took a moment before revealing his identity to ensure absolute privacy. Even at this moment when, as the Torah tells us, Yosef could no longer hold himself back from telling his brothers who he was, he actually was able to hold himself back long enough to ensure that this would be done in a proper, dignified fashion.
Yosef was a master of self-control. Like other great Sadikim, he always retained his composure and never lost himself. At times of overwhelming emotion, such as anger or frustration, we so often lose self-control and act in ways in which we would never normally act, only to feel sincere regret afterward. The Sadikim, however, are always in control of themselves, they always have their emotions in check. Remarkably, even when the Torah describes Yosef as “losing control,” he clearly did not really lose it entirely. He still had the presence of mind, patience and discipline to act with propriety and discretion, and not with raw impulse.
While we may not be able to reach the exalted level of Yosef Ha’sadik, we must learn the lesson that emerges from his conduct in this episode. Emotions are part of the human condition, but they must always be kept under our control. We must never allow an offensive remark or a stressful period of life to overtake us to the point where we speak and act without thinking. We can and must exert control over ourselves and ensure to speak and act in a manner that we will not regret later.