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Parshat Vayigash

The story of Yosef revealing himself to his brothers after decades of bitter separation is one of the most dramatic in the Torah. Twenty-two years earlier, when Yosef was seventeen years old, his brothers kidnapped him, threw him into a pit, then sold him as a slave to Egyptian merchants. In Egypt, Yosef spent twelve years in prison, from where he rose to become viceroy of the country–Yosef started from the bottom, now he’s here. Now, the moment was finally ripe for reconciliation.

“Yosef could not hold in his emotions,” the Torah says in this week’s parshah. He dismissed from his chamber all of his Egyptian assistants, and he began to weep with such loud sobs that the Egyptians outside could hear him. And Yosef said to his brothers: “I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?” His brothers were so astounded, that they could not respond.

The Gemara relates that whenever the great sage Rabbi Elazar came to the verse explaining Yosef’s brothers’ astonishment, he would cry. Rabbi Elazar would say, “If the rebuke of a man of flesh and blood (Yosef) is so powerful that it causes so much agitation, the rebuke of Hashem (when it comes, B’H) will all the more so bring us much shame.”

The comparison between Yosef’s rebuke of his brothers and Hashem’s rebuke of mankind seems to be exaggerated. The brothers personally sold Joseph into slavery, subjecting him to the worst type of abuse. It stands to reason, therefore, that they would be utterly in shock when they finally faced him. Could any of us have ever have caused a similar affront to Hashem, as to experience such dread in the face of Hashem’s rebuke?

To understand this, we must recall the idea stated a number of times that all of the figures depicted in the Torah are not just physical people who lived at a certain period of time; we learn that they also embody a particular psychological and spiritual force, existing continuously within every Jewish human heart. Moreover, Yosef is described in the Torah as a beautiful and graceful man, “handsome of form and handsome of appearance,” and as a “master of dreams.” According to the Kabbalah, Yosef symbolizes the pure and sacred soul of man.

Therefore, to understand the story of Yosef, we must understand the nature of our own soul first. What does a soul look like and what elements of our soul can we attribute to our personality?

In the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (The Alter Rebbe) defines the soul as a flame that seeks to depart from its wick and reach the heavens. He writes that the soul is a key part of the quest in a man to transcend the boundaries of his (or her) ego and become absorbed in Judaism. The soul, in other words, is that dimension of our psyche that needs not self-absorption, dominance or excessive materialism. It despises politics, manipulation, false facades, and dishonesty. What are our soul’s aspirations? The soul harbors a single desire: to melt away in the all-pervading truth of Hashem’s Torah. Yet, how many of us are even aware of the existence of such a dimension in our personality?

Yet, how many of us pay attention to the needs of our soul? In response to the soul’s never ending dreams and yearnings that confuse our physical-based schedules and disturb our cravings for instant gratification, we so often take the “Yosef” within us and plunge it into a pit. We attempt to dismiss its dreams and passions to the subconscious desires of our psyche. When that does not work, because we can still hear its silent pleas, we sell our “Yosef” as a slave to foreigners, allowing our souls to become subjugated to forces and drives that are unknown to its very identity.

Can you imagine how horrified you would be if you were to observe somebody taking the little, adorable hand of an infant and placing it on a burning stove? The Chassidic founders describe each time we utter a lie, each time we humiliate another human being, each time we sin, as precisely that: taking the precious innocent spirituality of our soul and putting it through abuse and torture.

Yet, in each of our lives the moment arrives when our inner “Yosef,” which was forced to conceal its truth for so many years, breaks down and reveals to us its identity. It is at that moment when we come to discover the pure beauty and depth of our soul causing our hearts to immediately be filled with shame.

The humiliation the brothers experienced when Yosef revealed himself to them did not come from the fact that he rebuked them for their selling him into slavery. Yosef’s mere appearance to them constituted the most powerful rebuke: For the first time they realized who it was that they subjected to such horrific abuse and their hearts melted away in shame. Similarly, Rabbi Elazar was saying, when the day will come and we will realize the G-dly and spiritual sacredness of our own personalities, we will be utterly astounded and filled with shame.

We will ask ourselves again and again, how did we allow ourselves to cast such a beautiful and innocent soul into a dark and gloomy pit?

Good Shabbos!

By: Yehuda Neuwirth (12th grade)

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