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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash 5776

Parashat Hashavua: Sending Everyone Out

Harav Yosef Carmel

Before Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, he commanded the members of his court: “Send everyone out from before me” (Bereishit 45:1). We will try to explain why it was so important to Yosef to be alone with his brothers.

The midrash (Sechel Tov, Bereishit 45) explains that this was done for the needs of modesty. As Yosef was going to prove his identity by showing he was circumcised, he did not want his assistants to see what was not necessary for them to see.

The simple explanation, of course, is that Yosef wanted to protect his brothers from embarrassment at the awkward situation that was to occur, which would include no small amount of explicit or implicit rebuke. Rishonim put stress on the rebuke, including practical ramifications, stemming from it, other than the brothers’ simple embarrassment. The Ramban says that upon hearing of Yosef’s sale, the Egyptians would view the brothers as betrayers and would reason that if that is the way they treated their own brother, they certainly could not be trusted to live in Egypt and visit in its palace.

The Da’at Zekeinim echoes this idea but also extends it, in showing how the matter of the sale was a bigger secret than we might assume. They claim that not only did Yaakov not know about the sale, but even Binyamin, who was not with his brothers at the time, did not know about it. In fact, they claim that Yosef broke his speech of revelation into two. At first, he just said: “I am Yosef, is my father still alive?” (Bereishit 45:3). Before he asked his brothers to approach him and mentioned the sale (ibid. 4), he had Binyamin go elsewhere so he would not hear about the sale. That way, they would not have to be embarrassed from Binyamin, and he would not know anything he should not tell Yaakov.

In fact, the accounts of the events are vague on the question of how he ended up in Egypt. He told the sar hamashkim that “I was stolen from the Land of the Hebrews” (ibid. 40:15). Even when the brothers spoke among themselves about their regrets vis a vis Yosef (ibid. 42:21-22), they speak of not having mercy on him but do not mention having sold him. If one looks at the p’sukim throughout the accounts, it is not even clear that Reuven, who was somewhat protective of Yosef, was aware that the other brothers had actually sold him and did not just throw him in the pit. Yosef does not mention it to Yaakov, and the brothers’ speech to Yosef after Yaakov’s death does not mention it either.

One who does talk about “the sale of a tzaddik for shoes” is the navi Amos (2:6). Chazal continue that theme and connect the destruction of the two Temples to that act of treachery. We know from our liturgy, the idea that a Roman Caesar forced the execution of ten scholars by saying that they needed to pay for the kidnapping and sale carried out by their forefathers. It is clear from many of the sources that the abuse of Yosef was all the more unconscionable due to the fact that they sold him and pocketed the money.

In general this idea should be a reminder. Even if one attacks another with claims of doing justice, he should make sure that he is not also trying to profit, including monetarily, from the matter.

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