Parshas Vayechi - Happy Ending

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 12/28/17

The tale of Yosef and his brothers comes to a happy ending with Yaakov ensconced once again amongst all his beloved children, all of them thriving as a wholesome family. He senses his end is near and takes the opportunity to bless his children before he departs. He passes and merits that his children accompany him to his final resting place.

All seems good in the land of Goshen.

Suddenly the seams of brotherhood begin to tear apart once again. The brothers fear that now that their father is gone, Yosef, who they suspect of still harboring resentment, may seek to exact his revenge without any repercussion of their father’s reacting.

They devise a scheme to send a messenger to Yosef, who will allege that Yaakov left instructions to request of Yosef to  forgive his brothers spiteful and evil deed they have done to him. Yosef breaks down in tears and assures them they have nothing to fear.

Were the brothers repressing their fears all these years only to address them after their father died? Were they feigning brotherly love all these many years?

We are taught that there were two events that prodded their concerns. Firstly on their return from burying Yaakov in Chevron, Yosef  takes a slight detour to Shechem the location where the brothers threw him into a snake and scorpion filled pit, where he miraculously survived, in order to recite the blessing one is obligated to say thanking G-d for the personal miracle He wrought on his behalf. This arousing of old history, they worried, might dredge up deep-seated resentments thus prodding Yosef to seethe for revenge. Additionally, while Yaakov was alive they all often dined at Yosef’s table, now that Yaakov was no longer present this invitation ceased. They understood this sudden change to be due to Yosef’s lingering bitterness that he perhaps only contained while Yaakov was alive.

Yosef we are told was incredulous upon hearing of their dread. His motivations were noble and misunderstood. Bearing no grudges he was simply expressing his pure gratitude to G-d for having saved his life in that dangerous pit. His reluctance to no longer dine with them was motivated solely by his utter respect for them, not wanting to lord over them, since as viceroy protocol would require of him to sit at their head and preside of his greater, more illustrious brothers, Yehuda and Reuvein.

It would seem that after this ‘clearing of the air’ all returned to love and bliss.

The Tzror HaMor quoting in the name of the holy Tanna, Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai, seems to indicate otherwise.

He relates how the brothers were possessed with a prophetic vision that much travail would befall them and their descendants as a result of their sin in having sold Yosef. They in particular became aware of the fate of the Ten Martyrs who would be brutally executed and their correspondence to the brothers, for whose sin their deaths would atone for.

Their first request of Yosef of, שא נא פשע אחיך וחטאתם, kindly forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers and their sin, related to their own personal fate and culpability they sought his forgiveness to exonerate them. The second appeal, שא נא לפשע עבדי אלקי אביך, please forgive the spiteful deed of the servants of your father’s G-d, was directed to the fate of the future holy martyrs, true and unparalleled ‘servants’ of G-d, in hopes that with Yosef’s formally granting forgiveness they could stave off that terrible fate. At that moment, he continues, Yosef sensed the Divine Spirit within him, bursting into painful tears over that future event. Responding to their first  petition he assures them “Fear not!”, he will surely devote himself to them and bear no rancor. But to their second entreaty he responds, התחת אלקים אני, “For Am I instead of G-d”, intimating he is helpless in determining that outcome since those matters and the processes by which sins may be rectified are the domain of G-d alone.

It seems evident that at this juncture particularly, their troubled destiny was sealed and thus only now revealed.

What transpired in these events that would herald such difficult challenges and journeys ahead?

The brothers only first now actually make any attempt to beseech forgiveness from Yosef. Surely Yosef was sincere in his expressions of care and concern towards them that he harbored no hidden animosity to them. But does that excuse them from not exhibiting contrition and making a formal and heartfelt plea of Yosef for a pardon?

The Ten Martyrs correspond to the ten brothers who were guilty of selling Yosef. Yet there were only nine brothers involved as Reuvein hadn’t been there and in fact sought to foil their plan, as well as Binyomin who was obviously not party to the sale. Rabbeinu Bechayei and the Seder HaDoros claim that Yosef was held accountable as well, and is indeed the tenth man.

Was his sin simply his youthful exuberance and insensitivity he displayed towards his brothers when he reported their behavior to their father and incited their hatred?

Perhaps their common sin lay in their getting caught up in their own happiness, success, agenda and personal interests at the expense of others feelings.

Yosef  as an adult zealously expressed his excitement and thankfulness to G-d for saving his life, but did he entertain how that expression might impact the guilt-ridden brothers’ feelings? Might he have chosen better not to go out of his way in remembering old traumas avoiding stirring up old resentments? In his magnanimous gesture of sensitivity in not promoting his honor at the expense of those he sincerely felt were more worthy than he, could he have attempted to first project how they may have perceived that very same act totally different?

The brothers too, clearly getting caught up in the excitement of the joyous discovery and reunion with their brother Yosef , neglected to take full stock of their responsibility in begging for forgiveness. In concocting a lie, surely for the sake of peace, in inventing a conversation they never had with Yaakov, weren’t they intimating that Yaakov lacked confidence in Yosef’s ability to be wholly forgiving?

Where did anyone ever address the pain of their father in seeking to repair the pain they inflicted on him?

We are destined to suffer until we become fully attuned to all those around us despite our best intentions and noble excuses.

When Rebbi Shimon ben Gamliel faced his impending death at the hands of the executioner, he bemoaned to his fellow martyr Rebbi Yishmael that he was being executed like a lowly criminal who committed idolatry, murder or adultery and wondered wherein lay his guilt. There are several versions how Rebbi Yishmael responded to him. In one rendering he asks him if he ever delayed in issuing a verdict because he was busy momentarily tying his shoe, getting dressed or finishing a drink. In another variation he asks him if he ever felt satisfied with himself when he gave a public lecture at the Temple Mount in front of an audience consisting of the entire Jewish population there. Rebbi Shimon ben Gamliel replied that indeed he had and is truly deserving of his terrible fate.(מכילתא משפטים יח, אדר"נ לח)

There is a common theme that echoes the flaw of the brothers. Even when one is justifiably engaged in positive and noble pursuits, one must remain forever cognizant of those around him and be attuned to their every sensitivity and vulnerabilities. Rebbi Shimon ben Gamliel admits to his lapses of consciousness that justifies his punishment.

My beloved son-in-law, Mr. Eli Atias returned recently from an inspired trip to Israel with his wife, my dear daughter, Yaffa. He was there when he heard the good news about the release from prison of a fellow Jew who was dealt a particularly harsh and long sentence, and the joy he and his family experienced on being reunited. He pondered the joy he felt together with fellow Jews and shared with me his very poignant observation. It was sent to me as I was writing this essay and I asked him if I could share it, as it reflects the thoughts expressed herein, with an vital lesson for all of us. I thank him for graciously consenting.

Literally, ‘Matir Asurim’, means (He who) frees the imprisoned. Personally, I always gave this blessing an encrypted meaning: “Matir Asurim”, (He who) frees me from my self-imposed prison and negative thoughts. I never really focused much on the literal translation of this blessing and what it means to those who are actually in jail.

When Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin was released, I had just landed in Eretz Yisroel and heard the amazing news upon turning on my phone. It was actually happening in real time. My phone was flooded with screen shots of the headlines and videos of those rejoicing on the streets of Boro Park and Crown Heights. At the same time, I was overcome with the most indescribable feeling of emotions and tears of joy. It was real. It was a real joy for another Yid. It was genuine. But even more so, it was a real feeling of joy that was felt in the air. I was positive that every Jew in Klal Yisroel was genuinely happy for Sholom Mordechai no matter their background or beliefs.


However, as the feeling and reality began to sink in, I had a small feeling of guilt which diminished my wholesome excitement. It could be it was just me or it could be it was the Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination hard at work.

My feeling of guilt was that eight years have passed and I can barely recall davening for Sholom Mordechai’s wellbeing, and his release. Yes, when the campaign was in full force and ads were in my face I was more aware of the tragedy and made it my business to daven for him for a fleeting moment, but that was about it. I have no doubt in my mind that the excitement of those individuals who invested energy and time, whether it was a letter to a senator, lobbyist, the family, askanim or lawyers, and even the mindful ones who prayed for him on a consistent basis,, and had a very different experience of the personal nes/miracle that had just transpired, celebrated on a much higher level of simcha than the happiness I had experienced.

I went on with life for days, weeks, months, and years, without even thinking of Sholom Mordechai. I do not consider myself as one who is oblivious to what is going on around the world. But I think I became numb to the fact that a fellow Jew is sitting in jail for over eight years.

This brings me to the following feeling I would like to share. In the aftermath of the release, we heard lots of positive talk and chizuk. “This achdus is what will bring Moshiach”; “The same way the news spread so fast ... that is a glimpse into what it will be like when Moshiach comes”; “Anyone who heard about the gathering in Boro Park, dropped what they were doing and headed to the scene to welcome Sholom Mordechai”, and much more.

I started to think about how much do I invest in the yearning and coming of Moshiach? How will I feel when Moshiach finally arrives? I don't want to have this feeling of guilt. Is my annual Tisha B’Av of ‘sensing the void’ of the Bais Hamikdash good enough?

I am fortunate to daven three times a day, and most days of the week I recite Birkas Hamazon. In both prayers, we remind ourselves that Hashem and the Jewish people don’t have the Temple.

When was the last time I said Tikun Chatzos? This may sound extreme, but the tefila does exist and it is there for us to recite it and share in the Divine Presence, the Shechinah’s pain.

When was the last time I shed a tear for the pain that G-d has every single second that He is homeless?

Let’s start investing in the yearning of the Bais Hamikdash and the coming of Moshiach, so that when we merit seeing his arrival soon, our simcha will be complete!

Let us be acutely attuned to all those around us. Let us feel the suffering of the Divine Presence. Let us invest in being fully there for others, never lapsing in being sensitive to our brothers and sisters. In that merit, may ‘our family’ be fully restored once again!


צבי טייכמאן