Harav Mordechai Shraga, zy”a, the youngest son of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, zy”a, and later famed as the first Husyatiner Rebbe, was only 17 years old when he became a Rebbe in the town of Mikulinitz, Galicia.
Though many of the townspeople soon became his devout Chassidim, others reacted with skepticism at the concept of someone so young serving as a Rebbe.
One day, the Rebbe noticed a yungerman who was one of his Chassidim in a heated debate with a local resident. He called the yungerman over and inquired what the discussion was about. The Chassid was very hesitant to repeat the conversation, and only after the Rebbe pressured him to do so and assured him that no harm would come from revealing it, did he tell the Rebbe that the local resident had been sharply attacking the Rebbe, focusing primarily on his age.
The Rebbe did not respond. Some time later, the Rebbe noticed the yungerman again conversing with the same resident.
Once more the Rebbe called his Chassid over, and asked him about the latest conversation.
“I sense a change in his attitude toward the Rebbe,” the yungerman replied. “Now he is speaking with more respect. …”
The Rebbe explained that when the first conversation had taken place, he hadn’t known who the critic was. After he had seen him, he began to cherish him in his heart.
“Since ‘as water reflects a face back to a face, so one’s heart is reflected back to another’ (Mishlei 27:19), the ahavah I felt in my heart toward him evoked feelings of ahavah from him toward me as well,’” the Rebbe said.
This week, the parashah begins Vayigash Yehudah. Yehudah approaches Yosef in the middle of their argument regarding the fate of Binyamin.
What was the purpose of this “approach”?
Harav Yechiel Mechel, the Zlotchover Maggid, zy”a, gave a very profound and relevant teaching about the interaction between Yehudah and Yosef.
During his intense discussions with Yosef Hatzaddik, Yehudah was struck by the questions Yosef was asking regarding their family.
As he pointed out to Yosef, “Why did you have to ask all these questions? Were we seeking to marry your daughter? Or were you seeking to marry our sister?”
Ultimately, Yehudah came to the conclusion that there must be some familial connection between the two of them that prompted the man they knew as Tzafnas Paneiach to ask so many questions about his father and brother.
Yehudah therefore “approached” Yosef in his heart, i.e. he caused himself to feel close to Yosef. This in turn prompted Yosef to feel close to him, and at that point, Yosef could no longer control himself from revealing his true identity:
“Now Yosef could not endure in the presence of all those who stood before him, so he called out, ‘Remove everyone from before me!…’” (Bereishis 45:1, 3-4.)
After giving forth his voice in loud weeping, Yosef told his brothers:
“I am Yosef, is my father still alive?”
Based on the words of the Zlotchover Maggid, the Divrei Moshe explains the next words in a similar vein.
But his brothers could not answer him because they were left disconcerted before him.
Yehudah had already “approached” Yosef and created a bond between them, but the other brothers hadn’t done so, and therefore felt disconcerted before him.
Then Yosef said to his brothers, “Come close to me if you please,” and they came close.
Yosef advised them to emulate Yehudah and “come close,” and bring their hearts close to him, and then they, too, would sense that “I am Yosef your brother.”
On this same passuk the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh gives an explanation that led the Lechovitcher Rebbe, zy”a, to comment that only someone who was on a lofty level of ahavas Yisrael himself could explain the passuk in this way.
The full passuk reads: “I am Yosef your brother — I, whom you sold to Egypt. And now, be not distressed, do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for it was as a supporter of life that Hashem sent me ahead of you.”
Why did Yosef Hatzaddik repeat the words “I am Yosef”? He had already previously disclosed that fact.
Yosef was telling them “I am Yosef your brother”; do not be embarrassed and do not fear to respond, for despite all that transpired, our relationship is still one of brotherhood.
Furthermore, “I, whom you sold to Egypt”: even when you sold me to Egypt the feeling of brotherhood was not extinguished in me!