V’lo yachol Yosef l’hisapek l’chol ha’nitzavim alav vayikra hotzi’u kol ish me’alai v’lo amad ish ito b’hisvada Yosef el echav (Bereishis 45:1)
Parashas Mikeitz ends dramatically, with Yosef’s servant (his son Menashe) overtaking his brothers on their return trip and “discovering” that Binyamin stole Yosef’s divining goblet, which would presumably require the brothers to leave him in Egypt and return empty-handed to their inconsolable father.
Parashas Vayigash continues the action and begins with Yehudah’s heartrending plea for mercy for Binyamin, in which he explained to Yosef the potentially fatal consequences to Yaakov of returning home without Binyamin and suggested that he remain as a servant to Yosef instead of Binyamin.
Upon hearing this, Yosef was so overwhelmed by emotion that he could no longer restrain himself, and he commanded everybody to leave the room. He then revealed his true identity to his brothers, and the Torah stresses that there was no ish (person) in the room when he did so. This is difficult to understand. If Yosef, who was the second-most powerful person in all of Egypt, gave an order for all of those present to go out, isn’t it self-evident that nobody would remain in the room in violation of his instructions? What lesson is the Torah teaching by emphasizing this point?
Rabbi Shmuel Brazil explains that when tragedy and suffering strike, in order to avoid the discomfort of grappling with feelings of guilt, human nature is to seek out an excuse or a scapegoat on which to place the blame, reasoning that the situation would have turned out differently if not for a certain person’s involvement or a set of unanticipated circumstances. However, this approach displays a lack of proper emunah and bitachon (belief and trust in Hashem), as a person who truly recognizes that everything that occurs in life emanates from Hashem will not look to excuse and rationalize events by blaming them on others.
In this light, we can appreciate that in Yosef’s case, it would have been easy for him to partially attribute his being sold into slavery and eventually imprisoned in Egypt on an unexpected turn of events. His father had instructed him to travel to Shechem to check on his brothers’ well-being, but when he arrived there, they were nowhere to be found. At that point, one would have expected Yosef to return safely to his home to inform Yaakov that he was unable to locate his brothers. Instead, the Torah recounts (37:15) that Yosef met an ish in Shechem, who informed him that his brothers had moved on from Shechem to Dosan. Rashi explains that this ish wasn’t an ordinary man, but the angel Gavriel, who was sent by Hashem as part of His master plan to ensure that Yosef would end up in Egypt.
With this introduction, Rabbi Brazil suggests that when Yosef finally revealed himself to his brothers and explained to them the entire complex chain of events that led up to this episode, it would have been natural for him to place part of the blame for his ordeal on this ish. However, on Yosef’s lofty spiritual level, he accepted that everything that transpired was decreed by Hashem and did not try to pin responsibility for his suffering on his brothers for selling him or even on the well-intentioned ish who led him into their hands.
This is what the Torah means when it stresses that there was no ish in the room when Yosef disclosed his identity: He accepted that all the suffering he endured was part of Hashem’s master plan, and he did not attempt to blame anyone, even the ish, for everything that happened to him.
Many times in life we are tested with difficult and challenging situations. Our evil inclinations work to convince us that our suffering is unnecessary, and if only somebody had acted differently, our pain and distress could have been avoided. At such moments, we should remind ourselves of the lesson of Yosef, who teaches us not to place blame and fault on others, but rather to accept Hashem’s decrees and judgments, which are ultimately for the good.
Q: In pleading for mercy from Yosef, Yehudah stressed the fact that if Binyamin remained in Egypt as a slave and didn’t return with them, their father Yaakov would suffer greatly (44:31). Why did he only talk about the pain which would be caused to their father without any mention of the pain that would be caused to Binyamin’s 10 sons over the loss of their father?
Q: Yosef told his brothers (46:34) to tell Pharaoh that they are shepherds so he would allow them to live separately in Goshen. A large number of our greatest ancestors — Hevel, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, David, and Shaul — were shepherds. Why is this profession uniquely suited for spiritual greatness?
A: The Kotzker Rebbe derives from here that the love of a father for each of his 12 children is greater than the collective love of 10 children for their only father. Rav Dessler writes that feelings of love toward another person are generated by giving to him. As any parent can attest, raising a child represents the consummate opportunity to constantly give of oneself to help somebody who cannot take care of himself. The feelings of love generated by such giving are unparalleled, as Yehudah explained to Yosef.
A: Rabbeinu Bechaye and the Kli Yakar explain that working as a shepherd gives a person time alone to think. Focusing on the magnificent world of Hashem which surrounds him will lead him to focus his thoughts on Hashem, which is conducive for prophecy. Alternatively, Rabbeinu Bechaye suggests that being around people often leads to sin, while separating from them can keep a person pure and holy.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.