Vayomer Yosef el aviv banai heim asher nasan li Elokim ba’zeh (Bereishis 48:9)
Rashi writes that although Yaakov initially intended to bless Yosef’s sons Ephraim and Menashe, he grew hesitant when he became aware that they would have wicked descendants. Yosef attempted to reassure Yaakov by showing him proof that he had married their mother according to Jewish law and they were his legitimate children. Although it was commendable that Yosef had been committed to properly marrying his wife even in the midst of the immoral Egyptians, how did this assuage Yaakov’s concern that their offspring would include evil men?
Harav Matis Blum offers a clever explanation based on the answer to a well-known question. A ben sorer u’moreh is put to death at a young age for the relatively minor (and non-capital) crimes of disobeying his parents, stealing from them and overeating. Rashi explains (Devarim 21:18) that he is killed al shem sofo — although his present actions don’t justify the death penalty, because they reveal that he is headed down a path that will lead that way, it is preferable for him to die now while he is still relatively innocent.
On the other hand, when Yishmael was sick in the desert and Hashem wished to miraculously create a well to heal him, the Heavenly angels challenged why He would help somebody whose descendants would later kill the Jewish people. Hashem answered that He only judges people ba’asher hu sham — based on their actions at the present moment, without taking into account what will happen in the future. If so, why is the wayward son punished based on his future actions?
The Maharsha answers that the mother of the ben sorer u’moreh was a presentable non-Jewish woman who was captured during war. Even though the Torah permitted marrying her, it was only done as a concession to the yetzer hara and in a sense, the child is considered to be the product of a sinful relationship. As a result, he is judged more stringently and held accountable for his future actions, as opposed to Yishmael who was born from a permitted relationship.
In light of this distinction, when Yosef saw Yaakov judging Ephraim and Menashe based on the future and refraining from blessing them in anticipation of their wicked descendants, he demonstrated that they were legitimate children from a proper marriage and therefore should only be judged based on their present (righteous) actions.
Parashah Q & A
Q: Rashi writes (47:29) that one of Yaakov’s reasons for not wanting to be buried in Egypt was that those buried outside the land of Israel are forced to suffer the pain of rolling through tunnels to reach the land of Israel for the resurrection of the dead. If this was his concern, of what benefit was it for him to be buried in Chevron when the Gemara in Kesuvos (111b) teaches that the righteous will need to be rolled to Yerushalayim for the resurrection of the dead?
Q: Although Yosef attempted to calm and reassure his brothers (50:19–21), Rabbeinu Bachyei writes that he never explicitly forgave them for their actions. As a result, they died still responsible for the sin of mercilessly selling him into slavery. Their atonement was only completed when their descendants were later brutally punished as the Asarah Harugei Malchus. If Yosef forgave them, why did he refuse to say so, and if he didn’t forgive them, why was he unwilling to do so after so much time had passed?
A: The M’rafsin Igri answers that those who are buried outside of Israel must roll through the ground until they reach Yerushalayim, at which point they are resurrected. In contrast, those who are buried in other cities in Israel are first brought back to life in their current locations, after which they are able to walk normally to Yerushalayim. It was the pain and anguish of the first experience which Yaakov wished to avoid. Alternatively, the Arizal writes that there is a cave which directly connects Me’aras Hamachpelah to the Kosel, and every Erev Shabbos after midday the Avos go to the Kosel via this cave. In light of this, Yaakov’s concern didn’t apply to being buried in Me’aras Hamachpelah, as it offers a direct connection to Yerushalayim and would spare him the need to roll through tunnels to reach there.
A: The Shiras David posits that even though Yosef spoke to his brothers in a calming and reassuring manner, deep down he still retained negative feelings toward them for what they had done to him and he did not truly forgive them for their actions. The reason that he refused to fully forgive them at this point was that he sensed that their request was not wholehearted, as evidenced by the fact that they were only discussing it now that Yaakov had died and they were afraid that Yosef might now take revenge against them for selling him into slavery. However, the Midrash says that Yosef did in fact forgive his brothers. According to this, the Shiras Dovid explains that they were still punished because Yosef was only able to forgive their offense against him, but not the component which was a sin against Hashem by transgressing the prohibition against kidnapping.
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 Parashah Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.